Leeds Engine:Histories: Hunslet

A Brief History of the Hunslet Engine Co.

The Hunslet Engine Company was founded in 1864 at Jack Lane, Hunslet by John Towlerton Leather. The works was established on a plot of the former E.B.Wilson Railway Foundry. By this time Manning Wardle were already well established next door to the former Wilson works and had effectively taken over from the old firm. Hudswell, Clarke & Company had also established a new works in a plot of the former Wilson land and these firms joined the already well established Kitson works nearby on Pearson street. Clearly Leather still believed there was room for another engine works in Hunslet.
J.T.Leather was a civil engineering contractor from a family with various industrial interests including coal mining, including the local Waterloo Main Colliery. The family were familiar with locally built locomotives employing E.B.Wilson and Manning Wardle locomotives at Waterloo Main and J.T.Leather himself using Wilsons on the Portland Breakwater contract.
The first engine built in 1865 was a standard gauge 0-6-0 saddle tank delivered to Thomas Brassey at Ampthill in Bedfordshire and was used on the construction of the Midland Railway. Leather had himself been responsible for civil engineering work on the Midland's Erewash section between 1847 and 1850[1]
In a fairly common practice among well to do families of the time John Towlerton Leather intended to pass this engine making business on to set up his son Arthur. It would seem that Arthur Leather didn't have what it took to run the firm though and James Campbell, son of Alexander Campbell of Manning Wardle was appointed. An interesting set up that saw father and son running two engine works next door to each other. There was also a family connection in that John T Leather's sister married Charles Weatherell Wardle, J.P., one of the senior partners in Manning Wardle.[16] In 1871, James Campbell bought the company for £25,000 (payable in five installments over two years). Between 1865 and 1870, production had averaged less than ten engines per year, but in 1871 this had risen to seventeen and was set to rise over the next thirty years to a modest maximum of thirty-four.[3]

Below - 1889 advert in Engineering featuring one of the Quarry Hunslets (image courtesy of Graces Guide)

One of Hunslet's most notable designs, the Quarry Hunslet, emerged in 1870 with Dinorwic for the slate quarries of the same name. The idea of using narrow gauge steam locomotives in landscapes such as the Welsh slate quarries was fairly new but was proving essential for the development of the industry. Before the introduction of horse drawn tramways the only way to get the slate out of the mountainous region was by pack horse, a slow way of moving the slate that saw a lot of it broken before it had even reached the ships that would dispatch it. Due to the rough terrain the tramways used were built to much narrower gauges than used on similar systems elsewhere, they did however greatly improve the transportation of the slate and it was only natural that as the larger gauges employed steam locomotives the narrow gauge systems would put them to good use too. On 17th January 1871 the London Morning Post noted "The employment of this engine will dispense with from 8 to 12 horses, the working of which, especially in the tunnel, was attended with great danger; and it is anticipated that the saving effected in the traffic will redeem the cost of the engine in less than two years" as well as rough terrain the engine would often have to cope with rough track and the same article notes "we believe if it were to run off the line it would be impossible to upset it, the centre of gravity being so low that it would come down on the buffer beams before it could upset. It is also interesting to note that the article mentions how it was delivered to the quarry "...dragged along the turnpike-road on its own wheels without any rails or planks, &C., and without the slightest accident."[4]
The first Hunslet engine built for export was their No. 10, an 0-4-0ST shipped via Hull and Rotterdam to Java. By 1902, Hunslet has supplied engines to over thirty countries worldwide,. Many of the Irish railways bought Hunslet engines including a trio of unique engines for the Lartigue Monorail system used by the Listowel & Ballybunion Railway.

Above - illustration of the Listowel and Ballybunion's Lartigue Monorail loco No1 from the Engineer, (image courtesy of Graces Guide)

During 1902, the company was reorganised as a private limited company with the name Hunslet Engine Company Ltd. but was still a family business. Following the death of James Campbell in 1905, the chairmanship passed to Alexander III and his brother Robert became works manager. Another brother Will retained the role of secretary and traveller with a seat on the board.
Following family a feud the post of works manager was advertised and Edgar Alcock, then assistant works manager at the Gorton Foundry of Beyer-Peacock, was appointed in 1912. Alcock came to Hunslet at a time of change when the industry was being asked for far larger and more powerful locomotives than had ever been required in the past. This was true at Hunslet which found its overseas customers asking for very large engines. One example was an order for two 86 ton 2-8-4 tank locomotives from the Antofagasta, Chile & Bolivia Railway.
During World War I many overseas orders had dried up,, the company, like many others, found itself employing women on the shop floor and engaged in the manufacture of munitions. Production of locomotives continued with significant examples being lightweight narrow gauge 4-6-0T designs for the War Department Light Railways many supplied to India post war.

