Horwich Loco Works 18” Gauge Railway – Part 1

Horwich was transformed by the building of the Locomotive Works. [11]Horwich Locomotive Works in 1930. [12]

76, Wight Street, Horwich was my grandparents’ home right in the centre of the old village of Horwich, between Chorley Old Road and Chorley New Road. I stayed there frequently as a child (Google Streetview).

For a number of years in the 1920s and possibly also the 1930s my grandfather worked as a blacksmith in Horwich Loco Works. The works have always, as a result, had a specific interest for me. It has been somewhat saddening over the years to see their gradual deterioration and eventual closure.

Horwich Locomotive Works “was the last major British railway works to be established on a green field site.  There were traditionally very strong links between the Lancashire & Yorkshire and London & North Western railways, and John Ramsbottom, late of the LNWR was in 1883 appointed consultant to the LYR regarding the planning of Horwich Works.  He advocated an 18in gauge internal transport system similar to that he had earlier installed at Crewe. Originally extending to 7½ miles, this enjoyed a longer life as the last surviving locomotive built for it, ‘Wren’, was not retired until 1962. The system was used for moving components around the works.” [10]

I am at present (November 2019) reading Issue No. 27 of the Railway Archive Journal published by Black Dwarf Lightmoor Press of Lydney, Gloucestershire.

I have enjoyed reading Jeff Wells article in the journal about the Manchester Exhibition of 1887. [1] The article highlights a number of railway exhibits on display at the exhibition. Among these exhibits was ‘Dot‘ a Beyer Peacock 1ft 6 inch gauge 0-4-0T engine. ‘According to the official catalogue, Dot was ‘specifically built for working on tramways in yards and workshops, and also adopted for tail-rope shunting of ordinary wagons‘. After the exhibition, ‘Dot found work at the L&YR’s Horwich Works, joining two other Beyer, Peacock 18 in engines, Wren and Robin, which had arrived in April 1887. Such engines were considered necessary to convey materials around the seven miles of internal works’ railway.’ [1: p67]Jeff Wells was unable to find a picture of Dot but could find a picture of Robin which is reproduced here along with the accompanying text from his article. [1: p68] The image included in Jeff Wells article is the Beyer Peacock works image of the locomotive from 1887. Some limited further details of the image can be found on ‘picclick’ and in an edition of the Model Engineer. [17][19] Drawings produced in 2012 can be found on the site ‘Laurel Today’. [20]

This short excerpt from Jeff Wells article prompted further investigation of the internal railway system at the Horwich Loco Works. …

An 18-inch (460 mm) gauge railway, with approximately 7.5 miles (12.1 km) of track was built to carry materials around the works complex at Horwich. It was modelled on a similar system at Crewe Works. John AF Aspinall ordered two 18″ Gauge 0-4-0 tank engines from Beyer Peacock of Leeds at a cost of £250 each. They both arrived at Horwich Loco Works on 7th April 1887 and were named ‘Wren‘ and ‘Robin‘ respectively. A third Locomotive was ordered on the 8th November 1887 at a cost of £300 and on arrival was named ‘Dot‘. A further five similar locomotives were built at Horwich Loco Works and were named, ‘Fly’ ‘Wasp’ ‘Midget’ ‘Mouse’ and ‘Bee’. From 1930 they were gradually withdrawn from service, the last, ‘Wren’, was withdrawn in 1961/1962 and was originally renovated and placed on display in the Erecting Shop. [2][3] It is now preserved at the National Railway Museum. [4: p 215][5: p128-129]

The excellent book by M.D. Smith about Horwich Locomotive Works [6] has a picture on its front cover of the diminutive ‘Wren’ as can be seen in the adjacent image.

As noted above, this locomotive is now preserved at the National Railway Museum as a public exhibit illustrating the use of industrial and military railways. Photographs of ‘Wren’ at work in Horwich follow below. The first comes from the D. Prichard Collection and is in the public domain. [7] The second from Steam World Magazine. [9] ‘Wren’ was fitted with a strongbox on the tender for distributing wage packets. [10]

 

‘Wren’ Horwich Works in the 1950s. [18] A similar picture was in Steam World Magazine. [9]

The name of the loco shown in the adjacent image cannot be picked out in the picture. Radii were tight and locomotives had to manouvre around many different obstacles. The picture was taken in 1905 within the Locomotive Works (© National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library) [13][18]

M.D. Smith’s book about the Works is a comprehensive review of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Loco Works in Horwich and contains a myriad of monochrome pictures of the works which. Illustrate maintenance and construction practice at the Works over the years. In many of the photographs an 18″ gauge railway can be seen running down the central corridor in each workshop. In some shops the 18″ gauge track runs between the rails of a standard-gauge track serving the workspace. Two images will suffice to illustrate this point. The first shows the north side of the Smithy in 1902 with  the 18″ gauge track running down the centre of the workshop. The second shows the Wheel Shop in 1920 with both track gauges present. [6: p52-53]. Smith’s book is a fantastic exploration of the Works of great interest to anyone with connections to it or with a desire to better understand its workings.Horwich Locomotive Works: The Smithy 1902 [6: p53]Horwich Locomotive Works: The Wheel Shop 1920 [6: p52]

ZM32 (in ‘wasp’ livery) and ‘Wren’ at Horwich works on 4 March 1961. [8]

In 1957 a Ruston & Hornsby Class LAT 20Hp diesel locomotive (ZM32) was built for the system and arrived in British Railways Green with Yellow and Black ‘Wasp’ warning panels.

