Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Kelham Island Museum

The 'River Don' steam engine has long intrigued me. Billed as the most powerful operating steam engine in Europe, it was a 'must' for a steam buff like me to visit. It was one of four such engines built by Davy Brothers of Sheffield in 1905 and reputed to develop 12,000 horse power. It ran at Cammell's mill for almost fifty years before being transferred to British Steel's River Don works where it rolled steel until 1978, whereupon it was moved to Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield, for preservation.

Malc and I traveled by train from Wilmslow this morning via Stockport, and then a bus and a short walk to the museum. The run from Stockport to Sheffield through the Peak District via the Hope Valley is (apart from some long tunnels) one of the more scenic railway lines in UK, especially the section from Chinley to Grindleford past Edale and Hope.

As ever, please click on any picture for a larger image.

Me outside Sheffield railway station, with a rather good water feature called 'Cutting Edge'. Read more about it here: Cutting Edge Water Feature

Malc at the museum 

This Bessemer Converter is located just outside Kelham Island Museum

This area used to be buzzing with Sheffield's main industry - steel. Now it is a combination of run down ex-steel mills, new housing, and of course the museum. The 'island' is man made and this picture looks from it across a greenery-infested narrow waterway to the disused steel mill on the south bank of the River Don. The much wider River Don proper runs between the island's north shore and the north bank of the river.

The River Don engine in the museum. It is a 3-cylinder engine of 12,000 horse power, which seems an awful lot despite its size. It used to drive a steel rolling mill so has the unusual property of being able to be reversed almost instantly even when working at high speed so the steel billet could be rolled repeatedly backwards and forwards through the rollers of the mill. 

Here is a video of the engine running today. It is run twice a day for just 2 minutes, at 12:00 and at 14:00. The engine ran at 160 pounds per square inch steam pressure when it was in use, but the museum runs it at just 100 PSI as it is not under load these days. At the end of the 2 minutes the boiler steam pressure is down to about 20 PSI. It takes about ten minutes for the gas-fired boiler to regain 100 PSI. and as you might imagine gas is the major expense of the museum.

In this video, watch out for the rapid reversal of the engine controlled by the driver using a foot pedal:

General view of the engine

An end-on view of the engine showing the maker's plate on the rails of the lower of two access galleries and the valve gear, with its reversing mechanism, on the right side of the engine 

This video is of the 14:00 running session, complete with a large group of young school children. Note particularly the engine's reversal, implemented by a hydraulic ram (out of sight on the other side of the engine) which re-positions the levers seen on the right of the engine to change the fulcrum point of the simple valve gear piston rods to reverse the direction of the engine:

This is a crankshaft for a Rolls Royce Merlin aero engine, with the un-machined 'blank' below 

The museum also boasts a Crossley gas engine from a rod rolling mill. It was built in Manchester, but unfortunately it isn't running by gas at the museum but is driven by an electric motor. 

Malc isn't getting fresh here; the dummy's clothing has 'lift-up flaps' with explanatory notes underneath 

A Co-Op milk float; specially for Ivan (don't ask!) 

Something a little more up to date (well, 1950s anyway). A Rolls Royce Avon jet engine, this mark of Avon is as used in the de Havilland Comet 2 airliner but Avons powered all the Comets, the Lightning fighter, Caravelle airliner, and many other aircraft of that era. Sheffield industries provided some of the special metals required for building jet engines.

'Little & Large'  - a full size traction engine and a miniature in the museum's workshop / storage area

This isn't an airliner cabin as you might think at first glance, but a train. We returned home by an East Midlands Norwich to Liverpool service to Stockport, then this crowded Cross Country Manchester to Bournemouth Voyager to Wilmslow (above). There were no unoccupied seats so Malc sat in the vestibule on his portable chair while I perched on the luggage rack at the end of a coach from where I took this picture. Thankfully Stockport to Wilmslow is only one stop taking just a few minutes so the discomfort is of little consequence.

We repaired to the 'Bollin Fee' for a pint or two of good ale and something to eat, where Ivan met us. Unlike me and Malc he still works for a living, poor lad so had been unable to join in our day out!



  1. For some reason the video did not work. Not a complaint just a disappointment as I still really enjoy your blogs. Loved the The Welsh Highland Railway one. I followed it on Google Earth (sad git) and wished I could have been there. All the Best Mark P-I

  2. Should be OK now Mark. Many thanks for the kind comments.