Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,364 pages of information and 233,518 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter IX: Part 3

From Graces Guide

Jump to: navigation, search


Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Co

The Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Co, established in 1899 as the British Westinghouse Electrical Co., is one of the largest electrical firms in the United Kingdom. In 1919 Vickers acquired a controlling interest in the undertaking, and its name was changed to the title it now bears. The Company's huge works at Trafford Park, commenced in 1901, are one of Manchester's show places, and are planned and equipped on the most scientific lines. The various activities of this organisation are more fully referred to in Chapter XXII.

Fawcett, Preston and Co

Fawcett, Preston and Co, of Liverpool, was founded half a century ago. Its fortunes have been considerably influenced by the manufacture in this country of sugar from beet, and the establishment here of many beet-sugar manufactories has created an extensive demand for sugar plant and machinery which the firm has laid itself out to supply. It carries on, besides, the manufacture of hydraulic baling presses with a general engineering business at the Phoenix Foundry.

Armstrong Whitworth

The Openshaw works of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co were chiefly designed for the construction of heavy armaments, including guns, gun mountings and armour plates. They originally belonged to Sir Joseph Whitworth and Co. That firm and Armstrong's of Newcastle amalgamated in 1897. The main products of the Openshaw works are machine tools, forgings, castings, drop stampings, high-speed steels, small tools, gauges, pneumatic tools, hydraulic machinery, and armaments. Four thousand hands are normally employed. The capital, prior to the reconstruction of the joint firm more fully referred to in Chapter XI, was 46,469,395.

Pearson and Knowles Coal and Iron Co

The Pearson and Knowles Coal and Iron Co, referred to in Chapter VII as a colliery undertaking, employs 6,000 men in producing iron bars, special chain and cable iron, steel bars and sections, galvanised sheets, colliery plant, haulage gear, conveyors and railway wheels and axles. The firm has a weekly capacity of 2,700 tons of finished iron and steel.

National Gas Engine Co

The National Gas Engine Co, of Ashton-under-Lyne, is the largest British maker of gas engines and gas producer plant. Latterly, oil engines have been added to its range of products. It has been established for many years. The capital is £1,000,000, and it employs 1,850 men.

British Insulated and Helsby Cable Co

The British Insulated and Helsby Cable Co makes all types of insulated and armoured electric cables. The Company is one of the three outstanding British firms engaged on this class of work, and has a successful record extending over a long period. It carries out some of the largest contracts for underground cables for electrical distribution. The capital is £2,000,000. The firm employs 4,000 men, and has established for its own use works for copper and aluminium wire drawing, and iron and non-ferrous metal foundries.

Thomas Robinson and Sons

Thomas Robinson and Sons was established at Rochdale in 1838 by John Robinson. It makes saw-milling, woodworking, flour-milling and grain-cleaning machinery. The works cover an area of 11 acres, and are well equipped for economical production. The firm has a world-wide reputation, with associate companies in Australia, India and Spain. Although it is now a public company, most of the Directors are descendants of the founder. The capital is £315,000.

Taylor Brothers and Co

Taylor Brothers and Co, of Manchester, was for many years one of the best-known engineering firms in Leeds, but in 1920 the business was removed to Trafford Park. New works were built and a plant was installed, which is among the most complete and economical in the country for the production of railway carriage and wagon wheels, tyres and axles. This plant includes seven Siemens Open-Hearth Furnaces, fifteen puddling furnaces and three bar mills. The firm makes iron and steel, producing its own raw material for the finished products. The capital is £600,000, giving employment to 1,000 men. After a long and successful period of private ownership, the business became one of those controlled by Vickers. The family association with the business still survives, Mr. George Taylor and Mr. T. L. Taylor being Directors.

West's Gas Improvement Co

West's Gas Improvement Co of Manchester became a registered company in 1894, with a capital of £250,000. Very rapid headway of late years has been made, and it now occupies an outstanding position in the gas engineering industry. Its ramifications are world-wide, and include a separate company in the United States of America. The management has always been centred in the West family. Mr. F. F. West, C.B.E., the Chairman, was recently the city's Lord Mayor.

