During the 1910’s coal became much more expensive than previously and old inefficient engines were being replaced, especially 100+ year old Newcomen-type engines, very few of which remained working anyway. My great-grandfather was an engineer and steam engine designer who sought out to record and photograph these old engines before they disappeared. This is a record of “Old Sarah” a Newcomen engine that worked a coal mine for at least 100 years.

"Old Sarah" with the pit-head in the background. My grandfather making notes.

Extracts from the journal of my great-grandfather Clarence.

Friday 5th Apriil 1918


Maurice (my grandfather) and I left by the 8.07 for Guiseley, from there went by car to Leeds and then to Rothwell. We walked to Newmarket Silkstone Colliery, Stanley near Wakefield. I had obtained permission to take particulars and photos of “Old Sarah”, and Mr R. H. Routledge gave us every assistance.

The man who ran the engine came to help us also, his father ran it before him, and his grandfather before that. At one time he said the engine was nicely kept and he could remember his mother coming to scrub the floors.

I could get no particulars as to the age of the engine. I came to the conclusion that the cylinder was originally intended to have a cover, the top flange being very heavy and with holes for bolts cast in all round, only a few being used to hold the cylinder. The most interesting detail was the piston rod caps and chains which were all of the old design. The shaft is 110 yards deep and there are 2 bucket pumps, the lower one being 11 ¼” dia. the upper one, about halfway up about 11” bucket. A jack head pump 6” bucket lifted the cold water into the injection tank, and another plunger pump lifted hot well water to the beam floor, from where the water went to the gravity feed tanks on boilers, and also for supplying the pistons water seal. Maurice went down the shaft to see the new electric pumps etc. He also helped me to measure up the engine.

The photos were under exposed. I used Imperial Sovereign plates and the place was very dark. There is no balance bob in the engine. We returned to Ilkley by North Eastern Trains at 5.20. After tea I developed the 11 plates.

The beam floor of "Old Sarah". Digital processing recovers much of the detail lost in a very under-exposed image.

This was Clarence’s second visit to the colliery, the first was a business visit as a steam engine designer. It seems that prior to that no-one outside the colliery was aware of the engine which had been retired 6 months previously. It was scheduled for breaking up, but as no labour was available work dismantling it hadn’t started. The drawing he produced from measurements taken on the day is in the Science Museum collection in London.