Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Simpson and Shipton

From Graces Guide
Revision as of 14:19, 8 July 2021 by JohnD (talk | contribs)
1. Schematic arrangement of the 'pendulous' version of Shipton and Simpson's engine. The eccentric cylindrical piston revolves about the axis of the small diameter shaft, while the casing swings on trunnions (through which steam is admitted and exhausted [1]
2. From The Imperial Journal, 1853. A scale provided with the drawing shows that the flywheel was 8 ft dia. and the revolving piston was 17" dia, and 16" long
3. From The Imperial Journal, 1853
1851. Great Exhibition Medal. Inscription around the rim reads: Simpson and Shipton Class V Prize Medal of the Exhibition.
1851. Great Exhibition Medal.
Model of Simpson & Shipton engine
JD 2021 Model Shipton Simpson 1.jpg

Simpson & Simpson of 4 Corporation Street, later of Trafford Street, Manchester

See also Shipton and Co and Shipton and Simpson


Joseph Simpson and James Alfred Shipton

1848, 14 August: Patented a novel type of engine. See below.[2]

1849 Introduced a 'hydrostatic governor', in which a screw propeller rotated in a 'vase' containing oil, water, or other liquid. As speed increased, the propellor rose in the liquid, to move the governor's lever via a trunnion.[3]

1850 Simpson and Shipton, 4 Corporation Street; model of steam engine and a saw frame. Intending exhibits for the 1851 Great Exhibition. [4]

1853. Described in directory as engineers and patentees of the short-stroke reciprocating engine

Millwrights, Engineers, and Manufacturers of Simpson and Shipton’s Reciprocating Steam Engines.
SHIPTON AND COMPANY having removed to more convenient Premises at GORTON, near Manchester, solicit the attention of parties requiring Steam Power to their Engines, which combine simplicity with economy and cheapness. One of twenty horses’ power may seen at the Old Factory Saw Mills, Union Mill street; or one of thirty horses' power at Mr. Benjamin Parkes's, of Coseley.
SHAFTING and other ENGINE WORK in its various branches.'[5]

In 1854 Shipton retired from the business in Gorton (or Openshaw) to set up as an ironfounder at the Oak Farm Foundry near Dudley in the West Midlands[6]

The following 1855 advert implies that Joseph Simpson had retained a connection with the business of Shipton & Co:-

'SIMPSON & BARNES (late Shipton and Co.) Engineers, Millwrights, Ironfounders. &c. works Grey-street, near the Railway Station, Openshaw, Manchester, beg respectfully to inform their Friends and the Public that they intend to carry on the above business in all its breaches, and trust, by assiduity and prompt attention, to obtain at share of their support.'[7]

'Short Stroke Engine'

Joseph Simpson and James Alfred Shipton were engineers and patentees, best remembered for a novel type of steam engine, patented in 1848. The engine was described and illustrated by Joseph Simpson in an 1849 Paper entitled 'Description of an Improved Reciprocating Steam Engine, Invented by Joseph Simpson & James A. Shipton, Engineers, Manchester' [8]

1851 Short-stroke reciprocating high-pressure engine. Award at the 1851 Great Exhibition. See details at 1851 Great Exhibition: Reports of the Juries: Class V.

