The Viaduct Foundry

As the Vulcan and Viaduct Foundries swung into production skilled workers were attracted from other parts of Lancashire as well as further afield. To house their workers Stephenson and Tayleur built a model village beside their factory, Vulcan Village. Originally only of three rows it was developed as the factorys business increased.

Seeing the advantages to be gained from setting up a factory in Newton where skilled labour was becoming available, two other business partners founded the firm of Jones and Potts and built a factory known as the Viaduct Foundry near the railway where it left the Sankey Viaduct. Locomotives were built in these new works and it is recorded that at least two other firms built early locomotives in the town. The Viaduct Foundry was later sold to the London and North Western Railway who developed it into that Companys principal wagon building and repair works.

Messrs. Jones, Turner and Evans started the Viaduct Works in 1833, while McCorquodale*s Printing factory was established in 1846 and the Sankey Sugar Co. in 1855. It was to accommodate the workers in these industries that Earlestown was built. A map of the area in 1850 shows that very few buildings of any sort existed in the Earlestown and Wargrave districts. In 1853 however, the Railway Company bought the Viaduct Works from the original owners and imported labour from Salford.

Houses were built for the men and their families and the resulting township was called after Sir Hardman Earle, a director of the Company. By 1860 there were more than 600 houses in Earlestown.

To house the Viaduct workers rows of terraced cottages were built near the works by the London and North Western Railway successor to the Grand Junction.

To honour a director of that Company, Sir Hardman Earle, the area was called Earlestown and the name of Newton Junction station changed.

At the same time Newton Bridge station became Newton-le-Willows. This influx of new residents meant that schools, shops, churches, and other public buildings were required. These tended to be built around the Earlestown market and between there and the Vulcan village.

It is recorded that a group of workers at the Viaduct Works who hailed from Salford, and who professed the Methodist faith, sought permission to hold religious services in a shop in the factory. From this start began the Methodist witness in the town, to be followed by other free churches.

Viaduct Works

On 1st March 1853, the London and North Western Railway, under the direction of Sir Hardman Earle, leased from Messrs. Jones & Potts a small works known as the Viaduct Foundry, so named for its proximity to Stephensons famous viaduct carrying the Liverpool and Manchester Railway over the St. Helens Canal.

The Viaduct Foundry was a small engineering works originally set up by Messrs Jones, Turner & Evans in 1833, and amongst other products they built at least one locomotive named Black Diamond for use at the nearby Haydock Collieries, in which Evans had a major interest. Pumping machinery for the mines was also manufactured.

The Foundry had rail connections at the easterly end of the Sankey Viaduct, and it is claimed locally that the Rocket was serviced and watered in the works; proof of this claim is lacking, but excavations under the floor of the Square Smithy on the spot where the watering is said to have taken place revealed a line of stone blocks with cast iron rail chairs with chair bolts set in lead, presumably the early Liverpool and Manchester permanent way.

Towards the end of 1852, the locomotive shops at Crewe were inadequate for the number of repairs currently required and it was decided in January 1853, that the Edge Hill shops at Liverpool should concentrate wholly on locomotive work. Additional accommodation would have to be found for the operations of the Wagon Department of the Northern Division of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) and negotiations were entered into with Jones & Potts.

They were prepared to lease the foundry for two years at ?650 per annum or for seven years at ?600 per annum. This would provide accommodation for building 1000 wagons and 50 engines every year, and the premises to be let included:

“one 24 horse engine, one 18 horse engine, 40 smiths fires, one large hooping furnace, one foundry, three cupolas, one brass foundry, gas apparatus, one office and drawing room, warehouse, dining room for 200 men and stables for eight horses”.

The tenancy was approved on 12th February 1853, and the lease of the property dated from 1st March 1853. At the end of the seven year lease the property was bought for ?15,000.

By 1853 the works covered about eight acres and included some 33 workers cottages (Owen and Norris Streets), all of which were later demolished to make way for the development of the factory under the railway management. The country lane giving access to the foundry was originally called Pepper Alley Lane, but was renamed Earle Street as a compliment to Sir Hardman Earle, the LNWR Director under whose guidance the company bought and developed the Works. His name is also commemorated in the name of Earlestown, the settlement for the employees which was built close to the Works by the Railway Company.

Turning to the history of the years of railway ownership, and recalling the growth of the works and the activities carried on, there are three distinct phases which can be clearly seen:

1. The period of expansion from 1853 to 1903, when the factory grew in size from the original small foundry to the substantial large industry of a hundred years later. This took place almost wholly under the direction of J. Watson Emmett who was the Superintendent for no less than 36 years, from 1867 to 1903, and during whose time the potential of the factory as the principal wagon manufacturing and repairing works on the LNWR was built up and consolidated. (Emmetts Brow, in Earle Street, is named after him, as his house stood at the top of the brow, or hill.)

2. The period from 1903 to 1931, when it was a completely self-supporting works, where the construction and heavy maintenance of the LNWR freight stock was continued, as well as manufacturing and maintenance of the LNWR fleet of road vehicles in the northern area.

3. The period from 1931 to 1948, when rationalisation took place, following on from the grouping of the railways in 1923. This resulted in the centralisation of certain types of work in the factories best suited to the policy of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), and this radically affected the Viaduct Works.

When the Foundry was taken over by the LNWR in 1853 and additional staff was transferred from Ordsall Lane in Salford, the expansion began, and apart from the extra workshops which were constructed it was necessary to provide housing adjacent to the Works and so Chandos, Booth, Lawrence and Rathbone Streets were built, together with Haydock Place and Newton and Sankey Terraces, forming the nucleus of the housing, and Earlestown began to take shape.

