The Methodist Central Hall in Westminster which is now a Grade II listed building was originally funded by individual donations each of 1 guinea and built as a lasting tribute to the memory of, and to mark the centenary of the death of John Wesley (1703 - 1791) the founder of Wesleyan Methodism.  About £250,000.00 was allocated from the fund for the cost of the building.

The original idea for the Hall came in 1898 with the building works starting soon after. The Hall was completed in 1912.  It is built on the site of the Royal Aquarium which was constructed in 1876 and was designed with a similar appearance to the Crystal Palace.

Ashwell & Nesbit
were appointed as both the designer and contractor of the heating and  ventilating engineering systems and carried out the installation. The building is still heated by the original "Nuvacuumette" vacuum steam system which operates at a working pressure of approx. 5 psi. Cast iron (steam fed) sectional radiators being the means of
heating for most of the ancilliary rooms.

The main Hall is heated and ventilated by a warm air plenum distribution system using two supply fans and one extract. All three fans are of double inlet centrifugal design.  The two supply fans are of an unusual design in that the fan casing is a 3/4 scroll size sitting on a concrete base plinth. The impellors are fitted with paddle blades. The fan shaft speeds are in the range of 60 to 100 rpm. The fans due to their large size and restricted location appear to have been delivered to the site in managable sections and then erected in situ, assembling the various sections by simply bolting them all together.

All ventilation ducts whether horizontal or vertical are formed as builders ducts and sited within the stuctural fabric of the building.
The supply fan sited in the roof plant room distributes air to the steam fed heater battery. This warmed air is then discharged into the ceiling void above the the main hall which acts as a large plenum chamber. The warmed air  then enters the Hall at ceiling level.


In this picture note the size, number and  arrangement of the fan impeller paddle blades with their angle iron support struts attached to the main drive shaft.


The steam fed  double row two tier cast iron sectional  heater battery is sited within the ceiling void of the main Hall.

The supply fan sited in the basement plant room distributes warmed air into the void above the ground floor ceiling which then rises through two vertical ducts to the main hall. This warmed air is then discharged into the main Hall at high level.


These fans appear to be of Sturtevant design in both their casing shape and impeller design, which is in keeping for that time period.  This can readily be seen from the two book illustrations shown below.

For additional information on the history of the Sturtetvant company and its fans visit website



Ashwell & Nesbit was founded in Leicester by Frank Ashwell in 1879, when the firms main activity was mill-wrighting. He sold a patent pulley and became an agent for both Blackman fans and the Lancaster steam trap. A heating department was started in 1884 with David Mein Nesbit joining later who was made the manager. Business expanded to cover heating ranges, ovens, CI railings and windows and a hosiery press. The heating side of the business expanded from 1890 with "Propulsion, Impulsion or Plenum system" (which may be the system used at the Central Hall). The firm generally used Blackman propellor fans, driven by steam engines in conjunction with a Cornish boiler. David M Nesbit was made a partner in 1891. Frank Ashwell died in 1896 aged 41.

Frank Ashwell   1855 - 1896
   David Mein Nesbit  1855 - 1929

Nesbit started British Steam Specialities in 1900. BSS sold various steam fittings and apparatus made by Ashwell & Nesbit which had been patented by Nesbit. This included a preheated boiler feed water unit called the "Nuconomiser." 

During the early years of the 20th century Ashwell & Nesbit continued to develop the various patented systems of heating and ventilating which had been introduced mainly by David M Nesbit and then modified and refined by his chief technical assistant. The most important and successful of these was the "Nuvacuumette"
a vacuum steam heating system. A development of the apparatus marketted by the Atmospheric Steam Heating Company. In 1900 agreement had been reached with an American company known as 'The Atmospheric Steam Heating Company ' to install their patented system in this country under licence.

For Ashwell & Nesbit the "Nuvacuumette" system was a distinct success. Even by 1914 this apparatus had been installed in seventy major buildings and a large number of smaller properties of almost every type. In addition to factories and shops over thirty hospitals had been heated by this system and other installations included hotels such as the Grosvenor in London and the Metropole in Brighton.  Town Halls in Perth, Deptford and Sutton Coldfield, Arbury Hall at Nuneaton, two famous London theatres the Empire and the Colliseum and concert halls in Glasgow and Edinburgh were also included in this  list of
prestigious buildings.
The Two Ashwell & Nesbit solid fuel fired steam
boilers dated 1909 photographed in 1967 before their
removal and replacement by oil fired boiler plant.


AUGUST  2003