1851 'To the Editor of the Western Flying Post, Sherborne Mercury and Yeovil Times.
Sir,— Among the most novel and attractive engines exhibited the Great Exhibition, is that now working the cotton-spinning machinery of Messrs. Parr, Curtis, and Madeley, Manchester, and also that of Messrs. Mason, & Co., of Blackburn. This engine is of peculiar construction, and promises more advancement in this particular branch of science than has been produced by the improvements of many years past. The chief features of the principle will be easily understood, thus — the main crank of the common steam engine is enveloped in a suitable casing, and the steam is brought to bear on this crank. This crank, the inventors (Messrs. Simpson & Shipton Manchester,) have substituted for an eccentric, the steam being admitted first at the top and then at the bottom of the case, by means of suitable valves, and thus the crank, or eccentric, is made to revolve, by the action of steam, precisely the same as the action of steam on the common piston, and thereby losing all relationship to the rotary engine, which has hitherto met with signal failure. The present is a step beyond the rotary class, and which all scientific men have hailed with the greatest admiration as an achievement long desired. It is applicable for all purposes to which steam power can be applied, as the different applications set forth in the Great Exhibition amply prove. There is what the inventors call their eight-horse stationary engine, working up to ten horse power; there is their model of a fifty-horse pendulous engine, as applicable to screw propellers, paddlewheels, mill-work, &c, &c; there also a compound model pair of the same applied to the model of a steam-boat, attached direct to the screw, without a single crank, wheel, or other complicated attachment, by which it may seen that the engines are resting on the keel of the vessel, and so low that the lower deck may cover them over, thus keeping entirely below the water line. For rapidity and steadiness of motion, and economy of space and fuel, I should think that nothing could so suitably and simply be adapted for the marine trade, and the same properties must be their greatest recommendation for stationary purposes. The inventors also exhibit a line drawing of the same engine applied to the locomotive, the arrangement of which at once strikes professionals as being admirably adapted to this important department of steam engine power. The plan is proportional to a pair of eighteen-inch common cylinders with twenty-four inch stroke, and the rapidity with which these engines work renders smaller driving wheels more suitable, the consequence of which is the entire machine is brought much nearer to the ground, the movement steadier and safer, and onward motion the locomotive instead of zig-zag, (as the practical world know must be the case with the ordinary engines, from the fact of the pistons pulling at different times and the opposite sides,) would be in this engine a direct onward motion.
Your Obedient servant,
AN AMATEUR.'[9]. Was this a press release posing as a letter from a disinterested correspondent?

It is difficult to understand the method of operation on the basis of drawings alone, and the claimed advantages of the engine are far from obvious. Bill Todd has created an animation for the fascinating Douglas Self website which clearly shows the operating mode. See here.

In 1849 Shipton and Simpson's 'improved reciprocating steam engine' was described[10] as having the advantages of 'cheapness of construction, the dispensing with expensive foundations, economy of space, speed of working, with a slow movement of the piston, and a direct driving movement through straight lines.' The latter point refers to the fact that in normal reciprocating engines the angle between the connecting rod and the axis of the piston varies throughout the stroke.

Detailed drawings of a two cylinder reversing marine version of the engine were published in 1852. See here [11]

1852 Simpson and Shipton, Knott Mill, a ten-horse power reciprocating engine. Medal at the 1851 Great Exhibition.[12]

1853 Reciprocating and Pendulous engines (Patented in 1848 and shown in the 1851 Great Exhibition). In the pendulous version the eccentrically-mounted 'piston' gave a pure rotary motion to the output shaft, while the surrounding casing swung like a pendulum, supported by trunnions through which steam was admitted and exhausted. The basic principle behind the 'pendulous' version is the same as in the 'reciprocating' version, and that principle is perhaps easier to understand in the case of the penduous version (see drawing above). The pendulous version avoids the abundance of rods and their bearings used on the first version, but demands the acceptance of a swinging casing. Such a prospect is unlikely have discouraged Victorian engineers, who would be familiar with large oscillating engines with conventional pistons.

1853 The firm presented an engine to Queen's College, Birmingham, for their engineering workshops. Benjamin Horton later presented a boiler for the engine.[13]

It is an interesting and ingenious mechanical contrivance, but the inventors' claim of 'cheapness of construction' does not stand up to scrutiny. Compared with the most basic conventional single cylinder horizontal engine, it had twice as many main bearings, four times as many connecting rods, four times as many cranks, and needed more accurate construction and assembly. However, it would be fairer to make a comparison with beam engines, which would have been more common competitors at the time. In beam engines, the number of bearings was similar, but the need for accuracy of construction and alignment was less critical.

It would be interesting to know more about the durability in service, particularly with regard the wear at the periphery and end seals of the 'piston'. The bearings were conventional, but inspection and maintenance would have proved a headache.

The casing was not as difficult to machine as might appear. The circular ends of the casting iron cylinder could be left as cast, as the piston never came into contact with them. A flat side plate was dovetailed into the cylinder on one side and had the ports and passages arranged behind it. On the other side, a rectangular sealing plate pressed against the piston. This needed to be an accurate fit it its housing. It was pressed up against the piston by springs and by steam pressure.

