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Melingriffith Water Pump
Ty-Mawr Road, Whitchurch, Cardiff, Wales, UK
Melingriffith Water Pump
associated engineer
Watkin George
John Rennie snr
William Jessop
date  c1793 - 1795, 1807
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Water Supply/Pipes  |  reference  ST141800
ICE reference number  HEW 392
photo  © Crown copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales | © Hawlfraint y Goron: Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru
An unusual pump driven by an undershot waterwheel, constructed to lift waste water from the tail race of the Melingriffith Tin Plate Works into a feeder supplying the Glamorganshire Canal. While some uncertainty lingers over its exact construction date and designer, Melingriffith Water Pump did operate for almost a century and a half in its original location. It is now a scheduled monument, and has been restored to full working order, though now powered by electricity.
Melingriffith (Melingruffydd, literally ‘Griffith’s Mill’), located on a leat cut from the River Taff at Radyr Weir, has had a mill since the late 12th century. The original building was a grain mill, though metalworking was also taking place here by the mid 18th century. In 1749, it is recorded that Melingriffith’s owner, Rees Powell (d.1758) of Llanharan, granted a 21-year lease for “a water corn grist mill called Velin Griffith and a forge in the parish of Whitchurch” to Staffordshire ironmasters Francis Homfray (1725-98) and Richard Jordan. Another draft lease mentions forges (plural) on the site of the corn mill as well.
In 1765, ownership passed to Reynolds, Getley & Co. of Bristol and by 1786, Melingriffith was being run by Hartford, Partridge & Co. Iron and tin plate works were becoming established in a number of locations in south Wales by this time and to reduce the costs of transporting raw materials and finished goods a canal was cut between Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff docks.
Called the Glamorganshire Canal, it was constructed 1790-8, though the majority of it was completed by December 1794. In Whitchurch, the canal drew water from the same feeder channel that supplied water to Melingriffith Tin Plate Works. To avoid depleting the works’ supply, the canal company had to extract its water from the tailrace downstream of Melingriffith. A machine was required to raise the recycled water some 3.7m from the tailrace to the feeder.
It is thought that the original lifting pump was installed in a channel next to the canal feeder in about 1793-5, and that it was designed by Cyfarthfa Ironworks’ chief engineer and partner Watkin George (c.1759-1822), designer of Pont y Cafnau (SO036071 in Merthyr Tydfil). The machinery consists of an undershot waterwheel linked to two cylinder pumps. Excess water in the canal passes into the feeder from an overflow.
The waterwheel is made of three cast-iron hoops, 5.6m in diameter, turning originally on an axle of solid American oak. The hoops have heart-shaped cut outs, probably used to ensure all three hubs were lined up. The wheel is 3.8m wide and mounted with 30 timber paddles, each 560mm deep. It drove two oak rocking beams, 6.7m long and 410mm square section with cast iron cappings, supported on a framework of 305mm square section timbers. The rocking beams used a chain drive to raise and lower a pair of 813mm bore cast iron pistons with a 1.52m stroke.
In 1806, John Rennie senior (1761-1821) proposed replacing George’s apparatus with a 'fire engine’ (steam engine) but apparently Melingriffith’s owners would not contribute to the cost. The surviving pump is generally quoted as being a Rennie replacement of 1807, possibly with input from William Jessop (1745-1814).
However, the paddles, or spokes, of the wheel are dovetailed into the wheel hubs — a detail more familiar to joiners, and George had begun his career as a carpenter. Furthermore, the waterwheel’s axle is cylindrical, as is that of George’s Aeolus waterwheel at Cyfarthfa Ironworks (built 1800, dem.). No definitive evidence has emerged to show that the surviving pump is not George’s original design.
In 1942, commerce on the Glamorganshire Canal all but ceased and it closed officially in 1950. Melingriffith Water Pump operated continually until 1927, and probably worked up until 1942.
During a series of refurbishment works in 1974-89, some timber components of the pump, including the axle, were replaced with steel. After the work was completed in 1989, the pump was placed in the care of Cardiff Council. There is a model of it in the National Museum of Wales in Cathays Park, Cardiff.
In the 1980s, Melingriffith Tin Plate Works was demolished and a housing estate constructed on the site. However, the canal feeder channel was maintained by the Welsh Development Agency to allow for the future operation of the preserved pump.
More extensive restoration was carried out in 2009-11, funded by Cardiff Council and Cadw (the Welsh Assembly’s heritage service), enabling the pump to be operated by electric power. The pump’s defective timber components were replaced (frame and rocker beams) by exact replicas in west African Ekki hardwood and its paddles by other timber. The ironwork was also refurbished. The masonry walls of the leat were repaired and the sluice gates replaced. Bats roosting in the old rocker beams delayed work, but on 1st July 2011, the water pump ran again. It is now operated regularly.
Project manager (2009-11): Opus UK
Contractor (2009-11): Penybryn Engineering
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH W&WCEH Wales

Melingriffith Water Pump