The British Engineerium, Hove

The British Engineerium, Hove. 6th February, 1990.

We started with an entertaining talk by Jonathan Minns, the Founder and Director, making a rare appearance for parties such as ours.
The buildings formerly the Goldstcne Pumping Station date from 1866, when the first of two Easton and Anderson beam engines were installed. The second, which has been fully restored and is regularly run, was commissioned in 1875. It was designed to pump 150,000 gals/hr from a well
150 ft. deep. A compound engine, its flywheel is about 20 ft. dia., it is fitted with an offset crank to avoid starting problems close to dead centre. Nowadays it is run “light” at about 16 r.p.m. via a small diameter byepass to the original stop valve. Care is needed to avoid runaway on starting. The first engine was taken out of service with the advent of electric pumping in the 1940s, the second continued until 1954.

The four existing Yates and Thom Lancashire boilers date from 1934. The (original) chimney, with the usual Victorian decoration, is 90 ft. high to provide natural draught; hence the need, as we were told, to carry out gas pass cleaning operations with everything as hot as can safely be tolerated.

The pumping station was saved from demolition in 1971 by a Preservation Order. Soon after, Mr. Minns (a nephew of Sir. Christopher Cockerell, of hovercraft fame) with £300 capital and a few dedicated helpers began restoration. The Brighton and Hove Engineerium opened in 1975 and, in its present form, became the British Engineerium in 1981. In the meantime the former covered coal store had been converted into an Exhibition Hall showing the history of mechanical machinery, mainly as models. The centre piece is a horizontal Grepelle and Garand steam engine weighing 16 tons. It has a cylinder of 13 in. bore, 16 in. stroke and is fited with Corliss valve gear. Built in 1889 for electricity generation in the Paris area, it was rescued by Mr. Minns as scrap, and is now in full working order.

Income from visitors represents a small proportion of the running costs of the Engineerium and fund raising and subsidiary enterprises occupy much of the staff’s time. Exhibitions on a particular theme – the most popular to date, we were told, was devoted to the history of the Water Closet – are mounted. The Christie auctions of precision models and similar items are held from time to time. However the most important source of income, other than by grant or sponsorship, derives from consultancy and restoration in the industrial archaeology field. We were given details of work carried out at Cragside House, Northumberland. Now owned by the National Trust, it was formerly the home of Sir William Armstrong, and contains the first hydro-electric generation unit for house lighting. The contract had a value of £300,000.

Use of modern materials and methods enables equipment, formerly considered beyond repair, due, for example, to corrosion, to be restored. The work then offers training to young people of to-day in skills directly applicable to modern industry, and Mr. Minns waxed lyrical about the enthusiasm of the few who had been seconded by their employers for specific projects. It is his ambition to bring his coverage up to date and attempt projection towards the future. He emphasises that full scale items rather than models and mock-ups, and dynamic rather than static displays distinguish the Engineerium from the usual concept of an industrial museum. Prince Philip’s description seems apt – “an Outward Bound School in the
history of technology.”

Time only allowed a cursory inspection of the models, and the workshop and tools display were omitted entirely. No doubt there will be more visits to one of our area’s “firsts” and a project to which a number of members have contributed.