A memorial to the beam engines…


Sandfields is a beacon in Lichfield and Black Country history; for without it, supplying clean drinking water to a growing Black Country would have been a very different proposition.

Here’s something I came upon by chance I think that not just the Lichfield and South Staffordshire Water contingents will like, but all those interested in steam engines, heavy plant and Victorian engineering.

Regular readers will know I’ve been plugging Dave Moore’s campaign to save Sandfields Pumping Station, just south of Lichfield, for some time now. This remarkable Victorian edifice is not only a handsome and historically important building, but it contains a truly historic, dormant steam pump, which was employed to raise clean water from a borehole and supply it via a long main that ran beside the South Staffordshire Railway, through Brownhills and Walsall, to top up reservoirs in the Black Country.

Without Sandfields, the history of our area could have been significantly different – clean water enabled higher population density, better hygiene and lessened community vulnerability to water-borne disease.

I recently came upon a book called ‘Industrial Archeology – The Journal of the History of Industry and Technology’ Volume 8 number 2, Dated May 1971. It’s a fascinating journal containing papers on places like The Old Swan Foundry in Langley, Low Moor Ironworks in Bradford and a fantastic article on Sandfields Pumping Station by one John J. Bradbury, which I reproduce below.

The article describes the engines and plant, and it really is rather wonderful. I make no comment on the accuracy of the article, but have a feeling Dave Moore will have something to say…

Do pop over to Dave Moore’s blog and check out the history of this almost forgotten gem.

If you have anything to add, please do comment or mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.


Sandfields Pumping Station, South Staffordshire Waterworks Company

SANDFIELDS originated as a pumping station in 1856, when a reser¬voir was constructed at Stowe in Lichfield for the needs of the surrounding area and also the part of the Midlands termed the ‘Black Country’. It was proposed to pump the water from Lichfield to a reservoir at Walsall and then via re-pumping stations at Wood Green and Coneygre to the area in question. To meet these requirements a plot of land at Sandfields was acquired adjoining the southern section of the Wyrley & Essington Canal, and erection of the building started.

The original plant was designed and installed by the originator of the company, J. R. McClean, MP, who was a well-known engineer and railway contractor. The original pumping plant consisted of three single-cylinder, condensing, rotative beam engines driving on to a common crankshaft and nine Lancashire boilers. The engines were made by James Watt & Co at the Soho Works, Birmingham, and were officially set in motion for the first time by Lord Ward in October 1858.

img007 2

‘Flywheel, motion and cylinder of James Watt engines at Sandfields Pumping Station.’ – Image from Industrial Archeology.

These engines had an interesting history as they were originally designed as evacuating engines on the South Devon Atmospheric Railway. This method of operation did not prove successful and the engines were purchased by the company from Soho before they were dispatched to Devon. They were brought to Lichfield where they were remodelled for use as pumping engines.

Each engine had a double-acting cylinder 46m diameter by 8ft stroke, and from its beam operated a ram and bucket pump. The buckets were i8£in diameter and the rams 14m diameter by 8ft stroke. Each set of pumps was fixed in a well 8ft diameter by 70ft deep, and the combined output of the three engines was 3.43 million gallons per 24 hours. At a later date the crankshaft was severed so that two engines were left coupled whilst the third engine worked as a separate unit. This was done to allow more flexibility in the operation of the plant to meet the variations in the pumping requirements.

In 1873 tne works were extended to receive a Cornish beam engine constructed by J. Davies of Tipton. This engine has a steam cylinder 65in diameter by 9ft stroke and drives a bucket pump 25 5/8in diameter by 9ft stroke and also a ram of 17 3/16in diameter. The engine had an output of over 2 million gallons per 24 hours and is still retained at the pumping station. The original boilers were suitable for a pressure of 4opsi. These boilers were condemned and in 1907 four were removed and replaced by three Lancashire boilers, each 8ft diameter by 30ft long, suitable for a working pressure of 1oopsi, but they worked at 40lb to suit the old plant. During the coal strikes of 1921 and 1926, the remaining five boilers were used for the storage of oil fuel, and for many years the equipment needed to convert one of the high-pressure boilers into an oil-fired one was retained at Sandfields, in case the need should ever arise again.


‘Beams of the same engines photographed after they stopped working in 1923’ – Image from Industrial Archeology.

In 1922 the company decided to construct a comprehensive filtration plant for dealing with the water from this station, before the water was distributed. To accomplish this object it was necessary to lift the water to the surface for treatment and then pump the filtered water to Walsall. The existing plant delivered the water in one lift to Walsall and the pumps could not be altered to meet the new conditions. Also, the plant was working at a low steam pressure and owing to heavy continuous operation over a long period was not in efficient condition. It was decided to carry out a scheme of reconstruction of the pumping plant in conjunction with the construction of the filtration plant, and the whole of the work was carried out to the designs and specifications of the company’s engineer-in-chief of the time, Fred J. Dixon, MInst, CE, MIMechE.

