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Samuel Hall

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Samuel Hall (c.1782-1863), regarded as the 'father of the surface condenser'

Second son of Robert Hall (2), of Basford, near Nottingham, a cotton spinner and bleacher

'To him Nottingham owes, in a great measure, its present commercial prosperity and importance, arising from his invention of the process of gassing lace and of the bleaching of starch'

For many years lived in 'almost extreme poverty at Bow' but given a pittance by unwilling rich relatives


'A lecture was delivered on Monday at the London Mechanics Institution by Mr Hemming, for the purpose of a explaining some most important improvements lately introduced into the construction of the steam-engine by Mr. Hall. These improvements may be reckoned five in number.

'The first relates to the piston, the preservation of the packing of which is effected for many years, and the consequent expense, labour, and interruption of re-packing avoided. This advantage is attained by causing the steam to operate as an adjusting spring against the packing, and, consequently, to act as accurately after being used for years as it does at the commencement. It is well known that hemp, cotton, or other vegetable packing, in common pistons, becomes very imperfect, and allows the steam to escape long before repacking becomes absolutely necessary. This first improvement. Mr. Hemming characterized as the most important of the whole describing it as a "self-compensating packing."

'The second improvement relates to the valve. The advantage gained in this respect was described to be, that the steam is effectually secured by the facing of the working face of the sliding frame with steel plates, and hemp or cotton packing, and by the compensating nature of the seat-plate on which the sliding frame works. By this means the durability of the valve is greatly increased, and its becoming untrue by friction and unequal expansion (allowing a consequent loss of steam) are prevented.

'The third advantage secured by Mr. Hall's ingenuity relates to the lubrication of steam engines. The friction of the piston, both in the working cylinder and air pump, is it nearly annihilated, as well as that of the valves and piston rods, whereby a great saving of power is effected, and the cylinders and other parts of the engine are preserved. The escape of steam by the working piston and valves is effectually prevented by the uniform and plentiful flow of oil, a stratum of which is formed and constantly floats on the upper side of the piston, hermetically sealing any passage between it and the sides of the cylinder. This the lecturer described as the second improvement, in point of importance, which Mr. Hall has effected in the steam-engine. By the uniform and continued injection, he observed, of an ample stream of oil, or other lubricating matter, into the pipe which conveys the steam from the boiler to the working cylinder, and the recovery of lubricating matter after it has passed through the engine, to repeat the operation, the quantity of oil, which would otherwise be expended in one day, will last for years.

'The fourth improvement relates to the condensation and the supplying of water to boilers. By means of this the power required to pump the injecting water out of a vacuum is saved, for the air pump is of much less than the usual size, the introduction of air into the condenser (which is in combination with injection water, and materially injures a vacuum) is also avoided, as well as the pumping of it out of the condenser along with the injection water. The injury done to the air-pump, &c. by water impregnated with saline matters, and other extraneous substances, is prevented. The destruction of the boilers and the slow generation of steam, consequent upon the deposition of such extraneous matters, is effectually avoided ; and it was stated that a new engine, with Mr. Hall's improvements, will remain perfect, and not require the expense of repairs, for an exceedingly greater number of years than any engine upon the old principles. The lecturer observed that the means adopted for supplying the necessary quantity of distilled water to replace any waste that may take place is, the insertion within the boiler of a small vessel containing the water for distillation ; for, although the temperature of boiling water only is applied to it, ( the requisite quantity of distilled water, or even more, will be produced.

'The fifth improvement relates to the consumption of fuel; and this, indeed, may be considered as the result of the preceding advantages. These several points were illustrated by a small model engine, which worked with the most beautiful precision and accuracy. Attached to this miniature engine was an ingenious model of a loom, also the invention of Mr. Hall, for the manufacture of lace ; the different threads of which were directed over burning gas in order a to free them from the superfluous film. The theatre was excessively crowded, and the lecture, which was listened to the utmost attention, greeted at its close with the loudest demonstrations of applause. Times.'.

