Today I took my sons along to the Kew Bridge Steam Museum to start educating my youngest in the ways of steam. This museum is the old West London water pumping station, where mighty beam engines pumped water to the top of a two-hundred foot high tower, from where gravity carried it back down and away to the households of London.
The museum houses three huge Cornish pumping engines, which are steamed on special occasions and a wonderful range of rotative engines which are in steam most weekends. There’s truely nothing like standing within a Cornish engine when it’s operating. The largest engine at Kew has a 100-inch diameter piston. The largest running when we were there has only a 90-inch diameter piston; it lifts a 20-ton weight two stories high in about a second nearly soundlessly, then the descending weight pumps the water with a deep rumble. Starting these engines is a real art; all the valves have to be operated manually until the engine is properly warmed up – opening or closing one of the valves at the wrong time would risk driving the 20-ton weight into the stops and shaking the building to pieces. And you can stand right beside this Victorian behemoth as it’s operating – truly an awe-inspiring experience.
I also have a much higher quality quicktime MP4 version of this video.