Above - One of Hunslet's 4-6-0T locos that saw action in the First World War on display at Shildon (Photo Andrew Johnson)

Between the wars Hunslet were once more able to attract overseas orders. They also received a large order from the London, Midland and Scottish Railway for 90 LMS Fowler Class 3F 'Jinty' 0-6-0T shunting engines. In the 1930s that Hunslet built their largest locomotives; two 0-8-0 tank engines for a special train-ferry loading job in China - they were at that date the largest and most powerful tank engines ever built.[2]
During the recession some of the other independent British manufacturers failed to survive the 1920s and 30s and Hunslet acquired the patterns, rights and designs of other builders including Kerr Stuart and the Avonside Engine Co.

1937 advert in The Locomotive, noting Hunslet's acquisition of the Avonside and Kerr Stuart businesses

Following on from his father John Alcock became the Managing Director of Hunslet in 1958. He recalled his father telling him circa 1920, when he was still a schoolboy, that the main endeavour for the company would be in the application of the internal combustion engine to railway locomotion. Hunslet were one of the early pioneers in the 1930's who worked on the perfecting of the diesel locomotive.
Hunslet had been interested in internal combustion very early on, in fact back in Edwardian times they produced some early motor cars under the 'Attila' brand name. The Engineer of 24th March 1905 describes a petrol wagon version on display at a motor show at Islington. "The Hunslet Engine Company, Limited, Leeds, exhibits a four-ton wagon which is propelled by a three-cylinder petrol motor, 120mm by 120mm, capable of developing 20 horse-power." Little seems to have been written about Hunslet's early venture in to road vehicles so it would seem that they can't have been a great success, however The Engineer goes on to note "The wagon shown at Islington is of substantial construction and gives the impression of soundness and simplicity of design."[7]

Below - Catalogue Illustration of Hunslet's 1697 of 1932

One of Hunslet's key developments in diesel locomotive production was 1697 of 1932, this locomotive was built for demonstration at the British Industries Fair and subsequently trialled by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in their Hunslet West goods depot. A review of the engine appeared in the Railway Gazette on 25th March 1932. "A very good example of the application of the Diesel engine to a shunting locomotive has recently been brought out by the Hunslet Engine Co. Ltd., Leeds. This firm, whose steam locomotives are well known, have devoted much time and thought to evolving a Diesel-engined locomotive which should combine the merits of this form of power with a thoroughly sound locomotive design and construction capable of hard service. Since the firm purchased, some eighteen months ago, the goodwill of the late locomotive firm of Kerr, Stuart & Co., they have had the advantage of the experimental work performed in the Diesel field accomplished by that firm. To this they have added their own researches." Railway Gazette commented that "This handy locomotive should find a ready market at home and abroad, particularly as the basic design is not restricted to small sizes."[8] Though it would be a few years yet before internal combustion really took off this and similar small shunters would indeed find many buyers.
Of course other events in the 1930s would have a considerable effect on the work of the Hunslet Engine Company. Like all the other engineering facilities in Leeds, Hunslet produced a lot of material for the war effort, and again brought a lot of women in the works to do so. The former Manning Wardle erecting shop was put to use producing Howitzers, earning it the nickname the 'Gun Shop'[1]
Hunslet supplied many of its 20hp narrow gauge diesel locomotives via Gildersome light rail equipment manufacturer Robert Hudson to various military facilities. The firm's development of 'flameproof' mine locomotives that could work underground was also seen as important for the war effort as British mines needed to work as efficiently as possible.

