The Abbey Pumping Station in Corporation Road, Leicester, is the home to the City’s Science and Industry collection.
The museum is based in a former sewage pumping station that used four locally built beam engines manufactured by the firm of Gimsons. It has recently been the only place where three original engines could be seen working in one engine house.
That is, until Monday March 14th 2011.
From then it can claim to have FOUR working engines in one engine house, as Number One engine was steamed for the first time in at least 50 years!
Five years work by the staff and volunteers culminated in a successful trial steaming; the engine ran smoothly for a short time, although some work will be required to the exhaust plumbing and the condensing system necessitating further trials before there is a formal public steaming in the, hopefully, not too distant future.
Nine years ago, when the No. 4 engine was restored, any thoughts of seeing No. 1 beam engine operating was just long term wishful thinking.
It was thought that too many parts had been removed and the machinery had been cannibalised to keep the others running during their last years of service; It was also believed that it was the first to stop working because of a (unknown) problem; and also its location in the engine house made it difficult to be clearly seen by visitors.
However, after the success with No. 4 engine, a small group of volunteers decided to carry out a survey and found most of the ‘missing’ bits were actually around the site, or readily (note, not easily!) available. The pumps and the pistons were seized solid, but that was not surprising, and permission was given to ‘get it going’.
Freeing the engine was the first problem and it took nearly two years (of Monday working evenings) of graft, muscle and hydraulic technology to free the pump pistons, and later the valves, the lessons learned from No. 4 being invaluable here.
A new bearing had to be laboriously machined out of solid bronze, missing parts located and valves freed and cleaned. Condenser piping, flanges and connections needed making and repairs made on existing parts were necessary.
On Monday March 14th, the fruits of this effort came together and with the engine oiled up and barred over to just over top dead centre, the steam valve was turned and after a couple of false starts the engine started smoothly running for a short time.
The sense of satisfaction was immense.
Four engines will soon be capable of working simultaneously, but whether they will on a regular basis is questionable, the steam source is not sufficient, and temporary facilities will be needed, and they do not come cheap. Any offers or sponsorship of a suitable portable boiler and pipework will be gratefully considered!