It was essential that the new pumping plant should be flexible as regards range of output; also the pumps lifting the water to the filtration plant should be as suitable as possible for the independent range variations needed to suit the requirements of the filtration plant.

Owing to the limited space available, general accessibility of the plant was an important factor. Various types of prime movers and combina-tions of plant were considered as to their ability to fulfil the above conditions and finally a combination of steam and electric drive was adopted.

img008 2

‘The main beam of the Davies built engine at Sandfields’ – image from ‘Industrial Archeology’

The two main engines were of the horizontal ‘uniflow’ surface-condensing rotative type and were built by Sulzer Bros Ltd. The engines carried the names J. E. Wilcox and J. A. Kendrick, both former directors of the company. Each engine drove its air pump from an extension on the crankshaft operating a ballcrank. There were two belt drives from each engine flywheel: one belt drove the turbine force pump which delivered the filtered water to Walsall, whilst the other drove a 90k W 220V horizontal direct-current generator which supplied the power to drive a vertical-spindle electrically driven well pump which lifted the water from the well to the filtration plant, and also provided power for the auxiliary plant and lighting. Each pumping set had an output of 1½ to 3 million gallons per day of 24 hours. Each engine had a cylinder 29.5in diameter by 25.6in stroke and developed an indicated horse power of 392 at 158rpm. Oil separators removed the oil from the exhaust steam which was condensed in a surface condenser of 720sq ft cooling surface and then utilised to feed the boilers.

The well pumps had single impellers of the double inlet type and were driven by vertical-spindle direct-current shunt wound motors of 8obhp on a 220V supply. The pumps had a speed range of 760 to 84orpm to give the desired output against a total head of 80ft. The turbine force pumps were of the horizontal type, each having three double inlet impellers in series with a speed variation of between 870 and 94orpm and were each capable of delivering 1½  to 3 million gallons per 24 hours against a total head of 320ft. In case of emergency the two units could run together at a maximum output of 4½ million gallons per day which was the full capacity of the main. The boilers worked at their designed pressure of 1oopsi, and superheaters were added during the conversion. Provision was made in the steam pipe arrangement for working with saturated or superheated steam and a large steam receiver spanned the three boilers for use if the beam engine was brought into commission when the steam pressure was reduced to 4opsi.

At this time two of the old condemned boilers at the canal end of the boiler house were removed and the space used for the construction of an oil store, spares and tool store, and a cement-testing laboratory. The auxiliary equipment comprised two electrically driven boiler feed pumps, two electrically driven oil extraction pumps and one electrically driven drainage pump.

img008 3

‘Sulzer-built horizontal, uniflow type steam engine a Sandfields’ – image from ‘Industrial Archeology’.

To provide power for the overhead electric crane, and lighting and power for the auxiliary plant when the main engines were standing, a steam-driven auxiliary generating set was provided. The engine was built by the local firm of Bumstead & Chandler from Hednesford. It was rated at 40-5obhp at 6oorpm and was directly coupled to a 25KW 220V direct-current generator. The main switchboard consisted of three generator panels and spaced between them were two feeder panels with isolating switches for the two well pump motors, crane auxiliary plant in the pumping station and lighting, also lighting and power for the filtration plant including air compressors, lift, alumina pumps and sludge-pumping plant. The panels were provided with meters to measure the power consumption on the various power and lighting circuits.

In the form described, the plant worked successfully well into the 60s when the condition of the boilers gave concern, and the question of electrification arose. At this time the rate of general electrification of SSWW stations was in full swing, and so plans were made for the conversion. The author would add, however, that both main engines were in perfect condition, a credit due to the builders and the generations of engineers who served the engines at Sandfields, and a few years before the shutdown a representative of Sulzer was of the opinion that the engines would run for another twenty years at least. His opinion must have fallen on stony ground for in 1965 first preparations for the electrification began. This scheme involved erecting a temporary electric pump-house while the steam power was maintained and then a quick switch over, thus eliminating any loss of water.

On 24 August 1966 J. E. Wilcox was shut down for the last time and J. A. Kendrick put on load for the final few months. The last day of steaming at Sandfields came on 30 November 1966 when J. A. Kendrick was stopped, and the electric pumps brought into commission. The changeover had a few setbacks in the first few days and steam was maintained and the engines kept warm but they waited for the call that never came, and once the electric pumps were running at full capacity, the fires were drawn and the uniflows left to the breaker’s torch. During 1967 the engines, boilers and old pumps were scrapped and the main pump house and boiler house together with the chimney which had dominated the Lichfield scene, were demolished.

