A Brief History of Greenwood & Batley
Thomas Greenwood and John Batley had both worked at Fairbairn's Wellington Foundry. The works produced a lot of machinery for the Flax milling industry and received large orders from John Marshall who owned the massive Marshall's Mill and Temple Mill complex in Holbeck. Marshall helped Fairbairn establish the Wellington Foundry in order that he could meet the demand for machinery for his mills.
Greenwood and Batley entered into a partnership with Peter Fairbairn as Fairbairn, Greenwood & Batley. Peter Fairbairn was the president of the Leeds Mechanical Institute and in January 1856 the company is reported as having donated generously to the Leeds Mechanical Institute.
During the Crimean war the company gained work making machines for constructing weapons for the arsenals at Woolwich and Enfield. When the war was won the company also gets a mention in the press for its part in the illuminations staged in Leeds to celebrate the victory. Fairburn Greenwood and Batley provided "a brilliant device in gas consisting of lines of gas along the architecture of the Grecian facade and enclosing two large stars and, V and N in large roman capitals."
The Partnership doesn't seem to have lasted long, it was dissolved in May 1856  Peter Fairbairn had been in local politics for years, being elected to the council in 1839. For a time he left to concentrate on the business, however he became an alderman in 1854 and mayor between 1857 and 1859. Following Queen Victoria's visit to Leeds he received a knighthood. Fairbairn died on January 4th 1861
Greenwood and Batley formed their own company. Initially they operated from premises taken over from Thomas W Lord, the Albion Foundry. The business soon outgrew this works and in 1859 a new works, the Albion Works was constructed between Armley Road and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
The company made all manner of machinery, much of which being employed in mills and factories. In May 1959 they aquired a file cutter, patented by Frenchman Barnot. They were so proud of this piece of machinery that they advertised in the papers that they would allow the public in to their works to see it in use. In June 1861 they were highly praised for repairing the town hall clock which had been controversially unreliable.
In September 1862 Greenwood & Batley displayed various machines in Great Exhibition including machines for making guns supplied to the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield and wood working tools including some used in the Royal Carriage works.
Arms, and the machines to make them, would be a lucrative line of business for Greenwood & Batley, however this line of work is not without its problems, particularly if you supply to the wrong side. In the American Civil War Greenwood & Batley had been supplying arms to the Confederates. "It appears that in this case certain goods were manufactured by the plaintiffs, Thos. Greenwood and John Batley, carrying on business under the name or style of Greenwood and Batley, of Leeds for the Confederate States of America, at a time when they were recognised by this country as belligerents." Technically having supplied material for soldiers on the ground they hadn't done anything wrong by supplying to the confederates. "The subjects of neutrals are at liberty to supply belligerents with all munitions of war, except armed ships or ships sent out for the purpose of being armed." however not all the goods or the money were received by either party and claiming that the deal were adhered to is tricky under the circumstances. This would not be the only time they ended up in the courts over arms deals, in December 1879 they faced "an action brought by General Berdan of the United States, America, to recover from the defendants, who are engineers and machinists, carrying on business and having manufactories at Leeds, a sum of £5,500 odd, by way of commission on orders relating to the manufacture of guns for the Russian Government." Russia and the USA weren't enemies at the time, however Berdan claimed that Greenwood & Batley had supplied machines to produce his 'Berdan Rifle' in the Russian Tula Factory and that he was owed commission. The Berdan Rifle became standard issue to the Russian army from 1869-1891
In 1864 Greenwood and Batley began production of a massive 47ft 7in long, 116 ton hydraulic metal testing machine for David Kirkaldy. Nowadays similar testing machines are used on a much smaller scale to test samples of metals but back in Victorian times the quality of metals was not so precise and entire components would be tested, hence a big machine. Fifteen months after the order was placed it still wasn't finished, an impatient Kirkaldy had it delivered and completed it himself in September 1865. The Belgian government ordered a similar machine from Greenwood & Batley in 1877 and smaller versions were also made including one for University College, London.  The machine was most famously used to test recovered pieces of the Tay Bridge for the enquiry following the Tay Bridge disaster on 28th December 1879. The Kirkaldy testing machine survives and is the centrepiece of the Kirkaldy Testing Museum
Greenwood and Batley testing machine in the Kirkaldy Testing Museum, Southwark, London. (Photo Kris Ward)
The museum is generally open to the public on the first Sunday of the month, see the website in the links at the foot of the page for full details
Thomas Greenwood died on 11th February 1873. Workers had been about to present him with a portrait, this ended up being posthumously completed and presented to his eldest son George Greenwood who had succeeded him in the company's running.
In May 1876 Greenwood & Batley had a display at the American Exhibition including an example of a Walter Printing Press. They supplied this equipment to the New York Times to turn out copies of the paper at a rate of 12000 a minute.
