Made in Hampshire – the eco-friendly hydraulic ram

Made in Hampshire - the eco-friendly hydraulic ram

On the outskirts of Winchester on the edge of the village green of Kings Worthy is a memorial to an industrial product that was once made nearby.

This is the hydraulic ram, a simple but ingenious bit of kit that delivers water from a stream to a higher point. It fell out of favour when mains supplies reached into the country, but has experienced resurgence. It has the virtue of being non-polluting, durable, energy saving, cheap and relatively quiet.

The principle is very simple. The device is powered by flowing water from a stream or river, which enters a pipe with a flap or “clack” valve at the end. The movement of the water has the effect of closing the valve, creating a “water hammer”, which opens another flap or “delivery” valve in the side of the pipe and shunting water into an exit pipe.

Hydraulic ram memorial, Kings Worthy
Hydraulic ram memorial, Kings Worthy

The clack valve then opens when the hammer dies and the delivery valve closes and the process repeats indefinitely. It is capable of delivering thousands of gallons of water per day over long distances.

The hydraulic ram was invented in a primitive form in 1772 by Cheshire brewer John Whitehurst, who employed a young boy to open and close the valves. It was the hot-air balloon pioneer Pierre Montgolfier who invented the automatic version in 1796.

In the 1820s, a successor to Whitehurst, Berkshire engineer Josiah Easton, purchased the rights and produced rams in large quantities. In 1928 his business was bought by Green and Carter Ltd, situated in Kings Worthy, which already had a long history of making its own Vulcan and Vacher models of hydraulic ram.

The local business had started in the early 1880s when two young men decided to set up Vulcan Iron Works in the village. The story has been researched by Tony Dowland in A History of the Worthy Villages. It was a small country iron foundry like many others in the county – to mention a few, at Kingsley, Finchdean, Ringwood and Sowley.

From the beginning it set out to serve “water works in all its branches”. It products included not only hydraulic rams, but turbines which used flowing water to generate electricity or drive mills.

A working hydraulic ram
A working ram

Soon the business was getting orders from owners of large houses, farmers, irrigation schemes and other businesses that need to pump water uphill from a nearby flowing source.

Unfortunately in 1888, the senior partner, Arthur Williams died unexpectedly and his brother decided to sell the business to Herbert Perkins Vacher. He was a young engineer, an Associate Member of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and for the next 25 years he developed the company, selling products all over the world.

In the Hampshire Record Office there are two of Vacher’s ledgers containing a thousand pages of letters. They show a young man in his early thirties working to make a success of Vulcan Iron Works.

After his retirement in 1913, Vacher served as Mayor of Winchester and much else. The business continued in Kings Worthy as Green and Carter Ltd, until 1978 when Charles Doble, who is related to the Easton family, purchased it and took it to Somerset. As well as an archive dating back to 1774, it owns a collection of rams of all sorts, held at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall.

For those who search, Kings Worthy products are still in the countryside.

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News from The Hampshire Chronicle

Written by Editor

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