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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.
Above - Map of Hunslet in 1908. This map has been used elsewhere on this site to show how the works co-existed in Hunslet but note also the rows of back to back houses filling all the spaces between works. Some of these houses would later end up demolished as the Hunslet and Fowler works expanded.
Leeds still has large areas of back to back houses in use today, about 23,000 of them in fact. These were ideal for densely populating areas close to the industry with the workers and their families. Often considered to be slums, the surviving back to backs are largely from those built in the later years of Queen Victoria's reign and beyond. Originally the houses would have had outside toilets in the gaps between blocks of houses that now form the bin yards. Generally the earlier examples of these houses had to share fewer toilets so have fewer bin yards today. These houses were still an improvement on the workers' houses that were around before them though. Often built without anything like the kind of planning and the number of regulations of later years. Landlords would naturally want as many rents coming in from a property as possible.
By 1918 70% of the population of Leeds lived in back to back houses.
Display of Back to Back housing in Leeds City Museum (Photo Kris Ward)
With many houses often crammed in to little space there were a number of risks from the waste produced by the households. An example of a fire in Hunslet in 1864 highlights the hazards faced, some of the occupants affected would likely have worked in the local engine works.
Leeds fire engine on display at Harewood Traction Engine Rally in 2010. (Photo - Kris Ward) This engine would have been taken to the scene of a fire by horse and steam raised en-route to pump water. It is preserved at Armley Mills, it is not however a local product, coming from Merryweather at London.
SINGULAR FIRE AT HUNSLET: - On Friday morning week, it was discovered that a row of buildings in Accommodation-street, Hunslet, belonging to Mr.Taylor, were on fire. There are eighteen houses in the row, which is a new one, and it appears they are built on the refuse which for many years had been deposited from the glass works of Mr.Scott, which are in the immediate neighbourhood. The occupants of the houses have been in the habit of throwing their heated cinders into the back-yards; and the heat seems to have been communicated to the old refuse, as the floors and walls of the housed were found yesterday morning to be almost redhot. The Hunslet fire-engine was immediately sent for, and steps taken for removing the furniture from the houses. While engaged in this latter occupation, the neighbours observed that the doors and shutters of the fourth house in the row were closed; and an entrance having been affected, a man and his wife and their daughter were found lying in bed in a state of insensibility. They were at once conveyed to the open air and restoratives successfully applied. Four of the houses have been rendered altogether uninhabitable. The firemen were engaged playing upon the house until a late hour at night.
Victorian engineering is often associated with long working days and as such little free time. However, from 1850 firms were required to give so much free time to their workers. Saturday would be a half day and Sunday a day off. Workers were also given six public holidays a year. To provide for this recreation time the era also saw the establishment of art galleries, public parks and seaside resorts.
In industries such as steelworks where furnaces couldn't be shut down for a day or two they would have 'wake weeks' where the plant would be shut down. Essential maintenance could be carried out and equally essential staff leisure could be arranged. This would often be in the form of train excursions to the popular seaside resorts or spa towns.
There were many social activities available amongst the workforces of the local engineering firms to keep workers amused in the days before television and many of the works had their own sporting clubs.
"A cricket match was played on Monday last between the Railway Foundry and the Airedale Foundry cricket clubs, on the Woodhouse-hill ground, Hunslet. The Railway Foundry men were the winners, with ten wickets to fall."
Rugby League has always been very popular and many local people would have supported the local Hunslet rugby team.
As well as sporting activities another past time was music and there were a number of works bands with which employees might practice in their spare time. A newspaper article in 1856 reports a train excursion for workers from Bradford to Harewood Park where "The Leeds Railway Foundry Brass Band performed a selection of music in the Park, and accompanied the excursionists in the special train."
In 1949 J&H McLaren converted the former Brass Shop of the Kitson works in to a ballroom with a bar and two billiard tables. Dances were arranged each weekend with local bands. These events were open to workers from other engineering establishments. In winter the J&H McLaren Ltd Choral and Dramatic Section would stage a pantomime in the works ballroom. Also provided at the works were a practice pitch for cricket and even a shooting gallery.
