Saturday, 17 October 2015

Steam-Power, Horse-Power

On a dull day like today it's good to be able to look back a few weeks to the Bedfordshire Steam And Country Fayre and to have a closer look at some of the exhibits, both mechanical and animal.


I'd never considered just how many of these machines were manufactured, with makers in even small East Anglian towns like Thetford, Leiston, St Ives and Kings Lynn as well as bigger places like Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester; or even the variety of purposes to which the machines were put.



This is "Margaret", a showman's engine from 1922. The role of these great beasts was to tow the fairground rides from town to town and then to power the roundabouts and other amusements. But the first engines were used for agricultural purposes, to power threshing machines and for ploughing. These were nearly all owned by contractors who moved between farms. Then there were steam rollers used for road-building and huge road locomotives that were used for moving large loads along the winding British roads.  


The curious-looking contraption above is a steam-wagon and was built by The Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co. of Leeds in 1905. It has a transverse boiler which as well as saving space was said to avoid problems when climbing steep hills. Below is a 1926 Foden Steam Wagon. I don't know if it was once used for advertising the beer or if the owner just liked drinking it.


Newquay Steam Beer was the brainchild of one Michael Cannon who was much impressed by the Anchor Steam beer from San Francisco. In 1987 he set out to create a similar craft beer in his Redruth brewery. Redruth is not a particularly trendy part of Cornwall, but Newquay is the nearest thing that the county has to California - well, there are a lot of people with long hair and surfboards anyway - so Newquay Steam Beer was born. You might have thought that the American company would have had their lawyers all over this in an instant, but in a preposterously audacious move Cannon succeeded in preventing the San Francisco brewery operating in Britain, claiming that "steam" was an old Cornish word for strong beer, a claim of dubious veracity, to say the least.


An American-made Stanley steam car built in 1910. In 1906 a Stanley steamer set the astonishing world record time for an automobile over a mile course in 28.2 seconds. Yes, that's 127 mph (204 Km/h)! It's a wonder that the internal combustion engine ever caught on.



"Queen Of Hearts" in the foreground built by Aveling & Porter in 1907, is a "convertible engine" in that it can be changed from a conventional engine to a steam-roller. Thomas Aveling was instrumental in the early development of the steam traction engine. Early engines were used as a source of power for agricultural machines but could not move under their own power, having to be towed from one job to another by six horses. Aveling could see the absurdity of the situation, "It's like six sailing vessels towing a steamer!" he exclaimed, and set about making the first road-going machine.


Measuring the horse-power of steam engines has always been a matter for debate. Although manufacturers quoted a "nominal horse power" this is usually considered to be an underestimate. No such problems with the vehicle below.... 


The heavy horses traditionally used in the UK are Shires, Clydesdales and Suffolk Punch. Unlike their mechanical counterparts they don't have a nameplate on the side which makes them harder to sort out! Of the beautiful, matched pair seen above, for example, one is a Clydesdale while the other is a Shire. And no, I can't remember which is which!


A family story about horses:

My maternal grandfather had a coal delivery business in the Kings Cross area of London between the wars. He always kept five draught horses, like the one above, to haul the carts. He was very particular that each horse had a rest day each week as he realised that his livelihood depended on them. However one horse went lame and he gently nursed it back to fitness. 

When he was satisfied it had fully recovered he put it to work and found that though it seemed fine it retained a slight limp when pulling away. Unfortunately for him this was spotted and he was taken to court accused of cruelty to the animal. Now my grandfather, perhaps as a result of the coal dust he encountered every day, had rather watery eyes and had to wipe them frequently. The newspaper reporter who was present saw a chance to conjure up a story, "Man weeps in court", and then went on to say how he was the father of four children and to stress the fact that, though he was a coalman, he wiped his eye with a snow-white handkerchief. When the story was published so many well-wishers sent money, to pay the small fine which the court imposed, that my grandmother had to write to the paper to implore people send no more. 




Take care.



17 comments:

  1. Wonderful steam power and horse power machines!!! They are truly curious looking in our time but they have such a great appeal. What I like about these machines that they were built in a very solid way and probably served for a long-long time.

    Great show, wonderful photos!

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  2. Fascinating machines (and beautiful horses).

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  3. Great and beautiful machines for a past millennium.

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  4. So many different types. Love the story.

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  5. Oh I love these glorious old beasts John.. I remember going out to a similar show here in one of the country towns, loved it. I so enjoyed reading the story about your grandfather,isn't it amazing that even back then reporters just made up stories to fit in with the way they saw it, never mind if it was factual or not.. only now it's 1000 times worse :)

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  6. Everything so well cared for. I love all the engine names. They remind me of Thomas the Tank Engine, children's book and tv series that my son loved when he was little. I think the books are British.

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  7. Almost too much stuff to see here...but enjoyed it all. But then came to the photo with the Clydesdale and Shire horse, and how I would love to know which is which!

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  8. These are powerful looking machines. And the decor on many is will done. Liked your grandfather story, -- barbara

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  9. What a magnificent display! It just proves that the desire for bigger and better is in every step of history. Thanks for sharing these great machines. The horses are beautiful.

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  10. Beautiful horses, and fascinating steam engines. What a splendid Fair!

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  11. Love the story of your grandfather. Wonderful photos, as always.

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  12. such neat steam machinery and horses.

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  13. Great story about your grandfather! I'm amazed there are so many steam machines in such super condition!

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  14. So many interesting facts about all the steam powered vehicles. I can't imagine flying at 127 mph in that little Stanley Steamer! It doesn't look sturdy enough to hang together. That's a great family tale about your grandfather and his coal delivery business.

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  15. I love the steam machines and the horses are gorgeous. Interesting story about your grandfather.

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  16. These machines were at the same time built to do hard work but also to have a bit of beauty. (Kind of like a Bentley, I suppose?) I don't think I have ever heard of an event over here for steam machines.

    Nice story about your grandfather.

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