Joshua Beale’s Foundry

Joshua Beale’s Foundry

Joshua Taylor Beale was born in 1793 in Soho, Central London. In the 1830s he moved from Whitechapel to Greenwich, where he lived in Vale Cottage at a placed called ‘Greenwich Gate’. This was on the corner of Trafalgar Road and Conduit Lane (now Vanbrugh Hill). The site of the cottage is where the converted cinema now stands, between William Street and Vanbrugh Hill. Beale leased a part of the old gunpowder magazine site from Messrs Enderby Brothers, a plot of land on the river front in the south-west corner of the rope manufactory, roughly in the area where the sculpture terraces in Cable Corner are today. There he opened a foundry, and over the next 30 years he produced an astonishing number of inventions.

While in Whitechapel he had invented a rotary steam engine and a lamp which ran on naphtha–an inflammable spirit distilled from coal tar. When he came to Greenwich, he developed the steam engine design further and was granted a patent for it in 1835. In the 1840s, he made at least two types of steam road vehicles, improving on a design of the original inventor, Colonel Francis Maceroni (1788-1946). Maceroni’s steam carriage first appeared in 1833, and throughout the 1830s it had been heralded as an exciting proposition. Beale claimed to have sold ‘a considerable number’ of these rotary engines, but they did not survive the development of high pressure steam engines. However, the ideas behind his rotary engine were used in numerous other devices, one of which was Beale’s exhauster, the patent for which was registered in 1848, and this was sold widely to the gas industry.

Beals Exhauster

Beale’s Exhauster

He was also involved with the Enderbys in the use of rubber in rope–making, with naphtha as a solvent, and at Vale Cottage he experimented with coal tar to make garden paths.

Beale also designed and built a more conventional condensing beam engine. It was manufactured in his Greenwich foundry, and installed in the Glemsford Silk Mill in Suffolk, that was established in 1824. This engine is now preserved in the Beamish Industrial Museum collection in County Durham.

Beam Engine Beamish

Beale’s Beam Engine at Beamish

Joshua Beale died at his home on 27 February 1866, leaving a large estate of £70,000. The lease on the foundry ran out soon after and was not renewed, so the site was absorbed into the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Co factory. Beale’s son John (1826-99) inherited the business and was also a prolific inventor – his work included the Facile bicycle and an early system of projecting moving pictures. He lived in Conduit House, which was by 1869 on the same site as Vale Cottage. John negotiated the sale of the exhauster patent to the Brian Donkin Co., then based in Bermondsey. Following a series of legal actions around John’s legitimacy, another version of the patent was sold to Gwynne, pump makers. Donkin’s later moved to Chesterfield, where the company developed the exhauster, which it went on to sell many of them, along with some derivative inventions, well into the 1960s.

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