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Whilst any document about the history of an engineering industry will concentrate on the machinery that was produced, nothing would have been made without the people who worked on it. The workforce was often referred to as 'hands' and Leeds engineering employed many hands over the years.
A railway works cannot function without having various blue and white collar employees. Just like a well oiled machine if any one of the departments failed to function it could result in the works grinding to a halt.
The draughtsmen in the office used to design every component used for each locomotive that was being built. Where components such as Wakefield mechanical lubricators were available from others for doing specific duties on locomotives these would be incorporated into the design. The old adage "why reinvent the wheel" is often used by draughtsmen.
A tale from the Barnbow drawing office that indicates some of the experiences of old hands needs to be listened to. A young draughtsman was creating a general arrangement drawing routing a lubrication feed pipe on one of the tanks when he was told that there was a problem in where he had routed it. The old hand explained that he had managed to have a pipe go through the moving tracks!
In the drawing office many calculations were carried out to determine such key factors like the weight and power output for the design. Many calculations would be done on slide rulers as unlike modern CAD software hand drawn plans would not have a powerful computer working out the relevant tolerances and stress factors for you.
The accountants had to keep track of all financial costs involved in the business. As with businesses today there are different departments to deal with such items as paying staff, billing customers, paying suppliers and investing in equipment for the works.
The complexities of doing calculations in per decimal age by hand must have been quite time consuming. Even today with the use of a computer running a financial package or a spread sheet adding up �/s/d involves quite a bit of logic never mind needing to add on a specific % where you are charging interest on an overdue payment or loan.
Often known as the "hire and fire" department. If any of the other works departments need any extra staff or to lay off staff just like the modern human resources department they would sort this out in the works. When the unions were aggressive in the works they would liaise with the management through this group of workers.
This is one of the key jobs in the production of a steam locomotive. If there are ay leaks or this fails to perform well the engine will fail to deliver the required results.
Harking back to the days before the production of castings the smith used to make many of the components used in the construction of locomotives. He was still used for the manufacturing of many of the components such as leaf springs.
Most works had travelling cranes running the length of the erecting shops. These were used to lower frames onto axles and to place the heavy boiler into the frames when it was ready. Most objects on locomotives are too heavy to be lifted by men without he aid of a crane. Quite a lot of the cranes were supplied from the various makers in Leeds such as Booths.
With the introduction of diesel and electric locomotives these require some experienced electrical engineers to sort out the controls. Modern controls use quite complex monitoring and computer controle.
Erectors and fitters
These gents carry out the manual task of assembling the components together to form the finished product. Often items might need fettling so that they will fit together. When a locomotives was to be exported quite often it would be dismantled and a travelling fitter would arrive at the customers location to re-erect the locomotive. Packing a loco for transportation could be complex task to work within certain transportation restraints.
Many of the tools we have listed here would be used in the production of many of the components as needed to make a loco. Some machines can be set up to accurately produce batches of components, this would be set up by a skilled operative and a semi-skilled operative would do the batch work. Modern CAD/CAM systems replace the skilled workers for batch work as all you need to do is to set up the work and press the start button!
In the restoration of locos most preserved railways have to replace worn out components so there are a few skilled people still making items using old technology.
Before a component can be cast in metal a wooden pattern needs to be produced from the design as supplied by the draughtsman. These can be quite complex patterns as many components will need to have solid cores for items such as cylinders and other items that need hollows within the casting. It is very wasteful to make an item and then need to machine out a hole. The maker will also need to factor in the coefficient of contraction of the material being used in the casting process as per a table he would have. Cylinders would be bored out to ensure they were perfect and to remove any anomalies that may take place in the casting process.
These men looked after the smaller tools and components that the erectors and fitters would use during their day at work. Often they would only allow ot a tool upon the worker giving the store man an identification token which would be returned when the tool was taken back to the store.
For components being fitted onto locos a job card would be signed off so that the accountants could work out the accurate cost of a particular job.
Below is an extract from the LMA returns for men and boys employed in the workshops. This gives a fair indication upon how many people were employed each year. The LMA was financed by each employer paying a nominal sum such as in 1876 it was 9d per employee thus gaining �360 6s 0d for the LMA fighting fund.
|Year||EB Wilson||J Fowler||Greenbat||T Green||Hunslet||Kitson||Manning Wardle||Booth's||JH McLaren|
|Greenwood & Batley||c2000|
|Kitson & Co||1500|
|John Fowler & Co||600|
|Thomas Green & Son||250|
|Manning, Wardle & Co||150|
|Hunslet Engine Co||150|
|Hawthorn, Davey & Co||150|
In 1927 Lord Aberconway recorded the following in his study of British Engineering
The industries of the district centred in Leeds and carried on by Joint Stock Companies comprise
(1) iron and steel-making, with a capital of �4,665,000, employing at present 7,300 hands;
(2) light locomotive building, with a capital of �1,924,000, employing at present 5,650 hands;
(3) machine tools, with a capital of �1,646,000, employing at present 4,550 hands;
(4) textile engineering, with a capital of �2,696,000, employing at present 12,600 hands;
(5) general machinery, with a capital of �6,861,000, employing at present 22,260 hands.
The following decade saw a downturn in the industry and with it the collapse of Manning Wardle and Kitson. This was of course followed by the Second World War when the factories would become an important part of the war effort. After the war there was a great deal of reorganisation amongst the companies. McLaren were making diesel engines in the former Kitson works, the success of this company at breaking in to the diesel market saw them expand from a work force of 300 at the beginning of the war to 1900 by 1951
When McLaren moved into the larger ex Kitson works Hudswell extended in to the former McLaren works and Hunslet Engine were using former Manning Wardle buildings. Despite the turmoil the industry would carry on employing large numbers of people in Leeds until the decline of British manufacturing towards the end of the 20th Century.
External Website Links
Much more about daily life in the Hunslet area of Leeds can be found on the Hunslet Remembered website.
Steamindex's reproduction of extracts of David Joy's diaries
Leeds Mercury, 6th June 1890
The Basic Industries of Great Britain, Lord Aberconway, 1927 
Pease, J. (2003). The History of J&H McLaren of Leeds. Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, UK. ISBN 1-84306-105-8.Look for this book in Amazon.co.uk
Displays in Leeds City Museum
The Leicester Chronicle, September 17th 1864
Leeds Mercury, 17th August 1850
Leeds Mercury, 7th July 1856
Leeds Mercury, 6th June 1890
Leeds Mercury, 15th October 1851
The Foundries, Machine Shops, &c. in Leeds and other Towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Report and Evidence published in British Parliamentary Papers, Child Employment Volume 15, 1857-8.
Leeds Mercury, 12th January 1850
Leeds Mercury, 19th June 1895
Proud Heritage, A History of Thomas Smith & Sons (Rodley) Ltd, Frederick H. Smith 1947
Leeds Mercury, 24th May 1851
With thanks to Sheila Bye for providing some of the material used in this article and pointing me in the right direction for other sources of material.
This article was produced by Andrew Johnson and Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.
Page last modified: 09 July 2021
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