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Richard Peacock

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Richard Peacock (1820-1889) was an English engineer, one of the founders of locomotive manufacturer Beyer-Peacock.

1820 April 9th. Born in Swaledale

Educated at Leeds Grammar School

c.1834 At 14 he left school, to be apprenticed at Fenton, Murray and Jackson in Leeds.

c.1838 At 18 he was a precocious locomotive superintendent on the Leeds and Selby Railway. His eldest son, Ralph Peacock was born.

When the Leeds and Selby line was acquired by the York and North Midland Railway in 1840 he worked under Daniel Gooch at Swindon but reputedly fled to escape Gooch's wrath.

1841 Appointed the locomotive superintendent of the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway, subsequently the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway. Moved the family to Fairfield, Manchester.

1851 Living at Openshaw Villa, Openshaw, Lancashire (age 30 born Healugh Reeth, Yorkshire), Engineer. With wife Hannah (age 31 born Leeds) and Helen Crowther (age 19), niece. One servant. [1]

1853 Joined Charles Beyer to found Beyer, Peacock and Co. He had met Beyer through the acquisition of locomotives from Sharp Brothers, and from both being among the founders of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1847.

1871 Engineer, living in Gorton with Ralph Peacock 32, an engineer, Jos Peacock 31, an engineer, Jane Peacock 15, Eugenie Peacock 13, Frederick N Peacock 12[2]

1885 From the 1885 general election until his death in 1889, Peacock was MP for Manchester Gorton.

1889 March 3rd. Died in Manchester.


1889 Obituary [3]

RICHARD PEACOCK was born at the village of Swaledale, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, in the year 1820. He was the seventh son of the late Mr. Ralph Peacock, at one time a head miner, who raised himself by ability and industry to the position of overseer of several mines in the neighbourhood of Swaledale, and who, when his son Richard was a lad of about ten years of age, was appointed assistant-superintendent in the construction of the Leeds and Selby Railway. He then removed to Leeds, where Richard Peacock’s education was continued at the Grammar School.

He showed very considerable aptitude at his lessons, but his natural bent for mechanical and engineering pursuits was so strong that he seized every opportunity in hiss pare hours of visiting the tunnel where his father was employed to watch the operations, or of assisting his father in mechanical work. In company with his father he visited from time to time the Stockton and Darlington Railway, as well as the line between Manchester and Liverpool.

He left school at the age of fourteen, and was apprenticed to the firm of Fenton, Murray and Jackson, who were at that time constructing locomotives for the Liverpool and Manchester, and the Leeds and Selby, Railways, and who were also makers of steam engines of various kinds, as well as of pumps and hydraulic machinery.

He was placed directly under the charge of Mr. Jackson, the managing partner of the firm, and soon grew into favour owing to his marked interest in his work and the display of conscientiousness and thoroughness in all he took in hand.

He remained with the firm until 1838, devoting himself chiefly to the locomotive branch of the business. A vacancy having at this time occurred in the post of Locomotive Superintendent of the Leeds and Selby Railway, he was offered the position by the late Peter Clark, the General Manager of the line, who had been enabled to form an opinion as to his knowledge and ability from personal knowledge.

As characteristic of his conscientiousness, it may be mentioned that at first he declined the offer, giving as a reason his youth, for he was then but eighteen years of age, and the difficulty he anticipated on that score in managing a body of men. 'Can you manage the work?' asked Mr. Clark. 'Yes,' replied Mr. Peacock. Well, if you will undertake that, I’ll see to the other part' was Mr. Clark’s reply. On that footing the appointment was accepted and confirmed by the Directors.

Mr. Peacock held this position with credit to himself and with advantage to the Railway Company until the line was amalgamated with the York and North Midland Railway in 1840. The headquarters of the locomotive department were then removed from Leeds to York, and George Hudson, the 'Railway King' of later days, strongly urged upon Mr. Peacock to go to York and take charge of the locomotive department under Mr. Cabry. Mr. Peacock, however, declined, and directed his steps to London in quest of wider experience, taking valuable testimonials from his late employers.

Here he presented himself to Mr. (now Sir) Daniel Gooch, the head of the Great Western Railway Works then in progress under the direction of Brunel. Mr. Peacock's ambition was to gain experience, so he placed himself unreservedly at the service of his chief. His pride was in his work, and nothing came amiss to him, from superintending a gang of men to driving an engine. He frequently had the duty assigned to him of driving Brunel on the railway, between whom and himself the most friendly relations were established.

