Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Robert Fourness (2)

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1788. Fourness and Ashworth Steam Engine (drawing from patent specification, showing only a single cylinder)
1788. Fourness Car.
1788. Fourness Car.
1788. Fourness Car.

1788: In 1923 Robert Young[1] referred to Patent granted to Robert Fourness and James Ashworth for a steam engine for conveying or propelling travelling carriages (see illustration), of which a model appears to have been made with four wheels and three upright cylinders. The engine was geared to the back axle by means of cog wheels. 'There is no record of the practical application of this patent, but the patentees had, previous to this time, experimented with an engine for propelling vessels, and a boat with their steam engine plied for hire between Hull and Beverley.' The source of the boat information was stated to be a letter from Walter Fourness to the Yorkshire Evening Post, 15th August 1910. The letter refers to Patent No. 1640 of 4th March 1788, relating to boat propulsion and No. 1674 of 6th November 1788 for the steam vehicle (a sketch of which was reproduced in the newspaper).

In 1891 William Fletcher gave a brief description of the 'steam carriage' and wrote that 'We are not aware that the inventors ever carried their ideas into effect'[2] In 1904 William Fletcher wrote on the subject again, giving a brief description and drawings[3] of the 'little steam carriage 'made by Robert Fourness, of Halifax, in 1788'. If the information is correct, it was a remarkably advanced machine, having three inverted vertical cylinders, with trunk-guided pistons. Steam admission was by two rotary valves driven from the crankshaft. One presumably distributed the steam supply, the other the exhaust. The exhaust steam passed over the surface of the feed water in the water tank. The machine is described as a steam carriage, although it would be more correctly called a steam tractor. Fletcher adds that Robert Fourness was a native of Otley, Yorkshire, and his first machine was for hide-splitting at his father's works, and that he had works of his own at Sheffield, and afterwards at Gainsborough. A modern conjectural illustration of the machine, presumably based on the drawings in Fletcher's book, is available online[4]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Timothy Hackworth and the Locomotive by Robert Young. Published 1923.
  2. 'Steam on Common Roads' by William Fletcher. Published 1891.
  3. 'English & American Steam Carriages and Traction Engines' by William Fletcher, first published in 1904
  4. [1] 'Collectable Pocket Calendars' website