Above - One of Hunslet's 20hp locos, HE 2463 Atlas, at the Abbey Light Railway in Leeds (Photo - Kris Ward)

One of Hunslet's best known contributions to the war effort was however the production of their famous 'Austerity' locomotives.
In the second World War the Ministry of Supply had discussions with Hunslet about producing more Jinty locomotives but they were persuaded to use a design based upon one of the 18" industrial locos, thus was born the ubiquitous Austerity loco. A fair number of these were built by others including Hudswell-Clarke who had some of the boilers made in the former Kitson works. The Austerity continued in production well beyond the war and right up to 1964. The final example, works number 3890, was supplied to Cadeby colliery and had the distinction of being the last steam locomotive built for UK industrial use. Hunslet also rebuilt 14 army surplus Austerities. Though many of these engines were built by other manufacturers all the rebuilds received new Hunslet works numbers. From 1962 onwards Hunslet worked on what would be one of the last developments of steam locomotive technology seen in the UK. The last three new Austerities and the last nine of the rebuilds were fitted with the Gas Producer Combustion System. Without going in to detail of the chemical reactions involved the system introduced a jet of steam and the correct amount of air into the combustion process, the end result being fluffy white clouds of clean steam exhaust and improved efficiency. Mechanical stokers were also introduced to allow one man operation, these deposited the coal underneath the fire bed.[10]
With many of the Austerity locomotives being amongst the last industrial steam locos still active in the UK many of them have survived in to preservation.

Below - Hunslet Austerity HE 3155 Walkden at the Ribble Steam Railway, Preston (Photo - Kris Ward)

1964 was still not the end for steam as far as Hunslet were concerned. In 1967 and 1968 Hunslet's South African subsidiary Hunslet Taylor won an order to build a batch of eight narrow gauge Beyer-Garrett locomotives for the South African Railways, the design's originator Beyer Peacock having gone out of business by this point. These locomotives received boilers from the Leeds works and were given works numbers following on from those of Hunslet's last Austerities.[10] The Johannesburg works was established by one of the managers from Leeds, Dick Ketley. Over 2000 locomotives were produced by Hunslet's South African partners.[1]
Hunslet were very friendly to the railway preservation movement that was rapidly growing in the UK at the time. Flying Scotsman and Bahamas both visited the works in the 60s for overhaul and their diesel prototype 1697 mentioned earlier had become the first loco to haul a standard gauge preserved train on the nearby Middleton Railway. John Alcock was in fact a member of the committee of the Middleton Railway Trust in its early days.[11] Back in 1952 the company had been of great help to the very first preserved railway, the Talylyn, when they overhauled ex Corris Railway No4.[12] The Corris loco had been built by Kerr Stuart in 1921 to the Tattoo class design, a design that was inherited by Hunslet when they took over Kerr Stuart. Hunslet's last new steam loco to be built in the Leeds works was remarkably also built to a Kerr Stuart design. Trangkil No 4 was the last industrial steam engine to be built in Britain in 1971. It was ordered via Robert Hudson for export to work on a sugar plantation in Java. Happily this engine survives and has returned to the UK.

Below - Trangkil No4 visiting the NRM's Railfest in 2006 (Photo Andrew Johnson)

Post-war locomotive production included many of the Hunslet flame-proof diesel engines for use in the coal mines as the newly nationalised National Coal Board sought to modernise many of the outdated mines it had inherited, many of which were still making considerably use of horses. While steam was still an important part of the workload at Hunslet, as shown above, the market was turning more and more towards diesel locomotives. From their prototype in 1932 the range had evolved considerably. The German MAN engine fitted to 1697 would unsurprisingly not be making any more appearances, the favourite engine manufacturer tending to be Gardner. The later 0-6-0 diesels also tended to be more powerful than the 150hp prototype. Notable orders for the descendants of 1697 were the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board and Consett Ironworks though examples also found their way to many overseas industrial railways and could be seen running in such far flung places as Egypt and Peru. Ex Hunslet man Don Townsley in his definitive book on the firm compares the 0-6-0 diesels to the Austerities 'Just as the Austerity 0-6-0 saddle tank had established itself as the bread-and-butter standard steam locomotive, so had the 204h.p. Gardner-engined 30-ton 0-6-0 locomotive become the surface diesel counterpart in terms of quantity production.'
As the Railway Gazette had predicted there were bigger Hunslet diesel shunters finding orders including some 0-8-0 500hp engines for Peru. In 1957 Northern Rhodesia had an even more powerful 0-8-0 at 625h.p but these would all be dwarfed by the eleven 1124hp BO-BO locomotives supplied to Scunthorpe steel works in the 1970s.[1]
While the LMS went on to order large numbers of English Electric shunters, the descendants of which are still the most common shunter on the mainline railways today, Hunslet did go on to build some shunters for the nationalised British Railways, many of which went on to become known as the 05 class.