Food & Drink
Back in the early 1840s David Joy describes in his diary; "There were three of us apprentices at the works, and, being too far from home to return for meals, we fed in one of the workmen's houses close by. Breakfast, 8 to 8.30; dinner, 12 to 1; afternoon tea, 4 to 4.30; works closing at 6 and opening at 6 a.m. Catering thus together we did it for about 6s. 0d. per week. Saturday closing time was 4 p.m."
Decades later when there were thousands of workers rather than hundreds engaged in engine making and staff would still largely have provided for themselves, or more often than not wives would have made packed lunches. However in 1878 the local papers announced the opening of an interesting new facility for the local engine workers.
The cocoa-house consists of three rooms, one of which will be used as a mission and lecture room and another for different indoor amusements, smoking, &c. It is the intention of the company, in the course of a week or two, to provide dinners at low prices. This will be a great convenience to the hundreds of workmen employed in the locality, which is densely populated, and contiguous to the works of Messers. Fowler and Co., Messers. J. Kitson and Co., Messers. Manning and Wardle, the Hunslet Engine Company, and Messers. Hudswell, Clarke and Rodgers. Each room is about 30ft in length and 12ft in breadth, and the whole will afford accommodation for about 150 persons.
In later years most factories would have their own staff canteens. In the First World War when women were brought in to the works separate lunch times, or even separate canteens as shown at Braime's works below (Photo Kris Ward) would have been provided for the female staff.
At Thomas Smith's over in Rodley where Leeds' crane making industry was centred "In 1936 a new canteen was built, complete with the latest equipment. In 1940 it was enlarged by the addition of a women's section and the men's accommodation was greatly extended."
Of course many of the jobs carried out in the local works would have been thirsty work. There were plenty of pubs for the workers to call at on their way home, see how many times the initials P.H. appear on the map above.
Even in the days before the National Health Service great strides were made in the improvement of health care for the masses. Leeds Mercury regularly carried details of contributions to organisations such as the Leeds Public Dispensary, Leeds General Infirmary and the Leeds Workpeople's Hospital Fund. Monies raised amongst the local engineering firms were regularly amongst the largest contributors to these organisations. So that the contributors knew their money was being put to good use the entries in Leeds Mercury also carried details of the numbers of cases treated, house calls made and prescriptions issued.
Visits to the doctors were however expensive and for many common ailments people would often rely on home-made herbal remedies passed down from generation to generation.
Like all big industries many of the workers were in a trade union. From time to time the unions and the company management found themselves in dispute. In 1890 a strike across the entire industry in the Leeds area was averted when management backed down and gave workmen a 2s per week pay rise.
LEEDS OPERATIVE ENGINEERS - THE ADVANCE GRANTED.
Nearly all the large engineering firms have conceded the demand on the part of their workmen of 2s. per week increased pay. This, in brief, was the information given at a meeting of the committee representing the several engineering organisations in the town, held last evening in the rooms of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, Park-square. Naturally, the news was regarded as most satisfactory by the workmen, and it was generally considered that the masters had met them in a considerate manner.
Had such a strike across the industry gone ahead it would likely have led to a huge loss of orders in the city and would have been disastrous for the companies and their striking workers alike.
Strikes did happen from time to time and these created great tension in an area where many where busily engaged in engine making while others were striking. If workers withdrew their labour there would be no shortage of people willing to take their places, conflict was inevitable.
