Hydraulics are a part of every day life; from cars and office chairs to planes and heavy machinery there are hydraulic systems behind almost every convenience of modern day life
Over the 200 years since Joseph Bramah invented the hydraulic press (considered to be the first hydraulic machine functioning based on Pascals Law), hydraulics are still being used in new and innovative ways to create fantastic and ground-breaking applications. Here are a collection of amazing hydraulic landmarks and attractions that you can visit if you’re in the UK!
1. The Anderton Boat Lift
Our first look at hydraulic landmarks is this marvel of Victorian Engineering: the Anderton Boat Lift. It’s one of only two boat lifts in the UK, and is located not too far from the Hydraulics Online HQ in Cheshire.
Originally opened in 1875, its purpose is to carry boats up and down the 50 vertical feet that separate “The River Weaver Navigation” and “The Trent & Mersey Canal”. The structure includes two giant tubs of water known as caissons which are lowered and lifted simultaneously.
The clever design utilises two enormous hydraulic cylinders which are connected to each other. The reason one caisson is raised as the other is lowered, is to allow the weight of the descending caisson, to be used to help lift the other. This massively reduces the energy required to lift the huge tonnage of water in each cassion.
If you happen to be nearby, we highly recommend you take a visit!
For a detailed video about Anderton Boat Lift, its design and its history check out this video by Foxes Afloat:
2. Tower Bridge
We’re sure most of you will have already seen Tower bridge many times, whether it be in person or in its hundreds of common appearances in film, TV and other media.
Opened in London in 1894, Tower Bridge has become an icon of London and of Britain as a whole.
Since its construction, Tower Bridge has been opened using a hydraulic system, however, back then it was powered by enormous steam engines which were accompanied by six massive accumulators containing the water required to lift the bascules.
Since 1976, the Tower Bridge bascules have been powered by a much more modern electro-hydraulic system which is currently designed and provided by Bosch Rexroth.
3. Curly Bridge
The second bridge in London to make this list is much less well known than the former, but when we saw this creative hydraulic design in action we knew just had to share it with as many people as we could!
This bridge, located at the Paddington Basin in London, has a walkway hinged into 8 segments. Its handrails contain 7 vertical hydraulic cylinders each, located over every hinge point. When these cylinders extend, the bridge is raised from its position over the water by curling up into a compact octagonal shape.
It is ingenious designs like these that prove that hydraulic systems can still be used in innovative and ground-breaking ways even over 200 years since the first hydraulic press was designed.
4. Falkirk Wheel
Now for the second of the two boat lifts in the U.K.
This ingenious example of 21st century engineering is the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland; the only rotating boat lift on the planet.
The design has two equally sized gondolas on opposite sides of the wheel. These gondolas are always exactly the same weight as each other regardless of whether they’re carrying boats due to Archimedes’ Principle (floating objects displace their mass in water).
This means that the ten hydraulic motors powering the rotation don’t have to work very hard to lift the 600 tonne gondolas. Only around 1.5 kWh of energy is used per lift – that’s about the same as boiling eight kitchen kettles!
Archimedes principle is explained brilliantly here, in relation to the Falkirk Wheel, by YouTuber Tom Scott:
Besides the ten motors powering its rotation, there’s also lots of other actuators controlling many other things under the surface, which you can see here!
5. Stealth, Thorpe Park
Stealth is the fastest rollercoaster in the UK and is located at Thorpe Park in Surrey.
The ride is capable of sending thrill-seekers from 0-80mph in a staggeringly fast 1.8 seconds – much faster than any current production car. How can these incredible velocities be reached so quickly? A hydraulic launch system of course!
During a hydraulic launch, a winch powered by a hydraulic motor pulls the carts along the track via a cable. The massive amounts of torque produced by the motor allow the the winch to rapidly rewind with the cart attached, accelerating the riders to break-neck speeds almost instantly.
If Thorpe Park is just a bit too far from home for you, there are similar hydraulic landmarks in hydraulic launch rollercoasters all over the world including Rita at Alton Towers and Formula Rossa at Ferrari world in Abu Dhabi among many more.
6. Grimsby Dock Tower
The oldest of the hydraulic landmarks on this list, Grimsby Dock Tower, completed construction in 1852 and was opened by Queen Victoria in 1854.
This impressive 200 foot tower is actually a hydraulic accumulator based on William Armstrong‘s design. It carried a water tank at its very top to provide the water pressure needed to operate the hydraulic cranes which were used at the dock.
Grimsby Dock Tower was in use until 1892 when it was replaced by a new, more advanced accumulator tower. Grimsby Dock Tower was also built with a hydraulic lift to take people to the top. Unfortunately, this lift is no longer in use.
In 1976 the first commercial Concorde flight took off from London to Bahrain. Though no Concorde has flown since 2003, still today it remains one of the most significant, well-regarded and revolutionary aircraft of all time!
This stunning piece of machinery was able to take 100 passengers from London to New York at nearly twice the speed of sound (Mach 2) in less than 3 hours. To put that in perspective, these passengers were shooting across the Atlantic at 1354mph, which is faster than a bullet from a rifle.
Despite the nearly 20 years since its retirement Concorde remains the second fastest commercial airliner ever, surpassed only by the poorly regarded Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 which only saw 2 years of service as a passenger aircraft.
In 2014 Hydraulics Online was asked if we could design and supply a hydraulic power pack which would restore functionality to the iconic droop-nose of Concorde G-AXDN at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford; A challenge that we gladly accepted!
learn more here.
8. Gateshead Millennium Bridge
This stunning and futuristic structure is Gateshead Millennium Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne. Also known as the Blinking Eye Bridge, thanks to its spectacular opening method, this is the world’s first and only tilting bridge!
Opened in 2001, its completely unique function and appearance is still turning heads more than 20 years later! Six large hydraulic rams (pictured below) and eight motors are used to rotate the pedestrian and cyclist bridge, weighing in at around 850 tonnes.
However, despite its weight, the bridge is actually extremely efficient thanks to its parabolic support arch. As the structure tilts, the cleverly engineered arch acts like a counterweight. This helps to fully raise and tilt the bridge to its full 50 degrees in around four and a half minutes.
The Gateshead Millennium Bridge has become a real British icon since its construction, so much so that it was even included on the back of the one-pound coin in 2007.
Here’s a short time-lapse of the bridge opening and closing fully:
We love learning about these incredible real-world examples of hydraulics in action! If you know of any hydraulic attractions from around the world, please let us know at: email@example.com