Model of pile driver

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Postcard of Model of pile driver.
© National Museums Scotland

Model of pile driver

A pile driver is an engineering device which drives wooden piles into the ground as foundations for buildings or bridges. This demonstration model of a pile driver was based on the design by the Huguenot watchmaker James Valoue for Charles Lobelye's pile driver. The pile driver was used for the caissons of Westminster Bridge in London around 1740. The model dates from around 1750.

The original falling weight was dragged up to the highest point of this machine by the capstan, or cogged wheel in the middle, turned by horses; this wheel has a fly to prevent the horses falling when the weight is discharged. The horses go round, the rope is wound about the drum, the weight is drawn to the top, where tongs come between inclined planes, and gradually opened, so that the weight drops on to the pile below, driving it into the ground.

There was a wide public interest in designs for the eventual construction of a new crossing of the Thames at Westminster in the 1730s. Charles Lobelye's pile driver was used to such effect in the building of the bridge that the Bridge Committee gave Valoue a premium of £105 in gratitude for his design.

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Online ID: 000-190-004-742-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1986.15
Date: Around 1750
c. 1740
Material: Wood, brass
What: Pile driver / model, demonstration
Who: Charles Lobelye (Maker of the original)
James Valoue (Designer of the original)
Where: England, London, Westminster Bridge
Description: Demonstration model of a pile driver based on the design of James Valoue for Charles Lobelye's pile driver for the caissons of Westminster Bridge, London about 1740
  • J.T. Desaguliers, Course of Experimental Philosophy vol. 2 (London, 1744), pp. 417-8 and plate 26. 
  • Other examples are at the Science Museum, London; two are the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, and a fourth is at Teyler's Museum, Haarlem: this last is described in G.L'E. Turner and T.R. Levere, Van Marum's Scientific Instruments at Teyler's M 
  • Ted Ruddock, Arch Bridges and their Builders 1735-1835 (Cambridge, 1979), pp.8-11, 217. 
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