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ROGERS & Co BOILERMAKERS

Of Bristol 

ORDER BOOK 1830-1866

 

edited by

Steve Grudgings

 

Hardback, cloth bound,gold-blocked covers
192 pages, 335mm x 212mm
ISBN: 978 1 9161789 15
Price: £25 post free to UK mainland addresses
Publication date: 1st May 2020

AVAILABLE IN ONLY A VERY SHORT PRINT RUN - ORDER NOW FOR DELIVERY IN LATE JUNE TO SECURE A COPY

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This remarkable volume is an exact facimile of the hand-written Order Book of Messrs Rogers & Company, a very early firm of boilermakers based in Bristol, who manufactured boilers and other plant for numerous West Country firms during the early and mid years of the Industrial Revolution. Amongst their customers were numerous colllieries, both large and small (some now virtually unknown) in the Bristol and North Somerset coalfield, as well as dozens of other industrial and transport concerns, including the Grand Western Canal, for whom they manufactured the huge water buckets used to power the Wellisford inclined plane.

The introductory text, which explains the scope and contents of the book, can be found here

The following, in the author's own words, explains how the publication of this book came about:

Our commitment to publish this facsimile of the Order Book of Rogers, Boiler Maker of Redfield, Bristol is based on the views of myself and my publisher that it is an important, possibly unique historical document and deserves a wider audience. I had not long been a member of the Bristol Industrial Archaeology Society (BIAS) when Robin Stiles’ account of the Order Book appeared in Journal 23 and I recall being particularly intrigued by the orders from local collieries. My interest in the order book was rekindled some years later when Robin let me use images of haystack boilers and hudges from it in ‘The History and Industrial Archaeology of the Steam Engines of the Coalpit Heath Colliery Company’. Robin and I never met, and it was only after his death in 2018 when his coal mining related materials passed into my hands, (thanks to Mike Taylor and Maggie Shapland’s efforts), that the overlap in our interests became clear. Boiler making has never attracted the same levels of study as the engines they served and whilst understandable, it means that documented accounts of boiler design and manufacture, particularly relating to stationary engines, are thin on the ground. A few papers on the topic have appeared in the Journal of the Newcomen Society over the years and some accounts in the technical press from the Victorian era help our understanding of the issues relating to the manufacture of internally fired boilers. The work of Alan McEwan in publicising the final working years of Boiler making in the 1960s and 1970s helps our understanding of the issues to be contended with. However, information relating to the development of boiler making skills, materials and equipment in its formative period of the eighteenth century is extremely sparse. Rogers’ Order Book is particularly useful in this context as it covers the later Georgian and early Victorian period when boiler design and manufacture had been through its development phase and was entering an era of increasing mechanisation and competition. The first boiler makers were the engine-wrights and blacksmiths working on the engine site, building the original circular ‘haystack’ or ‘balloon’ boilers from circa 1710 onwards. It would appear that until the end of the eighteenth century it was normal practice to set up a temporary forge on the engine site where boiler plates could be cut, shaped and riveted together until the required vessel was complete. There are also sufficient accounts of the construction and operation of these early engines to make it clear that boiler repair and replacement was a frequent requirement, and this is presumably where the boilermaking industry and the skills required originated. When Rogers set up their business in the early 1800s, demand for boilers was such that they were one of a number of similar companies serving local needs across the UK, the diversity of both boiler types and industries is clear from the order book. The book does not tell us whether Rogers made their boiler plates ‘in house’ or bought them in from specialist plating mills. Whilst the book does not give any details of the boiler making process, it is not hard to understand the main elements of the process before the advent of machine tools and mechanised handling. As part of their work in distributing Robin’s Industrial Archaeology materials on behalf of BIAS, Mike and Maggie told me they had passed the Order Book into the care of Stuart Burroughs and colleagues at the Museum of Bath at Work (MOBW). Stuart responded quickly and positively on behalf of both BIAS and the Museum to my request to borrow it. Whilst my motivation for this was primarily curiosity, examination of the Order Book made me realise that the quality and range of the information it contained would be of interest to Industrial Archaeologists in general and devotees of the Stationary Steam Engine in particular. Approval was duly given by Stuart, the BIAS Committee and Robin’s family to consider publishing a facsimile of the Order Book and thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of Nick and Vicky of Folly Books, you now hold the results of this exercise in your hands. This then is the background to the publication of this facsimile of Rogers order book together with Robins original BIAS Journal article. While there are some obvious gaps in the Order Book, these do not diminish the value of what remains. I am not aware of the existence of similar records of other boilermakers orders from this period and this has encouraged all of us to ensure it is published to a high quality standard – we hope it meets with your approval. I have made no changes to Robin’s account, other than adding further details of Rogers’ customers addresses and the nature of their business where Robin had noted these against his original text – it would be a pity not to take advantage of the work he had already done. This information come from the folder of his drafts of the article, courtesy (again!) of Mike and Maggie. These additional entries are in italics and except where noted otherwise, the information comes from Matthews Bristol Directory of the period, denoted (MBD).