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By Georgina Young on

Balance of Power: the Exceptional Case of the Brush Ljungstrom Turbine

At the heart of the Museum of Science and Industry lie an exceptionally important historic site and a rich collection of objects and archives—caring for both occasionally presents challenges.

Note: Since this post’s original publication, our plans for the Special Exhibition Gallery have changed, details of which will be made available in 2018.

Most of the time these two great strengths complement one another and add up to more than the sum of their parts, helping us to tell the story of how ideas can change the world. Occasionally though, our twin duties of care towards buildings and collections conflict, as in the case of the Brush Ljungstrom turbine.

Picture of the Brush Ljungstrom turbine in situ at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
The Brush Ljungstrom turbine in situ

You might not know its name, but if you visited our Electricity gallery between 1986 and 2016 you may have seen the Brush Ljungstrom turbine. It is a radial-flow steam turbine made by Brush Electrical Engineering Ltd of Loughborough in 1956, and was used at Doncaster power station until 1980. It represents a type of steam turbine used in power stations to help meet increasing demand as Britain’s electrical grid rapidly expanded from a local to a national level. The object is not a world first or an icon – it is a late example of a fairly common turbine type – but it is one of very few examples of its kind in UK museum collections.

For some time, the collections team at the museum have been looking into how to remove the turbine from the 1830 Warehouse building so that construction work on our new Special Exhibition Gallery can commence there in 2017. The 1830 Warehouse is the world’s first railway warehouse, its historical significance recognised by a Grade I listing from Historic England. The Special Exhibition Gallery will transform the museum’s ability to develop and host world class exhibitions showcasing its incredible collection.

Picture of the proposed interior of MSI's Special Exhibition Gallery
Artist’s impression of the interior of the Special Exhibition Gallery

When the turbine was first installed, the Warehouse was in a sorry state of repair, having been largely abandoned prior to becoming part of the museum. The turbine was lifted in through the missing roof and large gaps in the building structure, and then fixed into the basement with concrete. Following this, substantial work was undertaken to make the building safe and reinstate the missing floors and roof. The building was saved and transformed, but there is now no opening in it that is big enough for the turbine to fit though.

We have approached 16 highly experienced conservation and engineering companies and spoken to a number of independent experts and specialist groups. It has become clear that any attempt to remove the Brush Ljungstrom turbine would be highly technically challenging, exceptionally risky and very expensive. Based on months of work to date and expert advice taken so far, there is no reasonable option that allows the museum to build the new Special Exhibition Gallery, avoid damage to the Grade I listed 1830 Warehouse and retain the turbine intact.

Picture of the exterior of the 1830 Warehouse at the Museum of Science and Industry
The 1830 Warehouse

Regrettably, we are now considering the possibility that we may need to disassemble the Brush Ljungstrom turbine to such an extent that the possibility of future research and exhibition use is lost. In that exceptional circumstance, we would follow a museum sector process and dispose of it from our collection.  We would retain a full record of the turbine, including photographs and a 3D scan.

When the needs of our buildings and collections conflict, there are no easy answers. The museum is only considering disposing of the Brush Ljungstrom turbine as a last resort in exceptional circumstances. The Science Museum Group Trustees will need to carefully weigh up the relative harms and public benefits, taking into account consultation with stakeholders and the public, and the advice of the Museums Association Ethics Committee and Arts Council England. If you would like to have your say, please contact collections@msimanchester.org.uk.


SEG image copyright: Museum of Science and Industry and Carmody Groarke

SEG image credit: Forbes Massie

8 comments on “Balance of Power: the Exceptional Case of the Brush Ljungstrom Turbine

  1. i worked on on these turbines early in my career at Sunderland power station. There were two machines of 20 Mega Watts output. I would be a shame if this artifact was lost.

    1. David, me too. I was a student apprentice based at Sunderland power station from 1969 to 1974 and often recall rhe design of these turbines to my peers nowadays.

  2. I also worked on this very machine as an Electrical Fitter at Doncaster P S after finishing my apprenticeship with the C.E.G.B. some 43 years ago. And visited the museum recently to see this exhibit to find it was in the 1830 warehouse and there was no access to view. I find it hard to believe that there is no way this item can be saved for future generations to see in the light of the steam generation demise in the U.K.

  3. As a person who spent all my working life in power stations, I feel as there are are so few things that are preserved and to be fair most items are too large for preservation this item should not be scrapped in any circumstances

  4. I was an Engineering apprentice at Doncaster B Power Station(1973) & remember set No 3 as the Brush machine 30Mws , the only radial flow turbine I ever saw in my 37 years in the ESI (electrical supply industry) As I remember I am sure I was told that Set 4 was also a Brush machine but suffered a oil supply problem to the bearings & it dis assembled itself. replaced with a 40Mw AEI machine. It would be a shame if was lost for ever.

  5. Translated from original Russian below comment:

    I hope this rare specimen will be left in the museum for the next generations, a very interesting design. When I was at the university for an aviation engineer, we were taught about various turbines. And these have always been singled out as a separate class. In my city – St. Petersburg there were such turbines, but they were destroyed by German bombing in the Second World War!

    Надеюсь этот редкий экземпляр оставят в музее для следующих поколений, очень интересная конструкция. Я когда учился в университете на авиационного инженера, нам преподавали про различные турбины. И эти всегда выделяли в отдельный класс. В моём городе – Санкт-Петербурге стояли такие турбины, но они были разрушены при немецких бомбардировках во Второй Мировой Войне !

  6. To destroy this unique design machine is the easy but wrong solution. If it had been made from bricks and mortar it would be listed and protected. The design was radical and enabled a much faster run up to speed and be on load much quicker than conventional generators. I worked at Northampton Power Station where we had a Brush 30mw set which did eventually destroy itself. Save this survivor of our engineering heritage please.

  7. I was at Warrington power station in the 1970s where we had a 30MW machine. The contra rotating shafts with a generator at each end made them unique. It must be preserved. Having gone on to work with 660MW sets with nuclear generated steam, I still think that the innovation of the twin shaft radials is an important part of steam turbine history.

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