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Adam Heslop

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of Coalbrookdale/Ketley and latterly Workington.

1759 Adam Heslop was born [1]

1763 The Lowca Foundry was established to make cannon for local merchant ships[2]. The Heslop brothers later set up an iron foundry and engineering business on the seashore by the mouth of the Lowca Beck.

c.1790 Whilst working in Shropshire, Heslop invented a form of atmospheric engine which competed with the Watt engine for many years in the North of England. The engine had a "hot" (ie above atmospheric pressure) cylinder at one end of the beam and a condensing cylinder at the other[3]. Several winding engines were built in Northumberland and Cumberland[4] Received support from his employer William Reynolds[5]. The engine was patented on 17 July 1790.

1794 Established Lowca Engine Works to make the 'Heslop' engine.

c.1795 Heslop and Milward built an engine at Seaton Iron Works (Workington), for the Kells Pit[6]

A 1795 winding and pumping beam engine with wooden frame and beam, which ran until 1878, was donated to the London Science Museum, and was put on display[7]. Since removed. Was this the Kells Pit engine?

1800 Brothers Adam Heslop, Thomas Heslop and Crosby Heslop, formerly associated with the ironworks at Seaton near Workington, established an iron foundry and engineering business on the seashore by the mouth of the Lowca Beck.

1829 Died in Workington. [? See below]

1826 Death Notice: 'On Saturday morning last, at Seaton Iron Works, greatly and deservedly lamented by a large circle of friends, Mr. Adam Heslop, aged 67.'[8]


1826 Advert: 'STEAM ENGINES FOR SALE. TO be SOLD, by PRIVATE CONTRACT,—A Second-hand Fourteen Horse double-powered ATMOSPHERIC ENGINE, originally constructed by Messrs. Heslop, Engineers. Also, Thirty Horse double-powered Engine, constructed upon what is usually called Bolton and Watts’ Principle. Further Particulars may be known on Application to Mr. JOHN PEILE, at the Colliery Office, Whitehaven. 23d October, 1826.'[9]

By the mid-1830s the three brothers were all dead, so the investors in the business sold up, and the works was taken over by local iron mining partnership Tulk and Ley which began a long tradition of locomotive manufacture.

1837 Advertisement: 'ENGINES FOR SALE. TO be DISPOSED OF, in PRIVATE, at the BOLTON COLLIERY, near Wigton, TWO Good ENGINES, separately Six and Eight Horse Power, on Heslop's principle. Also THIRTY-SIX INCH CYLINDER, with Piston and Rod attached. Application to be made to Mr. Joseph Benn, Bolton Colliery, Nov. 1st, 1837.[10]



1868 Mr W. R. Anstice of the Madeley Wood Co wrote to 'Engineering' to point out there were three of Adam Heslop's engines still at work, after more than 70 years, at the company's collieries. He observed that there were two open-topped cylinders, equidistant from the beam's pivot, having diameters of 31" (the 'hot' cylinder) and 24" ('cold' cylinder). The 'cold' cylinder stood nearly fully immersed in a cistern of water. On nearing the top of its piston's stroke, water was injected from the cistern. Steam at 7 psig was admitted under the piston of the 'hot' cylinder until reaching the top of the stroke, when the exhaust valve was opened, passing steam not to an external condenser like Watt's, but through an eduction pipe to the cold cylinder, where the steam partly condensed, but did not fully condense until water was injected. The eduction pipe passed through a trough of water, and was served by a small air pump. There was also a water pump for the trough and cistern. It was stated that by using two cylinders in this way, the working power was distributed pretty equally through the entire up and down stroke, and the engines worked with remarkable steadiness and apprently equal effect in each half of the stroke. The engines were familiarly known as 'Adam's engines', being designed by Heslop when employed by William Reynolds of the company.[11]


In 1879 H. A. Fletcher of Whitehaven presented a Paper to the IMechE entitled 'The Heslop Engine, a Chapter in the History of the Steam Engine'. This was summarised or reproduced in 'Engineering', including drawings of three engines [12]. He refers to fifteen authenticated examples of Heslop engines, and gives information on six of them:-

