Museums

Markfield Beam Engine and Museum

Lee Hibbert

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The pumping engine has been lovingly restored to its former glory

A backstreet park in an unfashionable area of north London is an unlikely place to come across a true masterpiece of Victorian engineering. But walk for 10 minutes from Seven Sisters Tube station into the heart of south Tottenham and you’ll come across the Markfield Beam Engine, a fine example of an eight-column beam pumping engine which was originally commissioned in the late 19th century and has now been lovingly and painstakingly restored to its former glory.

The bringing back to life of the Markfield Beam Engine represents the culmination of more than 20 years’ effort from a group of industrial heritage enthusiasts, led by Allan Aitken. Over that period, the project stalled several times, owing to lack of funding and equipment. But Aitken and his colleagues showed dogged perseverance and, with help from the National Lottery and some “begging and borrowing” from other companies and organisations, they achieved their aim.

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“We are truly delighted to see the Markfield Beam Engine looking so good again,” says Aitken, a career engineer who ended up in the role of director of product development at Ford in Laindon, Essex. “There were many times when we were at the point of giving up. But the beam engine is of real historical interest and it needed to be restored for future generations.”

The engine got its name from its huge horizontal beam, which rocked up and down about a central pivot due to the action of its steam-driven pistons. The Markfield engine is a self-contained 100hp double-acting steam engine which was designed to discharge four million gallons of sewage effluent per 24 hours at 16rpm, using steam at 80psi pressure. A large-diameter heavy flywheel was connected to the beam and stored energy once the engine was in motion. The energy stored in the momentum of the flywheel was then used to maintain continuous movement of the engine throughout its cycle.

The engine components were cast and machined at Wood Bros’ Valley Ironworks in Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire. The beam is mounted 5.2m above floor level on an ornamental platform supported by eight fluted cast-iron columns standing on a heavy cast-iron base. Part of the unique character of the engine derives from the quality of decoration. Cast iron lends itself well to a precise finish, and the quality of the castings is outstanding.

The engine is open on the second Sunday of every month and on other “steaming days” when it is put through its paces. 

  • The museum is open second Sunday of every month. For more details email beechhouse@hotmail.com or visit www.mbeam.org
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