Armstrong Hydraulic Engine

Armstrong Hydraulic Engine at Allenheads Heritage Centre by permission of Allenheads Trust

Plans of Armstrong Hydraulic Engine

Plan and front elevation of an hydraulic winding engine for Allenheads Lead Mine by permission of Tyne and Wear Archives Services, ref D.VA/122.

Armstrong Hydraulic Engine

Detail of the Armstrong Hydraulic Engine at Allenheads Heritage Centre, by permission of Allenheads Trust

Eastgate Roman Altar
Original Location: Allenheads
Current Location: Allenheads
Theme: Industrial
Period: Post-medieval
Date: after c.1846

What is it?
A hydraulic reciprocating engine, designed and built for W.B. Lead by W.G. Armstrong and Company at its Elswick works in Newcastle, powered by pressurised water piped from reservoirs on the high ground surrounding Allenheads.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
Lead mining in Allendale, one of the most productive areas in the North Pennines, was dominated by W.B. Lead, owned by the Blackett/Beaumont family. Between 1729 and its closure in 1896, the mine at Allenheads produced 250,000 tons of lead ore ready for smelting. In 1845 the company appointed Thomas Sopwith, an innovative engineer and mining surveyor, as its agent. Traditionally waterwheels had been widely used to power machinery in the lead mining industry but Sopwith saw the potential for the use of new types of water power and worked with his friend, William Armstrong, to develop hydraulic engines for use in winding and pumping within the mines, as well as above-ground applications such as hotching tubs for processing the ore on the dressing floor and sawmills.

Why is it important?
The engine, which is preserved in working order today at the Allenheads Heritage Centre, is a rare surviving example of the technology on which Armstrong’s Newcastle based industrial empire was founded in 1847. The inventor famously expanded his business into armaments and shipbuilding, employing over 10,000 people beside the Tyne at his death in 1900. W.B. Lead was one of Armstrong’s earliest customers. It bought nine engines of this type, demonstrating the willingness of the company to invest in new technologies in order to make its mines more productive.

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