British Model Steam Engines

Back to Steam Main

Model steam engines were made in several countries, during the boom years of 1900-1930, and extending into the postwar period of the 1950's. And it should come as no surprise that the engines from each country tend to have distinct design qualities.

The German engines tend to be elaborate in appearance with their heavy use of paint and nickel plating, and features that border on mechanical extravagance, pressure gauges and feed pumps on the larger models. American engines are, for the most part, simple and robust, as evidenced by the models produced by Jensen and Empire. Weeden is an exception, it's engines tend to follow the German engines in appearance. French engines feature elaborately built riveted boilers and scrolling metalwork on the supports - finished with a typical French flourish.

British engines have a quality all their own. On the surface, they are somewhat simple, tending to use mostly oscillating cylinders, However, they are almost always equipped with elaborate oiling systems, come with very heavy brass flywheels, and feature very precise machinework on the moving parts. Dissasembling a British engine, or even just spinning the flywheel, shows that the mechanicals were finished to much closer tolerances than the typical steam model. The bases are either wood or heavy metal: steel or brass, tin was not used. It can be said that Nuremburg engines were designed by artisans, the Mozarts of the model industry. As befits the nation that invented the steam engine, and produced such engineering legends as Watt, Maudsley, Whitworth, and Brunel, British model steam engines are designed by engineers.

British engines come from two periods. The first was the 1920's to 1930's, when Bowman was the major producer, plus efforts from other emerging precision modelers such as Bassett-Lowke and Mersey. During that time, Geoffery Malins started the company that was to become Mamod.

The second revival of British steam came in the postwar period. With the German industry in shambles, competition was weak. As well, there was a strong 'buy British' sentiment among the population in the postwar period, no doubt encouraged by the piles of rubble in their cities, and the huge casualty list, both civilian and military, that were created almost exclusively by conflict with German forces. In this period, two major companies emerged as the primary makers of steam models: Mamod and Signalling Equipment, Ltd.

My knowledge of British steam is at best a bit sketchy. If you want to know more, I highly recommend these sites:

The MooseMan.

John Chapman.

Paper n' Steam Galore.

Bowman
(largely from Basil Harley's excellent article) Geoffery Bowman Jenkins began his career in model steam with a partnership with Hobbies Ltd, in Deerham, in 1923. Their first product was a line of live steam powered boats, with Hobbies building the hull, and Bowman producing the steam plant. Bowman soon expanded out into stationary steam engines, probably around 1927. They also introduced a line of live steam locomotives shortly thereafter.
Bowman appears to have discontinued it's live steam line around 1935, leaving Hobbies Ltd without a supplier of live steam engines. That void was filled by another Geoffrey - Geoffrey Malins, who was shortly to form his own company, Mamod.
The Bowman name was not to disappear from live steaming. Bowman was reincarnated during the postwar boom, operating out of Luton, Bedfordshire. While the company did use the red archer emblem from the original Bowman firm, there does not appear to be any other direct connection between the two companies. Geoffrey Bowman Jenkins family believes that this was operated by a Captain Smart, a cousing of Geoffrey.
E101
This is Bowman's big single cylinder, and a most unique looking engine with it's large, rounded boiler. There is something about the E101 that I just love - it's a very 'steamy' looking steam model. The 101 was made in two configurations - the E101 with a wood base, and the M101 with a metal Meccano base. Yes, I'm looking for a M101... you have one for sale?
And a heavy engine at that - the solid brass flywheel alone weighs in at 1.2 pounds/ .55 kilos. As with all larger Bowman engines, it comes with a drip oiler on the main cylinder. Bowman also delivered all of its engines in a stout wood box. As well they might, the weight of this engine would easily crush a cardboard box if it were to shift in shipment.

As the first photo shows, this big fellow was a bit of a mess when he showed up. A weekend, and half a stick of jeweler's rouge, got him shining again.

Update: Repaired the loose steam line, and fired him up. A very satisfying engine to run, it makes all sorts of steam engine sounds, puffing steam and whining gears. Highly recommended, if you like steam engines that sound like steam engines.
M122
Bowman's big two cylinder engine. And an impressive sight, with it's twin oilers. Unlike the E101, the M series is designed to work with Meccano sets, hence the flat base and the holes around the edge to attach the various pieces. This example came out of the UK, by courtesy of the Mooseman, a true gentleman and model steamer extraordinare.
Note the photo of the M122 next to the E101 - the E101's burner resivoir is considerably larger. As the E101's boiler is larger than the M122's, the burner for it can contain more fuel, to run the model longer. Note to new model steamers - this is why one should only use a burner designed for that specific engine - the E101's burner would run the M122's boiler dry, damaging the boiler and creating a very hazardous condition.

