British Railway History Item
London & North Eastern Railway Stratford Locomotive Works
Established in 1847-8, the railway workshops at Stratford were opened when the Eastern Counties Railway's facilities were unable to expand on their first site at Romford. The Eastern Counties Railway was the first to operate in East Anglia, the first section of line from Mile End to Romford opening in 1839. With the intention of reaching Norwich, the next extension from the City terminus to Brentwood followed shortly afterwards. In 1840 the Northern & Eastern Railway opened with the aim of linking London and Cambridge. Their trains ran over the ECR tracks to Stratford where they followed the Lea Valley northward.
At that early date Stratford had become an important railway junction. Having either built, leased or purchased all other railways in East Anglia by the early 1860s, the ECR was reformed into the Great Eastern Railway.
The original shops, which formed the hub of Stratford Works, were built by the railway 'King', George Hudson in the time of the Eastern Counties Railway. In addition to the engineering facilities, Hudson provided accommodation for the workmen in Stratford New Town, an area known for many years as 'Hudson's Town'. The growth of traffic and periodic modernisation of the plant demanded many extensions of the premises and the geography of the works became somewhat complex. The first locomotive was constructed on the site in 1851, and in December 1891 an 0-6-0 tender locomotive was built and steamed in 9hr 47 min, a world record yet to be beaten.
By the early 1920s the works at Stratford were one of the most comprehensive railway complexes in Britain. At the hub of the suburban railway system and principal depot for the GER, it was the largest operation of its type in the country. The Engine Repairing Shop was built during World War 1 and adjoined the Running Sheds where plenty of ground was available for extensions. During this war the shops were lent to the Ministry of Munitions and used for the sorting and breaking of steel billets for the manufacture of shell forgings. At that time the Great Eastern's locomotive fleet consisted of 2-4-0, 4-4-0 and 4-6-0 classes of Passenger tender engines with four types of 0-6-0 goods tender engines and seven types of passenger tank engines. In addition to these there were four classes of goods tank engines for shunting, dock work and local goods traffic.
Having invested heavily on improvements at Stratford Works, it was unfortunate that the Great Eastern Railway had only about four years worth of engine repairs before they became part of the London & North Eastern Railway.
The last steam locomotive to be built at Stratford was Class N7 0-6-2T No 999, a locomotive which survives today in preservation.
Under LNER ownership, Stratford became the main works for the whole of East Anglia, the lack of new locomotive construction being compensated for by the increase in repair and maintenance work. During the inter war years there were only minor additions and alterations to the workshops although the LNER was progressive in its provision of theoretical training for the apprentices. There were evening classes which were backed up by two afternoon classes during the week designed to prepare apprentices for the National Certificate. The lecturers were draughtsmen and engineers from the works, who were continuing a tradition that was established by the Great Eastern Railway.
In 1939, the railway workshops of Britain were once again involved in a war and the Works at Stratford were no exception. In addition to committing production resources to the war effort, it also had to contend with 'The Blitz'. Being situated in close proximity to the docks in the East End of London, the shops took a severe hammering, the old works suffering the brunt of the damage. While the more recent Engine Repair Shop sustained only minor damage, the outside offices at the London end of the shop were destroyed by an incendiary bomb. The ERS suffered damage later in the war when a V2 rocket fell near the High Meads paint shop.
By 1947 there were 2,032 members of staff employed at the works and in 1948 came Nationalisation when Stratford became part of the Eastern Region of British Railways. With the onset of BR's 1955 Modernisation programme, East Anglia was selected to be the first area to eliminate steam traction completely and rely entirely upon diesel locomotives and multiple unit trains for local and long distance services. For the steam locomotives that remained operational, repairs were transferred to other workshops and Stratford's Engine Repair shop was converted for diesel locomotive repairs.
By 1962 the control of railway workshops had been transferred from the CM&EE to the newly introduced Workshops Division of British Railways who promptly conducted a complete survey of locomotive workshops. With the run down of the steam locomotive fleet and the lower requirements for diesel locomotive maintenance, they discovered there was an excess of workshop capacity. Accordingly the decision was taken to run down Stratford Works with final closure occurring in September 1963. However, the CM&EE department of the Eastern Region was unhappy that locomotives requiring unclassified repairs had to take their turn with all other locomotives requiring attention at the main workshops. From this came the idea of reopening the ERS as Regional Repair Shops changing their name to the Diesel Repair Shop or DRS.
This was the beginning of an interesting period for the works, a great variety of jobs being undertaken by the workforce. In 1978 work was done on the power cars for High Speed Trains used on the East Coast route. Modification in conjunction with engineers from the power unit manufacturers included the fitting of an exhaust deflector to the roof. Also at this time the DRS undertook a series of modifications on the Rumanian built Class 56 locomotives. These involved replacing the bogies with a pair that had been refurbished by a contractor in Wolverhampton in addition to re-routing traction motor conduits and fitting new traction motorjunction boxes.
By the early 1980s many of the first generation diesel locomotives were approaching the end of their working lives and a policy of cannibalising the various classes was introduced. Involved in this exercise were the types '40', '45', '46', '25' and 'Deltic' Class 55s. The main components to be exchanged were the power units and bogies and in the case of the Class 55 the nameplates had to be removed from the scrap locomotives.
In addition to this work in the early 1980s was a contract to construct six snowploughs from redundant Class 40 bogies, the snowplough blades being built by Beilhack in Germany.
The first warning that all was not well at DRS came in January 1990 when they lost the work of Class 86/2 bogie overhauls to BREL Crewe and in April 1990 they lost the Class 87 programme to Springburn Level 5 Depot in Glasgow.
In October 1990 final closure of Stratford works was announced, as there was over-capacity in the Level 5 Group, the works closing on 31 March 1991.
Route: A tunnel runs under the railway from William Street to the works and shed. The tunnel entrance is about 20 yards from the main station entrance. To reach the new works, continue along the tunnel to the end and proceed through the running shed. To reach the old works, turn right into a branch tunnel just before an 'S' bend in the main tunnel.
Note the works were very dispersed and partially mixed with the running shed.
Walking time 5 minutes.
In the 1990s the site was earmarked for the new Stratford International Railway Station and a new shopping centre which opened in 2010. Standing on the station, you wouldn't know that a railway works & shed once stood there
Ordnance Survey Grid Reference - TQ38108470
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Map Scale 10000 : Map Scale 25000
Last Updated : Wednesday 15th January 2014 08:20