Our magnificent Basford Beam pumping engine is waiting to greet you as you enter the Steam Gallery. Venture further in, and you are introduced to an age when steam and diesel engines powered the nation’s factories. These were the engines driving Nottingham’s vibrant industrial economy.

From Elizabethan times England’s expanding economy demanded more coal, and mines needed to be drained of water to increase production. Thomas Newcomen built the first practical steam pumping engine for mine drainage in 1712. These engines were built in huge ‘Engine Houses’ next to the mine shaft. A large, pivoted beam attached to rods reached down into the mine shaft and drew up the water. From this time, engineers developed steam engines to pump drinking water, power railway locomotives, drive industrial machinery in factories, thresh and plough, and build roads using steam rollers. Most of the roads you drive on were first built using a steam roller.

The steam hall
The steam hall

The Steam Hall contains our impressive Basford Beam Engine. This behemoth is one of a pair of engines built in 1858 by R. W. Hawthorn in Newcastle upon Tyne. Installed at Basford Pumping Station, it lifted fresh water 33 metres from the sandstone below and supplied it to the City of Nottingham. The engine was replaced in 1965 and moved to the purpose-built Steam Gallery at the Industrial Museum. It was first fired in 1975 and has continued to operate for 40 years through the dedication of our volunteers. The Beam Engine can be seen in steam on the last Sunday of the month on our steaming days.

The Steam Hall is also home to a comprehensive collection of steam engines and large stationary diesel engines. Most of these can be seen running on steaming days. Early engines were first laid out horizontally. But this used too much space so engines started to be built with the cylinder above a flywheel. A large variety of pumps and engines are on display, many of which were from local companies. The work of Manlove, Alliotts and Co Ltd and E Reader and Sons Ltd, two long established Nottingham companies can be seen in this gallery. Manlove, Alliotts were established originally in Lenton in 1837 before moving to Radford and made a bespoke range of hospital laundry apparatus amongst other things. Readers of Phoenix Engine Works, Cremone Street, Nottingham started life in the 1830s by patenting a machine that separated the hide from the fleece of sheep skins but went on to make a variety of engines used in local industry.

At the bottom end of the gallery stand two impressive ploughing engines. They have consecutive registration numbers and were the last two production engines to come out of Fowler’s Leeds Foundry. Although originally built for export to South Africa, (which is why they have oversize rear wheels and three-quarter canopies), the K7s, Nos.17756 and 17757, were built in 1929 and were sold to the Nottingham Waterworks department.

They were put to work at the Stoke Bardolph dairy farm where they were used to plough treated sewage from the local treatment plant into the land. This they did right up to 1976 when, thankfully, they weren’t sold for scrap but were passed into our care. Currently, only No.17756 is in a steamable condition and can be seen working during our steaming days. No.17757 has fared a little worse as some of her parts have been used to keep No.17756 in steam over the years. However, now with a dedicated team of steam volunteers, we have plans to get No.17757 back in steam, although it may take a number of years due to funding and budgets, but she is certainly safe and well in our warm engine house.

The gallery features a model railway and an impressive display of working miniature model steam engines. These were made by our volunteers or donated by generous visitors. Also in this gallery is a working automatic telephone exchange. Children love to use the adjacent telephones to dial each other and watch the components within the exchange whirr round to make the connection. In the many cabinets surrounding this gallery, you will find many items relating to mining and transport.

This gallery is an opportunity to understand fully the breadth of industries that made Nottingham great. We have a dedicated group of steam enthusiasts who can explain the stories behind each exhibit.