  • No.1 'Old Dolly', a pumping engine at Harris's Greysouthen Colliery. 'It was almost exactly similar to the engine shown in the specification drawing, except that the main centre of the beam was not carried by a wall, but by a wooden A frame, the sides of which, being boarded all round, formed a sort of pyramidal hut over the hand gear. This is believed to have been the earliest engine of its kind ; it retained nearly all its original features and details until the last, and was broken up about thirty years ago. Its boiler like those of all the Heslop engines, was of the haystack form. The hemispherical tops were of cast-iron plates, not fitted, and fastened together by means of bolts and rust joints ; whilst the lower portions were of wrought iron. The maximum working pressure was usually about 3lb. per square inch above the atmosphere.
  • 'No. 2. A winding engine with cast-iron beam at John Pit, Harrington ; it was built in 1810, and was called 16 horse power, and wound coals from 95 fathoms depth, with the assistance of a balance sheave. It was altered to a high-pressure engine by Daniel Hawthorn, a brother of Robert and William Hawthorn, of Newcastle fame, and for some time manager at Lowca Works under Messrs. Tulk and Ley. The Heslop engine seems to have been a puzzle to Mr. Hawthorn, who confessed that he never could thoroughly comprehend its working, adding however, the consolatory reflection that he was quite sure nobody else did.'
  • 'No. 3.- A winding engine at Hodgson Pit, Harrington. This may be regarded as exhibiting Mr. Heslop's best work and later improvements. The beam was supported by a cast-iron framing, whilst the whole engine stood on cast-iron girders, requiring only two or three cross walls for the support of the whole. The beam was a single casting of peculiar form, convex on the lower side but flat on the upper, the main centre being in the same line with the upper edge, but fortified by a semicircular piece over it. This engine stood exposed to the weather for some time after its abandonment, and was broken up about fourteen years ago.'
  • 'No. 4.- A large winding engine at William Pit, Whitehaven Colliery, erected in 1809, and shown in the accompanying drawing, Fig. 2, which is copied from one in the possession of the Earl of Lonsdale. The beam B was a combination of wood and iron, consisting of two open-sand castings, somewhat in the form of the principals of a king-post roof, bolted together with a log of wood between them. The throw of the crank was 5 ft. 6 in., the hot cylinder A 44in. in diameter with a stroke of 3ft. 6 in. or 3ft. 7 in., and the cold cylinder C 28 in. in diameter with 4 ft. 9 in. stroke. The piston-rod of the cold cylinder was connected to the beam by means of a parallel motion ; and that of the hot cylinder by links, with guides for the crosshead. The engine was furnished with an air-pump 14 in. in diameter; and the flywheel was 20ft. in diameter. For forty years this engine drew a large quantity of coal daily from a depth of 106 fathoms, with considerable economy of fuel, and with a remarkably small expenditure in repairs. It was broken up in 1850'
  • 'No. 5.- A winding engine at Lady Pit (afterwards removed to Wilson Pit), of which also a drawing is extant at the Whitehaven Colliery office. Judging by the scale the hot and cold cylinders appear to have been respectively 30 in. and 20 in. in diameter, with strokes of 2 ft. 8 in and 3ft. The date of this engine is supposed to be 1795, and it was without any air-pump, like all made previous to the year 1800, in which Watt's first patent terminated, after having been prolonged by Act of Parliament in 1775 for the additional period of twenty-five years. The piston-rod of the cold cylinder was attached to the wooden beam by means of a chain passing over an arch-head, whilst that of the hot cylinder was connected by cast-iron links. The boiler was fed as was then usual by a jack-head pump, the delivery box of which does not appear to have been more than 7 ft. above the water level; consequently the boiler pressure could never exceed a maximum of a little over three pounds on the inch. This pump, being connected with the discharge pipe from the cold cylinder, must to some extent have also served as an air-pump. Other earlier engines had a similar arrangement.'
  • 'No. 6.- The last of these engines which remains to be noticed is the one first alluded to as the only existing representative of its kind. It was probably made abont 1795, or a few years earlier or later, and was originally at Kell's Pit, then at Castlerigg, and in 1837 was removed to its present position at Wreah Pit, all owned by the Earls of Lonsdale, and forming part of their Whitehaven Colliery. The views on the previous page, Figs. 3 and 4, are made from actual dimensions taken recently. The hot cylinder A is 34 in. in diameter with 2ft. 10 in. stroke, and the cold cylinder C 25 1/2 in. in diameter with 3ft. 3 in. stroke. The wooden beam B has been frequently renewed, and a symptom of fracture in the present one is met by two pieces of old boiler plate patched over the middle portion ; the present hog-backed shape is modern, the original beam having been parallel in form. The air-pump of 12 in. in diameter has been an after-addition ; and the snifting valve in the cold piston is plugged up, being apparently no longer necessary. A drawing, made about the year 1823, shows an air-pump placed outside the cold cylinder, and worked through a double radius parallel motion, by means of a small beam attached to the end of the main beam by a long connecting link. Nevertheless the cold piston still did its work through a chain and arch-head, and it was probably not till 1837 that the now existing links and cross head guides were substituted. The original cast-iron flywheel shaft has been replaced by a wrought-iron one of the same dimensions. The winding gear is on a second-motion shaft, which is not parallel to the first, and is driven from it by a bevel pinion D on the flywheel shaft, working into an ordinary spur wheel with parallel teeth upon the winding shaft. The curiously bent connecting-rod E was a common feature in all Heslop's rotative engines; and though its obvious intention is to clear the hot cylinder, he contended that it gave a certain amount of elasticity which was beneficial and desirable. The cold-water pump discharges itself on the top of the cold piston, from which it overflows on the upstroke into the cistern on which the cylinder is placed. This engine also pumps, by means of a cast-iron beam added about forty years ago, and placed some 4 ft. or 5 ft. above the level of the main beam, to which it is connected by links. An attempt has been made to indicate this engine; but from its ricketty condition, bad joints, and rather insufficient supply of cold injection water at the time, the result was not entirely satisfactory, yet sufficient to prove the mode of operation of the steam. With about 20 lb. per square inch pressure in the boiler, which is not the original haystack but an ordinary egg-ended boiler, the maximum pressure in the hot cylinder was 16 1/2 lb. In the case of the cold cylinder it was needful to attach the indicator to a tube inserted in the top of the piston, the presence of injection water in the cylinder making it impossible to apply it in the usual way. In the upstroke of this piston the diagram showed the pressure reduced to the atmospheric line, which it follows till towards the end of the stroke, when there is a slight fall below that line, arising it is believed from some of the cold water that is constantly poured over the top, passing the badly packed piston into the interior of the cylinder. The diagrams were taken whilst the engine was pumping.'

