Britain’s Greatest Invention


June 16th 2017 Posted by:

Did you watch Britain’s Greatest Invention on BBC2 last night?

Seven celebrities battled it out last night to reveal Britain’s Greatest Invention. Each celebrity championed one object in a bid to persuade the audience to vote for their invention and win the title.

Len Goodman was the ambassador for the steam engine and explored how steam turbines still generate 80% of the world’s power. Many of us at Byworth were keen to watch, so here’s the lowdown of Len’s argument to why steam should win:

“It catapulted Britain into the modern world. It fuelled the Industrial Revolution and today it powers your entire life. 80% of the world’s electricity is generated by it. Without it, we’d all still be living in the dark ages.”

He is of course, talking about steam.

In the first scene, Len Goodman appears on a steam train where he explains there were so many things revolutionised by steam: “ships went faster, mining went deeper, tens of thousands of factories worked on steam.”

He continued:

“For the last 300 years the world has been powered by steam engines, of all shapes and sizes. All of them are British to the core.”

Len Goodman says steam is Britain’s best invention

Harnessing steam to power machines, is what took industry from being animal driven to new heights of power.

Len then met Ed Fagan, London Museum of Water & Steam. Explaining the steam engines functional and inherent benefits, Ed acknowledged that it meant that in the 18th century clean water was available for all, therefore, curing things like Cholera, Typhoid and Hepatitis – all things caused by dirty water.

These days, steam is used in hospitals for the sterilisation of medical instruments so plays a vital role in our healthcare.

“Everything that’s around us is reliant on steam.” Len proclaimed.

“The television, your iPhones, the internet is powered by steam.

“80% of the world’s electricity is generated by the ultimate form of steam engine – the steam turbine. Developed in 1884 by Charles Parsons, this turned steam power into rotational energy rather than piston power. Today they are used in every fuel power station in the world. They all rely on the descendant of the humble steam engine to create electricity.”

In Goodman’s final testament to steam, he said:

“Without steam, you wouldn’t have an electric lightbulb… the world would be a dark place. The descendants of this amazing British invention are as important today as when it was first invented centuries ago.”  

Byworth know this only too well as a modern-day manufacturer and supplier of steam boilers to industries that produce the end consumer products we use in our everyday lives. From the clothes you’re wearing, to the food you eat and the medicines that keep us in good health. Even the furniture you sit on and tyres on your cars are moulded by steam. Did you know that steam plays an important role in the production of Formula 1 cars and space rockets?

Without steam, modern life would be nowhere near to how we know it today.

industries that use steam

A few examples of the many industries using steam to create the everday products we take for granted

Britain’s Greatest Invention is still available to watch on BBC iPlayer. The other celebrity endorsers and their inventions include:

• Giles Coren champions the humble fridge
• Angela Rippon, who had TB as a child, is an ambassador for the invention of antibiotics
• David Harewood argues the case for the jet engine
• Angela Scanion discusses the mobile phone being the winning invention in her eyes
• Trevor McDonald argues on behalf of television
• Finally Nick Knowles celebrates concrete as the unsung hero of all seven inventions.

So, what are you waiting for, watch it and discover which invention won this Great British accolade!


If you found this article interesting, be sure to check out Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield, where The River Don Engine which was deemed Europe’s most powerful working steam engine is part of the exhibit at the museum and is powered with the help of a Byworth boiler.

There are many steam engines still working today, granted most of them are in museums. Byworth often has a helping hand in keeping them running:

• Wigan Pier to help power the Trencherfield Mill Steam Engine. Churning out a massive 2,500 horsepower to feed the ever hungry machinery of Trencherfield Mill, it played an instrumental role in Wigan’s industrial development. Visitors to Trencherfield Mill and the Wigan Pier Quarter are now able to awe at this giant’s immense size and power, but more importantly, experience it working as it did all those years ago – full steam ahead!
Abbey Pumping Station is Leicester’s Museum of Science and Technology, displaying Leicester’s industrial, technological and scientific heritage. In order to run all four large beam engines together for a special event, it was necessary to hire a Byworth boiler in an articulated trailer to help power them.