Greenwood & Batley were involved in electrical equipment quite early in its use. Here is a dynamo preserved at the Birla science museum in Calcutta, India (photo Kris Ward)
The company acquired the business of Joseph Whitham and the Perseverance Iron Works on Kirkstall Road in 1885. This acquisition saw an expansion in to the production of flour and oil milling machinery. In 1896 they took over Smith, Beacock & Tannett and their Victoria Foundry, the former Round Foundry of Matthew Murray, in Holbeck. Smith, Beacock & Tannett were another large supplier of machine tools. In 1894 the company installed their own electricity generating station. Victorian factories usually had a single large steam engine driving all the machinery in the works by means of line shafting, making the factories very noisy environments. By using electricity the company were able to have their machinery driven by electric motors rather than shafts and belts.
By the turn of the century the company were advertising the following extensive range of equipment in their range
Greenwood and Batley advert from 1888 (Image Graces Guide)
Machine tool department- Every description of General and Special machine [tools] for Railway, Marine and General Engineers, including Hydraulic and other Forging and Stamping Machinery, Lathes, Punching, Shearing, Planing, Milling, Shaping, Drilling and Boring Machines. Bolt, Nut and Screw Machinery. Testing Machines for strength of Material. Wood Working Machinery.
Special plants and machinery - For making Armour Plates, Ordnance, Gun Mountings and Ammunition: also for Small Arms Cartridges, Gunpowder, &c., and every description of War Material. Rolling Mills for Metal Coining, Presses and Minting Machinery.
Oil mill machinery department - The "Albion," Leeds', and Anglo-American systems for Extraction of every kind of Vegetable Oil including Machinery for Preparing and Decorticating Seeds, Nuts &c. Presses for making Cattle Feeding Cakes, Seed and Grain Elevators and Warehousing machinery. Oil Refineries. Cotton and other Baling Presses.
Textile machinery department - Improved Patented Machines for Preparing and Spinning Waste Silk, China Grass, Rhea, Ramie, and other fibres. Whyte's patent Cop Winding Machine.
Engineering department - Frickart's Improved Corliss Steam Engines, single compound and triple expansion of the largest powers, for driving Factories, Mills, Electrical Installations, &c. Sole Manufacturers of The Brayton Patent Oil Engine.
Electrical department - all kinds of Dynamos and Motors for Lighting or Transmission of Power. Speciality: Motors for electrically driven Machine Tools &c. De Laval's Patent Steam Turbine Motors, Turbine Dynamos, Turbine Pumps and Fans (for Great Britain and Colonies, China and Japan).
Ordnance department - Manufacturers of all kinds of Military Small Arms Ammunition e.g. .303 British. Self-propelling Torpedoes (Whitehead's) for the Navy, and Horse Shoes for the British Government.
Printing and sewing machine department - Patent Platen Printing Machines. Patent Boot Sewing Machines. Cloth Cutting Machines. Patent Boot Sewing Machines. Cloth Cutting Machines for Wholesale Clothiers, &c.
The development of electrical machinery would be another important development for the company, it led to sales of generating equipment for industrial use and public supplies, it also led to some work on tram and locomotive construction.
The company produced a couple of non-electric tramcars including a compressed air tramcar in 1876. "The engine was to the design and patents of Colonel Frederick E. Beaumont, R.E. and M.P. for South Durham, who was well known for his work with compressed air drills and tunnelling machines. He was involved with the drilling of the Channel Tunnel in 1880 until the politicians put a stop to his work. An engineer named Mekarski had carried out trials with a compressed air tram in Paris in 1876 and about this time Beaumont turned his attention to the design of a similar vehicle. It appears that Greenwood and Batley Ltd. of Armley Road, Leeds, did some preliminary construction work on the engine in the late 'seventies, but it was Manning, Wardle and Co. who brought the design to fruition in 1880.
A water-tube boiler steam tram was also built in 1878, though electric power would prove more succesful. In 1896 25 electric tramcars were ordered by Leeds Corporation, these were double-deck open top cars seating 29 outside and 22 inside, with Milnes bodies. These trams saw about thirty years of service on Leeds tramways.From the late 1800s Greenwood and Batley were also involved in the establishment and operation of a tramway from Colne to Trawden in Lancashire. The Colne & Trawden Light Railway began operation in 1903 using cars bought in from Milnes and Brush and was taken over by Colne Corporation in 1914.
Greenwood and Batley took out patents relating to battery powered vehicles and in 1902 began making chassis for cars produced by Electromobile in London, many of these were fitted with bodies made by Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. Electromobile made electric cars until about 1920 and Greenwood and Batley supplied the firm 303 chassis, most of these were in the first five years though. More information on this venture in to car manufacture can be found in our Brief History of Car Manufacture in Leeds.