He continued thus employed during the years 1840 and 1841, until in the latter year the most important turning-point in his career occurred. This was his appointment to the position of Locomotive Superintendent of the Manchester and Sheffield Railway, then nearing completion. He entered upon his new duties at the age of twenty-one, shortly before the delivery of the first locomotive to the line. For fourteen years he held this post, during which time the undertaking largely increased in extent and importance. During his charge, the selection of a site for the railway workshops and main locomotive depot devolved upon him. He selected Gorton as the most suitable for the purpose, where, in accordance with his designs, and under his direction, the large and important works of the Company were laid out. Early and late he was found at his post, seeing to every detail of the work, and coping with his increasing responsibilities in a manner that earned for him the confidence of his employers. He displayed great thoroughness in all he put his hand to, and became complete master of the branch of engineering he had chosen. In this way he came to be regarded as one of the most astute and reliable men in the profession, his judgment in railway matters being greatly valued.

In the year 1854, at the age of thirty-four, Mr. Peacock resolved to start in business on his own account. He accordingly resigned his position under the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Company, and entered into partnership with the late Charles Beyer, who had been for a number of years mechanical head of the firm of Sharp Brothers and Co, as locomotive and machine-tool makers at Gorton, within a stone's throw of the railway works with which he had been so long associated. There they purchased 14 acres of land, and at once commenced operations. In May, 1854, the first sod was turned, and within twelve months afterwards the first engine was delivered.

The partners, looking well ahead, designed a series of workshops for covering the whole 14 acres, and with that plan in view set to work to build such portions as their means permitted. The various sections of the works are to-day almost counterparts of each other, so far as the buildings are concerned, having been arranged to admit of the gradual expansion of the whole by the simple addition of other sections, without disturbing the portions previously erected. Abundant success attended their operations. Both partners had an intimate and practical acquaintance with mechanical engineering, and were well known, and on that account had no difficulty in securing orders. Their first locomotives were made for the Great Western Railway Company, and orders followed in abundance, the partners making it a matter of pride, as well as an essential of success, that the work turned out, should be faultless. From the first the record of the firm was one of constant progress, building after building having been erected, until the whole of the site was utilized. Mr. Beyer died in 1876.

Mr. Peacock did good work in developing the locomotive engine in its earlier days, being specially associated with experiments in connection with the blast pipe, at a time when its important influence on the steaming powers of a locomotive engine was little understood. His experiments and deductions are fully recorded in Mr. D. K. Clark‘s work on 'Railway Machinery.' But it was more as an organizer and a judge of men, combined with an almost intuitive mastery of financial questions, than as an inventor, that his talents were seen. He took an active part in local matters, and identified himself with any movement tending to the progress and prosperity of the neighbourhood with which he was associated, aiding substantially with purse as well as head. He was the first Chairman of the Local Board of the Gorton district, and continued to hold the position until 1866, when the pressing calls of business compelled him to resign. He was President of the Openshaw, Gorton, and Bradford Mechanics’ Institute from the time of its opening to the day of his death.

He was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 1st of May, 1849 ; and he was one of the founders of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

In 1885, when the newly-created Parliamentary Division of Gorton was called upon to choose a representative, Mr. Peacock was elected its Member, and continued to represent the constituency until his death on the 3rd of March, 1889. He was also a Justice of the Peace for the county of Lancaster.


1889 Obituary [4]

RICHARD PEACOCK, M.P. for Gorton, was born on 9th April 1820 at the village of Swaledale in the North Riding of Yorkshire. He was the seventh son of Mr. Ralph Peacock, who was at one time a lead miner, and rose to the position of overseer of several mines in the neighbourhood of Swaledale, and subsequently became assistant superintendent in the construction of the Leeds and Selby Railway.

Richard Peacock's education was continued at the Leeds Grammar School, and on leaving school at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to Messrs. Fenton, Murray and Jackson of Leeds, who were at that time constructing locomotives for the Liverpool and Manchester and the Leeds and Selby Railways, as well as other steam engines and pumps and hydraulic machinery.

He was placed Erectly under the charge of Mr. Jackson, the managing partner of he firm; and remained with them until 1838, when he was appointed at the age of eighteen locomotive superintendent of the Leeds and Selby Railway.

This position he held with credit to himself and advantage to the railway until the line was amalgamated with the York and North Midland Railways in 1840. The head quarters of the locomotive department were then removed from Leeds to York, and he was invited to take charge of the locomotive department there under Mr. Cabry.

