Edwardian engine runs for the first time in 100 years

Engine awaiting restoration, Brownsea Island (c)National Trust/Phil Pickering

An exceptional example of British Edwardian engineering has been brought back to working order by a team of highly skilled and dedicated volunteers, working with the National Trust at Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset. The engine dates back from around 1907 and it is thought to be the only one of its kind to remain in its original location in the former engine house on Brownsea Island.  Originally installed to supply electricity to Brownsea Castle, the engine sat derelict for decades, its glory of olden days stripped away and in pieces.

Members of the team involved in the restoration of the Engine at Brownsea Island ©National Trust/Adam Poole

Members of the team involved in the restoration of the Engine at Brownsea Island ©National Trust/Adam Poole

For nearly a hundred years, the engine had sat in one piece in its original location. However, in the 1990s it was dismantled for a restoration project that never began.  The parts were left in the engine room but following the transformation of the engine room into a shop, pieces of the engine were relocated across the island with some being left outside in the elements.

Dennis Barnes, a stationary engine enthusiast and one of the driving volunteers in the restoration project, first saw the engine on Brownsea thirty years ago said. ‘As luck would have it, Phil Pickering, one of the boatman and ranger on Brownsea Island, shared the same passion for engines as me and mentioned it at a local engine show.  We had a chat about it and decided to start work restoring it during the late summer of 2014.’

Phil Pickering continued ‘The challenge was on to gather all the missing pieces together and to restore them to working order. Unfortunately, some of these parts were badly corroded.  Some parts were also found scattered all over the island.  One of the pieces, the piston, was found propping up a derelict trailer in the farmyard!’

Due to insufficient workshop space on the island, many of the larger parts were taken away for a detailed overhaul, the most difficult and expensive part of the restoration was fitting a new liner to the cylinder, without which it would not be possible to run the engine. Once the parts had all come back to the engine room, the volunteers spent many evenings of their own time, fixing and fitting the engine.  The work could not have been done without the expert assistance and detailed involvement of brothers Dennis and Chris Barnes and their friends, Paddy Sinnick, Nick Maloy, Michael Hopkins and Patrick Parker.

‘Their expertise and workshop facilities for this sort of engineering are unparalleled in the UK. We are lucky to have them living locally and keen to help as ‘specialist volunteers’, particularly as they had known of the existence of the engine for decades,’ says Pickering.

Restored engine, Brownsea Island (c)National Trust/Rachel Lamb

Restored engine, Brownsea Island (c)National Trust/Rachel Lamb

With the help of the East Dorset National Trust Association and their generous donations, Brownsea Island is now lucky enough to be able to show case this single cylinder Otto cycle engine and cutting edge technology of its time. ‘We have now trialled running the engine and it really is quite magnificent.  It is such an interesting insight into the past and a fantastic opportunity for people to witness such a beautiful piece of engineering,’ says Pickering.

Phil, Dennis and his team should be truly proud of their achievements; the engine now sits proudly in all its former glory in its original engine house on Brownsea Island.

The National Trust hopes to run the engine at scheduled times during 2017 when visitors will have the opportunity to witness this magnificent machine running again.


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