THE STRIKE AT MESSRS. KITSON & CO.'S
ANOTHER CHARGE OF INTIMIDATION
The strike of the mechanics employed at the works of Messrs. Kitson, Hewitson, and Thompson, locomotive engine makers, we regret to say, still continues. The firm have, we understand, supplied themselves with a considerable number of hands from other towns, some of whom, it appears, are subjected to annoyance from the men on strike."..."Wm. Blackett Richardson said, on the 10th September, he was employed as an engine-smith at Messrs. Kitson and Co's and had been so for two or three weeks previous to that date. On Wednesday, the 10th September, he left his work at the usual time, half-past five o'clock; and, when near the road which leads from Hunslet-lane to the Railway Foundry, he was met by three men, one of whom was named Martin, and they all began shouting him as a black sheep and cried bah / bah / bah and said he was one of the b_____rs who was working at Kitson's."
The report goes on to say how Richardson was later led to the Aire and Calder Inn, the union house, and the men tried to convince him to leave Leeds altogether."Dakin wanted him to go to the Aire and Calder Inn (the union house), stating they had a letter from Hull, wanting a smith, and he should have the job. Witness said he had work, and did not want a job. They pressed him to go to the Aire and Calder, and Dakin and Martin took hold of him by the collar of his coat while the others surrounded him."
Richardson went to Hull after threats on his life were made but Dakin even went so far to follow him to Hull before matters came to a head and it became a matter for the justice system.
Women & Children
It is of course well known that much use, or often exploitation, was made of child labour in Victorian times. Gradually there was a crackdown on child exploitation that saw legal requirements on age, working hours and schooling introduced. Interviews from various people involved in Leeds engine making were used in a report to parliament in 1857-8
AT MESSRS. WARDLE AND MANNING'S, ENGINE WORKS, HUNSLET, LEEDS.
1. Mr. C.W. Wardle.- I think a law preventing the employment after 6 o'clock of all lads under 18 years of age might be carried out in our works. I do not think we should suffer. It would be a good thing for the lads. All the lads in these works, except the riveters, are apprentices. They are taken at 14 years of age. They get 4s. a week to begin with, and their wages rise 1s. a week each year until they are 21. Young journeymen earn from 1l.1s. to 1l.5s.
2. Mr. Mackintyre, manager.- We employ no boys under 14 years of age in the regular work. There may be a few exceptional cases where boys are taken at 13. It is a rule in our works that all boys who attend night school should be allowed to leave off work in time on those days if we are working overtime. We object very much to overtime for any of our hands, but we are obliged to have recourse to it in consequence of the fluctuation and peculiar character of our orders. For instance, lately, owing to the frost, we have had a great many locomotives to repair for railway companies. Many of the men employed on these railroads were being kept out of work until the engines were repaired. The lads who work overtime are employed in attending self-acting machines. There is little labour attending this work. We do not allow our young fitters to be employed overtime. 3. Edwin Waller.- I am 15. I have worked here a year and nine months. I come at 6 o'clock. I go away at half-past 5, and sometimes I stay to 8. I have worked to 8 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I used to go to the School of Arts on those days. I always give over at 1 o'clock on Saturdays.
4. William Gale.- I am going 17. I have worked here two years. When I first came I minded a machine. I made 60 hours a week. Sometimes I worked to 8. I never worked after 8. I am now working as a fitter. I have never worked more than 10 hours at filing in a day. I used to work at a mill. I was a short-timer, and then worked as a whole-timer for a year or so.
5. John Burnley.- I am 18 and a half. I worked at another place before I came here. I was about 16 when I began to work there. There were 15 apprentices in one shop; we worked from 6 in the morning to 10 at night for about five months. We were working at railway wheels. We were paid overtime. All the boys liked to work overtime. It was too much work. I only make 8s. a week here.
