Saddle Boilers

Although the saddle boiler existed in many forms, all were variations on the basic design, of using a flat surface against the furnace as the method of heating the water. Enhancements were made to the basic design by various ingenious techniques, such as corrugating the surface, so as increasing the surface area adjacent to the furnace or by utilising secondary heating techniques by subdividing and multiplying the flues. The reasons these boilers became so popular was their efficiency, ease of use and reliability.

Typically saddle boilers were made of wrought iron, although occasionally cast-iron was used, especially those that used a number of longitudinal internal flues. However, cast Iron was not as resistant to corrosion, incrustation or high pressure as wrought iron.

Saddle boilers were produced in various sizes, typically ranging from 2ft. to 5ft. in length. The heating power was obviously dependent upon size, for example a two-foot long flue and terminal end saddle boiler was claimed to be capable of heating 500 feet. of 4-inch pipe; whilst a three-foot long boiler could heat 800 feet and a five-foot long boiler 2,000 feet[1].

At the 1872 RHS Birmingham exhibition, Mr. Frederick Mee of Smithdown Road, Liverpool displayed three modified saddle boilers, entering one of them into the ill-fated boiler competition. This was a three-foot long double saddle boiler, whereby one wrought iron saddle sits directly above another. The two saddles were welded together and connected with a front soleplate, wrought-iron tubular fire-bars, and a hollow terminal back. This allowed for independent circulation, either working in conjunction with the boiler or independently[2].


Thomas Messenger and Saddle Boilers

The earliest records books that exist for Thomas Messenger’s business start in 1866, ten years after he first patented his triangular tubular boiler. Of the several hundred references made to boilers in the period from 1866 until the end of 1874, saddle boilers are only specifically referenced on only six occasions, portable boilers once and second hand boilers on three occasions, all of which were saddle boilers.

The first saddle boiler referenced is in December 1868 when Thomas Messenger installed a heating system for Henry Pope of King’s Norton, Worcestershire. The wrought iron saddle boiler, of unknown size, appears to have been new, priced at £7. Besides the saddle boiler, the heating system included 160 yards of 4-inch heating pipes and 100 red cement or vulcan cement[3] joints. The complete heating system which was priced at £45 10s., included 28 man-days for fixing. The heating system was almost certainly used for horticultural purposes as at the time Henry Pope was a nurseryman, seedsman and florist running the Row Heath Nursery in King’s Norton with an outlet at No. 109 Market Hall, Birmingham[4].

Regarding second-hand boilers, the first reference is made in 1871, when Thomas Messenger supplied a second-hand conical boiler to Boughton Kyngdon[5], of Rose Hill, Topsham Road, Exeter. The price of £4 was without brickwork with an additional £1 15s. for fitting that was outsourced to another firm known as Watts. The second occasion in 1872 was a saddle boiler for Mr. T.R.M. English, of Clevedon, Somerset. The third and last was in December 1874, just prior to him selling the business. The customer Mr. Edwin Ewen, a silk and yarn agent, who lived at Woodhouse Eaves, Leicestershire with offices at No. 40, Belvoir Street, Leicester, purchased a 14ft. 6in. long conservatory, heated using a second-hand portable boiler, priced at £3.



  1. The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening – Volume 3 – ERO-LAV, page 116.

  2. The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener and Country Gentlemen, 10th October 1872, pages 288-9.

  3. This cement was normally used for joints in steam-based heating systems. It was regarded as being cleaner, cheaper and safer than red lead putty, as it set much quicker and harder.

  4. Post Office Directory of Birmingham, 1867.

  5. Boughton Kyngdon (1819 -1899) was an Australian physician, who travelled to England to train as a doctor and to practice. He returned to Australia around 1878 and died in Sydney.