Engine House

Engine House

Beam Engine

Beam Engine


*** – History – ***

A classic illustration of the fact that nothing is created in isolation. Thomas Newcomen (1664 - 1729) was a lay preacher and a teaching elder in the local Baptist church. After 1710 he became the pastor of a local group of Baptists. Newcomen's great achievement was his steam engine, developed around 1712, combining the ideas of Thomas Savery and Denis Papin he created a steam engine for the purpose of lifting water out of a tin mine.

It is likely that Newcomen was already acquainted with Savery, whose forebears were merchants in south Devon. Savery also had a post with the Commissioners for Sick and Hurt Seamen, which took him to Dartmouth. Savery had devised a "fire engine", a kind of thermic syphon, in which steam was admitted to an empty container and then condensed. The vacuum thus created was used to suck water from the sump at the bottom of the mine. The "fire engine" was not very effective and could not work beyond a limited depth of around thirty feet.

Newcomen replaced the receiving vessel (where the steam was condensed) with a cylinder containing a piston based on Papin's design. Instead of the vacuum drawing in water, it drew down the piston. This was used to work a beam engine, in which a large wooden beam rocked upon a central fulcrum.

On the other side of the beam was a chain attached to a pump at the base of the mine. As the steam cylinder was refilled with steam, readying it for the next power stroke, water was drawn into the pump cylinder and expelled into a pipe to the surface by the weight of the machinery.

Newcomen and his partner John Calley built the first successful engine of this type at the Conygree Coalworks near Dudley in the West Midlands. This first engine was working by 1715. It had "a copper boiler, a brass steam barrel (cylinder) and piston, two pit barrels of pott metal (cast iron) and other pypes cisterns and appurtenances thereto belonging". The brass cylinder may have been 16 inches (410 mm) in diameter and 9 feet (2.7 m) long.

For this engine a patent premium of £7 "payable on Saturday of each week" was due. Seeing how well the engine performed, the mine owners hoped to take over the maintenance of the engine, and its costs, with an option to build other engines under the terms of the patent. This was agreed, and the partners paid £150 for the first six months with further payments of £420 per year for each mine drained.

A second engine was erected around 1719. The mine though was not as profitable as expected and the original partners surrendered their 29-year lease in 1720, after only 7 years.

New owners had a third engine, the surviving Memorial Engine, erected in 1725. It is likely that this was a rebuilt version of the first engine, with the original brass cylinder replaced with a larger 22 inches (560 mm) bore one of cast iron with a stroke of 5 feet (1.5 m).

The engine was capable of pumping at 12 strokes per minute, moving 68,200 litres of water every hour. The engine was not large, even for its time, and used a simple 12 feet (3.7 m) one-piece wooden beam, without additional struts or being made of multiple laminated timbers. It was also carried on a timber frame, rather than being house-built. Further investment followed in 1728 with a new boiler for one of the engines.

The colliery was worked out though and produced little coal after 1728. The Savery patents were still in effect and operating two engines attracted premiums of £300 per annum. The colliery closed over the next few years and the equipment was sold. In 1729 a spare brass cylinder was sold to Measham Colliery, probably that replaced when the Memorial Engine cylinder had been replaced with cast iron.

The engines, one of which would become the Memorial Engine, were sold in 1731 to Henry Green of the Bedworth Coal Works, south of Griff, and one in 1734 to John Wise, bringing a close to mining at Griff.

Details of the engine's longest period of service, nearly a century, are uncertain. It seems to have been the later engine sold from Griff in 1734 to John Wise, who was the owner of Oakthorpe Colliery at Measham. Joseph Wilkes would later own the colliery, and its engines.

A second rebuilding, or more, took place during this service. Following James Watt's production of the much-improved separate condenser for Newcomen engines there were a number of improvements that were often applied to existing engines.

The most important of these was the 'pickle pot' condenser, a device with the advantages of the separate condenser yet avoiding, barely, the Watt patent. As Watt's patent for the separate condenser ran from 1769 to 1800, these patent-avoiding devices can often be dated to this period: after their invention by Watt, but before the Watt device could simply be copied directly.

