William Adams

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O2 at Callington in 1960

William Adams was born in Limehouse, London, on 15 October 1823: his father, John S. Adams, was resident engineer of the East and West India Dock Company. William was educated in Margate; briefly attached to Vignoles, and was apprenticed at 17 to Miller & Ravenhill where he erected large marine engines. In the 1840s he went to Marseilles and onto Genoa where he married Isabella Park, on 13 September 1852, (they eventually had 10 children, the last in 1875). He joined the Sardinian navy as an engineer. On return to Britain in 1853, Adams was successively locomotive superintendent of the North London Railway (where he helped to erect Bow Works), Great Eastern Railway (from 1873 until 1878), and London & South Western Railway (from 1878 until 1895). He died in Putney on 7 August 1904.


440/1862 Road locomotive. 19 February 1862
Examination of this patent would be required to verify if this was the William Adams
404 [Bogie] 13 February 1865
licensed to George Spencer (early manufacturer of rubber products for the engineering industry)
with Henry Adams [Vortex blastpipe] 17 September 1885. 5248??

Springs for railway carriages and waggons. Proc. Instn mech. Engrs, 1850, 2, 19-29. Disc. 29-31. + Plates 3-4.
On the improvement of the construction of railway carrying stock. Proc. Instn mech. Engrs, 1851, 3, 10-19
with William Frank Pettigrew. (Paper 2755)
Trials of an express locomotive. Proc. Instn civ.. Engrs, 1895/6, 125, 282-95.
Trials on LSWR between Waterloo and Bournemouth and beteen Waterloo and Exeter: extensive data

Comment on other's papers

Lloyd, Sampson. Description of Aert's water axlebox. Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs., 1860, 178-91. Disc.: 182-7.
W.A. Adams (p. 184) was critical of the excessive cost and the risk of the water freezing

Westwood notes that "Primacy in invention is often hard to establish in locomotive design, and there are many cases of simultaneous independent invention. It certainly seems that the 'Adams Bogie' was not the first application of the sliding pivot (see Wardale). But it was Adams who first popularized the idea, with beneficial results for the riding of fast locomotives. The essence of his innovation was that the bogie pivot (6in. diameter), ran through a bush which could slide sideways four-and-a-half inches each way on steel faces running across the top of the truck. After some experience, check springs were added, at first of rubber and later of steel. Adams patented his design in 1865, the year that he first applied it in service.

Wilson summarised the salient advantages of the Adams' bogie:
(i) traversing as well as rotating motion is given around the bogie pin;
(ii) due to the relief from lateral strain the bogie frame may be simpler and lighter;
(iii) the india-rubber block avoids the tipping tendency in the unimproved bogie;
(iv) when combined with the compensated beam arrangement for coupled axle suspension, it gives excellent disposition of weight.

The Editor of the Engineer and some of his colleagues rode on the bufferbeam of a "51" Class engine at speed over the worst bits of track near Bow in 1866 and, to quote:
We found the motion as easy as that of a first class carriage. Vibration is completety taken up by the india-rubber blocks, and the engine, instead of jerking and grinding round curves, swings round them with an ease which, if not surprising under the conditions of its structure, is at all events unique.

On the NLR Adams introduced the 4-4-0T which bacame the normal motive power for this railway throughout its existence. Thus when he left the NLR in 1873 to take a similar position with the Great Eastern, the farewell gifts and speeches were much more than a formality. He stayed only four years on the Great Eastern. His main achievement was the reorganization of Stratford Works, for his designs were neither numerous nor especially successful, although he was responsible for the introduction of the first British-built 2-6-0 type. His design work did foreshadow the trend of his policy in his final position, that of locomotive superintendent of the LSWR. His boilers tended to be a little too small for the work they had to do and he abandoned the rather rotund and shapely dome and chimney for an austere, almost stovepipe, chimney and plain dome. On the Great Eastern he also made the acquaintance of the 0~4-4 tank type, introduced by his predecessor Johnson, and his own 4-4-0 outside cylinder type gave him the experience to build some notable 4-4-0s for the LSWR.

He went to the LSWR in 1878. His first two designs were not outstanding: a mixed traffic 4-4-0 and a 4-4-0 tank. He soon converted the latter into a reasonably successful 4-4-2 tank. But soon came his series of fast outside cylinder 4-4-0 machines with 6ft 7in. or 7ft 1in driving wheels. These beautiful engines did very good work for many years.Another notable and longlived design was his 0-4-2 for mixed traffic; ninety of these Jubilee series were built around 1890.

