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Neaverson Centre Neaverson Centre Neaverson Centre

Swannington Heritage Trust Members Page

An old friend has returned

In about 1967, when we were visiting Gwen’s parents on Hospital Lane, her father took 10 year old Ian and myself to investigate the old Califat Pit sited in the spinney near to the derelict tower of the mill. James soon disappeared from sight and was discovered in a large metal tank, which was almost buried underground. As we lifted him out I recognized that the tank was an iron “Haystack” boiler, as used in the early 18th. century to provide steam for the newly invented Newcomen Atmospheric engines, then being introduced into the local pits to be employed in pumping water from workings.

In 1969, along with other members of Leicestershire Industrial History Society (LIHS), of which I was a founder member, we excavated and carefully recorded details of the boiler prior to its removal to the Museum of Technology in Leicester. Young members of the LIHS digging party were David Bramley, Gary Baker, Ian Baker and John Bramley.


The haystack boiler is loaded on to a lorry at Snibston Discovery Park.
 
At the spinney awaiting positioning on its plinth.

The boiler was proudly displayed to visitors at Leicester before being transferred to Snibston Discovery Park, where it has stood for the past 20 years or so. In 1996 LIHS, in cooperation with the Trust, the LIHS team, under the direction of Peter Neaverson and Marilyn Palmer, returned to Califat to carry out a total excavation of the site of the engine house on which the boiler was found.

The cavities were then refilled by the Trust for safety reasons after erecting two of the engine mounting blocks to commemorate the three miners who died in the disastrous inundation of the pit in 1863.

The Trust has now decided to stabilize the foundations of the walls of the engine house by laying a sacrificial layer of bricks on the corroded remains and to bring the boiler back to be displayed in the context of where it was in use many years ago.

I am delighted to report that we successfully achieved that on February 29th. 2012 and its final positioning will be completed over the next few weeks.

Up at the Califat


During the last quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012 there has been quite a bit of work taking place in the Califat Spinney.

During the autumn the focus was on trimming back the lower branches of some of the young trees so as to raise the crown. This lets more light in at ground level and makes it easier to walk around the spinney without getting a branch in the face.

As part of this work to make access easier, a path has been created along the eastern boundaries (2012 01 11 Califat Border Path, 2012 02 18 Swannington Snowdrops 012 - Path inside Califat). This is narrower than the central path and those along the western boundaries, but it is a start and over time will grass over and become established. So please walk around the edges when you visit, as this will help the path establish.
The engine house at the Califat was excavated by Leicestershire Industrial History Society (LIHS) in the 1990’s. Our team has cleared the excavation of weeds (2012 01 11 Califat Cleared Excavation, 2012 01 11 Califat 066) and stockpiled bricks in preparation for the laying of a sacrificial layer of bricks on the site (similar to the Incline Engine House). LIHS have offered to pay for the interpretation boards.

For a number of years the LIHS have been undertaking a second dig next to the track leading to the Gorse Field. (2012 01 11 Califat 009 Excavation) They have been investigating another engine house and ventilation shaft. As 19th century engineers did not adhere to a similar degree of standardisation as is practiced today, it is quite challenging to try and work out what is there and why it was constructed in that fashion.

Brake Wheel Project 2011/12 – Additional Information

The construction and installation of the brake wheel is a major step forward for the Trust in its step by step strategy to bring the mill to the stage where power could be added to make it operational.

After meticulous investigative work by the Mill Team in conjunction with the Mill Consultant, plans were submitted to the Management Committee who approved the expenditure of £4,500 on seasoned oak to make the brake wheel. (2011 11 09 Tools 017 and 2011 11 09 Tools 018)

The 3 metre (10 foot) wheel is so big that it only just fits in the Neaverson Centre which is being used as a workshop. (2012 01 11 Mill 015 – Brakewheel and 2012 01 11 Mill 021) The wheel has been manufactured from pieces of oak which are held together by wooden pegs.

The brake wheel will be sandwiched between two frames, the square centre of these will fit around the wind shaft. (2012 02 17 Mill & Brake Wheel 008) The “rebates” in the wheel prevent sideways movement by the frames and will also help position the frames when the brake wheel is reassembled.

The construction of the wheel and frames requires precision carpentry with tight joints (2012 01 11 Mill 017 - Brakewheel Joint, 2012 01 11 Mill 019 - Brakewheel - Angled Joint, 2012 02 01 Swannington - Brake wheel joint) at carefully measured angles. Everything must fit together perfectly within very narrow tolerances. Some of the joints have been made with an angled lip to prevent movement within the frame.
While full credit is given to our skilled carpenters, even they cannot get by without one of the most essential tools – a large persuader! (2012 01 11 Mill 018 - Giant Hammer)

Completing the carpentry manufacture of the brake wheel and frames is only part of the process. A pattern is being made which will be used to make the mould for the cast iron castings (the teeth which will interact with the wallower, which will drive the drive shaft which turns the mill stones). The castings will then be fixed to the wheel and frame with bolts.

The next stage will be labour intensive as the component parts of the wheel and frame will be carefully numbered and dismantled, before being taken to the top floor of the mill and painstakingly reassembled around the wind shaft. A considerable task as the components will be individually hauled to the top through narrow trap doors and stored in a small space, then reassembled the hard way – in situ not laid on the floor. Once the brake wheel has been assembled there will be final positioning and testing.

Although the carpentry is undertaken by our skilled expert and assistant, the project is very much a team effort. From conception and through each stage there is considerable debate amongst the team members as each engineering challenge is carefully considered from all angles. The team is only going to build one brake wheel, which will be subject to huge stresses should the mill become operational. Mistakes would be very expensive, so they take great care to get everything right, even if some issues need to be discussed several times to reach the correct conclusion.

 

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