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Birmingham Steam Buses 1824-1910.


master brummie
Grace's guide points to "BRITISH LOCOMOTIVES" by C J Bowen-Cooke:

Messrs. Burstall & Hill, of London, constructed a steam-coach (Fig 8 with annotations), which was made the subject of various experimental trials. The greatest speed attained was from three to four miles an hour, and there were repeated failures through defects in the boiler. The general arrangement of the machinery of this engine was the same as that of the “Perseverance,” which was entered by Mr. Burstall for the Rainhill contest in 1829. The following descriptions appears in an old number of the Edinburgh Journal of Science - “A represents the boiler, which is formed of a stout cast-iron or other suitable metal flue, enclosed in a wrought-iron or copper case, as seen in section, where A is the place for fuel, and a a a are parts of the flue, the top being formed into a number of shallow trays or receptacles for containing a small quantity of water in a state of being converted into steam, which is admitted from the reservoir by a small pipe. B is the chimney, arising from the centre flue; at D are the two cylinders, one behind the other, which are fitted up with pistons and valves, or cocks, in the usual way for the alternate, action of steam above and below the pistons.

“The boiler being suspended on springs, the steam is conveyed from it to the engines through the helical pipe c -, which has that form given to it to allow the vibration of the boiler without injury to the steam joints. E is the cistern containing water for one stage, say fifty to eighty gallons, and is made of strong copper, and air-tight, to sustain a pressure of about 60 pounds to the square inch. At e is one or more air-pumps, which are worked by the beams (F F) of the engines, and are used to force air into the water vessel, that its pressure may drive out, by a convenient pipe, the water into the boiler at such times and in such quantities as may be wanted. The two beams are con-nected at one end by the piston-rods, and at the other with rocking standards (H H). At about quarter of the length of the beams from the piston-rods are the two connecting-rods, g g their lower ends being attached to two cranks formed at angles 90 degrees from each other on the hind axle, giving, by the action of the steam, a continued rotary motion to the wheels, without the necessity of a fly-wheel. The four coach-wheels are attached to the axles nearly as in common coaches, except that there is a ratchet-wheel formed upon the back part of the nave with a box wedged into the axle containing a dog or pall, with a spring on the back of it, for the purpose of causing the wheels to be impelled when the axle revolves, and at the same time allowing the outer wheel, when the carriage describes a curve, to travel faster than the inner one, and still be ready to receive the impulse of the engine as soon as it comes to a straight course.

“The patentees have another method of performing the same operation, with the further advantage of backing the coach when the engines arc backed. In this plan the naves are cast with a recess in the middle, in which is a double bevel clutch, the inside of the nave being formed to correspond. The clutches are simultaneously acted upon by connecting levers and springs, which, according as they are forced to the right or left, will enable the carriage to be moved forward or backward.

“To the fore naves arc fixed two cylindrical metal rings, round which are two friction bends, to be tightened by a lever convenient for the foot of the conductor, and which will readily retard or stop the coach when descending hills. K is the seat of the conductor, with the steering-wheel (L) in the front, which is fastened on the small upright shaft (I), and turns the two bevel pinions (2) and the shaft (3), with its small pinion (4) which, working into a rack on the segment of a circle on the fore carriage, gives full power to place the two axles at any angle necessary for causing the carriage to turn on the road, the centre of motion being the perch-pin (I).

“The fore and hind carriage are connected together by a perch, which is bolted fast at one end by the fork, and at the other end is screwed by two collars, which permit the fore and hind wheels to adapt themselves to the curve of the road.

“To ascend steep parts of the road, and particularly when the carriage is used on railways, or to drag another behind it, greater friction will be required on the road than the two hind wheels will give, and there is therefore a contrivance to turn all the four wheels. This is done by a pair of mitre wheels (4) one being on the hind axle, and the other on the longitudinal shaft (6), on which shaft is a universal joint, directly on the perch-pin (I) at (7). This enables the small shaft (7) to be turned, though the carriage should be on the lock. At one end of the shaft (7) is one of a pair of bevel wheels, the other being on the fore axles, which wheels are in the same proportion to one another as the fore and hind wheels of the carnage are, and this causes their circumference to move on the ground at the same speed.

