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Builders of Locomotives to the World’s Railways: Cataloguing the Private Manufacturers’ Collections

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This guest blog is written by Tania Parker, a Search Engine assistant on the National Railway Museum’s Collections & Research team.


Over recent months I have been cataloguing the National Railway Museum’s private manufacturers’ archive collections. All of the companies featured in these collections exported a phenomenal amount of locomotives, components and equipment across the globe during the nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries.

The railway equipment was manufactured in railway works across the Britain such as Preston, Gloucester and Newton-le-Willows. Once the locomotives were completed and packed up for shipping they made their way to the docks to set sail bound for foreign shores.

A Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns brochure depicts locomotives lined up ready for their voyage to India on a ship. [Ref: HL/5/5]

A Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns brochure depicts locomotives lined up ready for their voyage to India on a ship. [Ref: HL/5/5]

English Electric was an especially prolific exporter and their photograph albums take you on an international rail journey starting from the Sao Paulo Railway in Brazil terminating at the Ome Tetsudo Railway in Japan, with such station stops as the Cape Town Suburban Railway and Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway.

Shepherds and their herd watch the passage of an English Electric 1,100 volt 45 ton mixed traffic locomotive built for the Peruvian Corporation. [Ref: EE/1/25]

Shepherds and their herd watch the passage of an English Electric 1,100 volt 45 ton mixed traffic locomotive built for the Peruvian Corporation. [Ref: EE/1/25]

These companies also made significant contributions to the war efforts in both the First and Second World Wars. As well as producing locomotives, the factories also converted their production lines to building armaments. The Vulcan Foundry built a large number of Matilda tanks as well as War Department Austerity 2-8-0 locomotives during the Second World War.

After the cessation of hostilities, the company was tasked with producing 120 locomotives for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency. The 2-8-0 Liberation class locomotives were sent across Europe to countries such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia and Luxembourg to help replenish their locomotive stock and assist in the reconstruction after the ravages of war.

Liberation class locomotives outside a roundhouse. [Ref: VUL/3/7]

Liberation class locomotives outside a roundhouse. [Ref: VUL/3/7]

These collections demonstrate a very British mixture of verve, industry and, in some cases, eccentricity. They illustrate the strength and breadth of Britain’s private rail vehicle manufacturing industry during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The English Electric, W.G. Bagnall, Vulcan Foundry, R&W Hawthorn Leslie, Fletcher Jennings, Hurst Nelson, Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Co., Hudswell ClarkWilkes & Ashmore and Kitson & Co. Ltd. collections are now live on our new archives catalogue and can be viewed in person by visiting Search Engine – don’t forgot your passport!

Written by Sam Terrace

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