Mr Edward Adams, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and a myth

People build a sense of themselves, and of their place in the world, through the construction of narratives and the passing on of stories attached to pictures, artefacts and rituals.

I have been working on this redundant waterworks for over a year now. As I am growing with it, I am discovering new ways to look at it, as I grow both personally and intellectually. With this new knowledge, I am discovering alternative ways of looking at it, slowly peeling away its historical layers, revealing a rich and useable past.

I am a Public Historian; I am constantly looking for alterative ways of understanding the past through means other than written documentation. Without contradicting what I have just written, I recently I read with great interest a document by Graham Smart and Graham Jennings entitled The South Devon Atmospheric Railway Myth Exploded.

There is a consistently recurring theme, cropping up again and again and again suggesting that the original James Watt & Co engines installed at Sandfields were in fact originally built for Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ill fated South Devon Atmospheric Railway.

I am not for one moment going to attempt to prove who is right or not, what ever the case may be, because that is not what public history sets out to do. What is important to understand is that all of these records, stories, documents and myths are here because that is how these people saw the world at that time; I am inviting you to look back in an alternative way.

I have been looking at some of the work of Edward Adams, so it was quite a surprise to me to find that Adams was not in fact a member of the Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA), so therefore would be unable to call himself an Architect. He was in fact a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Saying that, he designed some beautiful buildings, Lichfield Station, Walsall Station, Queen Marys Grammar Schools Walsall, St Anne’s Church and of course the original Sandfields Waterworks Building.
Sandfields Exterior
I said in my previous posting about Edward Adams that ‘you can clearly see the influence of the railways in his designs’, but this does not quite convey strength and robustness seen in the Sandfields building; where did this influence come from?

As a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, who would Adams draw inspiration from, could it possibly be Isambard Kingdom Brunel?
Torquay Pumping Engine House
This photograph is of one of the eight pumping engine houses in Torquay in Devon, all of the other building were of a similar design, the massive square chimney stack being the signature of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Photograh by kind courtesy of Dr Mark Hows; Weird and Wacky Railways of the British Isles; www.hows.org.uk/personal/rail/wwr/atmos.htm

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3 Responses to Mr Edward Adams, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and a myth

  1. Pingback: Barf night | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

  2. Laurence Blundell says:

    There is some detailed information about the pumping engines installed on the South Devon Railway in the book “Brunel’s Atmospheric Railway” (Broad Gauge Society/Friends of Devon’s Archives/2013) which supports the notion that it was a ‘Myth’ about the engines being relocated to Staffordshire after the atmospheric system was abandoned.The SDR engines were of either vertical of horizontal tandem type,and not beam engines.There were a number of beam engines used on the SDR for auxiliary purposes,but these were much smaller than those installed at Sandfields.What happened to most of the SDR engines after abandonment is quite well documented.The outcome for three engines is ‘not known’ however there is no evidence that they found their way to Lichfield.It is more likely that these three engines were scrapped.
    Hope this is of interest.

    • morturn says:

      Hi Laurence, it is indeed of interest, the plot thickens. I did recently have a conversation with someone who had been doing some digging around in the Watt archive at Birmingham library. He did seem to think that there were at least some parts used; he said he did do take some measurements etc.

      Its one of those historical enigmas that with time, we still would not get to a subjective truth. Although there is “no evidence”, we also know the story of back swans.by Karl Popper.

      Thank you for showing an interest.

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