“The patentees, by a peculiar construction of boiler, intend to make it a store of caloric; they propose to heat it from 250 to 500 or 800 degrees Fahrenheit, and by keeping the water in a separate vessel, and only applying it to the boiler when steam is wanted, they hope to accomplish that great desideratum in the application of steam to common roads, of making just such a quantity of steam as is wanted, so that when going down-hill, where the gravitating force will be enough to impel the carriage all the steam and heat may be saved, to be accumulating and given out again at the first hill or bad piece of road, when, more being wanted, more will be expended.

“The engines are what are called high-pressure, and capable of working to ten-horse power, and the steam is purposed to be let off into an intermediate vessel, that the sound emitted may be regulated by one or more cocks.”

If they were Scottish Engineers based in London, surely they would have visited Birmingham more than once...


master brummie
Well, we've suddenly gone from knowing almost nothing to being very well-informed! :)

Our old friend William Fletcher (author of The Steam Jacket Practically Considered) has a long article on the Burstall-Hill steamer in his History and Development of Steam Locomotion on Common Roads (London: Spon, 1891). Complete with a very similar diagram to Bowen-Cooke's (see below).

The problematic 4x4 and the quarter scale model were exhibited in both London and Edinburgh. Fletcher makes no mention of a boiler explosion, though I notice that Bowen-Cooke speaks of "repeated failures due to defects in the boiler". I need to read both articles carefully.

Apparently Burstall was from Edinburgh and Hill a Londoner. We don't have much biographical information so far.
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master brummie
The 4x4 was not tried again until 1893 by BRAMAH JOSEPH DIPLOCK (Jun 1857 Chelsea - 12/08/1918 Richmond and East Sheen Cemetery) in his quest for Mechanical means to give the maximum of road-adhesion to the propelling power, or engine, and the minimum of road-resistance to the engine and the wagons.(the wonderful inventor of the pedrail system, foreunner of the tank, that I think we covered elsewhere) - see chapter 5 of https://www.ebooksread.com/authors-...avy-goods-transport-on-common-roads-hci.shtml
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master brummie
Interesting to see that they chose Bethlehem Hospital as one of the test tracks!

A selection of syndicated articles for your delectation (ignoring news of the model)

* The Times, Monday, Sep 12, 1825; pg. 4; Issue 12756; col A
* The Times, Tuesday, Dec 25, 1827; pg. 4; Issue 13471; col D
* The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser, for Lancashire, Westmorland, &c. (Lancaster, England), Saturday, June 20, 1829; Issue 1462
* The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, July 07, 1829; Issue 18273
* The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, July 29, 1829; Issue 18292


master brummie


master brummie
Some meagre biographical information about Burstall and Hill (neither of whom rate a mention in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography):
Timothy Burstall (1776-1860) is recorded as "of Leith, formerly of Bankside, Southwark" in 1825. He was an engineer at Leith Sawmills. He joined the Phrenological Society in 1826 (of course!). He entered "Perseverance" in the Rainhill steam railway locomotive trials in 1829. On 15 February 1838 a "notice to creditors" was issued (London Gazette 20 Feb) concerning the "sequestration" of the estate of Timothy Burstall and Son (the company) and of Timothy and Thomas Burstall as partners. The business was at Phoenix Engine Works, Leith. In a patent of 1838 he is recorded as "of Bristol".

John Hill (dates still unknown) is recorded as "of Bath, Somerset" in 1825 (Motorman please note!). Later moved to London (?). That's all the obvious sources yield.​
More research is definitely required. I think it's time to unleash the directory wizards and genealogists. ;)
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master brummie
Good heavens, I'd forgotten how much hard work is involved on this thread! I'll look at those in the morning, Aidan (my eyes! ... but thanks ;)).
You know you love it...

