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Sentinel Steam Steering Engine

By Neil Marsden

As outlined already in these pages, the steam steering engine was transported to the workshops of TTE, Ellesmere Port on Saturday 11th December, in readiness for overhaul by the staff and apprentices of that organisation.

Prior to that date arrangements were put in hand to remove the engine from the wheelhouse, where it had been located since the vessel’s transformation from ‘Ralph Brocklebank’ to become ‘Daniel Adamson’ in 1936. At this time as well as the installation of the now familiar art deco saloons, the bridge was raised to its current position and along with it the steering engine.

Reference to the ship’s specification list showed that the engine was made by Messrs. Alley & McLellan of Glasgow, but gave no indication of its age. In the course of preparing to lift the engine the opportunity to examine it more closely was taken, this included freeing up the engine itself as well as examining the mechanism by which the engine could be engaged/disengaged to allow hand steering in the event of an emergency. After the application of some TLC and a good application of oil we managed to get everything moving as it should, a great relief after over twenty years inactivity, much of it exposed to the elements. The holding down bolts were then released and the steam pipes disconnected. All was ready, we just needed to remove part of the wheelhouse roof and obtain the services of a crane.

Accordingly on Thursday 2nd December all was ready, our supporters North West Ship repairers had come to our aid once more and had arranged to provide their crane for the lift, we set to in removing sufficient panels from the wheelhouse roof and attaching the wire strops ready for the lift.

Here we see John Huxley fitting the strops, while John Deakin looks on, no doubt wondering just how much this thing weighs!

The crane was set in position, the hook attached and we held our breath, had we definitely removed all those bolts?

Yes we had!! Our precious steering engine became airborne, the indicator on the crane showed that our engine weighed ¾ tons.

A few tense minutes later it was landed safely on a waiting pallet and many faces resumed a much happier appearance!

"The Sentinel has landed’ the engine arrives safely back on terra firma, probably for the first time in 68 years.

Our next task was to clean the engine as best we could and of course to replace the wheelhouse roof, hopefully making it a little more rainproof at the same time, but first time for a well earned ‘group photograph’


Volunteers, John Huxley, Dan Cross, John Deakin, Phil Janion, yours truly, Gordon Weston and Walter Graham pose after another job ‘well done’ [right]

So what do we know of this engine? Well amazingly it still had the builder’s plate attached, the brass was badly tarnished, which probably saved it from ‘souvenir hunters’ but after careful cleaning it was clear that at one time it had been regularly polished, to such an extent that much of the detail has been erased. What was visible was the unmistakeable Trademark of the ‘Sentinel’ company, the armoured figure and motto ‘Ever Watchful and On the Alert’ The words ‘Sentinel’ ‘Alley & McLellan’ and ‘Glasgow’ once embossed on the plate were just legible as was the serial number 2174.

Accordingly I got in touch with the ‘Sentinel Driver’s Club’ ( to establish if possible more detail on the engine. Thanks to Mr Tony Thomas of the ‘SDC’, I learned that Alley & McLellan had begun manufacturing marine steam engines, steering gear, winches, auxiliaries and boilers at their Polmadie Works, in Glasgow from 1875. By 1900 they were the biggest UK manufacturer of such equipment under the trade name ‘Sentinel’ The company began building their famous steam ‘waggons’ in 1905, before moving this branch of the business to their Shrewsbury works in 1915 and became a separate company in 1918. A&M began to specialise in compressors and valves, becoming part of Messrs. Glenfield & Kennedy in 1945 and later in 1959 part of G & J Weir. The Polmadie works was closed in 1960 when production moved to Cathcart. A&M was finally wound up in 1971 and the ‘Sentinel’ name disappeared.

Steering engines of the type aboard ‘Daniel Adamson’ were manufactured between about 1887 and 1910. The illustration from ‘Sentinel’s’ 1902 catalogue shows examples of their steering engines;

The engine on the right (the combined steam/hand type) closely resembling that installed on the ‘DA’ albeit with the steering wheel located as in the left hand picture of the steam only version.

Mr Thomas suggests that the engine aboard ‘Daniel Adamson’ would appear to date from around 1900, thus indicating that the engine is original to the building of the vessel. A second catalogue dating from 1905 shows that over 1500 engines of this type had been installed in ships worldwide by this time, it also shows an illustration showing that the later engines has been modified so that the valve gear was on the outsides of the cylinders, rather than inboard as is the case with our example, further indicating the date of origin as pre 1905. It would be interesting to know how many other examples of this once commonplace engine survive into the 21st Century!

Later type engine, illustrated (top) The second picture shows the heavier, horizontal type steering engines used aboard larger, ocean going vessels.

To discover the true age of this engine beyond any doubt we would need to trace archive records of the build number 2174. It appears records before 1939 no longer exist, unless someone out there knows differently. In the meantime all the evidence suggests that like ‘Daniel Adamson’ our ‘Sentinel’ is over 100 years old and capable of full operation once more. Proof if ever it was needed that our forefathers built things to last!!


Photos 1-4 - Colin Leonard

Sentinel Catalogue illustrations and condensed

details of Alley & McLellan engines – Tony Thomas (Sentinel Driver’s Club)

Photo 5 - Neil Marsden