A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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ENGINEERING AND RAILWAY WORKS
The Millwrights and other Engineers to the Trade, p. 185. Agricultural Engineers, p. 192. Development of Transport, p. 198. Domestic Engineering, p. 202. The New Economic Factors, p. 203. The Great Western Railway Works, p. 207.
The casual traveller in Wiltshire is apt to think of an overwhelmingly agricultural county. If industry is mentioned he is likely to think of the past glories of the woollen trade, whilst 'engineering' suggests a Black Country landscape unfamiliar in the county. (fn. 1) Yet the facts suggest a different picture. The census of 1801 records a population of 183,820. (fn. 2) In 1951 this figure had increased to 387,379. (fn. 3) The proportion of those engaged in agriculture had declined considerably and their number decreased in the last hundred years.
Persons Employed in Agriculture in Relation to Population (fn. 4)
|Persons employed in Agriculture||36,252||28,245||23,111||20,347|
|Per cent. of total population||13.8||11.1||7.5||5.25|
|Per cent. of employed population (fn. 5)||. .||26.1||17.0||11.1|
Engineering, on the contrary, gained in importance. Figures collected in 1951 prove that there were more wage-earners engaged in this industry than in agriculture. The largest undertaking in 1951 was the Swindon establishment of the Railway Executive, Western Region. These works alone accounted for more than a third of the 25,734 people employed in the engineering industry. (fn. 6) More than 23,000 of these worked in the seventeen largest undertakings in the trade. Not one of these depended on agriculture and only three had been in the county more than 50 years.
The history of the towns underlines this picture. Those that showed the most rapid growth were the centres of the new industries. Thus, the population of Chippenham increased from 5,074 in 1901 to 8,006 in 1911, and again from 8,493 in 1931 to 11,850 in 1951. Melksham had 2,450 in 1901 and 3,464 in 1911. Swindon's rise from 1,742 inhabitants in 1831 to 63,932 in 1951 is described in detail later. Total urban population rose from 50,624 in 1811 to 176,756 in 1951.
There are two ways in which the Census Reports can be used to measure the growth of industries. One is through the occupation tables, which present a difficulty since they enable us to trace only those who worked in the engineering industry as engineers or metal-workers, and not the ancillary staffs. These are available from 1841 onwards and are reproduced in Table 2. The other method is through the industrial tables, which have only recently been compiled, and in Table 3 we reproduce a summary of the relevant figures for 1951 which show more clearly the relative strength of agriculture and engineering in that year. (fn. 7)
Occupations in Wiltshire, 1841–1951
|Occupied population (above age . . .)||
|Metal workers, machine and instrument makers, electrical apparatus makers, &c (fn. 8)||1,609||2,496||3,856||4,271||4,894||6,246||10,684||14,062||12,375||13,528||18,845|
Employment in Various Industries in Wiltshire, 1951
|Agriculture, forestry, fishing||17,551||1,346||18,897 (fn. 9)|
|Engineering, ship-building, and electrical goods||4,466||2,496||6,992|
|(less category 81—motor repairers and garage employees)|
|Metal goods not elsewhere specified||227||18||245|
|(category 100 only—scientific, &c. instruments)|
|Total all engineering categories||21,458||4,276||25,734 (fn. 9)|
|Total employment in county||147,465||39,844||187,309|
What is the history of this transformation of the county in the last 150 years? In a directory of 1783 (fn. 10) there is but a single tradesman who might conceivably be called an engineer—William Redman of Salisbury, a tin-plate worker and brazier, who also described himself as a 'patentee'. (fn. 11) He might have been a man who would not only mend a broken pair of tongs or make a lantern, but would market some mechanical contrivance of his own making. The other categories of these years, blacksmiths and whitesmiths, oil merchants, and carpenters, suggest an economy undisturbed by new influences. But England was undergoing vast changes and by 1830 many new trades had made their appearance—millwrights and engineers, iron-founders and brass-founders, agricultural implements and t eam-engine makers. Carpenters turned into millwrights and ironmongers into engineers. This process is seen in the case of the firm of T. H. White of Devizes: Thomas Carter of Sidmouth Street, and Thomas White of The Brittox, Devizes, were described as ironmongers in the 1830's. Carter sold out to George White, agricultural engineer from 1855, probably the son of Thomas White (fn. 12) (see below, p. 195). Altogether some 250 separate firms in the engineering industry can be distinguished between 1800 and 1950. Most of them were very small, and many did not survive more than a few years. Some like Brown & May, steam-engine makers of Devizes, were rich and famous in their day only to dwindle away without trace in some trade recession.
