How did a Newcastle greenhouse come to be mentioned in the same breath as the Summer Palace in St Petersburg? And how was Heaton, as so often, at the centre of the story? To find out, we need to wind back to the early eighteenth century and news of a development in faraway Devon that caused huge excitement here in the north-east.
It was in 1712 that a young ironmonger called Thomas Newcomen, combining the ideas of fellow Devonian, Thomas Savory, and the French physicist, Denis Papin, first demonstrated his ‘atmospheric engine’, created to pump water from Cornish tin mines in which flooding had long been a major problem. News of the invention spread quickly, with mine owners around the country immediately recognising the potential for their own industry. The first commercial model of the steam engine was built by Newcomen and his business partner, John Calley, at Conygree Coalworks in Dudley in the West Midlands.
Ridleys of Heaton
Among those who set about acquiring the so-called ‘fire machine’ for themselves were the Ridley family, who had interests in mines at such places as Byker and Jesmond as well as owning an estate in Heaton, although here they did not own the rights to mine and profit from the coal that lay underground.
Nicholas Ridley senior (Be warned: the same few names, principally Richard, Matthew and Nicholas constantly recur in the Ridley family tree), who in 1692 had bought part of Heaton Manor including the manor house itself from the then owner, Robert Mitford, had died just a few years earlier. His eldest surviving son, Richard inherited and, in 1713, rebuilt Heaton Hall and, with his younger brother, another Nicholas, continued to manage the family’s many interests, including the extensive coalfields beyond Heaton.
But getting hold of the new engine wasn’t easy for the brothers. Demand was high and Newcomen and Calley were busy fulfilling existing orders. (Sound familiar?) Despite being prepared to pay an annual licence of £400, the building and operation of the engine was to be overseen by Calley’s sixteen year old son, Samuel, something the Ridleys weren’t at all happy about, as Marten Triewald later explained.
‘This Calley though he was, one might almost say, reared in the fire-machine was, however, rather young and did not, with all his practice, possess the very least of theory’.
But a meeting in London led to a significant upgrade.
Mårten Triewald had been born in Stockholm in 1691, the son of a farrier and anchorsmith. By this time he was a merchant, engineer and amateur physicist and, in 1717, was in London on business and to study. There he met Nicholas Ridley, ‘who had known me from early childhood, and moreover was aware with what diligence and zest I had been studying natural science and mechanics in London’. According to Triewald, the Ridleys were ‘perturbed because of the youthfulness of his engineer‘ but also feared that his competitors and other mine owners in the neighbourhood ‘would get an opportunity to corrupt this youth, so that he would not serve him faithfully’.
The result was a job for Triewald, which was beneficial to both parties. Ridley promised ‘to promote me to the knowledge of how to construct fire-machines, and I, for my part, promised to serve him loyally against a fair reward.’
According to Triewald, just a few days later, he arrived in Newcastle where ‘construction of the first fire-machine in this district was in full swing.’ He said that for over a year he didn’t allow anybody else to gain commercial advantage by learning anything at all about how the machine worked while he acquired a better understanding than even the inventors themselves.
Soon Ridley wanted an engine larger than the biggest Newcomen and Calley had built – and larger than the developers themselves believed to be possible. Triewald, however, with his greater understanding of the physics behind the technology, was able to work out improvements which would allow a scaling up to the required size. Ridley persuaded the inventors to allow Triewald to form a partnership with the younger Calley so that production could go ahead. A copy of this agreement is held by Northumberland Archives.
Although Triewald wrote of being recruited by Nicholas Ridley, who, being the second son, had not inherited the Heaton estate on his father’s death (We haven’t yet been able to ascertain where he lived at this time. Later his Northumberland residence was near Blyth), he also referred to being employed by ‘Messrs Ridley’ suggesting Richard Ridley of Heaton Hall was also involved. And we know that the very first ‘fire-engine’ in Northumberland, so the one Triewald first oversaw, was at the Ridley’s Byker Colliery, just north of Shields Road. (At that time what became Tynemouth Road was the boundary between the Byker and Heaton royalties.) A few years later, in 1724, Sir John Clerk noted three such engines on his visit to Byker.
Within a few years, Triewald had built more for the Ridleys (We aren’t sure of their whereabouts) and at least another three were built locally by Ridley’s great rival, William Cotesworth, on what are now the Ouseburn Road allotments immediately west of Heaton Park, land owned by the Ridleys but for which Cotesworth held the mineral rights. There was another just a short distance away on the Jesmond side of the Ouseburn. Heaton History Group’s Les Turnbull has written that Heaton, Byker and Jesmond had ‘the greatest concentration of steam power in the world at this time’.
In 1726, Triewald returned to Sweden, where his understanding of the new technology ensured he was in great demand. He is still well known in his home country as the builder, in 1728, of the first steam engine in Sweden at Dannemora iron mines in Uppsala. Soon after that he set up a diving company and wrote about the use of diving bells and other equipment under water. He also took up and wrote about bee keeping.
But perhaps Triewald’s greatest contribution to Swedish scientific and cultural life was the part he played in the founding of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1739. He had been a great admirer of the British Royal Society and a member since 1731 (his letter to Sir John Sloane canvassing to be admitted is in the British Museum) and was determined to set up something similar in his home country. He persuaded the great Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, and others to support him in his endeavour with the result that the society opened its doors in 1739 and is now known worldwide as the body which awards the Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry.
