Willis Engine

Willis Engine

Pumping Station

Pumping Station

 

The Somerset Moors and Levels, formed from a submerged and reclaimed landscape, consist of a coastal clay belt only slightly above mean sea level, with an inland peat belt at a lower level behind it. Early attempts to control the water levels were possibly made by the Romans (although records only date from the 13th century), but were not widespread. The Domesday Book of 1086 recorded that drainage of the higher grounds was under way. In the Middle Ages, the monasteries of Glastonbury, Athelney and Muchelney were responsible for much of the drainage. Efforts to control flooding on the Parrett were recorded around 1129. In 1234, 722 acres (2.9 km2) were reclaimed near Westonzoyland and, from the accounts in Glastonbury Abbey's rent books, this had increased to 972 acres by 1240. Flooding of adjacent moor land was partially addressed during the 13th century by the construction of a number of embankment walls to contain the Parrett. They included Southlake Wall, Burrow Wall and Lake Wall. The River Tone was diverted by the Abbot of Athelney and other land owners into a new embanked channel, joining the Parrett upstream from its original confluence.

 

In the early 17th century, during the time of King James I, abortive plans were made to drain and enclose much of Sedgemoor, which the local Lords supported but opposed by the Commoners who would have lost grazing rights. In 1632, Charles I sold the Crown's interest in the scheme, and it was taken over by a consortium that included Sir Cornelius Vermuyden, a Dutch drainage engineer. However, the work was delayed by the English Civil War and later defeated in Parliament after local opposition. Between 1785 and 1791, much of the lowest part of the peat moors was enclosed. In 1795, John Billingsley advocated enclosure and the digging of rhynes (a local name for drainage channels, pronounced "reens" in the east and rhyne to the west) between plots. Little attempt was made during the 17th and 18th centuries to pump water, possibly because the coal-driven Newcomen steam engines would have been uneconomical. It is unclear why windmills were not employed, as they were on the Fens of East Anglia, but only two examples have been recorded on the Levels: one at Bleadon at the mouth of the River Axe, where a sea wall had been built, and the other at Common Moor north of Glastonbury, which was being drained following a private Act of Parliament in 1721.

 

The first mechanical pumping station on the Somerset Levels was built in 1830 to drain the area around Westonzoyland, Middlezoy and Othery. The success of the drainage system led to the formation of other drainage boards and the construction of other pumping stations. The pump at Westonzoyland originally comprised a beam engine and scoop wheel (like a water wheel running backwards) but, after 25 years, there were problems pumping the water away because the land had dropped as it dried out despite the wheel being raised 15 inches (380 mm) in 1843. In 1861 the present Easton and Amos pump was installed. The Westonzoyland pump lifts water from the rhyne into the River Parrett. The pump operated until 1951, by which time the local drainage system had been linked into King's Sedgemoor Drain, which discharged further down the River Parrett; the water levels dropped and the pump was unable to draw the water from the rhyne. The station itself is a Flemish bond brick-built property with a slate hipped roof and chimney rising to 71 feet (22 m) in height. A cottage section was added alongside it in the 1860s, to provide accommodation for the station-keeper. Beside the cottage is a long single-storey building that houses a 1914 Lancashire boiler; this was used to provide steam. Next to it is a forge, where the keeper would have made a number of his own tools.

 

In addition to the Easton and Amos pump, a collection of steam and diesel engines with connections either to the area or to pumping have been assembled on site and regular steam days are held. These are housed in several different buildings and areas: the exhibition hall, the courtyard, the "wiggly shed", the pump room and the engine house itself. Engines by a range of other manufacturers are on display. These include 'quick revolution' engines by Belliss and Morcom, Robey & Co., Easton and Johnson and Sissons. There are horizontal engines by W. and F. Wills and by J. Culverwell, of Bridgwater. The Culverwell machine is a horizontal single cylinder steam engine originally used in Holt's Brewery at Burnham-on-Sea, while the Wills engine was used in a brickworks. Additional exhibits include two small de Laval steam turbines by Greenwood & Batley, and a small 'Wessex' steam turbine milk bottle washer. A winch used to move railway wagons at Hemyock Dairy near Wellington was built by J. Lynn of Sunderland. There is a runnable Crossley diesel engine dating from 1935. There is a Spirax Sarco 'Ogden pump' used to pump condensate from steam lines. The collection includes the boiler which powered the Telescopic Bridge, Bridgwater. There is very limited wheelchair access.

 

Location : Hoopers Lane, Westonzoyland, Bridgwater, Somerset TA7 0LS

Transport: Bridgwater (National Rail) then bus or taxi. Bus Routes : 16 stops in Westonzoyland.

Opening Times : Sunday 13:00 - 17:00

Tickets : Free. In Steam Days - Adults £6.00;  Seniors £5.00;  Children £3.00

Tel: 01278 691595