These changes may be conveniently classed under five heads. First, there are the millwrights. In the case of about 40 firms it may be surmised that their founders were concerned in the mechanization of the woollen industry which took place in Wiltshire rather later than in the north. Similarly, the rubber industry which settled in the west of the county created firms which specialized in the upkeep of its machinery.
The second influence chronologically, the mechanization of agriculture, is certainly the most important if we go by the number of undertakings thus created. But of the hundred or more firms engaged in this trade, few ever attained considerable size.
The third chief group had its origin in another of the great influences which transformed England in the 19th century—the revolution in transport. First came the civil engineers who surveyed the ground, then railway contractors and the railway works. Much later road transport made its appearance. Not only did innumerable blacksmiths become car repairers but a manufacturing concern was set up in the county. At least three people made bicycles and in quite recent times aircraft construction has been introduced.
Fourthly, the rising standard of living in all parts of the country called for an entirely new type of trade, domestic engineering. Apart from sanitary and water engineers, gas and then electricity in the home created new types of specialists engaged not only in the production of coal-gas and electric power, but also in its distribution to the consumer.
Lastly, two great wars wrought changes in Wiltshire. The dangers of bombing in great cities brought many firms into the county, some of which stayed. Others came in search of labour which was unobtainable in the traditional centres of industry, and the county welcomed them because they supplied work for women where there had been none before. Similarly, the extreme shortage of manufacturing space forced industrialists to scour the countryside for disused woollen mills or even large barns to accommodate their expanding work. Moreover, the Army and the Royal Air Force chose to concentrate large establishments in the area and it was found convenient to create permanent workshops near the bases, manned by civilian workers who were able to construct and maintain the increasingly complex equipment of the services.
Some influences defy neat classification. There is the 'inertia' of industry, that is, its tendency to stay in an area where it has been carried on for a long time many years after the natural advantages which brought it there have ceased to count. Certain sites become 'industrial' and will change hands for manufacturing purposes even though there is no good reason why a particular firm should choose the spot. At the same time, certain local advantages accrue to industry. Local labour gets used to factory work, wages, and conditions, and develops engineering skills. Road, rail, and power services are geared to industrial needs. Trades serving industry in general, as the millwrights of old, and professional services give common advantages to several firms.
The millwrights and other engineers to the trade
The mechanization of the Wiltshire woollen industry had begun by the end of the 18th century, but progress was slow compared with that in the north of England. (fn. 13) It was the millwright's task to assemble such machinery as spinning jennies, scribbling and carding machines, and to link it with the sources of water-power. Originally, the gears were made of wood and had evolved from similar gears used in flour milling. By the time that this type of equipment for textile mills was installed on a large scale in Wiltshire, in the first years of the 19th century, two important developments were taking place: the gears came to be made of metal, and steam-engines were employed where water-power was irregular or insufficient.
The earliest millwrights in Wiltshire recorded in directories were Samuel Godwin and John and Job Westfield or Wastfield of Bradford-on-Avon, who appear in 1816. (fn. 14) In the same town, William Coles is first shown as a millwright in 1822, (fn. 15) with premises in Trowbridge Road, known as Bradford Foundry. In 1830 (fn. 16) he is first described as millwright and engineer, and his name still appears in 1855. (fn. 17) Some time after this date, the business was taken over by George Milsom. The Milsoms had long been in the same trade: Charles Milsom, millwright and engineer, is recorded 'near the bridge' in 1830. (fn. 18) George Milsom described himself as an iron-and brass-founder and agricultural machinist, indicating that the maintenance of the mills no longer provided scope. Milsom handed over c. 1914 to Berkley Uncles, who had been apprenticed to him. In partnership with T. W. Jackson, Uncles built machinery and serviced tractors when these came into use. When the rubber works came to Bradford, (fn. 19) he started making castings for their moulds and did maintenance work. In 1937 a limited company was formed and in 1952 the firm was still operating under the style of Berkley Uncles & Co. Ltd., with the founder's sons in charge. (fn. 20) At the same time as Coles, the Martins started work as millwrights in Bradford. Their premises (fn. 21) were, like Charles Milsom's, 'near the bridge'. In 1952 their workshop was occupied by Albert Bailey & Sons, blacksmiths.