The Engine also shows evidence of a patched hole in the side of the cylinder, where the original Newcomen injection valve was removed. The pickle-pot condenser is an extension below the cylinder connected by a large diameter pipe. A jet condenser within this works in the same way as the separate Watt condenser.

The Watt condenser is attached by a longer, narrow pipe to the cylinder. By claiming that the pickle pot was an 'extension' of the main cylinder, rather than a separate component, it avoided infringing the Watt patent. A requirement for this was also that the haystack boiler was moved away from its traditional Newcomen position, directly beneath the cylinder. This was an innovation described by John Curr in his The Coal Viewer & Engine Builder's Companion of 1797.

Other developments applied to the Engine included plate chain to connect to the arch heads of the beam, rather than the earlier link chains. The Engine's valves were replaced with drop valves, operated by a rack and pinion driven from the arbor, worked by horns and tappets on the moving vertical plug rod. After pumping at the colliery until around 1821 the engine was in the ownership of a Jonathan Woodhouse. Probably due to replacement by a newer engine, as the colliery continued working, it was sold again. This time out of the coal industry, and to a canal.

The Coventry Canal Company purchased the engine in 1821 and set it to work pumping water from a well to maintain levels in the canal. An engine house, still surviving, was built at the Hawkesbury Junction, Warwickshire in 1837.] The engine has sometimes been known as the "Coventry Canal Engine", after this service. The engine stayed in intermittent service here until 1913, a second service of over ninety years.

The engine was preserved in 1963 by the Newcomen Society, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Newcomen. It was moved to his birthplace in Dartmouth and re-erected in a new museum there, known as the Newcomen Engine House. This building, originally an electricity substation, also contains the Tourist Information Centre building. The engine is now worked by modern hydraulics and may be seen moving in action.


Dartmouth Castle

Dartmouth Castle

Dartmouth Museum

Dartmouth Museum

*** – History – ***

Dartmouth Castle was built to protect the coastal town of Dartmouth in Devon. By the 12th century, the town's harbour, located in the estuary of the River Dart, was an important trading and fishing port, able to hold up to 600 vessels. It also had a reputation as a centre for both piracy and privateering, particularly for its attacks on French shipping.

By the 1370s, during the Hundred Years War, Dartmouth was a key target for the French navy and the Crown repeatedly advised the town to improve its defences. Nothing was done, however, until in 1388 John Hawley, the mayor of Dartmouth and a privateer and the prototype of the flamboyant 'Shipman' in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, was authorised by Richard II to raise funds from the town for a new "fortalice by the sea" to defend the harbour.

The fortalice, or small fort, took the form of an enclosure castle, with a curtain wall protected by mural towers and a gate tower. It was constructed on land in the manor of Stoke Fleming, belonging to the Carew family, lent by them due to the threat of French attack, and was built around a pre-existing chapel to Saint Petroc on the site.

It held catapults to attack enemy ships, and may also have been armed with early cannon and equipped with a chain to block the entrance to the harbour. It did not see active service, but may have deterred the original plans of the French and Breton attack force in 1404, which, under the command of Tanneguy du Chastel, landed at Slapton Sands instead, where they were then dispersed by the local militia. The Carew family subsequently built a family house in an inside corner of the fortalice.

In 1481, Henry VII entered into fresh discussions with the town about the defences. In 1462, the Crown had agreed to pay Dartmouth £30 a year to maintain a chain across the harbour for twenty years, and the town were probably keen to extend this profitable arrangement before it expired.

Henry agreed to pay £150 over five years for the construction of a new artillery tower, with an annual subsidy of £30 towards the maintenance costs, later increased to £40 a year. The new tower was placed alongside the old fortalice, using stone from Cornworthy and Kingsbridge and a team of up to 12 stonemasons.

The project dragged on until fears of a French invasion grew in 1486; two "great murderer" guns were installed and by 1492 there were four murderer and twelve serpentine guns installed there. The tower was finally completed in 1495, with a protective chain linking to the other side of the river supported by small boats called "cobbellys", where it was protected by a tower at Godmerock.

