Hunslet – the Engine Building Neighbourhood
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Shepheard & Todd, Kitson and Co, John Fowler, J&H McLaren, Hudswell Clarke, Manning Wardle, Hunslet Engine Co and E.B.Wilson are names which many who are interested in steam engines will recognise at least a few of. These companies all operated next door or across the road from each other making Hunslet very much a neighbourhood of engine builders. To understand why this happened we need to look at a little of the history of these companies, and ideally to look at the area itself to try and get an idea of how it might have been years ago when the whole area was a mass of engineering companies.
The beginning of engine building in Hunslet In 1837 Charles Todd left Fenton, Murray & Jackson's of Holbeck to establish a new firm with James Kitson and financial backer David Laird. The first engine works is said to have been established in old mill buildings on Pearson Street leased from John Fretwell. The reason the firm was established here was largely due to family connections. John Fretwell had a great niece called Ann who was married to James Kitson and a niece called Isabelle who was married to Charles Todd. The firm built 6 locos for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, of which Lion still survives in Liverpool Museum. Legend has it that when the first engine was built it was too big to get it out of the mill’s doorways and a hole had to be knocked in the wall. The use of old mill buildings must have been very short lived however as on the 1st September 1837 the firm advertised in the Leeds Mercury that they were working in 'entirely new buidlings erected for the purpose.' The Todd Kitson & Laird partnership was short lived and in late 1939 Kitson & Laird formed the Airedale Foundry on the north side of Pearson street while Todd teamed up with John Shepheard to form Shepheard & Todd’s Railway Foundry on the south side of the street.
John Fowler’s Steam Plough & Locomotive Works
A name that became one of the leading names in steam traction engine production, John Fowler originally worked with other firms to supply such agricultural equipment. In 1860 Kitson, Thompson and Hewitson began producing a number of ploughing engines to Fowler orders. It was this partnership that lead to John Fowler establishing his own works alongside the Airedale Foundry. Fowlers produced huge numbers of traction engines, ploughing equipment and steam locomotives, and went on to produce diesel locomotives until the mid 1960s.
The main part of Fowler’s works has been demolished and the site is now occupied by a Costco store, a plaque in the car park tells visitors of the works that once occupied the site.
One building of the Fowler works does survive. This building can be found between Leathley Street and the Crown Point Retail Park that now occupies what was once the site of the Midland Railway’s Hunslet West goods sheds. The building was the locomotive works and Fowler locomotives were assembled here.
Completed locos would often have been delivered by rail, Fowler had a connection to the Hunslet West goods yard via a wagon turntable. The now bricked up doorway at the rear of this building is where completed locomotives would have emerged from the works complex
Many of Fowler's official works photos were taken at this location and a number of photos of locomotives and traction engines taken here can be found.
When the modern steel shutters are open on the Leathley Street side of the building the old arched doorways of the building can be seen, also look out for the rails that are still set in to the workshop floors. There are rails to a number of gauges since much of Fowler's locomotive production was for narrow gauge industrial railways.
Picture of the site of the rail access in the building
Picture of the former Yorkshire PSW Co works
Bibliography Several books have been published about the Leeds engine building industry, a list is displayed in the Links and Further Reading section.
External Website Links steamindex.com:
This site features a comprehensive list of loco manufacturers and includes greater detail about the history of the local firms
Hunslet Remembered's section about the locomotive building industry and about steam road vehicle manufacture
The current Hunslet Engine Company website
This article was produced by Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.
Page last modified: 08 January 2022
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