British Railway History Item
London & North Eastern Railway Cowlairs Locomotive Works
In common with many of the early railway companies, the North British Railway started as quite a small concern. Initially with a line from Edinburgh to Berwick, it commenced operations in July 1846. From that time, by a continuous process of expansion, take over, and amalgamations with other companies it was the largest railway system in Scotland until the late 1870s when it reached the apex of its growth. It remained in this position until the 1923 Grouping, when it became the second largest constituent of the newly formed LNER.
Based largely in the central (Glasgow-Edinburgh) belt of Scotland, it had an extensive railway system in the Lothians, a monopoly in Fife, and extended its tentacles as far as Mallaig in the north-west, Aberdeen in the northeast, Silloth in Cumberland to the southwest and Newcastle in the southeast. Its main constituent companies were the Edinburgh, Perth & Dundee Railway, the Monklands Railway and the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway, which, together with some of the smaller companies, made contributions of locomotive stock to the parent company.
The first locomotive works of the NBR were at St Margarets, Edinburgh, the EP&DR at Burntisland in Fife and those of the E&GR at Cowlairs, Glasgow. It was to the latter that the NBR moved its main shops, and they became the building works for the system. This remained so throughout its independent NBR life, although some locomotives were 'contracted out' in the earlier days, this trend increased as the demand for locomotives outstripped capacity around the turn of the century. There was a total of 893 locomotives produced during its existence, some 24 of these being for its original E&GR owners.
The last locomotives to be built were 20 Reid Class 'N15' 0-6-2Ts built in 1923-4 for the LNER. The vast majority of the balance of locomotives built for the NBR were built by a trio of Glasgow builders, Neilson & Co, Sharp-Stewart & Co and Dubs & Co, who amalgamated in the early 1900s to form the North British Locomotive Company Ltd, this company having no connection with the North British Railway Co other than on a supplier-customer basis. In its various guises it supplied no fewer than 437 locomotives to the NBR and had also supplied locomotives to many of the NBR constituents, 63 of which survived to become NBR property on take over.
Cowlairs continued to build locomotives of NBR design until 1924 when the last engine, Class N15 0-6-2T No 9227, was completed. By coincidence, the shops, which had started new construction when Paton's six-coupled banking tank Hercules was put in hand during 1843, ceased production just over 80 years later with another six-coupled tank which had also been designed for work on Cowlairs bank. Under the LNER Doncaster became the source of inspiration for all new designs, and Cowlairs suffered the fate, which, years before, had been the lot of St Margarets and Burntisland.
At the end of 1918 the NBR stock included a number of units, which, in normal times, would have already been replaced. Furthermore there were serious arrears in maintenance. As a result, when the company was merged into the LNER, there were many duplicate list engines still running which had been kept at work as stop gaps during the preceding difficult period, and which, almost immediately had to be replaced. The passing of the Railways Act of 1920 had put an end to plans for producing new Cowlairs designs, so that even the latest engines were all of types introduced in or before 1915. Within a few years of the Grouping it was necessary to take steps to replace the ageing 'D25', 'D26', 'D27', 'D28', 'D35', 'D50', 'D51', 'E7', 'G7', 'G8', 'J31', 'J32', 'J33', 'J34' and 'J82' classes, many engines being consigned to the scrap heap almost immediately.
With the demand for smaller locomotives greater in Scotland than in England a number of transfers took place of the older engines from the English constituent companies of the LNER to ex-North British depots to take the place of the condemned Wheatley and Drummond machines. From the North Eastern area came some of the Wilson Wordsell, LNER Class J24 0-6-0s and, from the Great Central, some engines of a similar age in the form of LNER Class J9 0-6-0s. Once established in Scotland, engines of the latter class lost their chimneys, receiving the standard Cowlairs' pattern in exchange. However, it was not too long before engines of both types found their way to the Cowlairs' scrap heap. For shunting duties a few North Eastern type and some Great Eastern 0-6-0 tanks came north in addition to several new 'J50' class heavy shunting locomotives, originally a Great Northern design which had been adopted as an LNER standard.
'Foreign' passenger tanks were at first represented by two varieties of 2-4-2 from the Great Eastern, some of which migrated further north to the GNSR section. The English engines transferred from the south were all constructed with the driver's position on the right-hand side of the footplate, this arrangement being at odds with North British practice, for on Cowlairs' engines since the days of Beyer Peacock singles, the driver had had his place on the left-hand side.
The more important main line services required new locomotives, but because of the weight restrictions on the Aberdeen road, the largest modern engines were precluded. Consequently the first passenger engines to be supplied was a batch of 24 J.G. Robinson' second series of 'Director', LNER Class D11, 12 being built by Kitson and 12 by Armstrong Whitworth. When delivered they were unnamed, but before long they received names from Scott's characters, and from then they were received into the family. A few Gresley Class A1 Pacifics were allocated to the North British section, but these were only permitted to work on the Edinburgh-Glasgow route and southwards to Berwick and beyond.
In the early 1930s the weight restrictions over the Aberdeen road were lifted, both the earlier Class A1 and later Class A3 Pacifics being used. This sounded the death knell for the North British Atlantics. The first to be scrapped went in 1933 and the remainder of the class followed within the next four years. The use of Pacifics was only a stepping stone on the way to the introduction of a special class, the Gresley 'P2' 2-8-2s, which were introduced in 1934. The use of an eight-coupled locomotive for express passenger duties was an innovation in this country. The first locomotive, No 2001, was sent to the testing plant at Vitry, near Paris. The information gained from these tests gave rise to modifications which were made to a subsequent batch of four additional engines, these being given a new type of smokebox contour giving a semi-streamlined effect.
By 1947 the workshops at Cowlairs employed some 2,475 staff, a figure which was reduced to 1,260 in 1949, when much of the work had been transferred to Horwich after Nationalisation. In 1962, Cowlairs became part of BR Workshops Division, although by 1968, the works had closed, all remaining activities being carried out at St Rollox Works.
Route: A footbridge leads to the works from Cowlairs Station at the end of Cowlairs Road.
Walking time 5 minutes.
Ordnance Survey Grid Reference - NS60116786
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Map Scale 10000 : Map Scale 25000
Last Updated : Tuesday 24th June 2003 17:28