Note: Some aspects are discussed below in 'Hall's Improvements to Marine Steam Plant'

1835 Patent. 'Inventions of Samuel Hall, of Basford, in the County of Nottingham, Civil Engineer, for, — first, "An improved Piston and Valve for Steam, Gas, and other Engines; and also for an improved Method of lubricating the Pistons, Piston Rods, and Valves or Cocks of such Engines; and of condensing the Steam and supplying Water to the Boilers of such Steam Engines as are Wrought, by a Vacuum produced by Condensation:" secondly, "An improved Method of lubricating Pistons. Piston Rods, and Valves or Cocks of Steam Engines, and of condensing the Steam of such Engines as are Wrought, by a Vacuum produced by Condensation; and also for a Method of Condensation applicable to other useful Purposes:" and thirdly, for "Improvements in Steam Engines."....'[2]

1841 Age 60, living in the parish of St Mary's, Nottingham, with wife Mary (age 60), daughter Mary (24) and one servant.[3]

1851 Widower, visiting Robert Tebbutt, starch manufacturer, Derby Road, London.[4]

1861 'Scientific Civil Engineer', lodging at Morgan Street, Bow, in the house of Frederick Wright, solicitor's clerk, and Wright's wife and son.[5]

1863 Samuel Hall died 'in comparative poverty' on 21 November at No. 6 Morgan Street, Tredegar Street, Bow, Essex.

1863 Obituary [6]

Note: The following obituary is somewhat confusing, as the first part also deals with the work of Samuel's father, Robert Hall

Mr. Samuel Hall, whose death at the advanced age of 82 we last week was recorded, was the second son of Mr. Robert Hall of Basford, a cotton spinner and bleacher, still remembered for his personal excellence and talent, and of whom some account may be interesting.

'As a cotton-spinner he followed in the track of Arkwright and Peel, and as a bleacher he had the merit of first using chlorine, then called oxymuriatic acid gas, on a large scale ; by which a process was accomplished in a few hours that had formerly required as many weeks. It is remarkable that Mr. Hall's neighbours designated the place where he first made his attempts by the name of Bedlam, which it still retains. Berthollet had discovered that chlorine possessed the property of discharging all vegetable colours, and Mr. Hall corresponded with Dr. Priestley and with Mr. Henry, of Manchester, on the probability of the successful application of this agent to the important art of bleaching. He was at first discouraged from proceeding, but recurring to the project, he experimented with the happiest results, and thus commenced a vast industry, the importance of which is described as follows by Baron Liebig (Letters on Chemistry page 144, 3rd edit)—" But for this new bleaching process, it would scarcely have been possible for the cotton manufacture of Great Britain to have attained its present enormous extent— it could not have competed in prices with France and Germany.

'In the old process of bleaching every piece must be exposed to the air during several weeks in the summer, and kept continually moist by manual labour. For this purpose meadow land eligibly situated was essential. Now, a single establishment near Glasgow bleaches 1,400 pieces daily throughout the year. What an enormous capital would be required to purchase land for this purpose! How greatly would it increase the cost of bleaching to pay interest upon this capital or to hire so much land in England! This expense would scarcely have been felt in Germany. Besides the diminished expense, the cotton stuffs bleached with chlorine suffer less in the hands of skilful workmen than those bleached in the sun. Mr. Hall was deeply versed in the chemistry of that day as propounded by Black, Scheele, Laviser, and Berthollet, and constantly read the well-known journal of Nicholson and the 'Annales de Chemie."

'He also well understood the philosophy and application of mechanics, and received a prize from the Society of Arts for the invention of a new crane. Mr. Hall's originality and powers of research were worthily perpetrated in his family. The fourth son Marshall was known throughout the world as a most distinguished physiologist and physician, and of the second son Samuel, the subject of the present notice it may be said, that in his genius for inventions at once the result of science and the source of improvements in British manufacture and the extension of British commerce, he has rarely been excelled.

'To him Nottingham owes in a great measure its present commercial prosperity and importance, arising from his inventions of the process of gassing lace, and the bleaching of starch, by which the Nottingham cotton fabrics are scarcely distinguishable from the linen thread lace of the continent. The first idea of passing a piece of the finest lace over an actual flame of gas was extraordinary, and presents an instance of the most independent imagination ; for it was difficult to suppose that the whole fabric would not be consumed, Sir Humphrey Davy had just presented his paper on Flame to the Royal Society. Mr. Samuel Hall was well imbued with the chemical science of that day, and it was plain to him that by merely passing the lace over a flame of gas the loose fibres would be partially removed from the surface of the lace but would remain in its interstices. His inventive genius suggested that the flame might be drawn through them — that the desired result would be accomplished by impulse, and that this impulse would be created by a vacuum produced by an air-pump, acting above the lace. The event was perfect success ! The sheet of lace passed to the flame opaque and obscured by loose fibre, and issue from it bright and clear, and not to be distinguished from lace made from the purest linen thread. The process was seen and applauded by His Royal Highness the late Duke of Sussex, who when President of the Royal Society in 1824, visited Basford accompanied by Colonel Wildman, and dined with Mr. Hall. After inspecting the works and machinery, he said "Your invention Mr. Hall is beautiful. I see that your gas apparatus would be ineffectual without your air-pump, I am so pleased with it that if I can ever render you any service you may command my good offices."

