Gosfield Hall Gin



Gosfeld Hall Donkey Gin & Beam Water Pump 

Tony Baxter

If ever you are down in Essex, near Braintree, spare half an hour or so to visit Gosfield Hall (at GR: TL 77482979) and look at its Gin and Pump installation, which is probably unique. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a Grade I Listed Building, and is included in the Sites and Monuments Record, formally recorded as a 'Well House and Donkey Wheel attached to Gosfield Hall". It is reputed to date back to the 17th/18th century, though the present machinery is thought to be only 19th century - presumably an up-dating. Work to arrest deterioration was undertaken in 1981 but was insufficient to restore it to any sort of working order.

The Hall is owned by the Country Houses Association, which spends its time and money restoring grand old houses and turning them into very comfortable serviced retirement flats for the wealthy. The Hall is Elizabethan in origin but of this only the west range remains, the others were rebuilt in the early and late 18th century. During the 19th century there was a considerable amount of sympathetic restoration. The Hall is open to the public on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 2 and 5 pm May - September with an admission fee. The Administrators (Tel No: 01787-472914) are helpful and will probably let you have a look at the pump at any other time


The gin and pump are contained in two separate buildings located 50 yards or so to the north of the Hall. Both buildings are octagonal and similar in plan size with sides about 8 feet long built of bricks laid in Flemish bond to a height of some 2 feet externally. In the case of the gin house the pyramidical clay tiled roof is supported on 6 foot timber posts with angled braces, one side being open to serve as an entrance. A few feet away the adjacent pump house has a similar roof built off the top of the external brick wall but with a double wooden trapdoor set in one face of the roof to allow access to the pump machinery.

Inside the gin house, the gin itself has four radial driving beams fixed to the top of a vertical wooden axle post set on a wooden tree in the base of a 10 foot internal diameter circular brick wall some 2 feet below ground level. The bottom of the post carries, in effect, a horizontal brake wheel 8˝feet in diameter with quarter bars, resting on and driving a wallower giving a 4:1 step-up. The wallower drives an underground shaft which terminates at the crankshaft of the pump.

The pump house is a deep circular well lined with header bricks. The beam pump is suspended from a massive wooden frame set into the well wall. The three 8 foot long beams are pivoted at one end and are driven at the other end by connecting rods from the solid iron crankshaft which is set directly above the beams. The beams in turn drive the vertical pump rods, the top ends of which are secured to the underside of the beams immediately below the connecting rods. The three pump cylinders are mounted on a wooden cross-beam and the piston heads are extant approximate bore 4˝ inches, stroke 12 inches. Presumably intake water was drawn directly from the well below but there is no trace of any delivery system.

This is an interesting pump - quite apart from the fact that, unlike any known in Sussex, it is gin-driven - since the date given of 17th/18th century implies that the original machinery (presumably with a similar configuration) could have predated George Sorocold's London Bridge water-driven beam pumps of 1705, which are the earliest known examples in England. Perhaps this is not too surprising because as Sorocold's installation was for its time remarkably sophisticated, it is most probable that earlier pumps using the same beam principle had existed elsewhere.

© 2000 SIAS & Tony Baxter - reproduced from SIAS Newsletter  105 - January 2000

All views presented here are those of the respective authors any do not reflect those of the Society or its officers.

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