Above - HE 5663 (BR D2614) and HE 5649 (BR D2600) at Goole. Note the improvements to the visibility from the cab. (Photo Ian Smith)

Above - Video Clip in the Yorkshire Film Archive of a 1968 documentary featuring the Hunslet Engine Company. (Click image to play)

Aside from wartime military requirements there were a number of other non-railway products produced in the works including scootacar bubble cars, printing presses, medical machinery, and side loading fork lift trucks. Hunslet produced rubber tyred mine tractors similar to their mine locomotives and designed to replace pit ponies in mines without railways. Larger versions of these were also used as airport tractors and on aircraft carriers. One of Hunslet's ATT77 tractors from Heathrow airport ended up in a film role when it was subsequently converted to play the part of a futuristic tank in the Aliens film. More information about Hunslet's ventures in to road vehicle production can be found on our Brief History of Car Manufacturing in Leeds.

Above - Hunslet 'Lizzard' side loading forklift truck at Armley Mills (Photo Kris Ward)

A number of unusual locomotives were built or part built for Ilkeston based firm Bercorit (GB) in the early 1970s. Sometimes referred to as a monorail, though strictly a "Trapped Rail" system, it had two rails on the ground but at a gauge of just 200 or 400mm. Wheels on top of the rail provided traction and wheels underneath the rail gripped it with wheels between the rails providing guidance. The advantage of this over conventional narrow gauge railways being to elliminate the risk of derailment inherent in mine railways. As Hunslet Engine Co were competitors of Becorit for mine railway equipment the items made for them carried no Hunslet worksplates. The work undertaken included a number of Becorit's 25/200 25Hp locomotives and 40/200 40Hp locomotives. In some instances Hunslet just made the central power section of the articulated locomotive which would be completed in Ilkeston. Hunslet also supplied the power packs for a number of Becorit's suspended Monorail ML25 type locomotives, these being effectively a version of Hunslet's MT25 tractors with flameproofing.[17]
List of items supplied to Becorit. Please note the details are sketchy here due to the locos not having carried their Hunslet works numbers.
In an interesting twist of fate, Becorit went on to take over Robert Hudson in 1984, a firm that Hunslet had also previously supplied many locomotives for. More information on the firm is included in the Robert Hudson article.
A lucrative source of orders for narrow gauge locomotives was the Irish Peat Board, the Bord na Mona. With narrow gauge lines often laid roughly across miles of peat bogs all together it comprised the largest industrial railway system in Europe. Whilst in practice operating trains often reminiscent of some of the wartime battlefield lines they needed to be operating trains more like the 'merry go round' trains supplying British power stations (most of the peat being burned in power stations). Despite Ruston & Hornsby having put a lot of work into developing locomotives for the system Hunslet won what would prove to be the first batch of many of their Waggonmaster locomotives as the Bord na Mona tried to replace an assortment of many designs of narrow gauge locomotive with a standard design.

Above - A Waggonmaster shortly prior to despatch from the Hunslet works (Photo Chris Nicholson)