Running notes: This was an interesting model to fire. It really cranks up the RPM's under steam, along with the gears whining. I only have two large Bowman models, but both are very enthusiastic runners.
And like many Bowman engines, the original box seems to have survived with this model.

Mersey
Not a great deal of information on Mersey. They operated in the 1934-1941 time frame, and turned out a line of very attractive wood and brass engines.
54R
A twin cylinder engine with reversing gear. If the burner were present, it would have five wicks. Fascinating detail on the plumbing for the reversing gear. While this engine is in mint condition, the name badge seems to have gone missing.

Interesting detail on the plate between the cylinders, possibly a patent number. Patent designations are not usually seen on British steam engines.

52R
Single cylinder with reverse. I have the burner, same as the 51, just forgot to put it in the photo.

51
This one came from Paper 'n Steam Galore, complete with original box and instructions. Like Bowman, it features a solid brass flywheel, albeit considerably smaller than my E101's monster flywheel.

Cyldon
Sydney S. Bird and Sons produced electronic equipment before the war. As an offshoot, a toy division wsa started, drawing its name from Bird's two sons: Cyril and Donald. Cyldon engines are most remembered for their very unusual cylindrical burner.
13/2
Probably Cyldon's most unique engine, with the pushrod operated valve.
This one came courtesy of the Mooseman. Astute Cyldon owners will note that the boiler is not correct. That's a Mamod boiler. I have the original Cyldon boiler, in need of drastic repair.

Stuart Turner
More on Stuart later, for now here are my two...
Stuart S50/S500
S50 mill engine with S500 boiler and alcohol burner.
Quite a bit more powerful than the Nuremburg models. Under steam, the cylinder packs quite a punch. On my wish list, but probaby no time soon due to the hefty cost, is the triple expansion Stuart engine. And their beam engine...
Stuart 6 Compound

Signalling Equipment, Limited
Part of the postwar boom in British steam, SEL was a division of J and L Randall, Ltd. SEL began production in 1946, with four engines. That line was to remain largely unchanged until SEL discontinued production in 1965.
1550 Major
The 1550 Major was the largest of SEL's line, though it is still diminutive by normal model steam standards. Note that the boiler and steam lines are covered in gold paint. This was original finish.
1540 Standard
test 2

Burnac Vulcan
Produced shortly after the end of WW2. Vulcans have been seen in two configurations, all brass, and brass/copper mix. This one is a brass/copper mix. There is also some variation in the sight glass covers, some have a Bing style cover. This is one well built model, despite it's somewhat humble design. Tolerances are tight, nothing rattles, and it runs most enthusiastically.

I've heard several stories about Burnac, it's been a bit difficult to pin down it's exact origins. It appears that the engines were made from 1946 to 1949, but otherwise, there isn't a great deal to go on.

One story has it that the steam engine line began when an entrepreneur found a huge supply of unused shell casings at the end of the war that could be had for next to nothing. The boiler tube on this model is a lot thicker than it needs to be, and it's about 40mm in diameter, just about the size of a 40mm Borfors AA shell. No official facts to back that one up, but it makes an interesting story.
Another story has it that Burnac was in the sewing machine business, and built model steam engines as a sideline. Again, no official conformation or facts to back that one up,either - that one came from an ebay seller, and they have been known to have active imaginations from time to time.

LBSC
Lillian 'Curly' Lawrence is, along with Henry Greenly, a legend in British model steam. He began his career at the age of 13, building a live steam locomotive using a treadle powered lathe. Writing under the nom de plume of LBSC, his favorite railroad (London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway), he published 150 designs for live steam locomotives.
A must have for any live steamer is LBSC's book: Shop, Shed, and Road. Not just about locomotives, it also covers many basic machining and operating techniques.
Bat
While most of LBSC's designs were for large scale model railroading, he did design two O gauge locomotives, the Bat and the Owl. These engines could be built in 1 or 0 gauge. LBSC designed these during the war, the reason being that their small size would allow them to be operated indoors, during the night time blackout. Large scale locomotives, he felt, might cast light from their fireboxes while operating outdoors - the war truly received a maximum effort, even from modelers.
This is the Bat. For an O gauge locomotive, it was very detailed, with the steam exhaust directed through a venturi to create a draught in the firebox, and a superheat line.
This one needs some work to get it going. Has what appears to be a gas burner with it. The former owner thoughtfully provided a very nice static running stand.

Back to Steam Main