Another castle, Kingswear, was also built by Dartmouth, on the opposite side of the estuary.

In 1543, Henry VIII allied himself with Spain in a war against France. Despite Henry's initial successes, France and Spain made peace in 1544, leaving England exposed to a French invasion, backed by her allies in Scotland. In response, Henry issued an instruction to improve the country's defences, particularly along the south coast.

Dartmouth Castle was reinforced by three new gun batteries, two either side of the gun tower, and another, Lamberd's Bulwarke, positioned in the south-east corner of the fortalice.

Sir Peter Carew, a soldier and the local Member of Parliament for Dartmouth, opposed this final addition, arguing that it trespassed on the family's house within the castle. He seized the castle and threw out the town's officers.

A law case followed, and in 1554 the town regained the property after Carew fled the county facing charges of treachery; he returned in 1556 and retook the castle. Eventually a reprieve was agreed under which the town regained control of the fortifications and the Carews continued to occupy the house.

In 1597, with the threat of a Spanish invasion, the gun tower was improved and Lamberd's Bulwarke repaired. Two years later, Hortensio Spinola, a Spanish spy, described the castle as being defended "with 24 pieces and 50 men", commenting that the harbour was well protected and that the inhabitants were "warlike".

At the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 between the supporters of Charles I and those of Parliament, Dartmouth initially sided with Parliament and the castle was guarded by five men. In 1643, Prince Maurice besieged the town and the castle was overcome by artillery positioned on the higher ground of the overlooking hill behind it.

An earthwork fort, called Gallants Bower, may subsequently have been built to protect this vulnerable position; an alternative explanation is that the fort was first built in 1627 and was simply revived during the conflict.

In January 1646, Sir Thomas Fairfax led a Parliamentary army to retake Dartmouth. He first took the town, then Gallants Bower, before forcing the surrender of Sir Hugh Pollard, the castle's commander, the following day. The Carews' house was probably badly damaged during the attack.

During the Interregnum, Gallants Bower was decommissioned but the castle itself remained in use; the Carews' house was pulled down. A governor, Sir John Fowell, was appointed to run the castle and the local defences, and to prevent smuggling. Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and initially granted Dartmouth Castle, and the former annual subsidy, to the town once again.

By 1662, however, the fortifications in Dartmouth were garrisoned by a royal force of 23 men and Sir John, who continued in his post as captain and governor until 1677. Fears of a Dutch and French attack resulted in the castle being maintained until the 1690s.

The castle was neglected at the start of the 18th century, and a survey in 1715 reported that it was in a "ruinous condition" and that none of its artillery had been adequately maintained. A renewed threat from France prompted fresh work: in 1741, Lamberd's Bulwarke was strengthened, and in 1748 the government then renamed the bulwark the Grand Battery, transforming it into a two-tiered platform armed with twelve guns.

The older parts of the castle were retained by the town and used primarily for accommodation and storage. The port of Dartmouth began to decline in importance, however, with nearby Plymouth taking over much of its former trade.

Dartmouth Castle was garrisoned during the Napoleonic Wars by the volunteer Dartmouth Artillery unit, but saw no active service. At the end of the conflict, the castle's guns were reduced in number and the garrison cut back to a single, caretaker gunner. In 1820, there were only two serviceable guns and, in 1847, the writer Clarkson Stanfield observed that the castle, while picturesque, was "not spacious, and mounts but a few guns".

The introduction of shell guns and steam ships during the 1840s created a new risk that the French might successfully attack along the south coast, and fears grew of a conflict in the early 1850s. Further worries about France, combined with the development of rifled cannon and iron-clad warships, led to the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom being established in 1859, and expressing fears about the security of the south coast.

As a result, the Grand Battery at Dartmouth Castle was rebuilt and retitled the Dartmouth Point Battery, with shell-proof, granite defences protecting three traversing gun emplacements for 68-pounder guns looking out to sea, and two 10-inch 86 cwt. guns on the roof; one small 8-inch howitzer protected the entrance to the harbour itself.

