The Steam Giants at Brede

A steam engine over 3 stories tall? Yep, that’s a steam giant! These steam engines are not locomotives; they don’t go anywhere. These huge steam engines have been in the same spot for over 120 years and are now preserved at the Steam Giants Museum at Brede.

The Steam Giants Museum at Brede, Sussex, in the United Kingdom
Each building contains one huge steam engine. (Photo: Michael Roots via CC-by-SA 3.0)

The Steam Giants Museum at Brede

The Water Works at Brede was built to supply water for the growing town of Hastings, East Sussex, England. Planning by the Hastings Corporation began in 1880, and the water works opened in 1904. It takes a lot to supply large volumes of clean, safe water. Three huge steam engines brought water up from nearly 300-foot deep wells and sent the water on to reservoirs.

Today, two of the three steam engine are preserved at the aptly named Brede Steam Giants Museum. Pump #2 was built by the firm of Tangye in Birmingham, England, in 1904. It is 35 feet tall and can pump over 3.5 million gallons of water a day. The steam engine is an inverted vertical triple expansion engine of 410 horsepower.

The preserved, and restored, 1904 Tangye Steam Engine that powered water pumps for the community of Hastings at the Steam Giants Museum at Brede.
The 1904 Tangye Steam Engine at Brede. (Photo: Michael Roots via CC-by-SA 3.0)

The second steam engine on the site was built by the American firm of Worthington Simpson in Balderton, Nottinghamshire, in England. No less the giant, the Worthington Simpson steam engine is a 420 horsepower machine also roughly three stories tall. When it was installed in 1940, a new building was built at the waterworks site to house the new steam engine giant.

The last Worthington-Simpson steam engine of it's kind to be built. This 35 foot tall, 420 horsepower steam engine has been restored and preserved at the Steam Giants Museum at Brede.
Brede’s Worthington-Simpson. Note the two enormous flywheels. (Photo: Michael Roots via CC-by-SA 3.0)

The Worthington Simpson pump at Brede was the last of its type to be built. The two remaining huge steam engines each have their own building. A third building, the boiler house, is now a showplace for other orphaned steam engines which have been brought to Brede from around the UK for display.

Both remaining pumps have been fully restored and operate each day the museum is open. At one time 33 people were employed at the Brede Waterworks, now a handful of dedicated volunteers keep the history alive.

The Brede Waterworks Tramway

The steam engines continued to supply water to the community until 1964 when they were replaced by electric pumps. The boilers and one of the huge steam engines was scrapped. Before everything lost to history the Brede Steam Engine Society stepped in and saved the waterworks. Today it is an amazing Heritage Site and Museum. Admission is free, but do check out what days the museum is open before heading to Brede.

This tiny steam locomotive was used to bring coal to the boilers via the Brede Waterworks Tramway.
Steam locomotive, built to 18 inch gauge, by the Bagnall Works.

All three steam engines originally installed used coal to heat water into steam. The coal was brought from a nearby wharf on the River Brede to the waterworks by a steam locomotive that was notably not a steam giant. A small, tiny in comparison, 18-inch gauge 0-4-0T tank locomotive was built in 1899 and supported the building of the waterworks before it took on its main job of pulling coal wagons.

The steam locomotive, built by the Bagnall Locomotive Works of Stafford, was occasionally out of service for maintenance. When that happened and coal was needed, a pony was used to pull the coal wagons the almost-one-mile (1.45 km) of the Brede Waterworks Tramway from the wharf to the waterworks. It was not a short trip. That poor pony!

A map of the nearly one-mile-long Brede Waterworks Tramway.
The 18-inch gauge railway, or tramway, from waterworks to wharf.

While this diminutive tank locomotive (what is a tank locomotive?) has not been preserved, the United Kingdom is home to many preserved and operating steam locomotives.

The Steam Giants Museum is on the grounds of the current Brede Waterworks. Pumping and filtration for the community of Hastings continues, from the same spot where it began for these steam giant water pumps -more than 120 years ago.

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