At Trowbridge (fn. 22) the trade was dominated by one firm, and although half a dozen others started between 1830 and 1850 none rose to Haden's significance, and the last of them went out of business before the First World War. The first George Haden had been foreman in the copying press department at Boulton & Watt's Soho foundry in Birmingham. James Watt seems to have thought well of him, for in his will he left £5 to George Haden, 'an honest man'. His son George, born at Handsworth, Birmingham, in 1788, was apprenticed to Boulton & Watt. (fn. 23) At the age of 28 he was sent by them to Wiltshire to superintend the erection of steam-engines of their make in that county. Up to 1815, J. & T. Clark, of the West of England Cloth Mills at Trowbridge, (fn. 24) had used only horse-driven machinery. John Cooper, one of their local rivals, was already using steam and so Clark's wrote to James Watt the younger, who sent Haden. (fn. 25) J. & T. Clarks stock-book records the purchase of a 10 h.p. engine for £873 11s., in addition to which they had to pay approximately £40 for carriage, and £30 to George Haden for his work and expenses in staying at Trowbridge. This seems to indicate that he had no intention originally of settling; but he did so almost immediately after completing the installation in September 1815. It is not certain how many other steam-engines he installed in Wiltshire. One of Boulton & Watt's returns shows their engines being sold to Ebenezer Brown, and Saunders & Tanner in Bradford in 1807; E. & G. Cooper at Bradford in 1810; Strange & Webber in Trowbridge in 1814; and Saunders & Co. of Chippenham and M. Heale & Co. of Calne in the following year. Later Trowbridge engines went to Peter Anstie the younger in 1818 and John Stancomb in 1828. (fn. 26) But even by 1839 there were only 20 steam-engines in Trowbridge, and their total horse-power did not exceed 350. (fn. 27) This would not keep an expanding concern busy. George had been joined by his brother James, and the firm's style in 1816 was G. & J. Haden. (fn. 28) Their main activities were twofold, general engineering and millwright work for the woollen mills, and domestic heating. 'Haden was an inestimable blessing to the Trowbridge woollen manufacturers, who kept him busy mending "gaskins", bolts, copper rims and bigger breakages, as well as supplying engines and elaborate machinery of all kinds.' (fn. 29) In 1822 Clark's paid them £477 for two broad and narrow gigs together with the necessary gear work, (fn. 30) and for removing two narrow gigs. Other entries in the Clark stock-book refer to gear work and repairs of all kinds.
George Haden took out patents for dressing machinery for broad cloths: one for a revolving cylinder to impart a lustre to the surface, and another for an angular drive for a gig. (fn. 31) In addition, he made steam-engines himself under licence from Boulton & Watt, and some letters are preserved which indicate that he had their help in doing so. In 1839 he started a 30 h.p. engine for Stanton's at Trowbridge, which drove two gig-mills; he reported progress to Boulton & Watt, but since they never supplied an engine to Stanton's, one assumes that this was one built by Haden. He still obtained some of the parts, and certainly spares, from Soho. (fn. 32) But their main activity was to lie in quite a different field, domestic heating. In about 1819, James Haden had perfected a warmair stove, of which the first model is said to have been installed in Matthew Boulton's house in Soho. This invention was followed by later patents for hot-air and hot-water systems and pipes with rubber-ringed joints for conducting heated water and steam. (fn. 33)
By 1835 George Haden's business took him to all parts of the country. In the previous year he had become a founder member of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and he was acknowledged as the foremost expert on heating problems in the country. His hot-water systems were principally adopted in churches and other public buildings, and the seats of the aristocracy. Trade catalogues of the early 20th century show the wide range of the firm's installations—in the reading rooms at the British Museum, in the Royal Courts of Justice, and in many cathedrals including Westminster Abbey and Liverpool. Wilton House, the residence of the Earl of Pembroke, had a system installed in 1828, and the plant was renewed by the firm in 1879. (fn. 34)
Their most remunerative work lay in prisons and Poor Law Institutions. Here not only heating systems were built but also vast kitchens and other domestic equipment. Many large Poor Law Institutions had installations which can only be compared in size to 'district heating' projects. One such contract, for St. Monica's Home at Bristol, was said to have been worth more than a million pounds over a period of years.