Beyer, Peacock and Co

Beyer, Peacock and Co, of Manchester, was founded in 1854 by a Saxon named Beyer and Richard Peacock, a Yorkshireman, and registered as a public limited company in 1902, with a capital amounting to £600,000. The firm is famous as locomotive builders. The works originally covered 10 acres and employed 200 men. During the first year of its existence it built 181 locomotives. The present works cover 22 acres and employ upwards of 2,000 men. Since the war large additions have been made and the shops and plant have been brought up to date. The firm is capable of building the largest and heaviest types of locomotives. Some locomotives exhibited at the Paris Exhibition fifty years ago are still in service in Portugal. In recent times the firm has been responsible for the "Garratt" Articulated Locomotive, which was adopted by a number of home and overseas railways. At present it is building "Ljungstrom" Turbine Locomotives. The attainable output of these is 180 per annum. The firm has already built nearly 6,500 steam locomotives.

Richard Johnson and Nephew

One of the oldest Manchester firms is Richard Johnson Nephew. Founded in 1773, the firm progressed steadily, and in 1853 a move was made to the present site at Bradford Iron Works. All the Directors have been to this day members of the Johnson family. The capital is £600,000, and the firm manufactures wire of every kind. When the first submarine cable was laid from Dover to Calais this firm supplied half the wire, and for the first Atlantic cable it supplied the sheathing wire. On the introduction of barbed fence wire the firm secured the sole rights of manufacture in the United Kingdom, and so laid the foundation of what has grown to a very large business. Its works produce steel and iron wire, rope, copper wire and drawn copper bars, and employ 1,000 men.

Hans Renold / Renold Chains

Hans Renold of Didsbury was founded in 1879, with a capital of £60,000, and has built up a very large business in driving chains and wheels. It has a world-wide selling organisation, including associate companies in the United States of America and in Canada. Renold Chains are supplied to power stations, motor vehicles and ships, and are largely used on machine tools, textile machinery, conveyors, and for power transmission. The present Directors include members of the family which originally commenced the business.


Galloways is a firm with a great reputation for boilers, of which it turns out on an average one every day at its Gordon Works near Manchester. The firm was founded in 1790 by William Galloway, who was the first man (in Manchester) to build a locomotive engine. This was in 1831. The purchaser was the newly-constructed Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Henry Bessemer of steel-making fame was connected with these works in the nineteenth century, and carried out many of his experiments there. The capital is £264,000 in Preference and Ordinary Shares. The Chairman is Mr. C. L. Agnew.

English Electric Co

The branch works of the English Electric Co at Preston formerly belonged to Dick, Kerr and Co. They were built in 1900, and now cover 15 acres and employ 2,000 men. They have been occupied in the manufacture of electrical traction equipments ever since that date. At first other electrical products were turned out, but now the works concentrate solely on material for traction purposes. These works are referred to in greater detail in Chapter XXII.

Hick, Hargreaves and Co

Hick, Hargreaves and Co, of Bolton, was established at Soho Ironworks in 1833, by Benjamin Hick, assisted by his sons Benjamin and John. The latter took William Hargreaves into partnership, and the firm then assumed its present title. John Hick was M.P. for Bolton in 1868, and later a Director of the London and North-Western Railway. The firm became a limited company in 1889. The capital is £240,000. It employs 1,000 men. The Company has built many hundreds of stationary steam engines, boilers, marine engines and locomotives. About 1864, it introduced into this country the Corliss Valve Gear, together with rope transmission gear, now the universal drive for cotton mills. Its products include high-compression oil engines, industrial steam turbines, condensing plant, mill-gearing, super-heaters, piping and complete power plant installations.

Henry Wallwork and Co

Henry Wallwork and Co (1920), of Manchester, was established in 1856 by the late Henry Wallwork, and has had continuity of management throughout. All the present Directors are members of the Wallwork family. With a capital of £250,000, it produces worm-reducing gears and machine tools, and C.I. gearing of all kinds, and has gained a foremost position in this important branch of engineering.


