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Cambridgeshire’s Stretham Old Engine Receives Top Engineering Award

onv 17 33Cambridgeshire’s Stretham Old Engine Receives Top Engineering Award

The steam-powered engine presented with an Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Engineering Heritage Award

Cambridgeshire’s Stretham Old Engine was presented with an Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Engineering Heritage Award at a special ceremony on 24 September. (Read More)

Previous winners of Engineering Heritage Awards include Alan Turing’s Bombe at Bletchley Park, the E-Type Jaguar and the fastest ever Concorde. This will be the 109th Engineering Heritage Award.

The engine was honoured for being the earliest, largest and most complete survivor of the Beam Engines and Scoop Wheels which kept the flood affected Fens in East Anglia drained.

Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“The Stretham Old Engine played a crucial role in keeping the Fens free from floods for over a hundred years. This award celebrates not just the original ingenuity of the Butterleys’ engineers of the 19th century, but also to the committed team of volunteers who maintain it in such fantastic condition.”
Brian Callingham, Chairman of the Stretham Old Engine Trust, said:

“We are honoured that the work of all those, who have given so freely of their time and expertise, as well as the inspiring vision of the engineers that originally developed the Stretham Old Engine, is being recognised in this way.  It is a most fitting tribute to the dedication of my predecessor, as Chairman, Keith Hinde OBE and to his son, Edward, as our Engineer. This honour, we feel confident, will be a crucial element in our endeavours to recruit much-needed volunteers to ensure that the contribution the engine makes to the engineering heritage of the Fens will continue to grow.”

The engine was built by the Derbyshire firm, Butterleys, in 1831 it replaced four nearby windmills. Its Scoop Wheel was used successfully for over a century to lift water from flood channels back into the river to drain the district of the Fens called the Waterbeach Level near Ely, then comprising some 5,600 acres (2,266ha). Over 60 steam engines of various types were erected in the Fens for drainage purposes between 1817 and 1850, and over 80 more from 1850 to 1926. Three beam engines survive in the Fens, of which Stretham is the only one in Cambridgeshire and by far the largest: the other two being in Lincolnshire, but neither of these have chimneys nor complete boilers.

In 1829 Waterbeach Level Commissioners asked the Butterley Company of Derbyshire to tender for an engine to drain the district. The building was constructed by a separate contractor, at a cost of £2,050. The whole work was finished in 1831, at a cost of £2,900 for an engine of 60 nominal brake horsepower (45 kW), two boilers and a scoop wheel, making £4,950 for the complete installation. As a hard bed of gravel lay only 10 feet (3m) below the peat, no piling was necessary to support the building house on its left, and the boiler house on its right. The chimney shaft, 75 feet (23m) in height, can be seen behind the boiler house.

Entering the building through the boiler house door, the visitor will see three boilers. They raised sufficient steam to drive the huge Engine and the enormous scoop wheel that Iifted 30 tons (31 tonnes) of water with every revolution from the Fen into the Old West River. Normally, two of the three would be used to supply steam with the third acting as a standby when one was being cleaned.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers was established in 1847 and has some of the world’s greatest engineers in its history books. It is one of the fastest growing professional engineering institutions. Headquartered in London, we have operations around the world and over 115,000 members in more than 140 countries working at the heart of the most important and dynamic industries such as the automotive, rail, aerospace, medical, power and construction industries.

The awards, established in 1984, aim to promote artefacts, sites or landmarks of significant engineering importance – past and present.

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