All this involved the erection at Trowbridge of a great deal of machinery suitable for every type of metal working. It is recorded that the firm had one of the first of Whitworth's planing machines which continued in operation until the middle of the 20th century and was then sold to a local monumental mason. The tools were used for a large variety of products. His work in prisons led George Haden to the invention of a new type of 'hard labour crank', to be turned by convicts, which was adopted by the Home Office in place of the old treadmill. Haden's made the treadmill and the crank but their manufacture is thought to have stopped early in the 20th century. (fn. 35)
The firm had a virtual monopoly of their trade until the arrival in England of the National Radiator Co. of America (later Ideal Boilers), an event which caused a certain amount of unemployment at Trowbridge. (fn. 36) As it became necessary to concentrate their activities some departments were closed. In 1902 about 200 men were employed. In the latter part of the 19th century the main works, St. George's Works, Silver Street, had been supplemented by the acquisition of Woodfin's foundry (first mentioned in 1865), situated near the railway station in Stallard Street. This foundry had an independent existence under the name of Haden, Woodfin & Co. It was closed in 1907, and some of the work was taken on by the foundry's foreman, Morris, who went into partnership with Arthur Roberts. Roberts & Morris then made some of the castings required by Haden's. (fn. 37)
After 1910 Haden's discontinued some of their ancillary activities like gas engineering and general millwrighting, thus completing the process begun 90 years earlier. In the course of time, they found that their largest opportunity lay in the design, installation, and maintenance of plant rather than in the manufacture of component parts. Trowbridge men were usually sent to supervise the larger schemes on the spot and many became resident engineers to the new plants. (fn. 38)
During the First World War the firm had made 18-pounder shell containers and in the Second they were engaged in the manufacture of fuses, cartridge cases, &c., employing approximately 250 women. In this work they had become associated with Newman-Hender Ltd. of Woodchester, near Stroud (Glos.), and this firm, after the war, made many of the valves needed for Haden's plants. It was decided that their future lay entirely in the installation business, and they ceased manufacture of parts altogether. St. George's Works was taken over by Newman-Hender, renamed N.H. Engineering Ltd. who continued to make parts for Haden's and retained many of their old hands. (fn. 39) Haden's in 1952 employed some 3,000 men—but none in Wiltshire. N.H. Engineering Ltd. employed 150, mostly in the manufacture of high-pressure valves, but also on orders for some other engineering concerns, including at least one other Trowbridge firm, namely, Hiscock's, the manufacturers of egg-graders. (fn. 40)
Other millwrights in Trowbridge connected with the woollen trade included Dyer's, who made wool-washing machinery, and the Sergeants, who made looms. (fn. 41) In 1908 another patent-loom manufacturer, W. Millard, appeared in Ashton Street. (fn. 42) The trade seems to have kept alive a little longer here than at Bradford. It is within the memory of the local engineers that there was a 'Trowbridge formula' for mill gears in addition to the normal gearing tables used by the trade, and this formula is said to have had some recognition outside the county. (fn. 43)
The first new industry in the county after the decline of the woollen trade was dairying. Here too the millwright had his place.
William Gough is first mentioned as a carpenter at 'Quarr' in 1830. (fn. 44) It is possible that this site is identical with a plot at the junction of Horsebrook and The Green in Calne, the address recorded since 1848. (fn. 45) The business was in the hands of George Gough from about 1855 to about 1885, and was then an iron-foundry and engineering works.
Edward Ward Maundrell was born at Quemerford Gate, near Calne, where his family had farmed for generations. He was apprenticed to Joseph Hill, the agricultural engineer at Highworth, whose business was later taken over by W. L. Bartrop and was still in existence in 1952. Maundrell set up as an engineer in a disused chapel in London Road, Calne. There he also made penny-farthing bicycles. In 1885 or 1886 he went into partnership with Ernle Woodward and took over George Gough's business. Woodward had been with Fowler's of Leeds, and knew the steam-ploughing business well. He also acted as business manager. They built elevators and other machines, casting their own parts and machining such complicated parts as angular reduction gearing. This led to other work which utilized their machines and skill: saw-benches, railings, pumps, lamp posts, and man-hole covers were made for a large district.
