Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Age of Steam

This article is about Victorians (KS2) and also about science and an adventure! 
SO much fun in ONE post!

Bygone Days

Dorothy and friends are on holiday in North Norfolk and yesterday took a trip on the "Poppy Line".  As a volunteer-led fully functional steam train line the North Norfolk Railway says:-
The North Norfolk Railway offers far more than just a train ride, experience yesterday tomorrow with a day out travelling through some of Norfolk’s stunning coastal countryside.
Before the internal combustion engine people used steam engines to move trains and boats. The first commercial steam engine using a piston was developed by Thomas Newcomen and was used in 1712 for pumping in a mine. In 1781 James Watt patented a steam engine that produced continuous rotative motion. The following century saw a revolution in steam powered machines. There is an excellent timeline here of transportation which records the main dates of progress in transport and includes steam. 

The History Bit

Creating an engine to do the work of man was revolutionary. Previously, growing food to eat - called a "subsistence economy" kept most people working hard. There was little extra time for developing ideas - or even HAVING ideas. Until people could be freed from growing food to survive society could not move forward. Not since Roman times had a people managed to do this - and this was the reason for the Roman's success and their Empire. If fewer people could be used to grow food - there were people free to do other things. That might be developing technology, conquering other countries or participating in art and culture. But none of those can happen if every man, woman and child is occupied growing food to live.

The Age of Steam was incredible. Machines - if well cared for - could do the work of ten men - and more. This was the start of a time called the "Agricultural Revolution" - when food production could be taken care of by machines and fewer people - and this meant there were people with time to think and plan- and the Industrial Revolution followed suit.

For any economy to progress, it's food supply needs to be safe. If you run or lead a country you need to feed your people - before you can do anything else. Britain developed steam power first, and was "free" first to pursue other things. This is the main reason why the British Empire was so successful, why we industrialised first, had the first railways, the first factories and why Britain was seen to be supreme across the world. Because we had TIME. Time to think, to dream, to develop, to pioneer and time to BUILD.

There is more about KS 2 History - The Victorians, here.

The Science Bit

The combustion engine was actually really simple. Coal was used to make a hot fire underneath a tank of water. Like a kettle! The water got hotter and hotter, until it started to boil. This boiling water became steam as the hottest atoms at the top changed from liquid to gas. Any gas takes up more room than a liquid as the atoms are further apart. The steam spread down a tube and just like forcing water through a syringe they were used to move a piston which turned a wheel. Keeping the fire hot kept the piston moving and the wheels going round. Simple!

You can find out how a steam engine works here.

Steam engines powered factories, machines, engines like trains and had so many uses.

Steam Trains

Steam trains are amazing things to watch. Noisy - and far more interactive than electric or even diesel rains they need constant care. But looked after well they provide many MANY years of service! Being part of an old steam train line is to work together i a community. This is something often missing in today's society and something many of us can learn from.

This is taken one step further in Holt, Norfolk where the Poppy Line terminates. An old fashioned double decker bus collects passengers and takes them on to the little market ton of Holt!

Dorothy says:- 
"Have you ever ridden on a Steam Train? Was it very different from a modern Train? 
If so, How and Why?
Were there more people around to look after and hep you on a steam train than a modern train?

If so - did you like being looked after, or do you prefer doing everything yourself?

Lastly - do YOU have time to think, to DREAM? Or do you think that counts as boredom? Do you appreciate time to yourself, when you have no demands made of you, or do you find this difficult? Two hundred years ago, this would have been a HUGE novelty. For anyone. And out of "boredom"/free time, came amazing things.

See what you can come up with when you are next bored!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


  1. We travelled on a steam train from Minehead, when Austin was under 6 months old. I think it was a little lost on him at the time, but I certainly enjoyed it! Time for another visit, I think.....

  2. What a fabulous day out! So educational too! I have never been on a steam train, I am not sure they even have them here. Must look to take my two on one when we are home at some point! :)

  3. I don't think I've ever been on a steam train - I must put that right as the kids would love it!

  4. Love Norfolk we went for a weeks holls its fab .x

  5. I have never been on a steam train before but would love to! Sounds like a fab day out! x

  6. I would love to go on a steam train, it would be great fun x

  7. Looks like a great day out. I know my children would love a steam train!

  8. I love steam trains. We recently went to Blists Hill Victorian town - would definitely recommend it for more Victoriana! :)

    1. Blists' Hill is fab- I took my year 6 class there many years ago! Bit too far for us though.

  9. I've never been on a steam train, in fact, I'd never been on any kind of train (except those little ones at theme parks when I was a child) until a couple of years ago when we went to Nottingham!
    I'd love to take the girls on a steam train :)

  10. Havent been to steam trains but I am sure my son would love this as he loves trains rides of any sort (probably because he is not strapped in there). I wish we can go one day so that we will have fun like you did! #countrykids


Thank you for commenting!
Dorothy xx