Home The Club Trips & Information Members Interests Business Minutes Guest Speakers

Speaker – Dr Tom Hay ‘Some unusualapplications of Water ‘.


Professionally, Dr Hay was an engineer at ICI for some 30 years but, as a hobby, he

became interested in industrial archeology & joined the Society for the Protection of Ancient

Buildings. Tom’s particular enthusiasm is for water mills & other water powered devices. He

has an extensive collection of photographs and data on these incredibly varied & ingenious

devices which he presented in an amusing but informative manner.

Power can be derived from water in three ways: utilizing the weight of the water;

extracting energy from the flow; or exploiting the pressure of a column of water.

Conventional over-shot water wheels rely upon the weight of water & have been in use

for millennia for grinding cereal grains. Water wheels powered the Industrial Revolution in

Britain, powering weaving looms, pumping out coal mines & driving winding gear in tin mines.

Examples of more ancient devices, relying on the weight of water, are bamboo bird scarers in

Japan & irrigation pumps in China. A more modern example close to hand is the cliff lift at

Saltburn. Even sculptures, such as a water lilly opening & closing, can be driven by water

Conventional water mills are easily damaged by flood water, an elegant solution to this

problem in fast flowing rivers, prone to flooding, is to have a floating mill with paddles which are

driven by the flow of the water. Many floating mills exist in continental Europe. Another

clever technique for harnessing the energy of flowing water is in ferries. A boat anchored to a

fixed pivot in the centre of a stream can be manoeuvred across the stream by deflecting rudders

from side to side. Numerous ferries in Canada use this technique. Water turbines generate

electricity all over the world. Electricity can also be generated by using an Archimedes screw in

reverse, which has the merit that fish can still swim up through the screw unharmed.

Water pressure can drive a piston in a cylinder which can drive all sorts of machines.

There are many examples of hydraulically powered devices locally, eg. the lift at the Bowes

Museum. An even more ingenious method of using water is to entrain air in a descending

column of water & release it at the bottom, thus making an air compressor with no moving parts.

Although water powered devices have been largely superseded by electrically powered

machines, water power is still used in chemical works & on oil tankers, where electrical sparks

might initiate fire or explosions.

Finally, Tom closed his lecture by playing himself out utilizing the flow from a jug of

water to drive a musical box.

A vote of thanks was proposed by Keith Waller.