CEA Members help out at Museum

Edited from an article by Richard Albanese, Steaming into Sustainability Project Manager – London Museum of Water & Steam

For the full story see Kew News- Vol 126, January 2024 – London Museum of Water & Steam (waterandsteam.org.uk)


Over the last seventeen months we explored the feasibility of repairing our Lancashire boiler which had failed its insurance inspection in June 2022 after a rivet head was found lying loose in the bottom.  This had come off the steam take off mounting and tests later showed that all eighteen rivets would require replacement on the fitting.  Further insurance requirements meant weeks of gruelling wire brushing and rivet head grinding by our Thursday gang of volunteers, with additional testing revealing 51 suspected failed rivets spread across the shell of the boiler.

This was quite a shock being many more than we expected to replace. Costs and risks associated with repairing a boiler of 97 years of age started to rise significantly, even though two very generous donors had already pledged to help pay for these works.  During 2023 the Museum applied for and was successful in getting a £250,000 National Lottery Heritage Fund ‘sustainability’ grant to help us take forward plans for becoming carbon neutral, reducing energy consumption, costs and impact on our environment, whilst also exploring how we can better care for our buildings and collections via controlling humidity conditions and improve heating especially in the larger engine houses.  Recruiting new volunteers, providing training, additional interpretation, outreach, art and exhibition content related to sustainability and a changing world are also included.  Museum finances over the last few years have been stretched to the limit and it was clear by October 2023 that big changes were needed to ensure that the Museum could survive.

 Our choices were very limited – a new package boiler plant would cost in the region of 250k and hiring in a boiler would be equally expensive spread across a year.  We simply wouldn’t be able to raise the funds needed to do this quickly.  Longer term, energy supplies and availability in London are likely to change and we need to understand how that would impact on our choice of steam raising plant so that we don’t end up wasting money now on obsolete systems which might have a very short working life.  We decided that the best option would be to purchase a second hand steam boiler of modern design which we could install ourselves as far as practicable.  This we can use for say a five year period or more until newer energy supplies are adopted and funding becomes available for replacement.

The boiler is of the ‘package multitubular’ type and is typical of gas or oil fired boilers used in industry today.  Made in 1986 it’s in good condition, with full insurance survey history having had a leisurely life in a food manufactory in Somerset.

On arrival the first challenge was to get it from the car park, round the back and into to our boilerhouse.  At 8 tons this wasn’t going to be easy and contractors’ quotes came in at nearly £7,000. Instead we decided to do it ourselves over three days for free, pulling it using wire cable winches with the boiler on industrial roller skates, using heavy objects in store around the yard as anchor points.  Our steam locomotive Thomas Wicksteed became a mobile anchor and proved very useful indeed and volunteer muscle did the rest!

Once in position the complexity of plumbing water and steam pipes in, fitting of flue systems, installing electric and gas supplies, feed water tanks, chemical dosing plant and other ancillaries became apparent.  All of these needed to be carefully surveyed, researched, designed, quantified and ordered so that they could join to existing Museum systems in a very tight timeframe.

Many suppliers up and down the UK gave us substantial charitable discounts and friendly advice and we are particularly indebted to: Cochran Boilers, Fulton Boilers, TLV Steam Specialists, A1 Flue Systems, Combustion Engineering Association, Besseges Valves Tubes and Fittings, McNorman Boilers, Ogley Brothers, Atlas Boiler Company, DONAU Express Dry Cleaning, Internal Fire Museum of Power, Spirax Sarco, Feedwater Treatment Specialists, Abbott & Co, Byworth Boilers, Kings Boiler Hire, Deepwater Blue, HSS Hammersmith, Varley Boiler Services, H.A.Mcewen, Israel Newton and others.

Saturday, Sunday 30th and 31st December and New Years Day saw our engines working merrily away to large numbers of very appreciative visitors, friends, members and supporters from all over the country.  The boiler behaved itself beautifully and was on show to anyone who asked, volunteers and myself being very happy to give guided tours.

Museum Boiler Image
Museum Boiler Image

Further reading

BOAS Assessors – the key to our success
13th February, 2024
 Inadvertent steam release results in tragic outcome on cruise ship
15th February, 2024
Emission Limit Values for Hydrogen and Non-Conventional Fuels
15th February, 2024

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