'In 1827 the late Lord Tenderden sat as judge at the assizes at Nottingham, he had previously presided on the occasion of a trial relative to the patent. He enquired of Mr. Robinson, the High Sheriff, for Mr. Hall, and expressed a wish to see the process which had so deeply interested him, and he, as the Duke of Sussex had done a few years before, visited the works at Basford, accompanied by Mr. Robinson, for that purpose. The principle was also applied by the inventor to cotton yarn itself, muslin, and calico. The influence of this improvement on the British commerce in cotton goods has been immense, and its benefits have been largely shared by Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Manchester, and Glasgow.

'But Mr. Hall's labours did not end here. The lace manufacturers of Nottingham complained that though their lace was clear and perfectly white when bleached, its colour was greatly injured by the starch with which it was afterwards "got up." We have already described the first large bleaching operations with chlorine. Mr. S. Hall applied his father's great achievement, brought specimens of bleached starch to the manufacturer and into the market, perfected the lace fabrics, and thus added further to the resources of British enterprise and skill. The manufacture of this fine bleached starch was successfully prosecuted by another brother.

'Among Mr. S. Hall's numerous inventions may be noticed one by which he long ago succeeded above all others in the cultivation of the vine, an improvement which was seen and commended by Sir Joseph Paxton. Formerly the branches only were exposed to warmth, the roots being left in the cold soil. It first occurred to Mr. Hall to do the same thing to the roots. Formerly too the air of the hot-house, whilst raised in temperature, became proportionately dry, he proposed to supply it with moisture as well as heat. Both these objects were accomplished by means of steam diffused in the air and in the soil. The "wood" and the fruit were equally improved by this simple means.

'These and other experiments were devised at Basford Hall, then his property, where he exercised a graceful hospitality, still well remembered, which was enhanced by his pleasing manners and appearance. A crowd of new and brilliant ideas however soon distracted his attention, and it is to be regretted that he could not confine himself to the profitable working out of one alone. He had also in after years to contend with much injustice in connection with his engineering patents, and thus experienced the too frequent fate of inventors, who, as is well-known, are seldom enriched by their schemes. The era of railways and steamships was now commencing, and Mr. S. Hall accordingly bent his energies in this direction, obtaining patents, among others, for improvements in the steam engine, for the combustion of smoke, for the prevention of the explosion of steam- boilers, and for the reefing and unreefing of paddle-wheels.

'The principal improvements in the steam-engine consisted in a new mode of condensation of the steam, by passing it through metallic pipes or channels surrounded by cold water. The same portion of pure water was made to circulate through the boiler and the pipes, so that no fresh supply was required even during long voyages, and no incrustation was formed within the boiler and engine, which are found to last many years without requiring to be renewed, or repaired, or even examined. This improvement was well known to Captain Sir W. E. Parry, R.N., and Captain Horatio Austin, R.N. A saving of more than 20 per cent., in fuel and repairs, was reported to the Admiralty as being thereby effected.

'The combustion of smoke was produced by arrangements for slowly and gradually feeding the fire with fuel, and for the admission of atmospheric air to the ascending gases and smoke. This apparatus is, we believe, in constant operation at the General Post Office in London.

'The prevention of explosion in steam-boilers is effected by arrangements for giving a constant rotatory motion to the valves, so that they cannot become immoveable and "fast," and for supplying the constant waste of water in the boiler, so that this can never become empty, or nearly empty, thus removing the causes of these dire calamities.

'Lastly, the reefing and unreefing of paddle-wheels were effected, without stopping the engine or vessel, by means of the simple contrivance of placing the central ends in groves, made in two discs of metal, converging in one, and spiral in the other. As the latter turned upon the former, the paddles are protruded, or drawn inwards, according to the direction given. This operation was regulated in the most interesting manner, by observing the number of strokes made in a given time by the piston of the steam-engine.

'On these, and kindred subjects, Mr. Samuel Hall laboured and thought with extraordinary enthusiasm and devoted constancy, to the extreme close of his protracted life. His friend, the late Bruce Campbell, related with astonishment, how on one occasion, when trying his improvements upon a locomotive engine, he remained during the long hours of an intensely hot day, absorbed in the experiment, and unconscious of fatigue. He had in large measure the true genius of the mechanician, and belonged by nature to that illustrious line which has in all ages bequeathed the heritage of power, and to which the world looks for her most splendid triumphs.'