With works number 416214 it worked up until 1965 when the 18″ gauge railway was abandonned and the diesel loco was put into store.

It had been intended for this loco to be sold to a railway in British Honduras but this fell through and in 1971 it was sold to RP Morris.

The loco was re-built and re-gauged to 2′ gauge and worked at Pen-Yr-Orsedd Quarry, Nantlle and Gloddfa Ganol.

It was finally acquired for preservation in 1997 by The Steeple Grange Light Railway near Wirksworth in Derbyshire. It was fully overhauled and the 18″ gauge wheels were re-instated. It received original British Railways Green and in its honour was named ‘Horwich’.

The Steeple Grange Light Railway website comments that “In the summer of 2004, ZM32 topped an informal poll amongst narrow gauge enthusiasts to determine the ten most popular non-steam locomotives in the UK.” [8]

Other relevant resources:

Notes on RMWeb: ‘An Illustrated History of 18 Inch Gauge Steam Railways’, by Mark Smithers (OPC 1993) devotes 13 pages to the Horwich system, with photos, drawings and a track plan. There are 2 photos in “Lost Lines, British Narrow Gauge” (by Nigel Welbourn, published 2000) on pages 95 & 96 showing Wren and ZM32. A model of ‘Wren was produced in “O-9mm” and can be found here: http://www.springsidemodels.com/id153.htm. [14]

The GN15 Forum: Notes and pictures of a model in GN15 can also be found at the end of a discussion on this forum: http://gn15.info/forum. [21]

Blackrod Station: owed its ongoing existence into the late 20th Century to the Works. [15]

The Condition of the Works in January 2011: is illustrated on the 28 Days Later Urban Exploration forum. The pictures on that site provide a very atmospheric look at the old buildings of the Works. As well as modern monochrome images, the site also has a number of archived images of the Works. [16]

References

  1. Jeff Wells; The Railways Involvement in he Manchester Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1887; in Railway Archive Issue No. 27, June 2010, Black Dwarf Lightmoor Press, Lydney, Gloucestershire, p57-69.
  2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horwich_Works#, accessed on 15th November 2019.
  3. “Motive power miscellany: Midland Region Central Lines”. Trains illustrated. Vol. XIV no. 154. Hampton Court: Ian Allan. July 1961. p. 441.
  4. John Marshall, B.W.C. Cooke (ed.), “Notes and News“, The Railway Magazine, Westminster: Tothill Press, vol. 110 no. 759, July 1964.
  5. John Marshall; The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, Volume 3; David & Charles, Newton Abbott, 1972.
  6. M.D. Smith; Horwich Locomotive Works; Amadeus, Huddersfield, 1996.
  7. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LandYR_Horwich_Works_locomotive_%27Wren%27.jpg, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  8. http://www.steeplegrange.co.uk/locos-zm32.htm, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  9. https://steamworldmag.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/sw321-horwich.compressed.pdf, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  10. https://preservedbritishsteamlocomotives.com/wren-0-4-0st-lyr-horwich-works-narrow-gauge, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  11. https://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/13573684.how-the-loco-works-transformed-a-town (5th August 2015), accessed on 10th December 2019.
  12. https://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/17827041.loco-works-changed-horwich-sleepy-village-hive-industry (19th August 2019), accessed on 10th December 2019.
  13. https://www.ssplprints.com/image/117089/locomotive-at-horwich-works-c-1905, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  14. https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index.php?/topic/50746-horwich-works-narrow-gauge-railway, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  15. http://www.blackrod.org.uk/industry_locoworks.html, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  16. https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/threads/horwich-loco-works-nr-bolton-jan-2011.57166
  17. https://picclick.co.uk/LNWR-loco-ROBIN-at-HORWICH-WORKS-built-BP-142881232407.html, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  18. http://britbahn.wikidot.com/horwich-works-railway, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  19. Jim Robinson; Prototype Locomotives and Railway Practice; in Model Engineer Centenial Celebration Collection, Volume 1 No. 3, 1997, p13. https://www.model-engineer.co.uk/sites/7/documents/me-cen-3-pt1.pdf, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  20. https://laurell.today/prototypes/uk/horwich.html, accessed on 10th December 2019.
  21. http://gn15.info/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6983, accessed on 10th December 2019.