The bacon trade transformed a small jobbing foundry into a business of some importance. C. & T. Harris had been bacon curers for a long time before they began to mechanize their trade in the eighties and nineties. (fn. 46) At that time cheap imported meat was threatening the home market, and Harris's found the need for mass production in order to compete. They turned to the local foundry to equip them. Maundrell's (as it soon became, Woodward retiring to set up independently as a steam-plough proprietor and engineer in 1888), made lard-rendering plants, gas- and coal-fired singers, steamand-compressed-air-operated sausage fillers, pig-hoisting gear and digesters. Since they were operating in the home of the British bacon trade, foreign producers naturally turned to them in due course, and they obtained markets in Ireland, Denmark, South Africa, and New Zealand.
In the nineteen-twenties this work somewhat declined in importance, especially as much of the new machinery came from the traditional centres of precision engineering. But in 1952 they were still doing some bacon factory work, as well as agricultural and general engineering and iron-founding, and manufacturing the 'Progress' elevator. They employed about 30 men. (fn. 47)
In the same trade were Hathaway's, of Chippenham. (fn. 48) George Hathaway came from Slimbridge (Glos.) about 1880, and bought a plot of land in New Road from Brotherhood's, the locomotive engineers. He began to manufacture milk-churns, butterchurns, and other dairy appliances. In 1885 (fn. 49) he was still working there and T. Hathaway in the same trade was at St. Paul's Road. George's sons entered the business towards the end of the century, and one of them, N. S. Hathaway, was a motor-car pioneer and one of the earliest car engineers in the district. Hathaway's at their peak period employed about 60 men, and had a good export business with markets especially in South Africa and South America. At one time as a sideline, they manufactured carpet sweepers. They ceased work in 1939, their premises being taken over by Petter's, the oil-engine manufacturers.
Edwards & Suter of Swindon (later Edwards & Bays, see below, p. 202) made dairy utensils for many years from about 1880 onwards at their Wood Street premises. There is a record of their dealings with the West of England Condensed Milk Co., whom they supplied before that firm fell on evil times and who then offered full settlement of their debts in cases of condensed milk. This was refused. (fn. 50) In more recent times, a firm named Hiscocks (Graders) Ltd. has been making, amongst other types of agricultural equipment, mechanical egg-graders for large poultry farms. They were established in Union Street, Trowbridge, in 1923 and remained a small concern, obtaining many of their parts from other undertakings, including N.H. Engineering Ltd. (see above). The Hiscocks had been in Wiltshire for many generations as blacksmiths and wheelwrights. A forerunner of the modern plough was known as the Hiscock plough. E. J. Hiscock, the founder, was formerly an engineer with an early experimental establishment of the Royal Flying Corps. He held 22 patents in his name. (fn. 51)
The rubber industry also produced a demand for engineering capacity in the county. Berkley Uncles has already been mentioned. More recently S. J. Brierley (Wilts.) Ltd. started operating in Trowbridge Road, Bradford, as a general engineering concern, but also specializing in repair work for the rubber and other mills. (fn. 52) In 1935 the Altus Engineering Co. was established at Stokes Road, Corsham, and its main business for some time was the manufacture of steel moulds for the rubber, and later, the plastics industry. This became less important and the concern turned to general precision toolmaking, the production of a colour separator and masking camera for the printing trade and certain machines used in bookbinding. In 1952 they employed about 50 people. (fn. 53)
This brings us to the last type of 'derived' engineering, the firm which takes on any metal-working order like the millwrights mentioned earlier in this chapter. The most important of these was Spencers of Melksham, later Spencers (Melksham) Ltd. The founder, John Gillett, had a small works at the corner of Union Street and Bank Street, probably the site of W. Eyres's foundry of 1830. (fn. 54) In addition to his millwork Gillett took on any sort of engineering for industry and agriculture. In 1878 he was joined by C. J. Spencer, (fn. 55) who came from Corsham, but the scale of operations did not immediately increase. It is recorded that they provided pumps and gearing for the papermills at Slaughterford. The change came in the eighties, with the arrival of capital and initiative. The former was provided by W. Isaac Palmer of Reading, and the new drive in the firm by W. Littlejohn Philip.
This remarkable man was born in 1863, the second son of the Rev. John Philip of Auchinblae (Kincardine). He became manager of the firm under C. J. Spencer and then served as advisory engineer, and later as chairman, until 1922 and again from 1926 to 1939. When he came in 1886, the total wage-bill of the firm was about £25 per week, and the capital in 1891 was only £12,000. (fn. 56) Littlejohn Philip immediately began concentrating on the design and manufacture of grain-handling equipment. He seems to have been equally happy as an engineer and as a businessman; in the former field he was acknowledged as the foremost expert of his time in bulk-handling. He was a founder member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and had numerous patents to his credit.
