British Railway History Item
Great Western Railway Newton Abbot Locomotive Works
Shortly after reaching Newton Abbot at the end of 1846, the broad gauge South Devon Railway constructed a small two road shed. By 1851 the South Devon maintained only three depots, the arrangements at Newton being described as One Engine Shed and Engine Men's Room constructed with Wood, the former used for lighting and cleaning engines and supplied with Gas and Water, with two lines of rails; one Large Repairing Shop constructed with Wood on Stone foundations; one Smiths' Shop built with Timber fitted with six Hearths and Bellows; one Store Room built with Timber; one Boilerhouse with high Chimney attached built of stone; one Shafting and Drums in Repairing Shop; one nine inch self acting Lathe; one 12 inch self acting Lathe; one ten inch Lathe for Wood Turning; one Planing Machine with Table 5ft 6in by 2ft 2is; one Small Punching and Shearing Machine; one Vertical Drilling Machine; one Grindstone with Cast Iron Trough; 14 Vices; 4 Anvils; one Horse Pump with Pipes complete; one Water Tank made of Wood; one 34ft Wooden Turntable; two Water Cranes with Pipes to the Tanks.
The end of the broad gauge in May 1892 brought about a complete reordering of matters on the South Devon and at Newton Abbot locomotive servicing arrangements were improved with the construction of a new engine shed and workshops. Built from local stone the works closely followed the outline of its predecessor in that it comprised a number of locomotive bays accessed by a traverser running the length of the main building. Examination of various plans shows that the new building was erected to the north of the old one, leaving room for the improved engine shed.
The factory at Newton Abbot was fashioned by the GWR in line with their practices at Swindon where one of the bays had two points of entry served by a covered traverser. Wholly separated from the locomotive running shed, the barriers and boundaries were rarely, if ever, crossed. The practice of moving a locomotive from the turntable on to the traverser was assigned to men from the shed and after that it was up to the employees from the Works.
Outside the Works in the yard, locomotives and tenders were separated and hauled off turntables by hawser and capstan. On both sides of the traverser there were separate gangs of fitters who were served by overhead cranes, each gang being under the authority of a Chargeman Fitter, who, wearing immaculate overalls, had godlike powers. It was only the boiler smiths' gang that were to be found working in all parts of the factory. As at many railway establishments of its day there were regular minor injuries such as burns, cuts, grazes, crushed fingers and the like. It would have been a nightmare for any present day safety officers. Outside the Works against the west wall was a peculiar operation known as the Bosh House where brake hangers and other parts from working steam locomotives were boiled in caustic soda and steam to remove years of oil and grime. The worst accident occurring at Newton was that when an unfortunate individual was killed when he fell into this contraption.
Not all roads inside the Works were of equal length. The only way to get a King' into the shops was from the smaller Works turntable which would just take a King without its tender. All equipment inside the Factory, with the exception of a wheel lathe, was belt-driven, power being generated by two stationary boilers, one in use, one spare. An ancient broad gauge engine was set up on bricks and connected to spindles which in turn powered the drive belts. Electric welding equipment was installed in 1939 to cope with the high incidence of collision damage work on bent buffer beams. Tanks from `55XX' locomotives were often found on the outside roads of the traverser while work on the rest of the locomotive continued inside. In the days before knowledge of the effects of asbestos dust, clouds would billow across as a boiler was stripped down, after which it was recycled with new material being added in a great tub of water and was then plastered back on with a float.
The Subsidiary Works of the Great Western Railway were those defined as establishments which carried out classified but not General repairs. By reason of their even geographical distribution throughout the system the subsidiary workshops were used to save light mileage in working engines for the lighter classified repairs in the Main Works at Swindon, Wolverhampton and Caerphilly. These Subsidiary Works were also used as convenient centres for the upkeep of outdoor machinery within the division. In fact this latter mentioned work was often of greater volume than locomotive repairs, staff used on either duty according to the work available. Under the control of Divisional Superintendents, who also controlled the Running Sheds, the Subsidiary Works were also available to relieve the Running Sheds of Unclassified repairs if capacity was available.
Figures collated by the GWR in 1947 show that at any one time there was an average of 14.1 locomotives under repair and in the course of the year the works undertook a total of 195 Light repairs. These figures, together with those from other Subsidiary Works, endorsed the fact that their usefulness was dependent upon their ability to undertake Light Classified repairs with speed and to save time and mileage which locomotives would have taken in order to reach the Main Works. This capacity also relieved pit space at the Main Works for Heavy repairs.
Whether the Subsidiary Works were economic concerns was a question of policy and equipment rather than of organisation. An expensive Division in terms of locomotive coal, the postwar solution of oil fuelling being considered for Newton Abbot. Diesel motive power was considered at an early stage and at one time a scheme to carry out electrification in the west had been proposed. The boiler house, pump house and tanks were erected beyond the exit road more or less on the site of the old broad gauge shed. This installation saw little proper use, but as at many sites, it came into its own for diesel cars, two new 7,000 gallon tanks being proposed in 1957 and three fuelling roads were ordered for DMU sets.
The advent of diesel motive power saw the end of steam repairs at Newton Abbot, the last locomotive to receive a Classified repair being 2-6-2T No 4566 which was driven out of the Works by the Lord Mayor.
The old factory closed in July 1960, work then beginning on remodelling it for diesel maintenance. By March 1962, the steam age had been obliterated completely, the factory being altered with the removal of the traverser to the outside, at right angles to its former position. This advent of quietly humming
new technology was a major contrast to the days of steam operations, and astonishingly was swept away in its turn, the remaining building of both Running Shed and Works being scheduled for demolition in late 1994.
Route: Turn right outside the station into Station Road and first right under a long railway bridge. The works entrance is on the right-hand side just past the bridge.
Walking time 5 minutes.
Ordnance Survey Grid Reference - SX86827124
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Map Scale 10000 : Map Scale 25000
Last Updated : Friday 13th June 2003 16:51