Timothy Burstall Biog:

Birth-1776-Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom

Marriage1- 9 feb 1804 (Age: 28) St. Martin In The Fields, westminster, london, england to Charlotte Radwell

Marriage2 - 11 jan 1822 (Age: 46) north leith, midlothian, scotland, united kingdom to Charlotte Heath

Marriage3 - 14 nov 1825 (Age: 49) leith south, scotland, united kingdom to Mariann Price

1841 Residence (Age: 65) - either Bath or London?

1851 can't find

Death 7 Dec 1860 (Age: 84) 100 west regent Street, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom
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master brummie
Things are moving fast on this thread. Going back to the British Steam Car Challenge in post 1156. I saw a doumentary about this world speed record challenge on TV earlier this year so somewhere there is film. Don't know if it has made it onto the internet. Problem was that the US AIr Force would allow access only at specific times and before they could run the car they had to walk the course picking up any stones or debris.


master brummie
Aidan, thanks for unveiling Timothy Burstall. Good work! Take a Muntz metal star and move back to the front of the class. :thumbsup:


master brummie
[I have transcribed the two Morning Post articles on the Burstall-Hill steamer (discovered by Aidan above), as they are short and gossipy. The Lancaster Gazette snippet is very brief (though another item on the same page informs us that "white cats with blue eyes are always deaf" — you live and learn!); the Times articles are long and technical (and I can't be bothered ;)). I also append part of a letter written by Burstall in 1839 on the important subject of peat fuel, for the virtues of which (for road and railway steam vehicles) he is full of praise. I'm all Burstalled out now, but would like to know more about his "silent partner" John Hill.]

Morning Post (7 July 1829).

Since the last notice of this novel and interesting piece of mechanism, several minor alterations have been made, which the trial at that time shewed to be necessary, and another successful attempt has been the result. This was made along the Queen's-ferry-road a few nights ago. A range of seats was formed in front of the machinery, which, with the accommodation behind, held twenty individuals, amongst whom were several Ladies. Mr Burstall sat in front, and steered in a style that would have done honour to the first whip of four-in-hand celebrity. The carriage proceeded at an easy rate going out, as its velocity has already been ascertained, and to observe the working of the machinery was more an object than speed, but in returning the rapidity was very considerable. Nothing could exceed the skill displayed in the curvature Mr B made in turning, which was done without stopping or at all lessening the speed of the carriage. — (Scotsman).​
Morning Post (29 July 1829).

The Duke de Chartres seems determined to inform himself, by personal inspection, of all that is worthy of remark in the course of his tour through Scotland. So early as eight o'clock yesterday morning he was at Leith Saw Mills, and most minutely inspected Mr Burstall's steam carriage, and the machinery of the mills for converting timber from the largest log to the thinnest veneer, with all of which he expressed himself in terms of the highest admiration.

We understand Mr Burstall is altering his present carriage to adapt it for a railway, and is likewise preparing a carriage, which will be but little heavier than a full-sized stage coach, in which he will embody all the improvements that his late trials have suggested, with the full expectation of producing a complete travelling machine fit to perform on any turnpike in the kingdom. — (Edinburgh Evening Post).​
Letter to the Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal (September 1839).
On Peat Fuel.

... As is well known, all common peat when merely weather dried is of a spongy texture, and occupies much room; this I have seen is entirely owing to the fibres — break them down, as is easy to do, either with edge stones or in a clay mill, and then the peat shrinks upon itself like clay, instead of shrinking within and becoming hollow. I have seen a piece of peat, merely moulded with the hand till it was well mixed, after a few days drying, so compact and hard that when struck against coal it broke it, and the piece of peat would bear cutting, and take a polish as fine as Cannel coal. All, therefore, which I think requisite to make peat an excellent, and for many purposes a better fuel than coal, is to pass it under edge stones or a clay mill, when well broken down, lay it to drain for a short time on a rough boarded or stone floor, with a small slope, and after it has drained, mould it and dry it under low sheds like bricks or tiles, this would be only children or women's work ...