Greenwood and Batley also ventured in to bus construction in 1907 with a petrol electric bus. A French Mutel 40hp engine drove a generator powering two motors driving the rear wheels.The chassis was displayed at the Commercial Motor Show that year. It was leased to Provincial Tramways Co (Grimsby) for a few months in 1911 before being bought by the company. It was withdrawn in 1914 and no further examples seem to have been made.
Motor Traction Magazine illustration of the Greenwood & Batley Petrol - Electric bus chassis from 1907 (Stewart Brett)
More about Greenwood & Batley's tram and bus work can be read in our Bus and Trolleybus and Tram making articles, together with a picture of the completed bus during its career in Grimbsby.
In 1927 five electric narrow gauge locomotives were built for the Mersey Tunnel project, the locos were very successful and the project eventually was using 31 such locos. Many little narrow gauge battery locomotives were built and these saw use in many small industrial systems. The abbreviated name Greenbat was used to market locomotives and this name is carried on plates on many of them.
Greenbat battery loco George at the Abbey Light Railway Leeds
The first standard gauge loco was built in 1930 for Luton Power Station, this loco is now preserved in Armley Mills Industrial Museum. The company were particularly succesful in building coke works locomotives, these were battery powered, generally had the cab mounted above the batteries and had to work in a very hostile environment. The last of these machines, works number 420452 of 1979, is preserved at the Middleton Railway.
In the late 1960s the company became part of the Fairbairn-Lawson Group. The Fairbairn refered to in this company name is William Fairbairn, older brother of Peter Fairbairn with whom Greenwood and Batley had begun their careers. William Fairbairn had manufactured steam ships and later locomotives in works in Millwall and Manchester.
Standard gauge locomotives were also constructed for the construction of the Hong Kong metro system. One of these was tested on the Middleton Railway prior to dispatch to Hong Kong. In all Greenwood & Batley built 1367 locomotives and these found use both at home and overseas.
Greenbat loco for the Hong Kong Metro construction on test on the Middleton Railway (Photo David Hebden)
Greenwood and Batley's railway products have never received the kind of attention of those made by the countless other firms operating in Leeds as Greenbat products went largely unseen in industrial sites and construction projects. A prime example of unseen Greenbat equipment was the railcars supplied to Mail Rail, the narrow gauge underground system operated by Royal Mail in London...
Film about Mail Rail featuring several shots of the Greenbat units
35 Mail Rail units were ordered from Greenwood & Batley and delivery began in 1980, however in spite of this order the company were in financial difficulties at the time. In April 1980 receivers were called in and the company was bought by Hunslet Holdings, only 3 of the Mail Rail order having been built. Hunslet completed the order along with 16 other locomotives. Manufacturing was transferred to the Hunslet Engine Works by 1984 and the Albion Works was sold in 1987. The works was demolished and new industrial units constructed on the site. Greenbat designed traction motors were incorporated in the Channel Tunnel construction locomotives built in Hunslet.
Three of the Greenbat Mail Rail units were modernised with fibreglass bodies in 1987. Unfortunately the system has been mothballed some years now and with some of the post offices it served subsequently closed and modernisation of Royal Mail continually taking place it seems unlikely it will run again as a means of transporting mail, however a scheme to open a section for tourist traffic is in progress.
As recently as 2007 the Hunslet Engine Co built a new coke works loco for use in South Korea. This was ordered through John M Henderson's of Arbroath in Scotland, a firm that had previously dealt with Greenwood & Batley
The last standard gauge Greenbat coke works loco, 420452 of 1979, awaiting cosmetic restoration at the Middleton Railway (Photo Kris Ward)
Internal Website Links
Click here to see the photos of Greenwood and Batley items in our collection
We have extensive records of Greenwood and Batley items in our Database
External Website Links
Graces Guide page about Greenwood & Batley
Wikipedia page about the Berdan Rifle
Kirkaldy Testing Museum
Article about David Kirkaldy
Ian Visits page about Kirkaldy Testing Museum
Wikipedia page about Greenwood & Batley
Kraft und Dampfmaschinen page about William Fairbairn(In German)
Mail Rail Unofficial site Hunslet Engine Co page about new coke works loco
Wikipedia page about Colne & Trawden Light Railway
Graces Guide page about Electromobile
Leeds Mercury reports, 31st January 1856 , 10th May 1856 , 15th May 1856 , 28th May 1859 , 8th June 1861 , 5th September 1862 , 2nd May 1872, 31st May 1876
Yorkshire Transport Vol 1
Yorkshire Transport Vol 2
David Kirkaldy and his Testing and Experimenting Works, Christopher Rule, ISBN 978-0-907370-14-7
The Hunslet Engine Works - Over a Century and a Half of Locomotive Building, D.H.Townsley, Plateway Press ISBN 1 871980 38 0
Greenwood & Batley Directors Minutes Book No2
Motor Traction, March 16th 1907
Provincial Tramways Company Limited, Stewart Brett, David Whitaker and Christopher Richardsen
This article was produced by Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.
Page last modified: 24 February 2021
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