'Adam Heslop was the son of a blacksmith, settled at Workington, and said to be a Scotchman. Along with his two brothers, Crosby and Thomas, Adam also followed the same craft, which then included what little was known or requisite in the fitting of machinery and the use of the lathe; and all the three were employed as smiths at the Seaton Iron Works near that town , then and sometimes now better known as the Barepots or Beer-pot Works. Thomas seems to have been an adept in the art of boring cannon for the armament of merchant ships, a considerable article of manufacture in the days when every foreign-going vessel carried a number of guns. In very early life Adam Heslop went to Coalbrookdale and the neighbouring iron district for the purpose of improvement and experience; and it was whilst residing at Ketley, near Wellington, in Shropshire, that he patented his engine in the year 1790. Probably he returned to Seaton Works not long afterwards; and it is conjectured that two or three of the earliest of the engines which bore his name were constructed there. But in 1798 or 1799 he founded the Lowca Iron Works, near Whitehaven, in conjunction with his two brothers, Mr. William Stead, of Bolton (Cumberland), Mr. Johnson, a merchant of Whitehaven, a lady named Ritson, and Mr. Millward (who ultimately became proprietor of the whole}, under the style or firm of Heslops, Johnson, Millward, and Company. Adam held three-sixteenths, Crosby two, and Thomas one; but Thomas retired in 1803 in order to join a Mr. Mead in the business of an iron merchant and anchor smith, receiving for his interest in the concern the modest sum of 186l. 18s. William Stead was a younger brother of the John Stead or Steed (Stead is pronounced Steed in the vernacular of Cumberland), who, whilst occupied at Birmingham in the year 1781, patented the application of the crank to the steam engine. Watt states, in the well-known letter on the subject to his son which is published in Muirhead's "Mechanical Inventions of James Watt," that he himself was then experimenting with the crank, but that whilst he was considering about it Stead took out his patent; and he accuses one of his own workmen of treachery in the matter, but at the same time admits that Stead might have invented it independently, as no doubt he did, having according to the statement of his grandson, Mr. Charles Wilson, now of Shotley Park, taken the idea from his wife's spinning-wheel. It is a curious fact, however, that no trace of Stead's patent is to be found, although a patient and careful search was made for it at the Patent Office by Mr. Bennet Woodcroft; possibly some cause or other may have prevented the deposit of the complete specification within the time prescribed by law.'

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Burial records
  2. The Cumbria Coastal Way, by Ian Brodie, Krysia Brodie
  3. The pre-Natal history of the Steam Engine, in Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West by Joseph Needham
  4. The Coal Industry of the Eighteenth Century, by Thomas Southcliffe Ashton, Joseph Sykes
  5. Archaeology and conservation in Ironbridge, by Richard Hayman, Wendy Horton, Shelley White, Council for British Archaeology, 1999
  6. Whitehaven - a short history by Daniel Hay, ‎Whitehaven, 1966
  7. The Sphere - Saturday 31 March 1928
  8. Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser - Tuesday 20 June 1826
  9. Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser - Tuesday 31 October 1826
  10. Carlisle Journal, Saturday 25 November 1837
  11. [1] 'Engineering' 29 May 1868, p.530
  12. [2] Engineering, 31 Jan 1879