The Whitelees Beam Engine

This engine has been erected and restored to steam in the Ellenroad boiler house. It is a classical Watt-type beam engine and is exhibited in its original condition.

In November 1841, John Petrie & Company of Rochdale delivered their forty seventh beam engine to Mr John Hurst of the Whitelees Mill, Littleborough.  The engine continued steaming until, after long spells of day and night work, it finished operating in mid 1942.  During this period the original Petrie engine works had been acquired by Holroyd Gear Works.  The Whitelees mill, too, had changed hands and in 1957 was owned by the CWS who decided to dispose of the old engine.  It was during this year that Holroyd's brought back the engine to its birthplace, re-erected it in a special annex to their factory and motorized it.  The annex was glass faced and the engine could be viewed by the passing public.

The single vertical cylinder has a bore of 25.5 inches and has a stroke of 5 feet.  The valves are round-seated with a twist of movement to eliminate the scoring of valve faces.  The engine has a single condenser with air pump, a flywheel diameter of 18 feet, a Porter governor and Watt's classical parallel motion in the beam above the cylinder.

The parallel motion mechanism was the device of which James Watt was most proud.  Parallel motion is an assembly of rods and links situated on the end of the beam above the steam cylinder. This allows the piston rod to rise and fall in a straight line in spite of the end of the beam describing an arc as it moves up and down.  This elegant device was used uniformly in beam engines and is shown to good effort above the main cylinder of the Whitelees engine.

The flywheel of the Whitelees engine is 18ft in diameter and has a series of gear teeth around its outside rim.  In the Whitelees Mill, drive was transmitted from a spur gear in mesh with the flywheel to a bevel gear, then through a transmission shaft that was arranged vertically into the mill.  Due to the gear ratios in the mill line shafting as well as the engine room, a shaft speed of 300rpm was obtained for driving the mill machinery.

In 1986, the Whitelees Beam Engine was acquired by the Ellenroad Trust and erected in the former boiler house at Ellenroad in 1992.  Apart from the age of the engine, the most notable feature is that in all main respects it is in its original from having escaped the almost uniform practice of compounding, popularly known as McNaughting.  

For more pictures of the Whitelees Beam engine, see our Google+ Page.