The Bratch Pumping Station,
Wombourne,
South Staffordshire
 
TECHNICAL INFORMATION


In this section are a few technical details about the engines, followed by architectural details of the pumphouse itself, both inside and out.

In 1980 the building and engines were granted Grade 2 listing. However, after considerable effort by the Friends of The Bratch in 2003, protection status was increased by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to Grade 2 * (spoken as Grade Two Star) to reflect its historic importance.

THE ENGINES

Two engines of the vertical triple expansion, double acting, type, were built in 1894/5. The original castings were made by James Watt & Co, but halfway through the contract, the company went into liquidation, and the work was completed by Messrs Thornewill and Warham of Burton on Trent. The builder’s plate on Victoria has survived, showing a build date of 1897 and its build no 699.

The engines are mirror image twins, being a left hand and a right hand pair exactly opposite each other in line, and are unique in having Corliss trip valve gear driven by eccentrics.

Each engine weighs about 404 tons and stands some 55 ft. high on a footprint of approx. 36 ft. long by 15 ft. wide. They are located in line. Although tested to run at 150 lbs/sq. in when built, Victoria is now run at around 130 lb/sq. in, and at 24 rpm when working on open days.

The following description is taken from the resident engineer’s records. Although both engines survive, only Victoria, built 1897, is now in fully restored working condition.

“Each engine has a high pressure, intermediate pressure and low pressure cylinder, the internal diameters of which are 16”, 26” and 40”, respectively. The cylinders have a 3 ft stroke and are fitted with valve chests, indicator cocks, escape valves, auxiliary starting valves, cylinder drain cocks, jacket drain cocks, and the necessary gear for working them.

The cylinders are lagged and covered with planished [ie polished] steel and brass bands and screws; each cylinder is fitted with main and expansion valves, the latter ranging from 9 to 3. The whole of the valve gear is of the Corliss trip type.

The pistons are fitted with Bickle’s improved metallic packing.

The piston rods are 5” diameter, of forged scrap steel. The crankshaft is set at angles of 120 degrees with each other.

The disc of the fly wheel is set to give a stroke of 3 ft; the fly wheels are six-armed, 11 ft. in diameter by 8 inches wide and weigh about 14 tons; square holes are cut on the face for barring round.

Boiler feed pumps and auxiliary feed pumps are provided; a single air pump, 13 ½“ in diameter with a 3 ft stroke is driven from a disc on the outside flywheel”

The reconstruction and repair of Victoria in 1991-1996 sought to ensure as authentic a return to the original construction as was practical, and this has been achieved successfully by Mr Len Crane. Many individual parts were made in replica by him and his team to ensure this authenticity, using parts and damaged components retrieved from both Victoria and Alexandra as patterns.

The second, mirror image paired engine “Alexandra” is still in situ but minus many fittings. It is nevertheless presented in an integrated and compatible way, painted in distinguishing red/brown colours, still maintaining the shape, construction and mass of the original.

A complete description of the original steam engines and pumps and associated equipment is available in the Friends’ records.

A third, auxiliary, horizontal steam engine, again built by Thornewill and Warham, was located in the fitting shop. This no longer exists.


ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES OF THE PUMPHOUSE

The entire works were designed by Mr Baldwin Latham, M Inst C E, of Westminster. The resident engineer was the Bilston town surveyor Mr C.L.N. Wilson, Assoc. M Inst. C E. The engines were designed and built by Messrs Thornewill and Warham, Burton on Trent, Staffordshire, from castings produced by James Watt & Co.

1 - The Exterior of the pumphouse

The Pumping station was built in 1895 for Bilston Corporation by Henry Willcock and Co of Wolverhampton at a cost of £6113, [including the 90ft ornamented chimneystack which has been demolished].

Particular attention was paid to the materials used in the construction, and to the imaginative style of the main buildings, which embodies the civic pride and optimism so prevalent a 100 years ago. The Resident Engineer and Town Surveyor, Mr C.L.N. Wilson, described the building, designed by Mr Baldwin Latham of Westminster, as follows:

“The main pump house consists of a noble castle–like red (Ruabon) [near Wrexham] pressed-brick building, with Hollington [Uttoxeter, Staffs] stone dressings, window heads &c. The building has a Gothic feeling, and the principal portion has four turrets, one at each corner, and embattled parapets. The building consists of area [sic] and pump room, engine house, well house and a small fitting shop, boiler house and coal store; the pump house is in the basement and the walls are constructed of concrete; the remaining walls, both inside and out, are built of red Ruabon pressed bricks.”

The Ruabon red brick is complemented with blue brick banding, and a stepped pattern of red, buff and blue bricks decorate the panels above and between the windows, both inside and out. The window heads and other dressings are of Hollington stone.

Two blue, domed vertical cylindrical iron pressure vessels, used to regulate and absorb short-term variations in pumping pressure, stand either side of the main front door.

The outer buildings are used as workshops and storage, and contain a modern horizontal oilfired boiler which is the prime source of steam on steaming days.

DATE OF CONSTRUCTION

The building’s foundation stone was laid in 1895 at a special ceremony on 28 June 1895. Construction was rapid, since a further commemorative stone also dated 1895 is incorporated in the external frontage brickwork some 30 ft above ground level, above the front doors.

A further commemorative plaque states that Bilston was first supplied with water from the works on 2 July 1896, and the entire complex was officially opened in a grand opening ceremony on 12 August 1897.

2 - The Interior of the pumphouse

The engine house is a compact structure, approximately 80 x 25 ft. internal, with just sufficient space to accommodate the twin, mirror image, in-line engines, having a walkway at ground level varying between 4ft – 6ft wide. Above the engine is an overhead crane straddling the entire interior. An open pitched roof, supported partly from corbelling constructed from decorative brickwork, adds an air of dignity and spaciousness. Also high up on the pediment of the pillars separating the engine house from the pump room is a decorative stone frieze comprising what appear to be acanthus and fruit. Light enters through a series of glazed windows lined up with each of the three levels of the engines. The windows for the middle and upper levels have stepped patterns of red, buff and blue bricks decorating the panels above them inside, matching the exterior decoration. Light is also borrowed from the former pump house to the rear of the engine house.

The original coal-fired Lancashire boilers no longer exist, nor the original horizontal pumping linkage, but the boiler house has been sympathetically converted to a small conference/meeting room, used as a committee room and on open steaming days as an educational and interpretation centre.

An original brass vertical Venturi Orivent water meter, incorporating a handsome clock, (both by George Kent Ltd of London and Luton) stands in the foyer of the old boiler house.

This web-site, www.TheBratch.org
has been funded by a generous grant from The Wombourne Community Association.

Created 11 October 2005
, updated 4 June 2006

Copyright © 2005 - 2006 Friends of the Bratch & Mike Caddick webmaster@thebratch.org -