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British Railway History Item


London Midland & Scottish Railway Horwich Locomotive Works

The history of the works at Horwich goes back to a meeting of Lancashire & Yorkshire Directors on 19 March 1884, when the L&Y consulting engineer, John Ramsbottom, declared that repairs could no longer be carried out satisfactorily at their Miles Platting workshops near Manchester and that it was essential that a new site for works be found as soon as possible. John Ramsbottom, having retired from the L&NWR from ill health in 1871, at the age of 69, had returned to work with the L&Y as consulting engineer in 1883. At this time, the L&Y had reached an all time low; train services were slow and often late, and stations, carriages, goods and locomotive depots were the worst in the country.

Only two months later on 17 May 1884, a Mr Dorning announced that an estate at Horwich, about five miles west of Bolton, would be sold by auction on 27 May and he was authorised to bid up to ?65,000 if necessary. He did exceptionally well and bought all 650 acres for ?36,000. A more suitable site could not have been found. It was centrally situated on the L&Y system and was within easy reach of both Bolton and Manchester.

By February 1870 a branch to Horwich was opened from Blackrod, on the Bolton to Preston line, and while the purchase was proceeding Ramsbottom was able to submit drawings showing the levels on the ground and the various works departments. Plans submitted by Ramsbottom in December showed that the locomotive works would occupy 20 acres and would accommodate 112 engines.

Messrs. J.D. Nowell & Co were the contractors for the foundations, work commencing on 9 March 1885. By August excavations of the foundations for the erecting shop were almost complete. Construction was contracted to Messrs Meadows, for a vast building 1,520ft long (well over a quarter of a mile) and 118ft wide with three bays running the whole length, the outer two being wider than that at the centre.

Much of the equipment in use at the Miles Platting and Bury works was not suitable for transfer so Ramsbottom and Wright placed orders for 20 30-ton overhead cranes and a large number of heavy machine tools. In July 1886 Messrs Robert Neill & Sons began work on the office block, boiler shop, forge, smithy and foundry and a new Horwich fork which was begun in September 1886 was opened for goods traffic on 20 June 1887.

After 10 years of distinguished service, W. Barton Wright retired in October 1887 and in his place came J.A.F. Aspinall from Inchicore, who became CME. At a Director's meeting on 23 November 1887, he urged the ordering of more engines while prices were still low. As an example Aspinall quoted that locomotives on the L&NWR averaged 19,500 miles and dividing this into the 22,283,080 miles run by L&Y locomotives in the year up to June 1886, they would require a total of 1,114 engines, the locomotive stock at that time being 963. With the forthcoming opening of the Manchester to Liverpool route via Atherton, which would need an additional 13 engines, a total of 164 more locomotives were required. As an emergency measure Aspinall ordered 30 6ft 4-4-Os of Barton Wright's design but with Joy valve gear from Beyer Peacock, in addition to two l8in gauge engines for the internal railway system. Recalling his experiences at Crewe, Ramsbottom advised the Directors at a meeting on 29 December that substantial savings could be made by having their own steelworks. Suitably impressed with his figures, the Directors sanctioned the estimated cost of ?15,000 to ?20,000 for its construction.

By this time the erecting shop was in such a forward state that it could take in the first six locomotives for repair. These included the Barton Wright 4-4-0 No 865 Prince of Wales, built by Dubs in 1885.

By 7 April 1887, the two l8in gauge engines, Robin and Wren, arrived and were set to work so by 12 April the foundry was completed and work began. At the Directors' meeting on 27 September 1887, Aspinall proposed construction of a further nine shops and for all the work from Miles Platting to be transferred at an early date. By the end of 1887 it was possible to close the shops at Miles Platting and also those at Bury.

Following this, in January 1888, construction work began on their first ten locomotives, a batch of 2-4-2 tank engines of Aspinall's design, the famous 'Radials' - the first one, No 1008, leaving the works on 20 February 1889. The next work to begin was the first of the numerous Aspinall 0-6-0s, the first order for 10 engines being completed on 27 March 1890. Between 1891 and 1900 Aspinall rebuilt 230 of Barton Wright's 0-6-Os into saddle tanks for shunting, thus releasing an equal number of serviceable tenders.

In 1892 the works were in full operation and from the census of 1891 which recorded a population of 12,850, Horwich had become a fair sized town. In June 1899 Aspinall was appointed as General Manager of the L&Y and in the work's first 10 years of operation 677 engines had been built. Engines of his design continued to be built for many more years.

He was succeeded by H.A. Hoy, in whose reign a further 220 engines were built before he left in March 1904 to become General Manager of Beyer Peacock. His successor was George Hughes who had been a premium apprentice under Webb at Crewe until he moved to Horwich in 1887. The l,000th locomotive built at Horwich, a Hughes 0-4-0 Rail Motor No 983 left the works in March 1907.

During World War 1 Horwich was engaged in manufacturing a variety of military equipment and when the L&Y merged with the L&NWR on 1 January 1922, George Hughes became CME of the combined company and on the formation of the LMS a year later he was appointed CME of the entire system. During the great depression in 1931 locomotive building was suspended after completion of a batch of 0-6-0 tanks, locomotive work being confined to repairs. Following the closure of Newton Heath carriage works in 1932, the EMU trains on the Liverpool-Southport-Crossens and the Manchester-Bury-Holcombe Brook services were taken to Horwich for repair.

Introduced May 1926, 245 Hughes designed 2-6-0s locos, were built under Fowler's direction with parallel boiler and narrow tender. They were nicknamed 'Crabs' from their crab like appearance.

During World War 2 a section of the work was given over to armoured fighting vehicles including the 'Matilda', 'Cruiser' and 'Centaur' tanks, in addition to 20mm Oerlikon shells. From May to November i943, 33 American 5160 2-8-Os passed through the works for no less than 30 modifications. These included the fitting of a Gresham & Craven combination injector and graduable steam brake, the overhaul of part of the motion and the fitting of hand brake gear to the tender. June 1943 saw the resumption of locomotive building with the construction of a batch of Stanier '8F' 2-8-0s.

The end of the war saw the introduction of a mechanised foundry, built in the shop which was previously the forge. This was used for the casting of chairs. A typical year's work at that time was 20 new locomotives, 350 Heavy and 240 Light repairs to locomotives and repairs to 200 boilers and 90 electric vehicles. This was in addition to the general production of casting etc.

The last steam locomotive to be built at Horwich was BR Standard Class 4 No 76099 which left the works on 27 November 1957. August 1958 saw work begin on a series of 350hp diesel shunters, the first of 75.

Employees who died in World War I were honoured on a memorial in front of the works.

The Railway Works was eventually closed in 1983, and the site is now in use for various industrial and commercial purposes, and is in the process of being refurbished.

Route: Go straight ahead ouside the station into Drinkwater lane. Turn right at the end into Chorley New Road. The works entrance is a few yards further on the left-hand side.

Walking time 10 minutes.
Ordnance Survey Grid Reference - SD63901070
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Map Scale 10000 : Map Scale 25000

Last Updated : Saturday 21st June 2003 13:17

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