AT MESSRS. KITSON AND CO.'S, LOCOMOTIVE WORKS, HUNSLET. 6. Mr. Kitson.- I have always been a great advocate for the education of the younger members of the working classes, and I took a leading part in favour of the Factories Acts 30 years ago. In my own works there are no boys under 13 or 14 years of age, indeed very few under 14. There is no work at which younger children could be properly employed. The only question, therefore, affecting my trade, would be the limitation of the hours of work for young persons under 18 years of age. I am of opinion that such a limitation, although it would undoubtedly be very advantageous for the youths, would have the effect of interfering with the freedom of the adult workmen, with whom they work as assistants, and it might cripple us materially in getting our work done. I am strongly opposed to systematic overtime, but I do decidedly consider that trade requires that we should be able to have recourse to overtime occasionally. Such a restriction on the working hours of youths between 16 and 18 would also have the effect of keeping them back in their education as artizans. There is much work to which older boys are put which they could not be put to if they could not work after 6 o'clock, so that they could not learn this high-class work until they were 18 years of age. Supposing the age was 16 and not 18, this objection would not apply so strongly. Most of the boys in my works are apprectices. We prefer lads who have been to school until they come to us. Except for riveters, we take boys of a higher class than those who have been at mills.
Whilst searching old newspapers this interesting story reminiscent of Dickens' Artful Dodger turned up in an issue of Leeds Mercury.
"A YOUNG THIEF. - A boy named William Hammond, only twelve years of age, an inmate of Hunslet workhouse, was on Monday last brought up before the Mayor, at the Leeds Court-house charged with having stolen two shawls and a handkerchief from the house of his step-father, William Wood, of Wesley-street. The prisoner, though young, had for some time manifested a refractory disposition, but latterly hopes had been entertained of an improvement in his habits, as he told the master of the workhouse that he had obtained employment at the Railway Foundry, and daily left the house under pretence of going to his employment"..."The prisoner, on being taken into custody at the workhouse by Mr. Norfolk, confessed that he had committed the robbery, and said he had never had any work at all at the Railway Foundry or any where else. - Committed for trial.
There's no record of this trial having taken place so presumably the charges were dropped.
The local engineering facilities employed a number of women, though in peace time this was nothing like the scale of women employed in the textile industries. One job at Fowler's considered suitable for a women was electrical work.
The development of electric lighting has opened a new industry for girls, and Messrs. Fowler employ about twenty, who were engaged in work connected with the preparation of the wire.
Both world wars of course changed this when large numbers of men were called up to fight on the front lines and demand on the factories was even greater as they were required to produce materials for the war effort.
Production of shells took place in many of the local works. Fowler produced many traction engines for the military in the First World War and tanks in the Second. Manning Wardle, not generally associated with internal combustion machines, produced Avro aircraft engines in the First World War as well as a small number of narrow gauge petrol locomotives for battlefield lines. Hudswell Clarke produced many aircraft components in the Second World War and by the end of the war were working on rockets and nuclear bombs. To meet these demands while the men were away women were not only given simple tasks like preparing wire, they were doing skilled tasks such as machining.
After the war the men came back and the women were expected to leave the works. The fact that wartime work showed women could do skilled engineering jobs was important when it came to later calls for equal rights.
In 1947 Frederick Smith of Thomas Smith's crane works in Rodley recalls "Apart from a few in the first world war, no women were employed in the engineering shops at Smith's until 1940, and, as mere males we were inclined to regard their wartime intrusion with masculine misgivings! We need have had no anxiety, and we are proud to place on record that, whether machining or operating the larger travelling cranes, they did fine work. We were sorry to lose them, but wish them the best of luck in gentler spheres of activity"
Clip of women working in a munitions factory in World War II on the Yorkshire Film Archive. (Click to Start)
Though the film is not filmed in a local works this sort of scene would have been seen in the many engineering establishments around Leeds in both wars.
Eastern European workers being employed in manual jobs in the UK is by no means the recent thing as this account from 1851 shows
THE HUNGARIAN REFUGEES.- We are glad to learn that employment has been found for a number beem sent to Leeds, seven are now in a fair way of earning for themselves a livelihood. Dembitzki, the leader of the party, who held the rank of captain in the Hungarian army, and Zarontski, a student, have been taken into the service of Messers. E.B.Wilson and Co., of the Railway Foundry, as draftsmen, and thus far have given great satisfaction."
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.
This website is maintained by AM Johnson and K Ward
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