UCL Centre for Engineering Education


Visit to the Markfield Beam engine

23 May 2022

Five MSc Engineering and Education students and three CEE staff, as well as several friends and family members, took part in a visit to the Beam Engine.

Students, staff and family were shown round by four of the volunteers who have helped restore and maintain the Engine. They were mines of information both historical and technical, and were thoroughly knowledgeable and informative.  At the same time they were priming the Engine to start operating – all the pipes need to be warmed in advance of starting, so as to avoid extremely hot steam coming into contact with cold pipes.  When this had been done, the Engine was switched on, but the flywheel still needed to be cranked to get it going, and Beilei and Wenshan, two of our students, agreed to get their hands dirty and put their backs into the rather strenuous job of levering a 25ft flywheel!  

Beam engine

Although the engineers told the group it was rather temperamental and often didn’t start when it was meant to, this time it did.  The machine in motion was awesome, an assemblage of several huge pieces of steel and iron all moving smoothly and quietly.  When it was connected to London’s sewerage system it moved 17,000 litres of water per minute, and it operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The warm water was also used to heat greenhouses for growing vegetables, and sewage used to support local farms – South Tottenham was a rural village near the River Lea in the Engine’s heyday!  

A vote of thanks was made for the four volunteer engineers who made our visit so interesting and stimulating: Alan Elliott, Ed Usher, Ian McLaughlin and Tony Gallagher.

Beam engine

Markfield Beam engine: https://www.mbeam.org/