1864 Obituary [7]

Hall's Improvements to Marine Steam Plant

Samuel Hall's steam engine improvements, referred to above, aimed to address serious shortcomings in the use of steam engines for marine propulsion. Hitherto, ship's boilers were fed with sea water, with inevitable problems of corrosion, encrustation, etc. The engine's exhaust steam was condensed using sea water sprayed into the condenser vessel. As the boiler's salt concentration increased by evaporation, so the water's boiling point increased. Therefore boilers had to be frequently blown down and topped up with cold sea water to limit the salinity and the accumulation of salt crystals. Encrustation of the boiler's heated surfaces impaired heat transfer from the furnace and also led to hot spots, with the potential for causing overheating and hence failure. Feeding the boilers with impure water also carried the risk of engine wear due to the ingestion of sand and other debris. Hall proposed to avoid all these problems by initially feeding the water with pure water, and having a surface condenser rather than a spray condenser. In a surface condenser the cooling water (sea water in this case) passes through tubes, while the exhaust steam is passed over the outside of the tubes in the sealed condenser vessel. Thus there is no contact between the boiler feed water and the salt water, so no contamination.

To make up for any losses of boiler water, Hall's proposal included equipment for distilling pure water from sea water (i.e. an evaporator). A further refinement was to direct steam escaping from safety valves into the condenser, thereby preventing loss of pure water.

It seems that the surface condensers were initially successful, but they suffered from fouling of the outside of tubes by the lubricant used in the cylinders (tallow), fouling of the inside with mud. This problem, together with the expense and imperfect use of the systems, led to Hall's improvements falling out of favour, only to be reintroduced on a large scale from the 1860s. Even then, special precautions were needed to prevent fouling by lubricant, and the problem only went away when steam turbines were introduced, these needing no lubrication of steam-washed surfaces. In fact, tubed surface condensers are used on large modern turbines in power stations.

N.B. Hall did not invent, or claim to invent, the surface condenser or the evaporator, but he combined these and other improvements into an overall system to deal with the boiler water problem at sea.

A good account of the perceived benefits and initial successful application of Hall's improvements was provided by R. D. Hoblyn [8]

A much later authoritative review [9] described Halls patent, No. 6556 of February 13, 1834, as one of the most interesting ever taken out in connection with marine engineering. Early applications are mentioned, including the Prince Llewellyn, the Windermere, HMS Magaera, HMS Penelope, and the early transatlantic ships Sirius and British Queen.

Overview of Samuel Hall's Inventions

In 1939 E. C. Smith sought to give Hall some of the recognition he deserved, in a Paper presented to the Newcomen Society [10]. Of Hall's numerous patents, Smith provides Patent Numbers and supporting information on 21 of them. Examples: Patents No. 4177 & 4178, 3 November 1817 in connection with gassing cloth, and a further related patent (4779) in 1823. In these developments he had important contributions from Benjamin Thompson. Hall made large royalties from these patents.

A separate venture led to Patent 4559, 1821, for bleaching starch, and another patent for starch and gum in 1851. Starch was manufactured by Thomas Hall at Lenton. Samuel Hall gave the starch patent to his brother, Lawrence, who advertised it as 'Lawrence Hall's Patent Starch'.

Regarding the condensers, Hall fixed his tubes with packed ferrules, and this arrangement continued in use long after condensers had been widely accepted after Hall's death, although Smith noted that very few were aware of their inventor.

Further ships which adopted Hall's system of condensers, etc., include the Air, City of London, Wilberforce, Kilkenny, India, Hercules.

His paddle reefing invention did not find application.

Seven patents were taken out relating to smoke consumption between 1836 and 1853, and some of his improvements were applied to locomotives and static installations, apparently with some success.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Derby Mercury, 13 March 1833
  2. The London Gazette Publication date:18 September 1835 Issue:19308 Page:1760
  3. 1841 Census
  4. 1851 Census
  5. 1861 Census
  6. Nottinghamshire Guardian , 4 December 1863
  7. The Engineer 1864/01/08
  8. [1] 'A Manual of the Steam Engine' by Richard Dennis Hoblyn, 1842
  9. 'A Short History of Naval and Marine Engineering' by Edgar C. Smith, Babcock & Wilcox/Cambridge University Press
  10. 'Samuel Hall and his Inventions' by Eng. Captain Edgar C. Smith read 11th January 1939, Newcomen Society Transactions, Volume 19, Issue 1 (1938), pp. 87-100