on December 30, 2009
Water-power provided the stimulus to kick-start Manchester’s industrial growth but engine power maintained its momentum. The Power Hall at the Museum of Science and Industry houses many of those original sources of power including one of the largest collections of working steam mill engines in the world. It also contains working examples of gas, oil, hot-air, diesel engines and trains. Many of those engines are the dinosaurs of the industrial age. Their size is colossal but they powered the world for a long-time before smaller, nimbler forms of power came along. Some of those machines were still working in the 1950s a century after their installation. For anyone interesting in history, sources of power or even art forms this museum has something for them. The engines include a beam engine built in 1830. It powered machinery in a joiner’s shop at Haydock Colliery, Lancashire. This form of engine has a large wooden beam, which rocked up and down in a see-saw action, which made it ideally suitable for pumping water from mines. Thomas Newcomen invented it in 1712 for that purpose. It set the standard from which all other steam engines developed. Most of the engines powering textile mills between 1790 and 1860 were of this type. In common with many engines of this period, it incorporated decorative architectural features, such as classical columns and urns. A more advanced engine on display is the Earnshaw & Holt Horizontal Steam Engine, which dates from 1864. This engine became popular from the 1850s. Not needing an engine house it was it easier to install. With a working life of nearly a century, this engine worked at Durn Mill in Littleborough where it powered machinery making tartan cloth. The museum’s Bisschop Gas Engine dating from the 1870s was an early form of an internal-combustion engine. These engines were easy to maintain as they needed no oil lubricant or water for cooling. Although they were heavy on fuel, they were popular with small businesses, shops and even churches. They powered diverse machines, such as printing presses, sausage machines, coffee grinders and lathes. The Bailey Hot-Air Engine built in the 1880s caught my attention. It could use wood, coke, coal or any waste material as fuel. Engines of this type were popular for use in sawmills and on farms for driving light machinery. The working cycle of the hot-air engine uses the principle that air expands when heated and contracts when cooled. Hot-air engines were popular because they were simple to make, ran silently and used little energy. Since they used hot air at low-pressure, they were also safer than steam engines. The Museum itself sits on the site of the former Liverpool Road Station, the original Manchester terminus of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. The first railway built to carry passengers as well as goods, its opening in 1830 heralded a new age of passenger transport. In trials held in 1829 to select a locomotive design for use on the Railway, Stephenson's Rocket won. George and Robert Stephenson soon developed the improved Planet class of locomotives. The museum’s reproduction Planet locomotive provides train rides at advertised times.The Air and Space Hall across from Power Hall occupies the former Lower Campfield Market Hall built in 1876. It shows how smaller more efficient engines allowed people to reach for the sky. The petrol engine made powered flight possible. Of importance to the early days of flight is the Roe Triplane of 1909, built and flown by a doctor's son A. V. Roe. The first all-British aeroplane to fly it used a JAP motorcycle engine as its power source. A year later, A. V. Roe set up the world's first company dedicated solely to the manufacture of aircraft. This company, Avro, ran Britain's first scheduled airline in 1919 and later built Lancaster and Vulcan bombers.In 1930 Barton, Manchester, became Britain's first permanent municipal airport. The Avro 504 biplane Dragon Rapides flew to here from Belfast, via Liverpool, and then on to Hull. Such a short time ago but how aviation has shrunk the world since. Now even Australia is only a day away.
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