Leeds Engine:Histories: Hunslet: Avonside

Avonside - a brief history

Bristol based Avonside Engine Co's roots go back to an earlier firm Founded in 1837 as Henry Stothert & Co and joined by Edward Slaughter in 1841 to become Stothert, Slaughter & Co, at which time they commenced locomotive building. Henry Stothert was a son of George Stothert, founder of Bath engineering firm Stothert & Pitt. Noted for it's dockyard cranes, though the Bath works are gone the name still survives to this day as the dockside crane brand of the same group that owns Leeds' overhead crane firm Wellman Booth. In 1856 Henry Grüning joined the partnership and the name changed again to Slaughter, Grüning and Company before finally settling on Avonside Engine Co Ltd in 1864. By the time they had adopted the Avonside Engine Co name 600 engines had been built.[2]

In 1864 they won an order for twenty Hawthorn class locomotives for the Great Western Railway, An unusual outside contract since their own Swindon works had been operating.

The company tended to build small locomotives, largely owing to the limitations of their St Philips site. From 1905 they moved to a new site in the Fishponds area, though carried on making small engines.

Above - AE 1764 of 1917, Portbury on the Bristol Harbour Railway in 2014. (Photo - Kris Ward)
Below - Video of AE 1563 in action at Hodbarrow Hematite Mine

The company are best known for their 4 and 6 wheel saddle tank engines, they did produce a number of much less conventional engines though. The company made several Fairlie articulated locos including James Spooner for the Ffestiniog Railway in 1872 as well as examples of the type for export to New Zealand and Canada. Also for New Zealand four Fell mountain railway system locos were produced for the Rimutaka Incline. Another articulated design Avonside produced was the Heisler geared loco. Like convential geared steam loco designs the chassis design was also used as the basis for internal combustion powered machines including early designs Avonside produced and some Hunslet diesel engines.

Above - Works photo of AE 2058 or 2059 built to the Heisler articulated design. Hunslet supplied a few further examples of this type and used this photo for their promotional material. (Photo Rodger Walton). Compare this with a picture of AE 2046 of 1930 and internal combustion loco to use the same chassis.

The firm went in to liquidation on 29th November 1934 and on 10th July 1935 Hunslet agreed to purchase the firm's designs and goodwill.[1] Several repeat orders of Avonside orders were undertaken but the Bristol works closed. A blue plaque on the wall of an Ibis hotel now marks the site of the St Philips works, further up the Bristol and Bath Railway Path at the site of Fishponds works the site was levelled for redevolpment when viewed in 2019 with just a length of track set in the concrete floor remaining from the site's days as an engine works.

The Hunslet Engine Works, D.H. Townsley, ISBN 1-871980-38-0[1] Look for this book on Amazon*
British Steam Locomotive Builders, James W. Lowe[2]
* These links are provided to help readers search for often rare books on the subject and to promote any books available, we are under no commercial incentives for this

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