The 1970s saw another downturn in the engine making business and just as the downturn of the 20s and 30s saw Hunslet come out bigger and stronger with Avonside and Kerr Stuart under their belt the 70s and 80s saw Hunslet add Scottish firm Andrew Barclay and local firms Hudswell Clarke and Greenwood and Batley to their range. "The Leeds locomotive manufacturing industry - once a world production centre - contracts once again with the announcement last night of a merger of the locomotive interest of Hudswell Badger Ltd and Hunslet (Holdings) Ltd." The Yorkshire Post's Business section announced on July 28th 1972. From August 1 Hunslet will begin to take over the manufacture of Hudswell locomotives."[13] For Hunslet's entire existence Hudswell Clarke had been producing very similar locomotives across the road at their Railway Foundry, the firm was soon absorbed in to Hunslet and the Hudswell name disappeared. When Greenwood & Batley entered receivership in April 1980 they had 35 narrow gauge electric vehicles for London's Mail Rail on order. Hunslet bought the company and completed this order but by 1984 Greenwood and Batley had been absorbed by the Hunslet works. The works in Armley was mothballed but was sold off in 1987 and the site redeveloped. Greenwood and Batley produced all manner of machinery (see their own article for more details) but in terms of railway machinery they specialised in electric and battery electric locomotives. Andrew Barclay fared better, their Kilmarnock works survived and continued to receive new orders, many of which were Hunslet orders that couldn't be accommodated in Leeds at the time for whatever reasons.
The mine locomotive side of the business was badly hit by the miners strike and subsequent pit closures. Similar sized locomotives were supplied for tunnelling contracts including a substantial order for the locomotives used in the Channel Tunnel construction. Many of these locomotives were electric powered, Hunslet's aquisition of the electrical expertise from Greenbat clearly paying off.

Above - HE 9436, one of the many locos supplied to the Channel Tunnel project. (Photo Rodger Walton)

Many of the Channel Tunnel locomotives had rack and pinion drive due to the steep access shafts into the site. Hunslet built many rack locomotives including many mine locomotives and even the diesel locomotives for the Snowdon Mountain Railway. One of these is seen below at the summit of Snowdon (Photo Kris Ward). Two of these were built in 1986 including Ninian below, one was subcontracted to Kilmarnock in 1991 and the final example was built back in Leeds in 1992.

In later years Hunslet undertook a fair bit of mainline work. Subcontracted from its then sister company Andrew Barclay of Kilmarnock, Hunslet produced the chassis for the Class 143 pacer units supplied to British Rail[9]. Some serious collision repairs were also undertaken at Hunslet for British Rail and Tyne and Wear Metro vehicles were overhauled in the works. The Hunslet works also built the body shells for new centre cars for the Glasgow Subway
Since 1864 the Hunslet Engine Company had operated under two dynasties, the Campbells and the Alcocks. However on 30th July 1987 Peter Alcock announced that he'd accepted the terms of a take over by Telfos Holdings.[1]
Telfos also took over Barnsley based mine loco makers Gyro Mining Transport Ltd and the name Hunslet GMT was adopted for mine and tunnel loco production for a time until it later reverted to Hunslet Engine Company. Hungarian train maker Ganz also became part of the group resulting in the seemingly strange appearance of the "Ganz - Hunslet" name on trams with no other connection to this area of Leeds still to be found running in Hungary.
Telfos decided to re organise the group of companies with Hunslet taking on orders for underground locomotives and Barclay taking on orders for surface locomotives. At Kilmarnock the name was changed to Hunslet - Barclay. The last standard gauge locomotives left the Hunslet works in 1989, a trio of electric locos for Tyne and Wear Metro.
In 1991 Telfos were then taken over by Austrian engine maker Jenbacher. There was massive investment in all of the works and Leeds gained a new erecting shop alongside Grape Street, the works was reorganised with subsequent locomotive production taking place on parts of the site that had previously belonged to Manning Wardle, the main erecting shops became dedicated to the business of mainline passenger trains. While orders with London Underground fell through and a contract to build bodyshells for Channel Tunnel LeShuttle locomotives was undertaken in Barnsley, a batch of Electric Multiple Units (class 323) were built from 1992-93. Forty-three 3-car units were built for inner-suburban services around Birmingham and Manchester. This order was built under the 'Hunslet Transport Projects Limited' or 'Hunslet TPL' name, a collaboration with former personnel from Metro Cammell at Birmingham.