Their first large contract for grain-handling equipment was at Hull, where they designed silos, &c. for the Humber Elevator Co. This was followed by orders for nearly every port in the kingdom, as well as a great deal of overseas work. A catalogue of 1905 shows their work for the Port of London, including large floating cranes.
All this work meant expansion, and in 1903 they moved to new premises between the railway and the Chippenham Road which they had purchased two years earlier and built up. Their organization included their own power station and sewage works. At that time about 500 people were employed, including 60 draughtsmen for the design of parts. Littlejohn Philip was ahead of his time as an employer: he introduced a copartnership scheme and amenities such as the 'mess-room for lady tracers' mentioned in 1905.
The scope of the work gradually increased. The 1907 catalogue shows coal- and ashhandling plant for the Great Western Railway, and gas-producing plant. One contract involved the delivery of 7,500 tons of fabricated steel in eight months.
The war brought a standstill to civilian work, and a thousand workpeople began making munitions. Difficulties followed the resumption of their normal work, and Littlejohn Philip left to become engineering adviser to the South African Government. He returned, however, in 1926 to take charge of the firm, which was then in serious difficulties. He brought fresh capital and business connexions and inspired confidence in the workers who were promised a share of the profits once they were made. This did in fact happen in 1929 and the chairman distributed a bonus according to length of service. (fn. 57)
The ten years before the Second World War were busy. They built 42 country silos for South Africa, a 60,000-ton silo for Liverpool (the largest in the country), besides much other work. (fn. 58) Littlejohn Philip, having been awarded the Order of the British Empire, retired in 1939 to Chippenham, where he was chairman of the bench. He died twelve years later at the age of eighty-eight. (fn. 59)
The firm once again turned to war work. It was re-equipped in 1945 and began to turn its attention to other types of bulk-handling apart from grain and coal. The productivity drive of the post-war years found them well-equipped to design new methods of handling and packing fertilizers, sugar, and many other commodities. Five hundred people were employed in 1952, a large proportion of them skilled workers.
Roberts & Morris, (fn. 60) which owed its existence to the closing of Haden & Woodfin's foundry, has already been mentioned. Morris, a pattern-maker by trade, had been foreman there (see above, p. 188). Arthur Roberts had wide experience. He had been apprenticed to Isaac Cordingley, who had a foundry in Innox Lane, Trowbridge, where he also manufactured conveyor belts. Cordingley was a Yorkshire man who had worked for Spencer's at Melksham, where his knowledge of this type of work was obtained. His business collapsed a few years after its establishment in about 1892. (fn. 61) It is said that he turned his attention to gas-engines when these became fashionable and that this ruined him, as it did many others.
Roberts gathered further experience working at other engineering establishments in the county, including Haden's. The partnership began in 1909. First they worked at Innox Lane but moved to Shails Lane in 1918 where they took over a disused woollen mill formerly owned by Walker's. At first they made mainly castings needed by Haden's, and employed about 40 men. Later they widened their scope by making castings for the Gauntlett Carding Machine Co.
This firm had been in existence in Trowbridge since about 1878. Their first carding machine was made for Joseph Hopson of Newbury. Although carding machines are used in woollen manufacture, it does not appear that this particular firm catered for local mills. Their product was mostly for the upholstery trade for opening out flock and similar materials, and was apparently supplied to Poor Law Institutions for the same purpose. Nevertheless one may infer that Gauntlett had his knowledge of such machines from the local trade. The business rapidly expanded, and there are records of machines for overseas, supplied to forwarding agents in the London Docks and directly to other countries, especially to E. Gauntlett of Sydney, presumably a relative acting as local representative. The firm moved from Union Street to Shails Lane in 1920. Later (c. 1949) it ceased to have a separate existence, and all the work was done by Roberts & Morris.