Timothy Burstall.
Saint Phillips, Bristol, 12 August, 1839.​
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master brummie
The 1851 census has a Timothy Burstall, 20, engineer, born Leith, Midlothian; as visitor to the house of John (30) and Elizabeth (27) Blellock (sic) and their two children Robert (5) and John (2); the address being 46 Eglington Street, Gorbals. I take that to be the present Edglinton Street, the main road through the area now. John Blellock snr is a Tailor.

The 1841 census however has three Timothy Burstalls, one aged 60, one aged 11 and the other aged 3, all together at Westgate St, Bath. The 60 y.o. is a Civil Engineer, and has wife Marian (50) and daughter Rebecca (15) with him. The three children are shown as born in Scotland, whilst Timothy (60) and Marian just have 'N' in the 'born in this county?' column.
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master brummie
Searching for "Timothy Burstall", I found one born 2nd quarter 1927 in Stockton, County Durham, mother's maiden name Boycott.

Aubrey Frederic Burstall married Nora E Boycott 4th q.1923 Romford, Essex.

Aubrey Frederic Burstall in the 1911 census was at...."Oakhill", 60 Upland road, Selly Park, Birmingham (now the Copperfield House Hotel, pictured below).
Father was Frederic William Burstall, 45, born Aberdeen, occupation "Professor of Engineering, Mechanical" at Birmingham University.
Mother Lilian Maud Burstall, (nee Adley, they married 3rd q. 1897) age 36 born Simla, India.
The marriage registration gives "Henry Frederic William Burstall" as his full name. Just tie him to "our" Timothy Burstall, and there's your Birmingham connection!
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master brummie
Excellent - Well that seems to be Burstall and his Steamer sorted. John Hill may prove a little difficult and may need to be added to the "need to do" list. As they seemed to travel the country they must have at least passed through and probably stayed at Birmingham. If only the registration book at the Swan was still extant....


master brummie
Not all of the Burstall story is a happy one -

From the London Gazettes of 11, 14, 18, 21 Oct, and 4 Nov 1817:

WHereas it hath been humbly represented unto
His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, that,
on the morning ot Friday the 9th of May last,
the sawing-mills, belonging to Mr. Timothy
Burstall, situate at Bankside, in the Borough of
Southwark, were discovered to be on fire, and that
there is every reason to suppose the same was the
act of some evil-disposed person or persons unknown;

His Royal Highness, for the better apprehending
and bringing to justice the person or persons concerned
in the felony above mentioned, is hereby
pleased, in the name and on the behalf of His Majesty,
to promise His Majesty's mtost gracious
pardon to any one of them (except the person who actually
set-fire to the said mills), who shall discover
his, her, or their accomplice or accomplices
therein, so that he, she, or they may be apprehended
and convicted thereof.

And, as a further encouragement, a reward of
FIFTY POUNDS is hereby offered by the said Mr.
Timothy Burstall, to any person or persons (except
as is before excepted) who fehall discover his, her, or
their accomplice or accomplices therein, so that he,
she, or they may be apprehended and convicted
thereof, or to any person who shall apprehend and
bring the offenders, or any of them to conviction,
or cause them, or any of them so to be
apprehended and convicted as aforesaid.

From the London Gazette, 20 Feb 1838:

Notice to the creditors of Timothy Burstall and Son, Engineers
and Machine-Makers, Phoenix Engine Work, Leith, as a
Company, and of Timothy Burslall and of Thomas Burstall,
the Individual Partners of the said Couipany, and as Individuals.

