EAST ANGLIA’S HISTORY of STEAM
The portable engine in the first photograph looks something like a traction engine but does not move under is own steam. Although it has some features in common, it is easily distinguished from a traction engine principally by the lack of a footplate. It has smaller back wheels, a relatively large flywheel and a tall chimney which are also distinctive features. They were used around the farm to provide power where previously a horse treadmill or plain human brute force would have been employed.
In this black and white photograph note how all the men are wearing Mackintoshes and flat caps; this places the picture firmly in the 1950s. In the next picture the large tie and cardigan on the man in the foreground place it about ten or fifteen years later! By now hats were out of fashion. In the next photo the sleeveless jumper and grey flannel trousers of the boy looking at the fairground engine place him in the early 60s.
In this picture the traction engine is a Burrell made at St Nicholas Works in Thetford in 1908. At the time Basil Kybird’s grandfather was working as a turner in the factory (see the his blog on Thetford in these pages, 7th September 2012). Another famous East Anglian traction engine builder was Garrett of Leiston, Suffolk, who eventually took over Burrell’s business, but there were other traction engine manufacturers too. Savages of Kings Lynn were most famous for producing roundabouts and other fairground rides, but they also produced all kinds of steam engines including traction engines for farm work. I don’t think I have ever seen one but there are plenty still in existence. The firm of Sturgess and Towlson, which I doubt many people have heard of today, was a builder of steam engines at the Vulcan Works in Norwich, although in this case it produced stationary engines not traction engines.
Another firm involved in the production of stationary engines was R. Tidman & Sons who were active in Norwich from 1883 to 1925. There were examples of these engines at the Bridewell Museum and at Gressenhall too. A Tidman engine was used in the Gallopers at Bressingham because like Savages they built steam engines to power fairground equipment. The original engine had been removed before Alan Bloom acquired the ride. Tidman’s works was by the river Wensum at Bishops Bridge. Another engineer, Sabberton’s, made the iron castings which make up Foundry Bridge, a few hundred yards downstream. This company also made stationary steam engines; the company is still in existence as Bussey’s, the Ford car Dealership for Norwich.
In Norfolk 19 steam engines were built at Melton Constable under William Marriott of the M&GN. These railway locomotives were small tank engines. The well-known firm of Ransoms of Ipswich which is now regarded solely as a maker of lawn mowers set up a subsidiary in 1868 to produce railway locomotives, and Ransoms themselves made traction engines. Soame of Marsham (near Aylsham in Norfolk) made a steam powered wagon in 1897 which used to make regular appearances at steam engine rallies in Norfolk. Soame also produced traction engines. Earlier he had produced stationary steam engines, once again for fairground rides. This form of entertainment must have been very popular before radio and television made people’s leisure time an indoor rather than outdoor pursuit.
For a rural economy there was a lot of engineering ability in Norfolk. Other builders of traction engines include Holmes & Sons who also built the imposing cast iron fronted building which may still be seen in Castle Hill, Norwich. In Great Ryburgh was Farmer’s Foundry, and in Kings Lynn Dodman’s and also the Cooper Steam Digger Co; Daniel Crowe of Gaywood was nearby. All these companies manufactured traction engines as well as portable and stationary engines.
The picture of the Garrett (above) shows the traction engines circling the grand ring at Woodton. This was one of the major manufacturers but many small and out-of-the-way villages in Norfolk produced their own traction engines in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Bacton in North Norfolk was where John Collings produced three traction engines, and many other small engineering workshops produced stationary or portable engines in remote areas of the county.
The major annual steam rally in Norfolk is now the one at Strumpshaw, held for the last 21 years on the Spring Bank Holiday. These photos all relate to earlier steam events in Norfolk which were organised by the Norfolk Traction Engine Club. George Howlett the chairman lived at the Old Hall, Woodton, where he held the first rally in the spring of 1959, or at least so says Alan Bloom in his book Steam Engines at Bressingham. However I am pretty sure that the old photo (above) shows a rally in Woodton, and this film is dated 1958. I went to one of the early rallies with my cousin David Anderson when I was nine or ten years old. By 1961 the Woodton Rally was getting crowds of 7,000. That was a good attendance in those days. It attracted around 30 engines from all across the county. At the time it was held on Whit Monday, a feast that moved according to the date of Easter. Whitsun tide was replaced by the fixed Spring Bank Holiday for a trial period in 1965, which was made permanent in 1971.
If anyone wishes to find out more about steam engines made in Norfolk I can recommend the book written by R. H. Clarke in 1988, entitled Steam Engine Builders of Norfolk. He was a great expert on steam and iived locally.