1700’s - Beam Engine


The in/out motion of this slow and cumbersome early steam engine was ideal for pumping water from mines. By connecting the rocking beam to a crank that drove a flywheel, this motion could be made rotative, and so the engine could be used to drive other kinds of heavy machinery. The advent of rotary power generated by steam was a major technological breakthrough. At the peak of the Industrial Revolution, many thousands of steam engines were at work. Although long abandoned, why do so many of these engine houses survive?

Steam power was the single most important factor creating today's industrialised, technology-based society. Not successfully harnessed until the early 18th century, it was a crucial step in liberating humanity from toil. The first industrial use of steam was to drain mines, which were becoming too deep for the limited capacity of water- or animal-powered pumps. In the early steam engines developed by Thomas Savery, For instance, pouring cold water over the outside of a steam-filled vessel created a partial vacuum that could be used to raise water through a suction pipe. In later designs by Thomas Newcomen and others, steam supplied by a boiler was used to drive a piston moving backwards and forwards in a cylinder. This piston was connected to one end of a rocking beam; the other was attached to pump rods that drew water out of the mine. The Cornish tin-mining industry had many beam engines, using them also for hauling ore out of the depths - the one shown here is attached to a winding drum - and powering the crushing stamps. The engine houses were immensely strong, the weight of the great cast-iron beam being supported on a granite wall six or more feet thick. Being so solid, their remains have defied the elements and they are scattered everywhere across the Cornish landscape, monuments to a now-vanished industry, One of the largest engines ever built is preserved at East Pool near Camborne, and there are a number of others in the county. The Science Museum in London has an entire gallery devoted to early steam engines, which are powered by compressed air.

1700’s - Tide Mill

1770’s - Water-Powered Textile Mill