The Salford Steam Hammer

by Michele Thompson

Many a local in Salford will walk or drive past Nasmyth’s Business Park on Green Lane, Patricroft and may glance with interest at the structure now surrounded by mirrored panelling at the entrance, but few will know how important it was to the Industrial Revolution.

The site was home to James Nasmyth’s Bridgewater Foundry in the 19th Century, making machinery, locomotives and tools. Standing proudly outfront with a fresh lick of light blue paint, is one of Nasmyth’s finest inventions, the steam hammer.

James Nasmyth chose Salford as the spot for his new engineering works after walking the route of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830. He stopped for a break at the point where the railway crosses the Bridgewater Canal and the site obviously made an impression on him. When he had to move from his premises above a glass works in Dale Street (because some machinery fell through the floor!), he moved to the Patricroft site.

The steam hammer design was an innovation for metal work, as before its conception metal hammers struck every blow with the same amount of force. The steam hammer could be controlled to gently break the top of an egg placed in a wine glass or fall with such force that the vibrations could be felt for miles. A party trick often displayed for the Earl of Ellesmere and his guests.

The hammer was developed initially for Isambard Kingdom Brunel in order to make steam ships and was sold across the world transforming manufacturing. It was quickly adapted and used in pile driving. Bridges such as the High Bridge in Newcastle and The Royal Border Bridge in Berwick upon Tweed were built much more quickly than ever possible before due to the speed and efficiency of the pile driver. Piles which previously would have taken men 12 hrs to install now took minutes.

The Steam Hammer on Green Lane is nicknamed Thor and was in use in Elsecar Colliery in Barnsley. It is one of the smallest of the hammers that was available. Others could reach 20ft tall and could deliver blows of over 100 tons. As part of the EST 1761 project to revitalise the Bridgewater Canal funding and local enthusiasts brought it to Salford for renovation.

James Nasmyth was originally born in Scotland but spent much of his life in the Industrial heartlands of England.

If you would like to hear more about James Nasmyth, the steam hammer and the Bridgewater Canal in Salford why not check out our series of walks around the area.

Michele is a Green Badge Guide for the Bridgewater Canal

Contact her directly to discuss a tour:

Call: 0778692053