Desiring wider experience however, he went to the Great Western Railway Works, then in progress under the direction of Mr. Brunel, where he remained until in 1841 he was appointed locomotive superintendent of the Manchester and Sheffield Railway, which was then nearing completion. Upon his new duty he entered at the age of twenty-one, shortly before the delivery of the first locomotive to the line.

For fourteen years he continued in this position, during which time the undertaking largely increased in extent and importance. During his charge, the selection of the most suitable site for the railway workshops and main locomotive depot devolved upon him; and at Gorton new Manchester, in accordance with his designs and under his direction, the large and important works of the railway were laid out, of which he gave a description to this Institution (Proceedings January 1851, page 22). In 1849 he was made a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

In 1854 he entered into partnership with the late Mr. Charles Beyer, as locomotive and machine-tool makers at Gorton, where they purchased fourteen acres of land close to the railway works with which he had been so long associated; in May 1854 the first sod was turned, and within twelve months afterwards the first engine was turned out. Looking well ahead they designed a series of workshops for covering the whole fourteen acres; and with that plan in view they set to work to build such portions as their means permitted. The various sections of the works are today almost counterparts of one another, so far as the buildings are concerned, having been so arranged as to admit of gradual expansion by the simple addition of other sections, without disturbing the portions previously erected.

Their first locomotives were made for the Great Western Railway; and building after building was erected until the whole of the site became utilised. Mr. Peacock did good work in developing the locomotive engine in its earlier days, being specially associated with experiments in Connection with the blast pipe; his experiments and deductions are fully recorded in Mr. D. K. Clark's work on "Railway Machinery." But it was more as an organiser and a judge of men, and as possessing an almost intuitive mastery of financial questions, that his talents were seen, than as an inventor.

He took an active part in local matters, and identified himself with any movement tending to the progress and prosperity of the neighbourhood. He was elected the first chairman of the local board of the Gorton district, and continued to hold that position until 1868, when the pressing calls of business compelled him to resign. He was president of the Openshaw Gorton and Bradford Mechanics' Institute from the time of its opening to his death.

In 1885, when the newly created parliamentary division of Gorton was called upon to choose a representative, he was elected its member, and continued to represent the constituency until his death. He was also a justice of the peace for the county of Lancaster.

He was one of the original Members of this Institution at its establishment in 1847, and for many years a Member of Council and a Vice-President. Besides the description already mentioned of the railway locomotive works at Gorton, he also gave a description of a steam hammer used at Gorton Foundry for light forgings (Proceedings 1860 page 284).

His death took place at his residence, Gorton Hall, on 3rd March 1889, in the sixty-ninth year of his age, after a lingering illness.


1889 Obituary [5]

RICHARD PEACOCK, M.P. for the Gorton Division of Lancashire, who died on Sunday, the 2nd day of March, 1889, was a self-made man. His father, Ralph Peacock, was originally a working lead miner in the West Riding of Yorkshire, but subsequently attained a responsible position on the Leeds and Selby Railway. The son was born in 1820, and one of his earliest recollections was the sight of the locomotive engines on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, then recently opened. He thereupon expressed a desire, and manifested a capacity, for locomotive engineering, and at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to Messrs. Fenton, Murray & Jackson, who were locomotive engine builders, and who were at that time constructing engines for several lines of railway in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

After remaining with the firm named for rather more than four years, young Peacock was, at a remarkably early age, appointed locomotive superintendent on the Leeds and Selby line. Here, however, he did not remain long. A few years later he came to the metropolis, and made the acquaintance of Mr. (now Sir) Daniel Gooch and Mr. Brunel. In his twenty-second year he was appointed locomotive superintendent of the Manchester and Sheffield Railway. This post be filled for about thirteen years, and under his direction the subsequently well-known works of Gorton and Openshaw were established.

In 1834, Mr. Peacock joined Mr. Charles Beyer, then manager for Messrs. Sharp, Stewart & Co., as locomotive builders, erecting works for that purpose at Gorton. The business thus commenced gradually extended, until it became one of the largest in the United Kingdom. At the time of Mr. Peacock's death, the works of his firm were turning out some 200 locomotives per annum, paying over £100,000 a year in wages, and employing about 3000 hands. Mr. Peacock was all along the active manager of the concern, and on the business becoming the property of a limited company some five years ago, he undertook the office of chairman.

Mr. Peacock was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and took a leading part in the establishment of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

He became a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1887.


1889 Obituary [6]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1851 census
  2. 1871 census
  3. 1889 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  4. 1889 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  5. 1889 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries
  6. The Engineer 1889/03/08