A fine partnership: Worthington-Simpson

Centenary Celebrations

It is sometimes strange what brings two companies together. Often it is a financial reason but in the case of Henry Worthington (New York) and James Simpson & Co (London) it was the demands of war. In 1885 a British Army Expeditionary Force set out to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum. The army required ten large water pumps which neither Worthington’s nor Simpson’s could supply alone and so they came together for this one-off order. The pumps were made and supplied to the front. In the process the two firms found they could work well together and thus was created the embryo of a union which was to flourish well into the future.

James Simpson

In 1799 James was born in the Engineer’s House at the Chelsea waterworks where his father, Thomas, was the chief engineer. James worked and learned under his father’s direction and in 1823, on his father's death, inherited the position of chief engineer to both Chelsea and Lambeth waterworks.

Concerned about the current water filtration systems, James set out to improve the situation and developed the slow sand filter. In 1829 he completed a one acre (0.4 hectares) filter bed at the Chelsea waterworks. Amongst many other achievements he advised on the water systems for Cambridge, York, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. In 1850 he assisted with the design of Cardiff waterworks and the Simpson beam engine on display at the Waterworks Museum - Hereford was indeed installed at Cardiff in 1851.

His civil engineering interests were wide and he was consulted for advice on many undertakings apart from drinking water. Notably he designed and directed the construction of Southend pier.

With other members of his family he had set up a manufacturing business in Pimlico and this became James Simpson & Co. Their early speciality was the design and construction of beam engines, many of which were constructed under licence by Harvey’s of Hayle in Cornwall for the mining industry. In 1901 James Simpson & Co set up a factory at Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire.

Henry Rossiter Worthington

Born in New York City in 1817, Henry was the eldest child of a flour mill owner, and the sixth generational descendant of Nicholas Worthington who emigrated from England in 1650.

He sought employment as a hydraulic engineer at a very young age and concentrated his attention on the problems of urban water supplies. This did not stop him from working on other water-related matters and his first patent (1844) was for an automatic boiler feed pump used on canal tugs.

He perfected a series of inventions  during the next few years culminating in the direct-acting steam pump which won universal acclaim (invention number 13, 1855). The Waterworks Museum - Hereford has on working display historic examples of boiler feed pumps and direct-acting steam pumps.

Henry established a plant for pump manufacture in Brooklyn, New York, in 1859. He went on to develop improved pumping engines and contributed many innovations to the pump industry and to mechanical engineering in general and worldwide. The United States Navy used Worthington pumps for bilge water ejection on various ships during the American Civil War. Henry Worthington died in 1880 and was succeeded by his son Charles Campbell Worthington. The company left Brooklyn in 1904 and moved to Harrison, New Jersey.

Coming together

After cooperating in the supply of the ten large pumps for the British Army in the  Sudan, an agreement was signed such that James Simpson & Co could manufacture Worthington pumps in Britain and the pumps would be sold in the British and colonial markets.

In 1903 the London based Simpson and Worthington companies merged to become the Worthington Pump Co. They were immediately involved in supplying large pumping engines for waterworks and mine drainage.

Over the following few years the American associates gained full control of the company and in 1917 the company name was registered in London as Worthington-Simpson Ltd. The firm was one of the leaders in the design, manufacture and supply of engines and pumps for the remainder of the 20th century and beyond.

The company designed and built two massive triple-expansion steam engines in the late 1920s for Kempton Park waterworks. Kempton Steam Museum has restored one of the engines which can be seen working on open days and is well worth a visit (kemptonsteam.org). The triples each produced 1008 hp, pumped 19 million gallons per day against a 200 foot head and are the largest ever built in the UK.

In 1939 at Brede waterworks in Sussex a new building was constructed in the art deco style to house a large triple-expansion steam engine. This engine was built by Worthington-Simpson at Newark in 1940 and was the last of its type supplied by the company. See this fine engine working on open days (bredesteamgiants.co.uk).

Centenary celebration

The Waterworks Museum - Hereford is celebrating the centenary of the founding of Worthington-Simpson Ltd by creating a new exhibition, now open. The Museum has a range of historic Worthington-Simpson pumps, engine and other artefacts in its collection. Visitors can see attractive exhibition display boards explaining how the company came into existence plus a newly-made video film about James Simpson and Henry Worthington. All the Museum’s historic exhibits made by Worthington-Simpson Ltd, and by companies directly related, are on special display.

Through a number of mergers and acquisitions, Worthington-Simpson Ltd was subsumed into one of the world’s largest companies involved in the supply of pumps and related products to the power, oil, gas and chemical industries. This is the Flowserve Corporation of Irving, Texas, which has supported the Museum's centenary celebrations. They join the Museum in recognising the heritage and celebrating the history of this illustrious company, Worthington-Simpson Ltd.

Notes for editors

  • The official opening of the Worthington-Simpson Centenary Exhibition took place on Sunday 28th June 2017. Over the long weekend the Museum received some 300 visitors to see the new exhibition.
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  • The Guest of Honour was intended to be Candia Compton, Trustee of the Southall Charitable Trust, which has supported the Waterworks Museum since its founding in 1974. Regrettably, Candia's mother, Philippa Southall, the President of the Waterworks Museum, passed away in her sleep a week earlier, aged 92.
  • The Museum is always seeking to involve children in its activities and a dedicated children's trail was created to find all the exhibits on site relating to Worthington-Simpson. The Trustees believe it is important to encourage all children, boys and girls, to consider a career in engineering or science. With its many hands-on activities the Museum is an ideal and safe environment for children to put thought into practice.
  • The Worthington-Simpson Centenary Exhibition will remain open at least until the end of October. For open days and times see the Museum website: http://www.waterworksmuseum.org.uk/

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