By 1852 the engines were being advertised for sale by Shipton and Co.

Despite the obvious drawbacks, James Alfred Shipton continued to develop the 'eccentric piston' engine after moving to the West Midlands, patenting an improved pendulous version in January 1861 [14]

An interesting assessment of the engines was provided in 'The Engineer' in 1939[15]. We learn that Shipton read a Paper on the engine before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and gave a list of the six objectives that the inventors had in mind in developing the engine, with the implication that the objectives had been met. The 1939 article considered that few of these claims stood up to scrutiny.

The IMechE Paper (1851) referred to above may be found here. William Siemens and John E. Clift took part in the subsequent discussion.

One of the engines was driving a saw mill at Wolverhampton, and had worked well for 7 months. An engine in Manchester was driving a 7ft. diameter fan at 600 r.p.m. (presumably via a belt drive sustem) and also drove clay-grinding and sifting mills. It was being used alterately with a conventional engine of similar power, and was claimed to offer an advantage in fuel consumption of 10%.

It is not known how many engines were produced, and whether they had acceptable durability. A secondhand example was advertised for sale as late as 1864 :-
'FOR SALE, a Second-hand High Pressure 10-horse-power ENGINE, by Messrs. Simpson and Shipton, Manchester, with straight-ended Tubular Boiler; together with the feeding and steam pipes, &c., complete. ..... To view the same, apply to the tenant, Mr. Wilson, Park farm, Dudmaston ; and, for further particulars, to Mr. Spence, Estate Agent.'[16]. Even later, in 1869, a pair of 16 HP 'Shipton's patent reciprocating engines' were included in the sale of plant and machinery at Hope Works, West Bromwich. [17]


As far as is known there are no surviving examples of these engines. In recent times a number of model engineers have been intrigued to know more about the construction of the engine and how it runs. The photos here show an example made to a scale of approximately 1:10.

The model illustrated was made to a design by Anthony Mount, with castings from Polly Model Engineering Ltd. The design was based on Simpson & Shipton's early published drawings, but differs in some respects. It lacks the piston sealing arrangements used in the full size examples, and thereby sheds no light on the likely durability of those features. The cranks on the model's upper crankshaft are readily removable, whereas there is no suggestion that this was the case for the original engines. In fact on the full-sized engines, the holes in the cylinder's end plates, through which the piston shaft emerged, were shaped such that the end plates could be passed over the cranks. This could only be done after removing the connecting rod and stay rod, which was easier written than done, as the shaft would have to be lifted out of the stay rods.

The model, having tested the patience and determination of its constructor, rewards with a fascinating display of the gyrations of its many moving parts in action.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer, 23 Oct 1885
  2. [1] Polytechnischen Journal: Verbesserungen an Dampfmaschinen, worauf sich die Civilingenieure Joseph Simpson und James Shipton in Manchester, am 14. August 1848 ein Patent ertheilen ließen.
  3. The Practical Mechanic's Journal, 1849, pp.109-110
  4. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 14 September 1850
  5. Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser - Wednesday 22 March 1854
  6. Manchester Times - Saturday 2 December 1854
  7. Manchester Times - Saturday 6 January 1855
  8. [2] 'Description of an Improved Reciprocating Steam Engine, Invented by Joseph Simpson & James A. Shipton, Engineers, Manchester', 1849
  9. Sherborne Mercury - Tuesday 29 July 1851
  10. The Practical Mechanic's Journal, Vol 2, pp.134-5, 1849
  11. [3] Wellcome Collection: Simpson and Shipton's patent marine steam engines / W. J. Lindsey del. ; G.D. Dempsey direx. ; Martin & Hood lith. March 31st 1852
  12. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 25 September 1852
  13. Worcester Journal - Saturday 18 February 1854
  14. The Practical Mechanic's Journal, 1 October 1861
  15. [4] The Engineer, 10 March 1939
  16. Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser - Wednesday 28 December 1864
  17. Aris's Birmingham Gazette - Saturday 3 July 1869