The Davies ‘Cornish’ engine which had lain out of use for many years was preserved in its house as a memorial to the numerous beam engines which the company had once owned. Plans are in hand to run it again by means of a hydraulic pump which will cause the ram pump in its cylinder to act like a hydraulic jack and give motion to the beam and valve gear, thus giving the effect of the engine running—just as it did ninety-five years ago, when Sandfields was the major station of the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company.


A fine book, and a good buy. Lots of interesting stuff in there.

This entry was posted in Brownhills stuff, Environment, Followups, Fun stuff to see and do, Interesting photos, Local Blogs, Local History, Local media, News, Panoramio photo discussions, Reader enquiries, Shared media, Shared memories, Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A memorial to the beam engines…

  1. Clive says:

    Nice one Bob, what amazing engines. Just amagine these engine parts being transported and erected all that time ago.

  2. David Oakley says:

    Thanks so much, Bob, what an informative piece, and a worthy addendum to South Staffs Waterworks historical records. John Bradbury states, “Plans are in hand to run it again by means of an hydraulic pump…..and give motion to the beam and valve gear, thus giving the effect of the engine running”. Sadly. although much discussed, I don’t think this idea ever materialised. In 1968, Sandfields was involved in a reconstruction programme. following electrification, and although the Cornish Engine House received its share of attention, most of the work was purely cosmetic, carried out by the direct labour force, quite large at the time. The exterior of the cylinder was stripped and replaced by teak match board, surmounted by brass bands, as near to the original covering as possible. Not much else was done, other than painting, cleaning and repairs to the building fabric. The name ‘John Bradbury’ intrigues me. The article was written with that sympathetic undercurrent which often denotes personal familiarity, and I wonder if the author was any relation to Cyril Bradbury, the redoubtable foreman at Brindley Bank, pumping station, sixty years ago. Cyril would eat and sleep with his steam engine if he noticed any wheeze or abnormality, and his reaction to electrification in about 1969 was emotional, to say the least.

  3. Like David Oakley I’m interested to know whether the author John Bradbury is related to Cyril Bradbury who worked at Sandfields before he was foreman at Brindley Bank. He obviously has some fairly detailed knowledge about the decommisioning of the Uniflow engines insofar as he is able to quote the actual dates that they were shut down.

    With regard to the myth that the Boulton and Watt engines were from the South Devon Atmospheric Railway, details of research into this subject are available at: -http://www.southstaffswaterarchives.org.uk/SDAR.pdf

  4. pattcl22 says:

    Just realised there is a J. Bradbury on the 1959 SSWW staff photograph. He’s seated alongside Arthur Pyne who was a senior mechanical engineer and a well known steam engine preservation enthusiast. I’ll see what more I can find out next time I’m in the archives.

  5. morturn says:

    Thanks for posting this, its a fascinating read, and something that adds to our body of knowledge. I was aware of this article in the Industrial Archaeology – The Journal of the History of Industry and Technology, but had never managed to get my hands on a copy.

    What I am quite chuffed about is. In this arena, its seems to have taken on a different prospective and meaning. To explain more, I think that a good historical article informs, elicits questions and changes the way you think about the past.

    On its own, the article informs as fact, but as we all know that’s not how history works. Certainly reading thought it, there are a few things in there that are at odds with how I see the past history of the waterworks.

    Its taken me a few days to think about this to try to understand why these differences exist, and what are the mechanisms for it to happen. After all, it is historical fact, someone was reading the documents was seeking out a subjective truth.

    I feel I understand now after reading through a similar publication about the Bolton and Watt company last week. I was looking for information about Jonah and George Davis, the company that built the Cornish beam engine at Sandfields. I realised that people, with the best intentions, study documents from archives, and fill in the gaps as a way of making sense of past events. People then present these abridged gaps as part of the factual past, leaving no room to elicit questions.

    Does this actually matter, I would argue no, because I have moved away form seeking this subjective past, and just enjoy seeing how others try to understand the world around them. By itself the article as written by Industrial Archaeology – The Journal of the History….does not change the way I think about the past, but taking the whole, as written here in this blog it does.

    I would love to know more about Brunel’s atmospheric railway engines, and if they were used at Sandfields. The documents suggest maybe only parts, but the documentation does not give an indication of the personalities involved; the relationship with Brunel and McClean for instance. People act in ‘interesting’ ways in loss making business events, that are not documented. Certainly the impression I have gained by reading about the Bolton and Watt company is that they had some real problems with their record keeping, a number of their staff were imprisoned. I think the debate is not over yet.

  6. morturn says:

    Reblogged this on The Friends of Sandfields Pumping Station and commented:
    What I am quite chuffed about is. In this arena, its seems to have taken on a different prospective and meaning. To explain more, I think that a good historical article informs, elicits questions and changes the way you think about the past….

  7. Pingback: A public partnership | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.