The Joys and Falls of Powell Engine Power

Josephine Robert’s nephew acquires a Powell engine – along with all of its quirks.


| September 2017



engine

The Powell engine was a heavily built and rather over-engineered engine with a big cylinder head and large exhaust valve (claimed at the time to increase efficiency).

Photo by Josephine Roberts

Readers of previous Farm Collector articles might recall meeting my nephew. Damian Roberts is a stationary engine enthusiast and owner of two Lister stationary engines previously featured in Farm Collector. He’s now bought a far more rare engine: a Powell.

Any self-respecting stationary engine enthusiast living in Wales will have heard of Powell engines, as Powell was one of only two manufacturers in Wales ever to produce an engine. Apart from Powell, the only other Welsh company producing engines was Williams of Rhuddlan, and their engines are more rare than hen’s teeth. Given that Powell didn’t produce engines in huge numbers, engines from that manufacturer are also scarce today.

It’s often the case that the rare and collectable machines are those that were never particularly good in the first place and weren’t produced in vast numbers. The Powell engine is no exception. Although Damian has wanted a Powell since he first found out about them, he is the first to admit that they aren’t the best.

“They have a reputation for being really cumbersome and very sensitive to adjust correctly,” he says, “and there are some common faults that really put people off. So whilst the engine attracts a lot of attention at shows, it seems that not every collector wants to actually own one!”

Roots of iron dating to the 1700s

The roots of Powell Bros. go right back to 1784, when a Mr. Richard Jones set up an ironmongery business at No. 6 Town Hill, Wrexham, North Wales. The business was then passed on to his son, John Jones, and then to John Jones’ nephew, Evan Powell. Then, in the 1870s, two sons of Evan Powell, namely John Evan Powell and Robert Jones Powell, formed Powell Bros. Ltd. and began producing agricultural equipment with the help of their sister, Mary Powell, who acted as the company secretary.

The brothers expanded into a site near the Great Western Railway station, which then became known as the Cambrian Works and became Wrexham’s most successful foundry. Adverts in 1879 state that the company was selling chaff cutters, root pulpers, mowers, horse gears and oil cake mills.