Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Engine Shed - a Contemporary View

In 1840 Francis Whishaw, an engineer who was later to be associated with the design of the 1851 exhibition visited Wolverton and later wrote up his description in his monumental Railways of Great Britain and Ireland, published in 1842. I reproduce it here. It is, frankly, a boring piece of prose. Whishaw was an engineer and precision was his thing, but for those of you who wish to study the origins of Wolverton in more depth, it is useful reading.

I will accompany it with this ground plan to give you some idea of what he may be talking about.


The buildings lately erected at Wolverton, as the principal station for the locomotive engines, form, perhaps, one of the most complete establishments of the kind in the world. The site of this establishment is on the left side of the railway, at a distance of about 52 miles from the London terminus, and 59 ½  miles from that of Birmingham, having a frontage on the Grand Junction Canal. The buildings, which are of plain but neat design, and constructed chiefly of brick, surround a quadrangular space 127 feet wide by 216 feet deep, the entrance to which is under an archway in the centre of the principal front. The whole length of the buildings is 221 feet, the depth 314 feet 6 inches, and the height 23 feet; the main walls are 2 bricks in thickness. Besides the central gateway, which is 12 feet 6 inches in height above the rails, there are two side-entrances: the one to the large erecting ­shop, the other to the repairing-shop.

The erecting-shop is on the right of the central gateway, and occupies one half of the front part of this building. It has a line of way down the middle, communicating with a turn-table in the principal entrance, and also with the small erecting-shop, which is on the left of this entrance. Powerful cranes are fixed in the erecting-shops for raising and lowering the engines when required.

Contiguous to the small erecting-shop, and occupying the principal portion of the left wing, is the repairing-shop, which is entered by the left gateway. One line runs down the middle of this shop, with nine turn-tables, and as many lines of way at right angles to the central line. This shop is 131 feet 6 inches long and 90 feet wide, both in the clear, and will hold eighteen engines and tenders, or thirty-six engines. It is lighted by twenty ­four windows, reaching nearly to the roof.

In the same wing, and next to the repairing-shop, is the tender-wrights' shop, having the central line of way of the repairing-shop running down its whole length, with a turn-table and cross line, which runs quite across the quadrangle, and intersects a line from the principal entry to the boiler-shop in the rear of the quadrangle.

The remainder of the left wing is occupied by a room for stores on the ground-floor, with a brass-foundry and store-room over; and the iron-foundry, which extends to the back line of the buildings.

The right wing contains the upper and lower turneries, each 99 feet long and 40 feet wide; the upper floor being supported in mid-line by nine iron columns. There are fourteen lathes in the lower, and eight in the upper turnery. The fixed pumping-engine house is also in the right wing, occupy­ing the central portion thereof, and measuring 26 feet 3 inches by 19 feet 6 inches. There are two engines, each having a 14-inch cylinder and 4-feet stroke, and worked with from 35 Ibs. to 40 lbs. pressure; the fly-wheels making twenty-four revolutions per minute. The boilers are placed in a sunk area in front of the engines, and separated there from by a 9-inch wall. The water is pumped from a well in the centre of the engine-house; this well is of elliptical form, the transverse and conjugate diameters of which are respec­tively 11 feet 6 inches and 8 feet 2 inches. The brickwork is 9 inches thick, and the whole depth of well 93 feet. At the bottom of the well are two tunnels, running north and south, each extending 33 feet from the well. These tunnels are 8 feet wide, 8 feet 6 inches in extreme height, and 6 feet to springing of segmental arch; the brickwork is 13 ½ inches in thickness. The two pumps are each of 7 inches diameter. There are two tanks to receive the water from the well: the one above the engine-house having a capacity equal to 2590 cubic feet, or 15,540 gallons; and the other 3850 cubic feet, or 23, 100 gallons. This latter tank is over the gateway.

Besides pumping water for the establishment, and giving motion to the lathes and other machinery, these engines have another duty to perform, which is that of working the blowing-machine. The blowing cylinders are fixed on a floor above, and immediately over the engine-cylinders, are 3 feet in diameter, and are worked by the same piston-rods, having a 4-feet stroke. The air is admitted at the top of the blowing-cylinder by a pipe communi­cating with a vertical cylinder, 10 inches in diameter, which is carried out above the roof. The 9-inch blast-pipe passes from the top of the cylinder, on the opposite side to that in which the air is admitted, and runs down to the level of the smithy, to blow the numerous fires which range along the sides and ends.

The smithy occupies the north-west angle of the building, running partly down the right wing, to the extent of 137 feet 3 inches, and joining the engine-house, and partly along the back portion of the building, to the extent of 76 feet. It contains eighteen single, and three double hearths. The remaining space of the back portion of the buildings is occupied by a joiners'-shop, with store-room and pattern-shop above, the hooping-furnaces, and a boiler-shop. In the boiler-shop there are two hearths; and, commu­nicating with the machinery worked by the engines above described, are two drills and a punch.

The lodge, superintendent's office, and drawing-office, are in a building within the quadrangle, and close to the principal entrance. The various departments of this establishment are warmed by steam, issuing through cast-iron pipes laid in channels, paved over, and furnished with proper ventilators.

On each side of this extensive structure there is a street running down to a wider street at back, which is 40 feet in width, including the footpaths. In the left street are the gas-works, and eight cottages of two stories for the workmen. Between the street on the right and the canal, other streets run down at right angles. In the principal street, which is at the back of the locomotives' building, there are six houses of three stories, for clerks and foremen; twenty-two of two stories ; and eight with shops on the ground­floor. From the main street there is a communication with the high road, which passes over the railway to the south of this station.

In front of the locomotives' building there are four lines of way; the main double way being in the middle, with an intermediate space of 6 feet 5 inches, the whole width of way being about 60 feet. On the side-line next the building are two engine-races, or pits, 3 feet 9t inches wide, and 2 feet 4 inches deep from level of rails. A grating is fixed in the bottom of each race, to let off the water from the engines, when required, into a proper drain below. On the cross lines, which are in communication with the locomotives' establishment, are six turn-tables; two of which are in front of the carriage­landing, which is on the east side of the railway. In this carriage-wharf or landing there are two docks or recesses, each 9 feet 2 inches wide, 5 feet deep, and 3 feet 84 inches high, with proper indents in the coping to receive the buffers and chains. To support this wharf four needle piles of oak are driven at a distance of about 10 feet 6 inches from the back of the wall, and between these piles and the elm planks, which are close to the wall, strutts are introduced 10 feet in length. The whole width of this landing is 28 feet 6 inches, and it is run out with a proper slope leading from this station to the main road.

Fronting the canal, and on the east side of the railway, is the goods warehouse, which is furnished with a double way, forming a communication with the main line. There are two lines of way running down the length of the warehouse between two stages or platforms, 15 feet wide and 4 feet high. On these stages are cranes for raising or lowering goods from or to the canal-barges or railway-wagons. Beneath the front stage is a coal-store, with six loop-holes next the canal. This building is lighted by four sky­lights in the roof, which is slated, and projects over part of the canal to pro­tect the barges in bad weather.

The temporary passenger-station is on the north side of the canal. Here the trains are allowed to stop ten minutes, provided they arrive in proper time, for the purpose of allowing passengers time to take refresh­ment.

Every engine with a train from London or from Birmingham is changed at the Wolverton station, which answers the double purpose of having it examined, and of easing the driver and stoker. We consider even fifty miles too great a distance to run an engine without examination; and have seen on other lines the ill consequences arising from the want of this necessary precaution. We should prefer about thirty miles' stages, when it can be managed. 

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