Above - Class 323 being shunted around the much modernised Hunslet works site by works shunter HE 8976 of 1980 (Photo Andrew Johnson)

Unfortunately the the 323's had a great deal of teething problems and the prospect of a further order for similar units for Leeds never materialised. Neither did an order for class 157 units for Strathclyde, in fact the privatisation of the railways lead to orders for new trains drying up for around three years.
The Hunslet works was closed in 1995, the last order being a batch of narrow gauge diesel locomotives for tunnelling on the Jubilee Line Extension of the London Underground. [1]
In 2007 The LH Group of Companies took over the right to the names and designs of Hunslet and the many companies it had absorbed over the years: Andrew Barclay, Avonside Engine Company, North British Locomotive Company, Greenwood and Batley, Hudswell Clarke, John Fowler & Co., Kerr Stuart, Kitson & Co., and Manning Wardle. It also offered maintenance and spare parts for these brands. Production was moved to Barton under Needwood but a business address and office was established in Leeds, even if Leeds just housed the administration rather than the actual engineering work.
Hunslet developed a new family of locomotives weighing up to 100 tons. The first locomotive of the new class, the DH60C, an 0-6-0 diesel hydraulic shunting locomotive was unveiled in July 2010.

Above - Promotional video featuring Hunslet's DH60C

In 2012 LH Group was taken over by American company Wabtec. Wabtec already owned a number of facilities across the UK including the Brush works at Loughborough, the surviving part of Doncaster Works and the works of Hunslet's former Kilmarnock based sister company Barclay.[15]
The Hunslet Steam Co. Produced a number of new build steam locomotives at Statfold Barn near Tamworth including Quarry Hunslet and Kerr Stuart Wren 0-4-0ST locomotives as well as carrying out boiler making and locomotive maintenance work.[14]

Above - Statfold built HE 3904 of 2005, Jack Lane posed outside the former Hunslet Engine works office building (Photo - Andrew Johnson)

The TPL part of the business continued under the Transys Projects Limited name. This company has its head offices at Birmingham and carries out work on site including train overhauls and modifications. Work it undertook inluded the overhaul of Cross Country class 170s undertaken at Clacton and the fitting of sanders to multiple units at various locations all over the country. In 2012 Transys became a part of the Vossloh group and now operates under the name Vossloh Kiepe UK.[16]

Click here to see the pictures in our collection. As well as surviving examples we have recieved countless contributions of works photos and photos of Hunslet engines in industry. Publicity photos from the Hunslet Engine Co are reproduced with permission from the Hunslet Engine Archive at Statfold Barn.


There are still a lot of records yet to add to our Main List, particularly amongst underground locomotives which having gone straight from the works in to holes in the ground are often poorly documented. Hunslet built somewhere in the region of 7000 locomotives and the number surviving across the world today would likely make it in to four figures. Many of the pit locos whose mines have subsequently closed have been abandoned in their mines, though these probably can't be considered survivors, with the mine shafts capped they are unlikely to see the light of day again. In the West Yorkshire area alone there are many examples of their work still to be seen above ground.

External Website Links
Wikipedia article about Hunslet Engine Company[3]
Pacerchaser - Pacer History and Background[9]
Current Hunslet Engine Company website[14]
Information on the Bord Na Mona railway system.
Railway Gazette report of the take over of LH Group by Wabtec[15]
Vossloh Kiepe UK website[16]
Warwickshire Industrial Locomotive Trust (custodians of HE 686 of 1898 The Lady Armahdale)

The Hunslet Engine Works, D.H. Townsley, ISBN 1-871980-38-0[1] Look for this book on Amazon*
A Hunslet Hundred, L.T.C. Rolt[2] Look for this book on Amazon*
Hunslet Narrow Gauge Locomotives, Andrew Neale, Plateway Press, ISBN 1 871980 28 3[6] Look for this book on Amazon*
Robert Hudson Ltd, Alan J Haigh, Moseley Railway Trust Look for this book at the publishers*
Obituaries, York Herald 7/7/1888. [16]
London Morning Post, 17th January 1871 the London Morning Post[4]
The Engineer, 24th March 1905[7]
Railway Gazette, 25th March 1932. Reproduced with thanks to Railway Gazette International[8]
The Railway Magazine, July 2012[10]
The Middleton Colliery Railway, Third Edition, Middleton Railway Trust[11]
Railway Adventure, L.T.C Rolt[12]
Yorkshire Post, July 28th 1972[13]
Industrial Railway Record 244, March 2021. Article "Becorit GB Ltd" by Derek King who worked for the firm from 1967 to 2013.[17]
* 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

This article was produced by Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.