Appendix No. 1

The Bolton News: 5th August 2015 [11]

“Horwich Loco Works was a major source of employment for local folk. It became synonymous with the town. You could barely mention Horwich without reference being made to the Loco Works.

Prior to the building of the works Horwich was described as a “sleepy village” with far fewer residents. It would be transformed into something few could have imagined and this transformation was not without its concerns. According to Horwich Heritage Society chairman Stuart Whittle, fate played a hand in the arrival of the works 130 years ago and, ultimately, in the formation of the popular local society too.

“It is remarkable to think that I wouldn’t be writing this article but for two major twists of fate that completely changed the fortunes of the town of Horwich,” says Stuart. For a start, Horwich was not even on the list of possible sites for a new Loco Works when the directors of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company met on May 21 1884.

However, with those sites on offer not looking promising, the company’s surveyor and land agent, Elias Dorning, mentioned an announcement in that very morning’s paper that 650 acres of land was for sale in the village of Horwich. This land was to be auctioned at the Mitre Hotel in Manchester in six days time so time was of the essence to decide whether it was suitable.

John Ramsbottom and William Barton-Wright were the two men charged with reviewing the whole of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company’s railway system and, together with Dorning, they visited the area and reported back favourably, explains Stuart.

“Although the area of land on offer far exceeded their requirements, the directors authorised Dorning to attend the auction and purchase the site for not more than £65,000.

“In the event, Dorning was able to acquire this major part of the village of Horwich for only £36,000 and that Tuesday afternoon, May 27 1884 marked the beginning of a remarkable transformation for the sleepy village. “Within four months site drawings had been approved and in December detailed plans for the buildings were submitted by Ramsbottom.”

The land allocated for the works, south of Chorley Old Road, was relatively flat and presented few problems with the exception of the hill on Old Harts Farm.

“Site works commenced in January 1885 and by the end of July the erecting shop foundations were nearing completion. On November 15 1886 Horwich Loco Works was officially opened and work began immediately.”

The existing Horwich population of fewer than 4,000 most of whom lived on the “top side” (Church Street) were both intrigued and appalled by the prospect of a major influx of new residents and they were right to be concerned, adds Stuart.

“The population more than tripled in 10 years as navvies and new employees came from all over the country to work on and at the new works.

“Such an increase put an incredible strain both on the town’s physical and social infrastructure as the Local Board, Railway Company and local builders struggled to build enough houses, shops, schools, churches and other social facilities.

“This strain was bound to tell and there was increasing tension both on the works’ site and in the town, particularly amongst the navvies.”

Apparently the local police presence had to be increased but this did not prevent a major incident breaking out in 1886 when ill-feeling between English and Irish navvies (allegedly provoked because of different rates of pay) erupted into fighting which extended over a wide area of the town and lasted on and off for a week. “Weapons used in the violent incidents included bricks, pokers, blocks of wood, belts and a scythe,” explains Stuart.

Within the works industrial relations were generally good in the early years but, with so many trades represented by newly-established unions, strikes and lock-outs did occur. The worst was a 12-week strike in 1906 which resulted in real hardship for workers’ families. Soup kitchens were provided by local shopkeepers followed by a bitter nine-week dispute in 1911 which involved a full scale riot and the drafting in of hundreds of extra police to deal with the local unrest. Despite this turbulent start the works quickly got into its stride. Initially it catered for locomotive repairs but on February 20 1889 the first designed and built loco, No.1008, steamed out of the erecting shop.

“The locomotive production age at Horwich had begun. “At its peak the works employed around 5,000 men and would go on to build 1,830 steam locos, 169 diesels and five 18 inch gauge locos.

“Some 50,000 locos were repaired there. The Loco Works effectively built the town of Horwich we know today and many Horwich families have ancestors who arrived from all over the country to work there. The works became the educational, social and recreational centre of the town through the building of the Railway Mechanics Institute and even today, many local clubs and societies still bear the famous RMI initials,” adds Stuart.

The second twist of fate occurred on December 23 1983 when the unthinkable happened — the works closed down almost 100 years after that fateful day in 1884 when the decision to buy the site was taken and 97 years after the first locomotives were taken in for repair. This left a whole community devastated. A hard campaign had been fought to save the works but to no avail. The town had lost its main employer and the industry that was synonymous with the town. So what would the future hold?

It was in the middle of this devastation that Horwich Heritage was formed to raise the spirits of the townsfolk and help them believe that they still had a wonderful town to be proud of. Remarkably, without the closure of the works, there may not have been such an urgent need to recognise the town’s history, particularly its great railway legacy and Horwich Heritage may not have happened at all, says Stuart. “So in a perverse way, we have the closure of the works to thank for everything we have achieved and enjoyed over the past 30 years. Quite a thought!”” [11]

 

 

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