A rapid expansion of the Works was begun by Mr. Owen Owens between 1853 and 1867. This was continued by Mr. Emmett, under whom practically three quarters of the workshops were built, although some of them have had several uses since that time.

To accommodate the work a new wagon shed was authorised early in 1854, on additional land which had already been purchased next to the Long Smithy. By 1864 wagon production was in full swing and Mr. Owens reported that production for the first half of that year was 652 new vehicles and 180 vehicles repaired; for the second half, 529 new vehicles and 202 repaired. This made a total of 1,552 rail vehicles and 11 road vehicles.

The production of new vehicles varied with the orders placed. At the same time the Works were engaged on heavy repairs to wagons and the manufacture of wheels, iron and brass castings and wrought iron parts. These were both for use at the Works and to be dispatched to other repair depots in the northern district.

In 1867 Mr. J. Watson Emmett succeeded Mr Owens as Works Superintendent and was faced with a wholesale reduction in the building programme, resulting in 124 of the staff being discharged. Fortunately this phase did not last long and by the beginning of 1869 orders had been received to build 1,560 new wagons.

The pace of the development is shown by the following extracts of the Minutes of the Northern Section of the Locomotive & Engineering Committee:

“February 1868 – LNWR Chairman visited the works and agreed Mr. Emmetts proposal to build a new shed for the tyre press at ?460. Alterations to old Smithy ?300.
October 1868 – New Spring Shop and furnace ordered.
February 1869 – Shop heating installed to Fitting, Carpentering and Wood Machine Shops.
January 1870 – Wheel making plant authorised.
April 1870 – Plans for new stores authorised.
July 1871 – Timber shed approved ?7,800.
June 1872 – New Wagon Shop ?8,500.”

The growing community and the need for some local centre for relaxation and recreation was recognised, and in June 1873 plans were approved for a two-storey building, to serve as a dining room for the staff on the ground floor, and a library and reading room on the upper floor, to be built close to the Works. This building was opened in 1877 and the Viaduct Institute was established. The personnel of the Works contributed a penny a week for those with earnings over 10 shillings per week and a halfpenny for those earning less.

The importance of the Earlestown works as the principal wagon works of the LNWR was recognised in 1895 when it was visited by the International Railway Congress on 28th June. The personnel employed in the works in 1901 was about 2,000 and its capacity reported at the time was 4,000 new wagons, 13,000 heavy repairs and 300 new horse drawn-vehicles of various types.

The period from 1903 to 1923 was not remarkable for great changes, but nevertheless steady improvement took place in keeping with production requirements. About 1890 the old Griffin Hotel had been demolished (formerly Mr. Joness House), and the new Griffin constructed in 1891. This made way for further development at the extreme easterly end of the works. In 1913-14 the White Shop was built. It was so named as it was constructed from reinforced concrete and steel which was a departure from tradition as the rest of the works was built in local red brick.

The Institute had also expanded, providing recreation facilities with three bowling greens, a first class cricket pitch, three tennis courts and an athletic track. A number of small buildings and pavilions allocated to the various sections provided adequate amenities. An outstanding feature of the Institutes activities was the pensioners section with an excellent pavilion built in 1923 and named Warneford Hall after Mr. W.H. Warneford, Works Superintendent from 1916 to 1924.

Under the grouping of Main Line Railways the LNWR became one of the constituent companies forming the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS). The Works became the principal LMS factory for heavy repairs to wagons and the manufacture and repair of door to door containers of all types.

The repair of road vehicles, horse-drawn and motor was maintained, and manufacture of wagon laminated springs and three-link couplings for the whole system was concentrated at the Viaduct Works.

Under new management shortly after the grouping Mr. (later Sir) Ernest Lemon became Superintendent of both Earlestown Works and Newton Heath Works, Manchester. He introduced new methods of construction of wagons at Earlestown, and standard wood framed open goods wagons were produced by mass production methods on a production line system. At the same time the Arcade was converted into a wheel assembly and wheel dismantling shop.

In 1931 Mr. Anthony became the Works Superintendent and the task fell to him to repair wagons on progressive lines and to reorganise the Works to accommodate wagon, lorry and road motor body repairs transferred from Newton Heath, which took the place of new work lost at the Earlestown Works. The progressive system was applied, which necessitated the introduction of power-operated hand tools, both electric and compressed air. The thirties saw the abolition of the Stamping shop, Bolt shop, Forge, Rolling Mill and the Iron and Brass Foundries, although their names lingered on for many years.

In October 1943 the old method of manufacturing three-link wagon couplings by hand forging was discontinued and an electric flash-butt welding process was brought into use. The main sawmill supplied the needs of the factory and out-stations in milled timber of all descriptions. On the retirement of Mr. Anthony in 1946, Mr. A .E. Bates was appointed and made changes in Shop layouts. This meant that the large numbers of wagons which were standing idle awaiting repair owing to the after-effects of the war, as well as the increasing number of steel-frame and all-steel wagons, could be dealt with more easily.

In 1952 the workforce was about 1,900, of whom 1,700 were actually employed in the workshops.

It is sad to say that in 1964 the Viaduct Works closed following the controversial Beeching Report on British Railways. However, many memories live on of the Works that was the very foundation of Earlestown nearly 150 years ago.

Use of this text is courtesy of the LNWR Society:
This text is from a LNWR Society book, “LNWR Wagons, Volume 1” published by Wild Swan
There is a chapter all about Earlestown Works. some material is originally sourced from a previous leaflet which went into details about the Viaduct Works, and the Viaduct chapter itself was written by John Shelley and edited by Chris Northedge, Editor, “LNWR Wagons” by the LNWR Society in Essex. ===============

Related posts