It was manned by three professional soldiers, and a team of over fifty-five reservists, drawn from the newly formed Sixth Devonshire Artillery Volunteer Corps. The castle, however, was of low military priority, only of importance because the harbour might be used to as a staging post to attack Plymouth, and the guns allocated it were old-fashioned.] A further upgrade in 1888 again installed only out-dated artillery pieces.

By 1909, the bulk of the castle was considered obsolete and the War Office transferred it to the Office of Works, who carried out restoration work and opened it to visitors.

It reentered service during the First World War, equipped with two quick-firing guns to protect the harbour, but they did not see service during the conflict. After the war, the castle was restored and leased to the town, who again opened it to visitors.

Between 1940 and 1943, during the Second World War, it was rearmed with two 4.7-inch (11.9 cm) quick-firing guns, dating from the First World War and housed in concrete gun houses, to protect merchant convoys and the Philips' shipyard. The castle was manned by members of the British Army; officers lived in a nearby cottage, non-commissioned officers in the castle itself, and other ranks in the 19th century fortifications, and later in temporary Nissen huts.

In 1955, the castle was transferred back to the Ministry of Works and repaired; the Dartmouth Point Battery, by now known as the Old Battery, was leased back to the town for use as a restaurant; and the site was reopened to the public.

In the 21st century it is managed by English Heritage, with the Grand Battery displayed as it would have appeared in the 19th century; it received 37,940 visitors in 2007. The 14th-century gun tower is protected under UK law as a Grade I listed building, the 19th-century gun battery as a Grade II* listed building.

Dartmouth Castle is one of the most beautifully located fortresses in England. For over 600 years Dartmouth Castle has guarded the narrow entrance to the Dart Estuary and the busy, vibrant port of Dartmouth. It offers stunning views of the estuary and out to sea and offers a great family day out, whatever the weather.

Unusually incorporating the fine church of St Petrox, the castle saw action during the Civil War, and continued in service right up until the Second World War. Successive up-dating included the Victorian 'Old Battery' with its remounted heavy guns, guardrooms and maze of passages to explore. Access is very restricted for wheelchair users due to the many slopes, spiral staircases and steps on the site. A companion is recommended. Assistance Dogs are welcome.


Dartmouth Museum is a small, fascinating and interesting museum housed in an atmospheric old merchant's house, built in approximately 1640. The Museum houses an extensive collection of artefacts, models, paintings and photographs which can help you explore and develop your interests, whether they be in maritime history, the social and economic history of the town of Dartmouth, or the physical changes to the town over the past centuries.

The Henley Room or Henley Study, is designed to be interactive and child-friendly, and provides an insight into the world of Victorian and Edwardian Dartmouth. The room has been modelled to represent a gentleman's study of the period, and is used to house the Henley Collection.

The King's Room is where King Charles II was entertained in July 1671, when storms forced him to seek shelter in Dartmouth. The unique and beautiful ceiling and wooden panelling are original and just as the King would have seen them!

This room contains a fascinating timeline of maritime history, which you can follow clockwise around the room. It begins with Richard the Lionheart's Crusader ship of 1190, and includes such gems as Sir Francis Drake's flagship of 1580, the Golden Hind, the Mayflower in which the Pilgrim Fathers set off from Dartmouth in 1620 hoping to reach the New World, and even a D-Day landing craft used in 1944.

The museum is not wheelchair accessible. Guide Dogs are welcome.


Location : The Engine House, Mayors Avenue, Dartmouth TQ6 9YY

Transport: Paignton (National Rail) Then bus or Dartmouth Steam Railway. Bus Routes : 3, 90, 90A, 90B, 90C and X64 stop nearby.

Opening Times Newcomen: Monday to Saturday 10:00 - 17:00; Sunday 10:00 to 14:00

Opening Times Castle: Currently closed until 11th January

Opening Times Museum: Closed until further notice

Tickets Newcomen: Free

Tickets Castle: Adults £7.90;  Children £4.70;  Concessions £7.10

Tickets Museum: Currently closed

Tel: 01803 834224