Royles was founded by the late John J. Royle in Manchester, some fifty years ago, and became a limited company in 1900. The Directors include members of the founder's family. The works at Irlam covers acres, and are laid out on the most modern lines for rapid and economical production of steam-saving appliances. An enormous business, both home and export, has been built up on these products, amongst which are steam traps, reducing valves, boiler feeders and all kinds of steam fittings. In recent years the Company's operations have included calorifiers, air heaters, condensers, evaporators, water purification plant for public baths, and plant for purification of town's water supplies. The capital is £150,000. A profit-sharing scheme, covering works and staff, has been in operation nearly ten years, with satisfactory results for all concerned.

Nasmyth, Wilson and Co

Nasmyth, Wilson and Co, of Patricroft, is one of Manchester's historic firms. It was established in 1836, at Bridgewater Foundry, by James Nasmyth, the inventor of the steam hammer. It was at these works that Nasmyth first got his hammer into successful operation. This famous engineer (to whom Smiles devotes much space in his "Lives of the Engineers") also patented the hydraulic riveter. He was the father of Alexander Nasmyth, the famous Royal Academician. The firm began as hydraulic and general engineers. The building of locomotives was begun later. The Company was distinguished for the rapid construction of locomotives during the war for urgent military service in France. The business, with a capital of 4300,000, has been acquired by Cravens of Darnall, which is controlled by John Brown and Co of Sheffield.

These firms employ collectively about 46,000 skilled men. Their aggregate capital is £20,000,000. Besides these, there are 189 other Lancashire engineering firms of more or less note employing 48,000 men, with an aggregate capital of £22,000,000.


Of all the Lancashire engineering firms the one most prominently in the public view is Vickers, whose shipbuilding, engineering and armament works at Barrow-in-Furness were originally laid out in 1867 by the Barrow Shipbuilding Co, under the Chairmanship of the then Duke of Devonshire. His name was given to the first vessel launched at the yard in 1873. In 1881 the firm launched for the Inman Line the City of Rome, then, with the exception of the Great Eastern, the largest ship in the world. In 1888 the business was taken over by the Naval Construction and Armaments Co, which began the manufacture of naval armaments. Over 100 vessels of all types have been constructed by this firm. In 1886 it launched the pioneer submarine, Nordenfeldt. The Powerful, sister ship to the Terrible, built on the Clyde, was launched in 1896. The firm then passed under the control of Vickers Sons and Co. of Sheffield, now Vickers, to which fuller reference is made in Chapter III, on Sheffield. The area covered by the various departments at Barrow is 131 acres, of which 66 acres are occupied by workshops. Most of the British submarines have been built at Barrow, from which yard 150 have been launched since the Holland and A1 types took the water in 1902.

The firm has built and completely equipped many famous warships for the Russian, Japanese, Brazilian and Turkish Governments, but since the Armistice the Barrow Works have had to submit to the conditions already referred to in this volume, in common with the other armament firms centred in Sheffield. Merchant Service vessels are now being built in the Barrow yard. During the War vast quantities of war munitions were produced, and 2,368 field equipments, 7,000,000 complete shells of every calibre and 8,000,700 partially completed shells were supplied by these works. The first British dirigible airship to be used in the War was built there, and before the Armistice five rigid and six non-rigid type airships were delivered.

Cammell, Laird and Co

Though Birkenhead faces Liverpool on the Cheshire side of the Mersey, the Tranmere shipyard of Cammell, Laird and Co (to which reference is made in the chapter on Sheffield) may conveniently be included among Lancashire works. The firm, established at Birkenhead in 1824 by William Laird, had been carried on continuously by members of that family until its amalgamation with Charles Cammell and Co., of Sheffield. It built the famous Alabama, well known for its depredations on American commerce during the American Civil War. At that time its head was John Laird, M.P., and John Laird, junior, his son and successor, became the first Chairman of the united firm. Mr. W. L. Hichens is now the occupant of that position. The 35,000-ton battleship Rodney (one of the two under construction for the British Government), launched by H.R.H. the Princess Mary at Tranmere, has been recently delivered to the Admiralty. She will cost, all told, when in commission, £7,500,000, and with her sister ship the Nelson, launched on the Tyne, will be the last colossal warship which, under the Washington Agreement, can be built by any Power. The firm is also constructing the machinery for one of the dockyard-built cruisers.

See Also


Sources of Information