In 1952 Roberts & Morris were general iron-founders to the trade, making parts for mechanical stokers, printing, and paper-bag machinery. Their principal market was Bristol. With the development of road transport there was an increasing tendency, at any rate in west Wiltshire, for industrial areas to develop as a sort of hinterland to Bristol, whereas the north and east continued to be agricultural suppliers for London. (fn. 62)
If Roberts & Morris were related to the general iron-founders of the Midlands, R. Harring & Sons were direct descendants of the ancient millwrights. (fn. 63) Robert Harring began work in Yerbury Street, Trowbridge, in 1910, and first made bicycles. After the war, which interrupted progress, he changed to general engineering, and erected premises at the rear of a dwelling house in West Street. Robert Harring replaced wooden mill gearing for local textile mills by metal gears with specially designed ratios to fit the old standards. At the other end of the scale, he made components for the earliest experimental jet engines. In general, the firm would produce any complicated metal part which needed a high degree of precision, with few mass production orders. Two exceptions may be mentioned: Harring's built flax-pulling machinery for the English Flax Co. (a government-sponsored firm) when that industry was revived in Wiltshire after 1945, and during the Second World War they undertook numerous contracts for many government departments. These included gear for radar, minelaying, gun turrets, and airscrews. After the war, they found themselves on the Air Ministry List and continued to be called in by some of the largest firms in the aircraft trade whenever anything out of the ordinary had to be made. Their routine work, however, was for other engineers. In 1951 the premises in West Street, despite war-time extensions, were found insufficient, and larger ones were built at Union Street.
At Salisbury, Alexander & Son were mechanical engineers with a similar business from about 1870. They had premises in Brown Street, which are said to have been used previously by Williamson's, the clock-makers. (fn. 64) They employed about 30 men on general factory maintenance, pump work, &c. until 1911. The business was then taken over by H. J. Patrick, who had previously worked for them, performing similar tasks. In 1940 a kindred concern, the Wiltshire Engineering Co., came to share the premises, and Patrick retired in 1945. (fn. 65) In that year the place was taken over by Santype Ltd., typecasters to the trade, who specialized in setting up type for foreign, technical, and mathematical treatises by complicated machines. It should be noted how such a locality preserves its industrial character through many changes of ownership, and that very similar work (in this case precision engineering) will be carried out, the employees often remaining when the firm changes hands.
Machines in agriculture were first introduced in England in the 18th century. They were only slowly adopted partly due to the smallness of fields before inclosure, and partly because of lack of capital and uncertain prices. The French wars helped to remove these obstacles. (fn. 66) In Wiltshire the agricultural engineer as distinct from the village blacksmith became common about 1848. The earliest agricultural engineer of whom records survive was Thomas Pepler Reeves of Bratton. The firm which his sons founded may serve as an example of the rise of this industry. (fn. 67)
A lease dated May 1808 on the three lives of Thomas Pepler Reeves and his sons Thomas and Horatio (aged 2) shows that he was then a blacksmith, occupying a messuage of about 1 acre, part of a tenement known as Hart's and Deanly. (A house called Daneslye stood until recently on the Westbury side of the works.)
Little is known of the business between that date and 1830. But a catalogue of 1859 claims that the firm had been celebrated for corn drills for 30 years, and as ploughmakers for 40 years. At any rate T. P. Reeves was mainly a blacksmith, and his eldest son Thomas learned the same trade, and at one time settled at Westbury where he is mentioned in 1830. (fn. 68) But by that time at least the third son, Robert (born c. 1810), was already working at Bratton. The earliest surviving ledger of Thomas P., R., and J. Reeves (1847) has an account with J. T. Flower's executors, showing a total debit balance of £215 in that year. A further reference shows that this total is composed of annual sums going back to work done in 1828. (Reeves's Farm and Flower's Barn are close together near Bratton church; perhaps there was a family connexion to account for the long debt.)
The ledgers of the late forties show that the youngest son, John (born c. 1815), was then active in the business, mostly on the blacksmithing side, whilst Robert seems to have concentrated on woodworking. Their work was still principally in simple implements, both manufacture and maintenance, and general smith's work. But in 1848 they were also exhibiting implements at the Royal Agricultural Show at York, (fn. 69) where they gained a silver medal, so that it is impossible to suppose that they had merely local significance.
