Markfield beam engine was installed 125 years ago. Built by Wood Bros of Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, it was initially used to pump sewage which previously had been discharged from the rapidly growing settlement of Tottenham straight into the river Lea, causing several cholera epidemics downstream. When a larger engine was installed, it was used in time of floods, for pumping away the floodwater. In 1964 it fell out of use and became derelict; the engine house was bricked up, and the staff transferred elsewhere in north London. In the 1980s, it was restored by volunteers, and now runs regularly a few times a year (powered by oil rather than the original coal).
Some statistics: the flywheel is 27 feet in diameter and weighs 17 tons; the engine delivered 100 horsepower; and it drove two pumps, each capable of shifting two million gallons a day.
In 2011, we stumbled on it on a walk up the river Lea. Though it was not operating, there were volunteers there, and we got a guided tour of the engine. We intended to return when it was in steam, but didn’t get round to it until this weekend. My colleague Reza Tavakol (who was on the Thursday walk) emailed me to say that they would be celebrating the 125th anniversary this weekend. So we set off after breakfast up the Lea to Markfield Park. When we arrived, the engine wasn’t yet working, but who should we find there?
After we had lunch, looked at the stalls, and admired the steampunk costumes (which must have made their wearers very hot), we went back to see the engine operating. Carrie, in her overalls and with an “Engine Driver” badge, was wielding a huge crowbar to get the flywheel turning. After some effort, off it went.
It is fascinating to watch a steam engine working, especially the Watt linkage which converts the linear motion of the pistons into the rocking motion of the beam. This is geometry in action: the pistons were not visibly deviating from a straight line, though the points where they drove the beam had considerable sideways movement as the beam rocked.
Through Carrie’s good offices, we were taken down into the basement to see the pumps, and up onto the platform when the engine stopped to admire the beam at close quarters.