Doors Open Days

Since 2011, STICK has worked with the Scottish Civic Trust to help celebrate Scotland’s industrial and transport past by highlighting those organisations and sites participating in the Doors Open Days across Scotland.



Plans for our involvement with Doors Open Days in 2013 are in development and will be announced here.


2012: Three hundred years of steam power

2012 marked the three hundredth anniversary of the invention of the first workable steam engine, the Newcomen or atmospheric engine. This engine was to form the basis for James Watt’s greatest achievement, one that would transform the world.

During the 2012 Doors Open Days there were several sites with a link to steam technology open.

Designed by Thomas Newcomen for draining the water from deep mines, the atmospheric engine was the first steam operated engine to use a piston and cylinder; the piston was attached to a beam and as the piston moved up and down, it rocked the beam and worked a drainage pump in the base of the mine. This is why early steam engines are often called ‘beam engines’.  Newcomen’s engine was simple, robust and reliable. Originally developedin England to drain tin mines  in the south-west, within two decades his design of engine was employed at coal mines in Scotland, including:

  • Stevenston Colliery, Saltcoats, Ayrshire: engines built 1719, 1720, 1725 (in rebuilt 1719 engine house) and 1732.
  • Tranent Colliery, East Lothian, c.1719
  • Dryden Colliery, Midlothian, pre-1720.
  • Elphinston Pit, Tranent, East Lothian, 1720
  • Edmonstone, Midlothian, 1726.

In the early 1760s, a model Newcomen engine used for demonstrations to students at Glasgow University was repaired by James Watt who was then a maker and repairer of scientific instruments. The Newcomen engine was very inefficient and in seeking to overcome the limitations of Newcomen’s design, Watt developed a condenser separated from the cylinder and patented this in 1769.

With further improvements in this design, Watt’s new beam engine was applied widely to power machinery, providing great impetus to the industrial revolution which occurred in Britain in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Watt entered into a manufacturing partnership with Birmingham entrepreneur Matthew Boulton in 1775 and it is known that at least 67 Boulton and Watt beam engines were supplied to Scotland.

Watt’s engine was comparatively expensive, and so where fuel was cheap Newcomen engines remained in production and use for well over a century. But both types of beam engine were large, needing their own engine houses. Surviving Newcomen Engine Houses in Scotland include:

  • Grangepans, Bo’ness
  • Saltcoats
  • Caprington, Kilmarnock
  • Kilmux, Kennoway, Fife (possibly)

By the early 1800s an alternative approach to engine design used higher steam pressures in smaller engines. This allowed engines to be made portable and used to power ships, railway locomotives and road vehicles. In Scotland a large number of manufacturers were established making ships’ engines, steam locomotives, and stationary engines for driving all sorts of machinery.  In the continuing search for efficiency new designs were developed, leading, in the nineteenth century, to the development of the steam turbine, which is still widely used today.