The village of Poynton stands just over the western border of the Peak District. Today it is a popular residential part of the Manchester commuter belt, but at one time it was a busy mining village, exploiting the profitable reserves beneath its green fields. Apart from converted miners’ cottages dotted in groups along the village roads, little remains of that industry. One of the last pits which helped swell the 245,000 tons of local coal mined annually was the Anson Colliery. The pit is long gone, but the site now houses the award winning Anson Engine Museum, a collection of historic gas and oil engines, many of them made in the Manchester area.
Brian Spencer went along there recently to enjoy the sight of these still operating power providers.
The side turning off one of the back roads between Poynton proper and Middlewood, gave little or no hint of the collection of ‘boy’s toys’ that lay ahead. The steady thump, thump coming from one of the cluster of sheds showed that at least one (more as it turned out) of the engines was running. These were just part of the collection of over 250 gas and oil engines mostly made by Manchester based companies like Crossley Brothers of Openshaw, Mirlees Bickerton & Day of nearby Hazel Grove, or L. Gardner and Sons Ltd of Patricroft to the west; There are even Ruston and Hornsby engines made by the Lincoln based company who turned from making agricultural equipment in the first World War, to designing the first tanks to take part in modern warfare. Each of these companies specialised in high quality engines that are often still driving machinery all over the world. Their engines drove everything from ships to agricultural plant, or provided power for factories and also electricity generating.
Of the twenty or so engine manufacturers in the North West, Mirlees concentrated on light and heavy oil diesel engines – their first engine is displayed in the museum, together with Crossley’s first, a very rare Griffin six stroke. A 63 ton Ruston and Hornsby was used by Ealing Studios to power dramatic special effects.
There cannot be many places like this unusual museum, known at one time as one of the best kept secrets in the industrial North West. What has become one of the U.K’s leading specialist museums was the brain-child of two dedicated enthusiasts, Les Cawley and Geoff Challinor, who started collecting engines purely as a hobby. Gradually their hobby became an almost full-time industry, so the only thing to do was to convert their hobby into a professionally run museum. These 2 men together with a gradually swelling band of like-minded helpers whose idea of enjoyment was to spend their spare time covered in grease, spent years collecting and restoring vintage engines. Those years of effort and hard graft have borne fruit in a working collection of engines that holds interest and fascination for anyone, male, female, old or young.
Unlike the current controversy over the movement of the photographic collection from the National Media Museum in Bradford to London, such is the importance of the Anson Museum that it is able to display engines donated from top Science Museums up and down the country. The collection tells the story of engines from the cannon to sophisticated, electronically controlled engines of the future. There is even more than just passing reference to the work done by the German engineer Nikolaus Otto and his partner Eugen Langen who in 1876 made the first successful internal combustion engine. At first the ‘Otto’ engine as it was called, was used as a stationary producer of power, and it took another far sighted engineer, Gottlieb Daimler, to adapt Otto’s ideas into his design for an engine to drive his automobiles.
Steam is not forgotten at the Anson. The museum has a steam section with two Robey engines in regular operation; an ‘A’ frame and a beam engine. Pride of place goes to the Stott engine that used to drive a cotton wadding mill just down the road in Hazel Grove. It was rescued by the museum and lovingly restored to working condition by the team of volunteers and ran in 2011 for the first time in 50 years.
In honour of Poynton’s mining heritage, a giant scale model shows the village as it looked around 1900. All the multitude of pits dotting the area are shown and give a clear indication of how this one-time colliery village has changed into a dormitory for twenty-first century commuters. Made by 5,000 hours of voluntary work, the model was first put on display in 2011 alongside a display of old maps, photographs, mementoes and keepsakes from the colliery owners, the Vernons from nearby Lyme Hall, together with records of the Anson Colliery on which the museum stands.
Sated by the fascination of all the lovingly restored machinery, we wandered outside to the Craft Centre. Here skilled volunteers working in open-fronted workshops were, as the skill dictated, using foot-operated lathes to turn lumps of wood into things like chair-back spindles (the man carrying out this skill told me he was a bodger), or hollowing-out larger pieces into wooden bowls. To their side a blacksmith hammering lumps of red hot iron into fireside implements turned out to be my cousin. In retirement he has gone back to his first job-related activity gained from working at the Bayer Peacock factory in Openshaw, where in times gone by they made the giant locomotives, capable of heroic activities like climbing the Andes or running for hours across the African arid deserts without stopping for water.
The Anson Engine Museum is open on advertised days throughout the summer when a programme of events including demonstrations of running engines is held. To find when it is open check www.enginemuseum.org Telephone 01625 874426
The museum is situated in woodland off Anson Road between Poynton village centre and Middlewood (follow the brown tourist signs). It is close to the Macclesfield Canal and about ten minutes’ walk from the Boar’s Head pub at Higher Poynton.
Car parking is free and there are children’s fun sheets and a small cinema. Wheelchair and scooters are available, with good access throughout the site.