A dam of the Weapons Factory. The power plants of the Angel and the Island




the historical White Weapons Factory of Toledo, created by Carlos III (1761), changed its initial headquarters, in the center of the city, to a building specifically designed by Francesco Sabatini on the banks of the Tagus (1780). Until the mid-nineteenth century, the forges and grinding stones were powered by the force of the river conducted through an underground channel to two water wheels located at the back of the factory. In 1862, in the second courtyard of the Factory, a steam power plant was installed whose tall chimney emerged in engravings and old photographs. This new source of energy and a pair of hydraulic turbines would provide more power to the workshops that allowed the manufacture of “cutting weapons” to be increased and, as of 1871, to produce metal cartridges for chamber-loading rifles.

In the previous article (9/1/2022) we described the Solanilla dam and the Azumel mills that, in 1894, they would already house three turbines to generate the electrical energy that would move a machinery capable of producing 40,000 daily cartridges of the Mauser Español. That had strategic reasons, since it was presided to manufacture ammunition for the new portable weapons in the country itself before importing them and, in addition, they were urgently needed to equip the troops displaced to Cuba and the Philippines. To cover the demand for more energy, at the beginning of the 20th century, one more dam would be created on the Tagus and two power plants at its ends: one, on the left bank, next to the Angel hermitage and another auxiliary, called the Island, on the right bank, behind the Sabatini building.

The place of Azumel

If we pay attention to the river itself, once the Tagus has jumped the Baño de la Cava, the Solanilla dam and flows between a couple of islands of regular size, its channel joins in a single current until, a little more ahead, several islands emerge again between the Weapons Factory and the aforementioned cigarral del Ángel. All this place, from distant times, welcomed fertile orchards and the usual industries based on the use of water. In 1751, the Cadastre de la Ensenada, mentions the flour mills of Solanilla and Azumel. Adjacent to the latter, he notes another mill, property of the Cabildo de la Primada, which produced brown paper. On the left bank were the so-called “batanes del Ángel”, with three batteries, belonging to neighboring Diego del Pozo. On the right bank there were “five fishing cane fields” owned by Diego de Bálsamo and other similar ones belonging to the aforementioned Cabildo that would be disentailed in the 19th century.

In 1844, the State ceded the profitable nucleus of Azumel to the White Weapons Factory for its exploitation. A plan drawn in 1854 by the surveyor Jose Pilar Morales draws three details that are essential for us to see its subsequent evolution: the cane fields located behind the factory building, a dam resting on the elongated terrace in the middle of the river and, on the opposite bank, the fulling mills of the Angel.

In November 1867, the Official Bulletin of the Province published the auction of the farm called “Molinos de Azumel and Cañares del Bálsamo”. The announcement detailed the property that included five cane fields, “in medium condition”, a fishermen’s shack next to a 175-meter-long dam up to the left shore, and an island of 74 areas wooded with poplars. The farm was leased to Ramon Lino Perez, a large owner, with interests also in the Artificio dam next to the Alcántara bridge. In a clause the possible buyer was warned that the Factory reserved to take advantage of the waters as far as “the needs of the workshops” demanded.

The truth is that, before the end of the 19th century, it was already necessary to expand the perimeter of the factory to house more workshops and complex equipment as new products were produced. On November 29, 1900, the Regent María Cristina signed, on behalf of her son Alfonso XIII, the purchase of the “Molinos del Ángel and Cigarral de la Olivilla” to be used for the expansion of the Factory on the left bank of the river. With this, it was possible to make, downstream of the Solanilla dam, another more modern one and build some necessary magazines there.

One dam and two power plants

Around 1902, a hydroelectric plant was created in the Angel mills to produce triphasic alternating current, with 175 hydraulic horsepower. A document prepared by Joaquin Marinó (ca. 1909), commander of the Artillery, details that a 41.5-horsepower Jonval turbine was installed as a reserve in case of breakdowns and for lighting the factory. The same turbine, by means of pulleys, could move a 55-horsepower Oerlikon alternator. Another 55-horsepower Francis turbine would serve the repair and carpentry workshops. At the opposite end of the dam, behind the Sabatini building, a secondary plant, called Isla, was set up with a 120-horsepower Francis turbine to generate three-phase current. Both plants were joined by cables supported on wooden poles to cross the river. Before 1905 everything was already in full use, being able to work together or separately the turbines of the Angel and the Island. In cases of low water, floods or breakdowns, a 36-horsepower steam or locomotive engine, «Compound system» was available.

In 1913, prior to the reform of the Azumel power plant and giving it its peculiar castle-like air, it was approved to repair a section of the Ángel dam, budgeted at 14,000 pesetas, within a period of 60 working days with forty workers, among whom there would have been two divers. The work was carried out in 1915, improved with a new 250-horsepower turbine in the angel center. Perhaps, then, the latter should have been reformed with a rational building and a unique viewpoint facing the river that included a fountain, decorated seats, battlements and some Mudejar tower that supported the distribution of the wiring.

Before the Civil War, to cover its electrical needs, the Factory had four plants on the river: Azumel, the Angel, the Island and Santa Ana, next to the bridge of San Martin. As support there was a steam power plant, called Carlos III -later demolished-, and a singular reserve power plant (1926), powered by diesel engines that currently remain stranded inside. Undoubtedly, this complex is an interesting sample of architecture designed for the production of electrical energy, largely extracted from the Tagus, another wealth that the river brought to the city.

Rafael del Cerro Malagón, historian
Rafael del Cerro Malagón, historian

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