Beside the inner harbour at Ramsgate
The following article was written by Tim Keenan and first appeared in the "Stationary Engine" magazine in January 2003

My thanks go to Tim for allowing me to share this very interesting piece of history here
This photograph taken from my collection of old prints shows a typical working scene of two lads at a shipyard in East Kent, during the early 1920s. The lads are standing next to a four-cylinder Aster of Wembley, Middlesex, powered generating set. The engine of the 10 to 15bhp size, with its own cast iron base, is mounted on an iron wheeled trolley, that was quite possibly fabricated in the yard. It is fitted with side curtains to protect the generator from the weather while sitting on the quay.

The unit was owned by the well-known Ramsgate firm of shipwrights Claxton Brothers. It is thought that before WW1 it was the firm of Divers and Hogbin. Then in 1920 the brothers formed a partnership and bought them out. George Claxton was the
general foreman, Reg the machine shop foreman and Ken the general shipyard hand.

The Aster set was quite likely purchased at the local Government War Disposal sales at Richborough Port close by at Sandwich. From early 1919 until mid-1923, all manner of machinery and other items were sold off as the government attempted to recoup some of the vast outlay incurred during the war.

It is believed the engine/generator was originally used as part of a searchlight unit on the Western Front although many similar sets were used in fixed and mobile engineering workshops. The engine ran on petrol and the ML magneto and brass cut-out switch on the machine can clearly be seen.

The generator, it is believed, ran at 100 volts DC at 80amps. However, in this instance the set was converted into a welding set and a separate control box with a trailing lead was made up, which allowed the welder to alter the amperes or current when required.

It is interesting to note that British electric welding techniques in shipbuilding were pioneered at the nearby shipyards at Richborough Port during the WW1, run by the Inland Waterways Transport Directorate of the Royal Engineers.

A fair number of all welded steel barges were constructed, in 267 and 1,00 ton sizes, for military use. Quite possibly a first in British shipbuilding!

After running the set for a while, Claxton Brothers found that the fuel consumption was very high, especially under heavy welding conditions, so a conversion was made to the carburation system allowing paraffin to be used as the main fuel. Petrol was still used for starting purposes.

Many famous vessels were repaired using the Aster set throughout the 1920s and up until the late 1930s. Not least was the well-known and much respected fleet of Thames River tugs owned by William Watkins and Company of 112 Fenchurch Street, East London. One of which, the Steam Tug Cervia, resides today as a tourist attracflon in the Royal harbour, where she was repaired many times.

Unfortunately it is not known who the two lads standing next to the unit are. If anyone recognises them please drop the this website a line. (to see a larger photo, look at photo 8 on this page)


George Claxton 10th July 1921
Reg Claxton 10th July 1921
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