February 15, 1838.
THE Court of Session, of this date, sequestrated the whole
estates, heritable and moveable, real and personal, of the
said Timothy Burstall and Son, as a company, and of the said
Timothy Burstall and Thomas Burstall, the individual partners
of said- company, and as individuals, and appointed the creditors
to meet within Stevenson's Rooms, Old Signet Hall, Royal
Exchange, Edinburgh, upon Thursday the 22d day of February
current, at One o'clock in the afternoon, to choose an
Interim Factor; and to meet again, at the same place and hour,
upon Friday the 9th day of March next, to elect a Trustee on
the said sequestrated estates; of all which intimation is hereby


master brummie
Lowe's British steam locomotive builders includes:

Burstall, Timothy, Leith
Built Perseverance for Rainhill trials in 1829, but locomotive damaged in transit. Burstall also built steam road coaches (Sekon: Evolution of the steam locomotive) Locomotive had a vertical boiler.
(Haven't studied the work by Sekon [Nokes, G. A.] deeply but couldn't instantly see the mention of either Burstall or his coaches)

Edington, Thomas & Sons, Phoenix Iron Works, Glasgow
In 1840/1 firm constructed four locomotives for Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock & Ayr Railway: Nos 7 Phoenix, 8 Prince Albert, 10 Garnock and 15 Kyle. All were 2-2-2s to the design of J. Miller, the company's engineer.
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master brummie
Also connected is Hawthorn, of Leith

This Edinburgh History Recollections page has:

Hawthorn's Shipyard
"R&W. Hawthorn & Co were an old established locomotive building firm of of Newcastle upon Tyne.
Leith Engineering Works, Sheriff Brae, Leith were bought by R&W Hawthorn & Co from James B. Maxton & Co, to set up a works to build railway locomotives in Scotland.
By 1860 they were building marine engines and boilers under the name of Hawthorns & Co.
A number of small ships were built at their Granton yard . They were the first company on the east of Scotland to lengthen vessels ( 1860/70's) at the slipway at Granton.
Hawthorn Leslie & Co Ltd was established in 1886, acquiring the businesses of Hawthorn & Co and Andrew Leslie & Co.
In 1912, Hawthorns & Co acquired the shipyard of Thomas Morton & Co which lay adjacent to Ramage & Ferguson's yard.
The whole site ( including Hawthorns, Ramage & Ferguson and Cran & Somerville) was, in 1924, acquired by Henry Robb Ltd., and named 'Victoria Shipyards'. I served my engineering apprenticeship there 1948-53.
Ramage & Ferguson went into liquidation.
Henry Robb's yard closed in 1984. It is now 'Ocean Terminal', a shopping mall and home to 'Royal Yacht BRITANNIA'


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Staff member
According to Kellys:
No mention in 1897
1899-1900 Burstall Henry Frederick William, 22 York road, edgebaston
1903-5 Burstall Henry Frederick William,102 Bristol road
1908-1912 Bustall Prof. Frederic, M.A.,M.I.C.B. ,Oak hill, Uplands Road (obviously a missprint)
1913 Bustall. Frederic, M.A., “Padstow” Middleton hall road
According to the electoral rolls, by 1912 a Frederick Burstall is at 170 Middleton hall road and someone else is at Oakhill. . Am not certain that the frederick Burstall in 1911-12 is same as later one, but think it likely

Prof Burstall gives a lecture in 1898 (summary at (https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v58/n1488/abs/058021a0.html ) on effect of conditions on the economy of gas (internal combustion) engines.
His obituary (1934) in Nature follows (https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v134/n3381/abs/134243a0.html)

HENRY FREDERICK WILLIAM who died on July 15, was born in Aberdeen on September 3, 1865, but he was not ofScottish descent nor had he any Scotch accent. As a boy he was weakly, and in consequence his school life suffered many interruptions. At the age of sixteen years he was apprenticed to John Stewart and Son, marine engineers, of Blackwall, and it was during this period that his mathematical ability began to be evident. On the completion of his indentures he entered University College, London, where he attended the lectures of Prof. M. Hill and won a bursary to St. John's College, Cambridge. Three years later he emerged as sixteenth in Part I of the Tripos, and although in Part II ill-health again hampered him, he succeeded in securing a high place in the second class.