But what of this entry in Wikipedia?
‘Early hot water systems were used in Russia for central heating of the Summer Palace (1710–1714) of Peter the Great in Saint Petersburg. Slightly later, in 1716, came the first use of water in Sweden to distribute heating in buildings. Marten Triewald, a Swedish engineer, used this method for a greenhouse at Newcastle upon Tyne.’
Naturally, knowing that Triewald worked for the Ridleys,whose family seat was Heaton Hall, we wondered if Heaton could have been the location of one of the first buildings in the modern world to be heated by hot water pipes. Were the Ridleys growing, not only the oats, wheat, barley and turnips that we know was cultivated in the eighteenth century on the farms of their Heaton estate, but also pineapples or other exotic fruit and vegetables in a heated greenhouse?
But Google ‘Triewald’ and ‘greenhouse’ or similar, and while there are plenty of results, they all use almost identical wording to the Wikipedia entry and there are no references to primary sources.
A search of the British Newspaper Archive yielded no results either. Surely something as significant would have been reported in the local or even national papers at the time. A trawl of the Ridley collection in Northumberland Archives proved equally fruitless. There are lots of entries in the index for glasshouses but they all appear to refer to glass making establishments in the Ouseburn in which the Ridleys had a financial interest.
An email to Blagdon Hall went unanswered. Correspondence with the Newcomen Society led to an English translation of a work by Triewald which refers to his time in England working for the Ridleys but no mention there of a greenhouse.
An authoritative history of the greenhouse dates the first use of hot water to heat greenhouses much later. It refers to steam heat being invented by a Mr Wakefield of Liverpool in 1788 and accredits hot water heating to Frenchman, M Bonnemain in 1777 (Apparently he used it to keep his hens’ eggs warm). There is a reference to St Petersburg : ‘Prince Potemkin’s greenhouse near St Petersburg was said to have been heated by a mixture of flues in walls and pillars and “earth leaden pipes… incessantly filled with boiling water”’. The quote is from ‘The Encyclopedia of Gardening’, 1822 but the greenhouse was apparently built around 1780. Potemkin lived from 1739-1791, well after Triewald worked for the Ridleys and the dates given in Wikipedia.
So was the whole story a modern mistake or even a hoax?
A glimmer of hope came in the definitive (and luckily well-indexed!) English tome on the history of building services engineering ( No stone rests safe from disturbance by Heaton History Group researchers). The authors, Neville S Billington and Brian M Roberts refer to Bonnemain and his eggs in 1777 and go on to say ‘Despite Triewald’s experiment, it was not until 1816 that hot water heating was introduced into Great Britain, by the Marquis of Chabannes, who had, four years earlier, used it to heat a house in St Petersburg’. If hot water pipes really were used by the Ridleys in or around 1716, the technology was still considered innovative a hundred years later.
But the key passage in their book is ‘The first successful use of hot water as a medium for conveying heat is recorded by Tomlinson to be Sir Martin (sic) Triewald’s application to a greenhouse in 1716’. So who was Tomlinson, when was he writing and what source material was he using?
Charles Tomlinson (1808-1897) was an eminent scientist and academic, a Fellow of the Royal Society and one of the founders of the Physical Society of London (later merged into the Institute of Physics). But his ‘Rudimentary Treatise on Warming and Ventilation’ was published in 1850, so well after Triewald‘s time and he does not give a source for the assertion about Triewald, quoted by Billington and Roberts.
But there is one more important indication that the story has some basis in reality: the house in which Triewald lived, ‘Triewald’s malmgard’, still stands on the outskirts of Stockholm and is open to the public. A plaque on the wall includes the legend: ‘steam heated greenhouses and central heating were other inventions’. But it doesn’t mention Newcastle.
There, unlike a heated greenhouse, the trail goes cold at least for now. We cannot, as yet, prove one way or another whether Triewald heated a Newcastle, let alone a Heaton, greenhouse with hot water or whether the Ridleys grew pineapples. But what we can say is that Marten Triewald, one of the greatest engineers that Sweden ever produced found himself working for the Ridleys of Heaton Hall in the early 18th century and helped ensure our area possessed the ‘greatest concentration of steam power in the world at this time’. Even if no more information comes to light, that’s pretty amazing.
Can you help?
If you know more about Marten Triewald, especially his time working for the Ridleys or his work on heating or greenhouses, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
British Newspaper Archive
‘Building Services Engineering: a review of its development‘ Neville S Billington and Brian M Roberts; Pergamon, 1982
‘A Celebration of our Mining Heritage: a souvenir publication to commemorate the bicentenary of the disaster at Heaton main Colliery in 1815′ Les Turnbull; Chapman Research, 2015
‘Coals from Newcastle; an introduction to the Northumberland and Durham coalfield’ Les Turnbull; Chapman Research, 2009
‘Glass houses: a history of greenhouses, orangeries and conservatories’ Mary Woods and Arete Warren; Aurum, 1988
‘Rudimentary Treatise on Warming and Ventilation: being a concise exposition of the general principles of the art of warming and ventilating domestic and public buildings, mines, lighthouses, ships etc’ Charles Tomlinson, 1850
‘Short Description of the Fire- and Air-Machine at the Dannemora Mines‘ Marten Triewald, 1734; Newcomen Society, 1928
Researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group. Copyright Chris Jackson and Heaton History Group except images for which permission to reproduce must be sought from individual copyright holders.