Issue 10 – Winter 2015


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Steam engines powered Britain’s emergence as the ‘workshop of the world’ and pioneering steam power experiments and applications were driven in the West Midlands. Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric engine first pumped water from coal mines near Tipton in 1712 and a full-scale working replica of this giant structure has been created at the Black Country Living Museum. In partnership with Matthew Boulton later in the century, James Watt, translated theories of heat and energy into technological reality when he created his advanced pumping machine – one example, the Smethwick engine survives in Birmingham’s Thinktank, Birmingham – and the rotary motion, which enabled steam to mint coins, mill corn and spin cotton. Others applied steam to transport. Richard Trevithick tested a locomotive in Shropshire and by the 1850s the West Midlands was served by railways which connected villages and towns to the rest of the UK. Steam engines were crafted objects: the summit of Victorian technological achievement. They were painted by artists and described by poets. Many survive, maintained by museums and restored by heritage groups, but steam power was controversial at the time: was it a vehicle of progress, a threat to social order or an oppressive force reducing work to the tyranny of the machine?

This edition of History West Midlands examines the development of steam technology, considers how steam entered the cultural life of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, examines its impact upon the landscape, industry, transport and people and commemorates the survival of many powerful machines.

From Water Power to Watt

Jim Andrew
The energy revolution of the eighteenth century

Mathew Boulton and the Steam-Powered Mint
Sue Tungate
Steam power and the manufacture of coins

Towards Factory Power
Jim Andrew
Watt’s rotative steam engine

Branching Out
Matt Thompson
The coming of the railways

‘One Rule for the Rich and Another for the Poor’
Tom Gidlow
Social class and New Street Station

A Mighty Iron Missionary of Civilisation and Progress
Guy Sjögren
The impact of the steam engine

Places to Visit
Guy Sjögren
Heritage sites to visit

The Smethwick and Ashted Engines
Mike Hodder
Steam engines and the canals: archaeological evidence

Railway Artist and Visionary
Matt Thompson
The images of John Cooke Bourne

‘Orders will be Numerous’
George Demidowicz
Steam engines and the Soho Foundry

Richard Trevithick
Matt Thompson
Coalbrookdale’s first locomotive

Mom’s Army
Joe Krawec
Women at Rubery Owen, Engineers 1945-1951

‘A Bank of Unquestionable Substance’
Karen Sampson
Lloyds’ first one-hundred years

A New History West Midlands Book
Andrew Reekes
Speeches that changed Britain: oratory in Birmingham