Dartmouth Museum

The Hulse Collection


Explore The World-Renowned Hulse Collection

“In 1970 I started a project which was to occupy all my spare time for the next 45 years. I have researched and constructed in miniature the important steam engines which were built in the eighteenth century.”

These engines paved the way for the industrial revolution in the British Isles and which spread to many other countries throughout the world. These eighteenth century engines are usually grouped together and called steam engines, however, they were not steam engines. Steam was used as a means of creating a vacuum against which the earth’s pressure could act. The correct terminology is that they were atmospheric engines.

As you progress through this website, the engines you will see are all made from exactly the same materials which would have been available to the engineers of the eighteenth- century.

The engine houses are built from real bricks at a reduced scale of 1/16 the full size. In order to complete the buildings to house the engines 151,000 ceramic bricks were used and, all were made on a specially designed miniature brick machine.

All the metal parts were either machined from solid metal or made by hand forging in my home workshop, this gave the appearance of having been made by the engineers of the eighteenth-century.

The Newcomen Engine – 1712

The World’s First Steam Engine with the ceramic bricks made, the planning and construction of the engine houses can now begin. The invention of the steam engine can with some justification claim to be the most important single event of the industrial revolution. The man responsible was Thomas Newcomen who in 1712 built the world’s first commercial steam engine which drained a flooded coal mine at Tipton, in South Staffordshire…

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The Smethwick Engine – 1779

This engine was designed by James Watt for the Birmingham Canal Navigation Company and went into service on May 27th, 1779. The engine was used to conserve water by pumping it back up a series of canal locks. The principles used on the Smethwick Engine completely revolutionized steam engine design. The miniature shown here has a height of 72 inches and a width of 36 inches and, 38,000 bricks were used in the construction of this sectional building…

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The Pickard Engine – 1780

This is a model of an engine which operated on the principles first developed by Thomas Newcomen in 1712. However, it is the first engine in the world to directly achieve rotary motion by the use of a crank and flywheel. This engine was designed and built by a Bristol engineer called Matthew Wasborough in 1779, for James Pickard who was a Birmingham manufacturer. James Pickard’s manufactory was situated on the site of the present Snow Hill railway station…

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The Lap Engine – 1788

In 1788 James Watt designed and built a beam engine the sole purpose of which was to provide the rotary drive for the lapping and polishing machines at Matthew Boulton’s Soho Manufactory at Handsworth in Birmingham. This engine is possibly the most famous rotary beam steam engine in the world and, is now preserved in the Science Museum South Kensington. The Lap Engine is one of the first engines to have its power output rated in horsepower. The drawing below shows how the engine would have appeared in 1788 when it was first assembled at the Soho Manufactory…

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The Pentrich Engine – 1791

Francis Thompson (1747-1809) in 1791 designed and built an engine to remove the flood water from a colliery at Pentrich in Derbyshire. This engine is preserved, and is now displayed at the Kensington Science Museum in London. Engines in the eighteenth century derived their power from the pressure of the earths’ atmosphere acting against a vacuum that had been created by the condensation of steam beneath the piston, within the powering cylinder, these engines became known as atmospheric engines…

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The Arnold Mill Engine – 1797

This was an engine designed in 1797 by Francis Thompson an engineer from Ashover in Derbyshire to drive a worsted mill at Arnold on the outskirts of Nottingham. Thompson designed this engine avoiding any patent litigation with the Boulton and Watt organisation.

There is only one simple sketch of this engine which has survived and is shown here. The mill at Arnold was owned by Robert Davison and John Hawksley and, in the photograph shown here is Hawksley on one of his factory visits…

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The Lambeth Engine – 1804

The engines of the eighteenth- century had all been powered by the weight of the earth’s atmosphere, acting against a vacuum which had been created on the underside of the piston by the condensation of steam, and were then classified as atmospheric engines. Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) a Cornish engineer, designed the first of these engines which used steam at a high pressure directly from the boiler,  this became known as ‘strong steam’. The Trevithick engine was small and compact without the complexity of the atmospheric engines designed by Newcomen and Watt…

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The William Pit Engine – 1806

Work began to sink the William Pit in 1804 on the northern shore at Whitehaven in Cumbria; the necessity to sink this pit was to extract the coal from the rich seams that extended beneath the Irish Sea. The first baskets (corves) loaded with coal were hauled to the surface by Adam Heslop’s winding engine on the 10th March 1806. The mine was in continuous production until closure in 1954; by this time the workings had extended for almost three miles under the sea.

The William Pit in 1814 was described as “The most dangerous pit in the kingdom” because throughout the workings the explosive flammable gas ‘Firedamp’ (methane) was present…

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