1880’s - Steam-powered Factory

The Victorians perfected the steam engine, and put it to many uses. Many mills and factories had steam engines to drive their machinery, and their smoking chimneys dominated the skyline. Here a system of ropes and pulleys is used to transmit the power for the machines. With steam as the driving force, machinery could be run around the clock if required. What reasons lay behind the gradual changeover to steam power?

Onereason for the swing to steam in industries that had traditionally used water power was that, at the peak of the Industrial Revolution, too many mills and factories found themselves competing for a finite energy supply along the same river valleys. And when the coming of the main railway network in the 1840s and 50s made it easier and cheaper to bring in fuel to areas away from the coalfields, steam quickly became king. The heavy, ponderous beam engine began to be superseded by lighter but no less powerful designs where the cylinder was aligned horizontally, driving a flywheel by means of a connecting rod. If more power was needed, then two cylinders could be provided; in the compound system, one cylinder used high-pressure steam direct from the boiler, which was then exhausted into the second, low-pressure cylinder. Here a horizontal engine is providing power for a typical factory. From the grooved flywheel ropes run to each floor, where they drive line shafts. Ropes were cheap, mechanically efficient and easy to replace if a breakdown occurred - something that was certainly not true of the old shaft-driven systems, where repairs could cause a long stoppage. Power for the engine comes from a pair of 'Lancashire' boilers; twin coal-fired flues provide a generous heating surface for steam to be produced within the cylindrical water-filled boiler. The Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry gives the full background to the story of steam and textile manufacture, while a number of mill engines are preserved in working order in various towns around the North West.

1870’s - Small Town Gasworks

1930’s - Coal-fired Power Station