The 'Vortex' blastpipe associated with the name of Adams was invented largely by his nephew Henry Adams. But while the original idea was no doubt Henry's, it must have been William who made it practicable. The history of locomotive draughting is complex and unclear, but the two Adams can be considered pioneers in the scientific quest for a blast which would provide a good steady draught, by means of the exhaust steam, without tearing up the fire and without entailing excessive back-pressure in the cylinders. The 'Vortex' blastpipe, which Adams first fitted to LSWR locomotives in 1885, had an outer ring-shaped steam exit inside which was a central aperture leading from a bell-mouthed scoop placed to receive firebox gases from the lower tubes. This considerably increased the draught through these tubes, because a hollow ring-shaped steam jet has a larger periphery with which to entrain the gases. It is claimed, probably with some justice, that when this arrangement was working well it did much to compensate for the rather small boilers which Adams favoured. Carpenter states that the device was fitted to 500 locomotives, and in Carpenter's discussion on Wilson's paper he noted that Chapelon had described the Vortex draughting system to be a notable one leading to a smooth and even druught.

Adams was a man of great good humour, very fond of singing. He demonstrated his joie de vivre by begetting ten children and earning the regard of his workers in all his enterprises.

Letter in Backtrack from van Riemsdjik: (Backtrack (10-570)) who had greatly admired Adams for many years and would certainly place him among those five leading Victorian locomotive designers, in fact above most of those listed in Mr. Williams' third paragraph. He was the last locomotive engineer of a British railway to have a widespread influence abroad. Saying this once on television brought himan irate visit from an eminent professor at Imperial College, who was incurably copper-capped, having once been at Swindon, but he had to agree that Churchward and Gresley, though rightly admired abroad, were not imitated - indeed Churchward himself was the great imitator.

Adams' concept of the leading bogie with spring controlled sideplay was, of course, a crocial development in locomotive history (not only steam), while his perfected vortex blastpipe was very greatly adopted abroad. But while these are the highlights, a close study of the drawings of his locomo tives reveals innumerable details of design which are quite distinctive and superior to contemporary practice. It is well known that his larger bdilers steamed better, primed less and gave less trouble than the Drummond ones which followed on the LSWR. Drawings reveal why: to take a single point only, the corners of his foundation rings were generously radiused, which also allowed the rear of the fire-box to approach the rear axle more closely, because it cleared the axlebox horns. At the other end, his outside cylinders had an unusually large steam chest volume, which went right up to the cylinder wall, and the steam ports were very long, which enabled these engines to achieve the remarkable economy fully documented in Pettigrew's Manual of Steam Locomotive Design, despite short valve travel (though the steam laps were long in relation to the travel).

Riemsdijk used to know an ex-Nine Elms fitter who claimed that the Adams engines were far easier to maintain, everything being much easier to reach than on Drummond engines, which were complicated in design.

It is in the context of the detailed study of Adams design that he had to take issue with Geoffrey Williams' comments on the Great Eastern 'Moguls'. Certainly, Adams planned these engines: he prepared his specification after trials with his 6ft un 4-4-0 type on 700-ton goods trains, which the 4-4-0s proved able to handle with ease and economy, but only in good weather. The loads were of 40 ten-ton capacity wagons, the rolling resistance of which would then have been much greater than in later years. However, Massey Bromley evidently put his own mark on these engines to a greater extent than has been recently stated. Again, a careful look at the drawings shows cylinders and valve gearing entirely unlike any Adams ever did, with Webb-type circular slide valves on top of the cylinders proportioned nowhere near as well as Adams pro portioned his own, and the valve gear is American style, though the valves themselves offer less freedom to the steam than was normal in America. The GA [general arrangement] drawing of Bromley's singles shows the same cylinders and valves, though with l8in instead of l9in cylinders, which no doubt gave those graceful engines a livelier performance; they are generally thought to have been good machines in their time. I believe that had the Moguls had Adams cylinders and valve gear, the l9in cylinders would not have overtaxed the boiler.

However, this small disagreement in no way diminishes my gratitude for Mr. Williams' article, which so admirably depicts the whole man as well as his locomotive achievements. I have in the past met members of his family to whom his memory remained important; the fact that he always con trived to work in the London area no doubt contributed to family closeness. His work was nicely summed up by D. L. Bradley in the RCTS volumes on LSWR locomotives: 'the Adams classes right down to his retirement were an improvement on those preceding them", to which one might add that they were always up to the demands made of them in the immediately following years, unlike those of some other greats, such as Patrick Stirling, F. W. Webb, and even William Stroudley, fine engineers though they were.

Carpenter, Gorge W. biography in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Ellis, C.H. Twenty locomotive men.
Colourful and affectionate account.
Wilson, E.H. William Adams (1823-1904). Trans. Newcomen Soc., 57, 125-46. Disc.: 147-8.
Very important source of information. W.O. Skeat (147) had asked Chapelon his opinion about British locomotive engineers, and he had replied that he was impressed by the Stirling eight-foot singles and the Adams' 4-4-0s of the LSWR. A Hall-Patch noted that Adams' locomotives combined simplicity with robustness,
Marshall, John. Biographical dictionary
Geoffrey Williams. William Adams. Backtrack, 9, 489-93.
Trivial account.

The standard engines on the North London Railway. Engineer, 1866, 2 March.

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Updated: 16-11-2015