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The Eagle's Victorian Beer Engine - a Restoration Project
When the Eagle Inn at Skerne, near Driffield in East Yorkshire sadly called time for good in 2003 upon the retirement of its landlord, Roy Edmond, the pub's Victorian 3-motion beer engine that had remained in use right up until the pub's closure was removed by Roy's daughter and son-in-law, Sue and Norman Harris. Since then it has been stored in their garage, but with the passage of time its condition had understandably but unfortunately deteriorated. At the end of August 2007 I was contacted by Sue and Norman, who very kindly offered to donate the beer engine to me for nothing if I would be interested in giving it a good home. This exceptionally generous offer was one I simply could not refuse. Norman even drove down from Yorkshire to Surrey to deliver the beer engine to me personally. Sue and Norman, you are stars - I am exceedingly indebted and grateful to you both.
These are the photos I was sent of the beer engine in Sue and Norman's garage:
I really wanted do something to preserve this rare gem for posterity, prevent any further deterioration in its condition and help bring it back, if only in part, to how it would have looked in its prime. This would be no easy task. As can be seen from the photos, much of the wooden structure was rotten, the curved mahogany veneer was badly cracked and breaking away, and it was full of worm-holes. In fact my wife insisted that it be kept covered inside a large plastic bag, so paranoid was she that some woodworm might still be active and escape to wreak havoc within the house. Unfortunately I do not possess any knowledge or expertise in the field of wood and furniture restoration, so this was definitely one for the experts and not the sort of job I could contemplate undertaking myself.
I therefore entrusted the task to a local small family business of professional antiques restorers - Richard and Emma Lawman, who trade as Warwick Antique Restorations and have earned themselves an excellent reputation.
It has proved to be a very long wait, but I was in no great hurry as I knew just how challenging a project this was. Richard had told me it would be a long job as much of the underlying frame had indeed rotted. He has repaired wherever possible and renewed where necessary. A good deal of time was also spent sourcing good quality mahogany veneer that matched the original, as it is now very difficult to come by in sheets of sufficient size. These were applied using a traditional type of glue, but because of the curvature of the underlying frame it required much skill and patience before the upper section was stable enough to undergo final polishing. Richard and Emma have done a fantastic job in bringing back to life what many would have regarded as a lost cause. The final result is superb, and it probably looks now much as it would have done when it was first installed at The Eagle during the pub's refurbishment in 1864.
The original chromed brass taps were badly corroded and seized solid. As it happened, I had seen a set of three almost identical brass taps for sale on eBay just a week before I was offered The Eagle's beer engine, however having no need of them at the time I didn't bid. It was a long shot, but I contacted the winning bidder a few weeks later to ask if he would be prepared to sell them to me for the restoration project. Fortunately he very kindly agreed. Thank you again, Jason, for your part in helping to bring this project to fruition. The replacement taps bear the manufacturer's mark for Gaskell & Chambers and are virtually identical to the originals, the only small difference being that they have a round rather than a square-shaped hole in the tap-knob. The original taps had been chromed, along with the metal runners and pump-handle fittings, so I had the replacement taps chrome-plated to match, and the other brightwork re-chromed too.
It's been a long and expensive journey, but seeing the stunning transformation that The Eagle's beer engine has undergone, I know that it has all been worthwhile. This is how it looks now -
The story of The Eagle's beer engine does not end there, however. In June 2021 I was contacted by a young man called Paul Smith. Paul is a man with remarkable vision and purpose, and he was determined to fulfil a dream. And so would begin a new chapter in the story.
That dream was not simply to save yet another pub from closure and being turned into flats. Paul wanted painstakingly to restore it to its original former 1920s splendour - including bar, tap room, parlour, snug, upstairs club room and outside men's lavatories! The pub in question is The Miners' Arms Inn, Consett, Co Durham. Since the inn would be something of a working museum, Paul was keen to include as many historically-accurate pieces as possible in the hope of encouraging the public and other licensees to take more of an interest in the heritage and conservation of their pubs. To that end, he was desperately trying to source an old "cash register" type beer engine that could be incorporated into the pub, and got in touch hoping I might be able to help him source one.
I knew of none available via the usual online auction options. Then I thought of The Eagle's beer engine. It could serve no better purpose than that for which it was originally intended. I was more than happy to see it re-installed and in public view in its proper context - a real pub. Paul jumped at the offer, and was keen to explore the possibility of recommissioning the original cylinders and pipework so that it could be used to dispense real ale once more. He contacted Harry Masons in Birmingham, who could not have been more helpful. They were not only prepared to undertake the work, but also claimed to be 100% certain that the beer engine was one of their own! The work took several months, but they did a fantastic job and the beer engine is now considered hygienic and fit for use. It arrived back safely and has proven to be a huge hit with everyone who sees it. Breweries have apparently been jostling with one another over who gets to have their products dispensed through the old engine - most notably Theakstons and Timothy Taylor.
Ready for service - after recommissioning by Harry Mason
Find out more about the Eagle Inn and its history by clicking on this page.
Learn more about the Miners' Arms Inn on this page.