Early Engineers

  • 17 Jan 2012
  • Trade and Industry
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The early engineers were mostly millwrights and smiths, making and erecting mills and gins (or engines). A famous Worcester engineer named Yarnold, is said to have devised and built the great waterwheel at London Bridge, and at Worcester Bridge, in the 17th century, for pumping water from the river to the city conduits, but little is known of him.

John Fidoe, who was baptised at Rock Church, in October 1695, made a name for himself as a wheelwright and engineer. He made two pumps for Tettenhall. In 1727 he helped erect the Newcomen steam pump at a coal mine near Dudley, the first successful steam engine, and one of the great steps in the Industrial Revolution. Details of his achievements is recorded in the Worcester Records Office, 3762/8 Foley Scrapbook.

'To surtiefoy womme it may consurne that John Fidoe Living at the Parrish of The Rock made at Droitwich in the County of Worcester a Ginn for Mr Wiilm Pendrius wich has made & dun him great Survies and likewise made one for Thos Norris in Droytwich and as Savd Us a Great Dele of money in Taking of the West Brine'.

'13th July 1720. Agreement between John Gibbons of Tettingshall in the parish of Sedgley in the County of Stafford, colemaster, Willaim Clarke of the same, colemaster, and Richard Hodgkins of Coseley in the p'sh of Sedgley... and John Fidoe in the parish of Rock in the County of Worcester, wheelwright ... 'Fidoe undertake's 'to built Erect and Sett up a good Engine or Gin' to draw water from the coalworks at Tettingshall for the sum of £80 and to have it working before Michaelmas 1720. He is to keep it working for five years for a fee of £150 per annum. If the gin fails to work for 44 hours Fidoe is to bear the cost of obtaining another, but if it catches fire the owners are to pay him £10.

At the same period that Abraham Darby was experimenting with pit coal, an attempt to drain water from Broadwater Pool where water was seeping into a nearby mine. In 1698 Thomas Savery's engine 'to raise water by fire' was erected in a Wednesbury mine, but it was not a success, being unable to cope with the great volumn of water in the pit. It could not draw from depths greater than 26ft. In 1712 Thomas Newcomen's engine, a beam piston pumping engine was installed in a pit near Dudley Castle. It proved astonishingly efficient, raising 120 gallons of water a minute, a height of 153 ft. It was still in use in the 19th century.

Boulton & Watt took over where Newcomen left off. The engine built by Watt was first erected at Smethwick in 1776, then moved in 1898 to Ocker Hill, Tipton, and was still working in 1949. In its heyday, it could raise 200,000 gallons of water an hour. Having fought off a bid from Henry Ford to have it in his museum, it now stands in the Birmingham Science Museum.