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The Mighty Engine at Hulme's Pit

Searching through old family files, Mr Harold Bowker, of Cypress Grove, Denton, discovered a series of photographs taken when mining was one of Denton's major industries.

Mr Bowker, aged 74, was a maintenance engineer with the Denton Colliery Co. Ltd. He serviced many of the most famous Denton pits including Great Wood, Albert, the old and new Burton Nook Pits and Hulme's Pit, by Cemetery Wood (Hulme's Wood). (He was the son of John Bowker (1862 - 1936) who had 51 years service with the Denton Colliery Company where he was employed as foreman of the yard and enginewright.)

Great Wood Pit was between Cemetery Road and Hardy Wood. Albert Pit was off Tib Street, behind the Masons Arms. The new Burton Nook Pit refers to Denton Colliery (formerly Ellis Pit) on Stockport Road. The identity of the old Burton Nook Pit is uncertain but it is possible that he was referring to Top Pit, which was on the opposite side of Stockport Road to Denton Colliery. Hulme's Pit was in Hulme's Wood by the river Tame.

The cage at Hulme's Pit was worked by an old beam engine; an engine which Mr Bowker believes would have been worth preserving (it should have been preserved).

It served as both pumping and winding engine - and it was thought to be the oldest in the country.

It represented the earliest type of steam engine and in its original form was a Newcomen (atmospheric engine). The year of manufacture is not known but a letter from the Denton Colliery Company, dated March, 1931, states that in 1834 the engine was adapted by Musgrave and Co. Ltd., of Bolton. Hemp ropes were used for winding.

If, indeed, it is correct that the engine was originally a Newcomen atmospheric engine then it could only have been used for pumping water out of the mine at this time. In which case there must have been some other means of winding up and down the shaft, such as a horse gin.

The general arrangement of the engine was a beam 10ft 6in long supported at its centre by four pillars. The height from the floor to the centre of the beam was 9ft 8in.

One end of the beam was connected to a steam cylinder and the other end by a connecting rod to the crank, which was fixed at floor level.

The cast-iron shaft broke in 1916 and was replaced by a mild-steel shaft.

The fly wheel was open sand cast, with a typical tell-tale rough finish on one side.

As a pumping engine it delivered water from a depth of 420ft (120yds) with a boiler pressure of 5lb per square inch, assisted by the vacuum from the (steam) condenser.

In 1931 the engine was in good order and typical work it did in Hulme's Pit is given in the letter; eight gallons of water per stroke from 420ft, six strokes a minute. It worked four and a half hours a day, seven days a week. Coal consumption was three tons weekly.

'A similar engine was sent to the USA - I think it was bought by Henry Ford - but the one at Hulme's Wood, despite interest by people at Liverpool University, was scrapped,' said Mr Bowker.

Mr Bowker was correct about the other engine. It was a Newcomen atmospheric engine and it stood close to the river Medlock, about half a mile from Park Bridge, Ashton-under-Lyne. It was nicknamed the 'Fairbottom Bobs' and it was built in c.1760 to pump water out of cannel coal pits, which were about 200ft (67yds) deep. Its nickname arose from the bobbing motion of its wooden beam. It was bought by Henry Ford in 1929 and taken to the USA where it was repaired and put on display in the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan, USA.

'It was a powerful enough engine.' He commented. 'Once I remember a chap at the Great Wood pulling the cage right out and landing it on top of the engine house roof. There was no overwind on the engine and we maintenance men were called out at all hours of the night.'

This comment by Mr Bowker implies that the engine at Great Wood Pit was similar to the one at Hulme's Pit. An overwind could occur for several reasons; negligence of the winding engineman, failure of the engine's brake, or the engine running out of control. In the 19th century several safety cages had been invented and patented but they were costly to install. In 1867, Edward Ormerod, an engineer at Gibfield Colliery, Atherton, Lancashire, invented a detaching hook for the prevention of accidents through overwinding. This was known as the 'Ormerod Detaching Hook' but it is apparent that these were not installed in pits operated by the Denton Colliery Company.

The letter gives details of Hulme's Pit too. Records of coal mining in the district go back to title deeds, which included a conveyance dated 1695.

Operations at Hulme's Pit began in 1730. Plans showing these first workings were not dated until 1767, but workings that are shown would suggest that some 30-40 years' mining had already taken place.

Acknowledgement and thanks are due to A Etchells.

Corollary - Difficulties at Denton Colliery
Soon after the appointment of William Ollerenshaw as the Manager of Denton Colliery in 1899 he was, 'very much surprised at the great amount of strain on the pumping engine and all machinery connected with pumping at one of the pits.' In this comment he was referring to the Hulme's Pit, which was used as a pumping station.

Mr Ollerenshaw found that, 'instead of the original 6 inch diameter bore of the pipes there was such an accumulation of 'ochry' matter (naturally occurring ochre, that is, iron oxide) around the inside that it was impossible to get a 2 inch drill into them.' The whole of the column (down the pit shaft) was bored out by an elaborate and practical method of drilling with two drills of 3 and 5-inch diameters.

It is stated that the ochreous matter took between 12 and 13 years to accumulate and was removed in three weeks. Twelve months after the removal (in 1900) there did not appear to be a fresh deposit.

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