Photograph of the Iron Crankshaft at Wortley Top Forge
A chance query by Ken Hawley regarding the origin of the above crankshaft has enabled the writer to confirm that it is from the Davy Brothers Twin Cylinder Horizontal Engine which, for over 60 years, powered the first Armour Plate Mill at River Don Works. The building for the Vickers mill was erected in 1875 being most probably the first major development on the south side of Brightside Lane on 13 acres of land purchased in 1874. Records state that a 24" Mill with a 36" Vertical Engine was installed in 1876 for the purpose of rolling plates for the proposed Forth Bridge but, as a result of the Tay Bridge disaster in 1879, the original bridge design was abandoned and the order for plates cancelled.
Following the successful trials of steel armour plate and subsequent Admiralty orders in 1889 the mill was enlarged/replaced cl891-92. The Vickers drawing register lists new 3611 mill housings in 1892 and shows that the '36" Vertical Engine originally serving the 24" Mill was uprated to 42". This engine is further noted to have been sold to Parkgate but unfortunately no date is given.
It would appear that the uprated vertical engine still proved to be under-powered since drawings are listed for a replacement 48"x54" two cylinder horizontal engine in 1898. A brief description of this engine plus a sectional arrangement drawing appears in an article in the November 12th 1897 issue of the Engineering magazine suggesting that the replacement engine was already operational in 1897. The article also includes an illustration, drawings and full description of the 36"x 12'-O" Armour Plate Mill.
The mill at Vickers was the first of the Davy Brothers Heavy Armour Plate Mills and preceded by over 10 years the 40"x l4'-O" Armour Plate Mills made by them for John Brown & Chas. Cammell and 40"x l5'-O" mill for Wm. Beardmore.
Further uprating of the Vickers mill from 36" to 39" was carried out in 1913 and increase in width from 12'0" to 13'-611 in 1936.
The replacement engine was second hand, confirmed to have been converted from a colliery winding engine, but the colliery has not been established other than possibly near Chesterfield. As described in 1897 it was a Davy Brothers Horizontal Twin Cylinder, 48" diameter- x 54" stroke engine, working pressure 70 p.s.i., with ordinary slide valves fitted with link reversing gear and operated by double eccentrics. The crankshaft was made in two virtually identical, pieces coupled in the centre by integrally forged flanges and had an over-all length of approximately 10'-O" with 18" diameter pins and journals and 27" throw.
One of the engine cylinders fractured cl944 and a replacement was cast at Buckley and Taylor of Oldham. During a major overhaul of the mill cl951 an ultrasonic check on the Crankshaft was initiated which showed many inclusions, as would be expected with wrought iron, being the most likely material used when the engine was built, possibly around 1875/80. It was however decided not to risk re-using the the crankshaft and a replacement steel shaft was put in hand, thus delaying the overhaul programme by a considerable time.
The original two throw crankshaft was split at the centre coupling and one half sectioned for metallurgical inspection. Although a considerable interest in this is recalled, so far as can be ascertained all records have been destroyed. The second half of the crankshaft, as illustrated, is that now displayed at Wortley. This important example of an early large wrought iron forging, weighing some 6 tons, was saved from destruction thanks to the efforts of Bill Bailey of Davy United, who was also Past President and Secretary of the S.T.H.S, for many years.
A paper written by Ronald Benson for the Newcomen Society in 1967 graphically describes the skill and hard labour in producing large wrought iron forgings and an illustration from this is reproduced showing the initial stages of forging a crankshaft, similar to that at Wortley, under a Rigby Hammer, cl876.
Many famous ships were clad with armour rolled on the Vickers mill such as monitors Erebus and Terror, successfully used on the Dover Patrol in the First World War and reclad for use on D Day in World War Two, also cruisers the first HMS Sheffield, Ajax, Belfast, Battleships Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth, 12 aircraft carriers Ark Royal and Victorious to name but a few.
The Vickers Armour Plate Mill and Horizontal Engine was shut down and scrapped in 1961 following the transfer from Grimesthorpe Works and recommissioning at River Don Works of the 1905 Cammells Armour Plate Mill with its Vertical Triple Cylinder Engine, the latter now generally known as the River Don Engine at Kelham Island.
The Cutting Edge - No.9 - 1993
An article under this title appeared in the 1993 edition of the Cutting Edge and further information has now been found to update it as follows.
English Steel Corporation records stated that the first mill used to roll armour plate was originally put down to roll plate for the proposed Forth Bridge but as a result of the Tay Bridge disaster the original bridge design was abandoned and the plate order cancelled. This explanation seemed rather suspect since the present cantilever bridge design includes a high proportion of plate. A contemporary note located 'in 'Engineering' indicates that the engine was installed to roll bars, which is a more satisfactory explanation.
An E.S.C. article on works maintenance mentions the 1951 overhaul during which the wrought iron crankshaft, now at Wortley, was replaced by a steel crankshaft. Quoting from this article,
"The bed of the engine is in two parts and when re-erecting we found that they were 3/8 inch out of line. The story goes that it was made by Davy Brothers for Frickley Colliery who refused to accept it because of this error and that Mr. Tom Vickers bought it at a reduced price and saved the makers from going bankrupt ".
This is a colourful story but improbable since Frickley Colliery, initially known as New Carlton, was not sunk until about 1905. However, the nearby Bullcroft Colliery fits the available information more closely. It was sunk in the 1890's and was owned by Markhams, agreeing with earlier information that Markhams had some connection with the engine. If this supposition is correct it also coincides with the installation date at River Don and whilst conversion from a winding engine is recorded in Davy Brothers document, there is no mention of previous use or date of origin. Manufacture may therefore have been cl890-1895, 20 years later than previously suggested.
The E.S.C. article gives the engine power as 10,000 h.p., and also an installation date of 1896, confirming the previous belief that entry of engineering drawings in the register was delayed.
The Cutting Edge - No. 12 - 1996
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