In 1848 Thomas Pepler Reeves died, and the business was valued both then and in 1855 when his eldest son Thomas left the partnership, to which he belonged for only a short time. This valuation shows an Upper Yard, a paint shop, a saw-pit shed, and other buildings; 5 bellows, 4 sledges, and 6 anvils. Besides, there was the proper engineer's equipment, 5 vices, 4 lathes, 2 drilling machines, 'stocks dyes and taps', &c., and a steam-engine valued at £110 to drive the blower for the foundry and other machinery. The annual wages bill in 1847 was about £100, and the partners' profits £150. In January 1850, the assets were valued at £863. Fifty years later the freehold alone was worth more than £1,800 and the capital was more than £10,000. (fn. 70)
During the intermediate years the firm became widely known as makers of agricultural implements. Their catalogues show a widening range, many medals gained at shows and exhibitions, and testimonials from all parts of England. They also started work as agents for other firms: they sold churns for Hathaway of Chippenham (see above), and steam-engines for Brown & May of Devizes (see below). They were even the local undertakers (and continued to be so in 1952). Much detail of their later work is to be found in one of the catalogues of J. W. Titt of Warminster (see below). He had seven models of their ploughs, with very rigid specifications, a sign of large-scale manu facture. There were also land-pressers, corn-sowing machinery of all sorts, drills for both corn and manure, including 'Chandler's famous liquid manure drill', costing more than £50 each, and all the apparatus needed for corn and sheep husbandry, from water carts to shepherd's huts.
In 1871 Reeves's began to manufacture the Andrews elevator by licence of W. Andrews of the Union Ironworks at Melksham on a royalty of 25s. each. Several hundred of these were built before the firm changed over to their own 'Advance' elevator. This had been designed by Henry Reeves, second son of Robert, who had already made some improvements to the Andrews model. He sold these to the original patentee. At the height of its production some 60 hands were employed at Bratton.
The style and financial organization of the firm changed several times. In 1855, it was 'R. & J. Reeves' and in 1882, 'R. & J. Reeves and Son' with the inclusion of Robert's eldest son Thomas (c. 1837–1904). His younger brother Henry (1850–1928) only had a sixth share. In 1896 after the death of both John (in 1892) and Robert (in 1896) the two brothers went into partnership on an equal basis with a capital of £6,180, exclusive of the freehold which they also owned jointly. In 1902 the business became a private limited company with Thomas and Henry's sons, Oswald J. and Robert J. W. Reeves, as principal officers. They were followed by a fifth generation in the business in 1952 when Miss Kathleen M. Reeves, Robert J. W.'s daughter, became a director and secretary of the company, with two other relatives as co-directors.
When agriculture turned more and more to large machines, beyond the manufacturing capacity of a business such as Reeves, they continued to make their drills and elevators and acted as agents and repairers for every machine used on a farm. In 1952 they employed about 40 men.
The next man of whom we have notice in this field is Hugh Carson, of Warminster. (fn. 71) He is said to have been of Scottish origin, and the date of the foundation of his Wiltshire foundry is given as 1816. (fn. 72) In 1830 (fn. 73) the style of the firm had become 'Carson & Miller', and they seem to have worked mainly as iron- and brass-founders. In 1847 (fn. 74) H. Carson (on his own again) is mentioned as an agricultural implement maker for the first time. An advertisement of 1860 (fn. 75) announced that he had transferred 'the business of iron founder, agricultural implement, and machine maker, &c. which for a period of fifty years he has carried on, to his son, William Hugh Carson, and his son-in-law, John Vidler Toone, by whom the same will in future be conducted under the firm of "Carson & Toone"'.
The main premises of the firm had been at East Street, Warminster, but they also worked at Portway, a small industrial site about half a mile from the centre of the town. (fn. 76) The oldest building at East Street to bear a date was erected in 1849. It is apparent that the building fronting the main street is a good deal older than that, and the foundry is rather more recent (1862).
Their products included a chaff-cutter which was mentioned at Warminster Fair in 1875 (fn. 77) Further details are given in John Wallis Titt's catalogue of c. 1890. This shows chaff-cutters of an elaborate design combining three or four operations, a patent automatic lamb creep, a cheese press, and other implements.
The last proprietor of the firm appears to have been William Carson Toone, grandson of the founder, who emigrated to Canada in c. 1906. He sold the business to Gray & Turner who operated for about six years. The yard, which continued to bear Carson's name, finally returned into the engineering industry when it was occupied by Mr. W. H. Bond, a machinery merchant and engineer. (fn. 78)
The Warminster district was inclosed in the middle of the 19th century, and mechanization increased. Engines for steam ploughs were made in Wiltshire by Brown & May of Devizes. (fn. 79) The ploughs ran on cables moved by one or two stationary steam-engines. John Wallis Titt, (fn. 80) who had been trained by Brown & May, was sent to Warminster as their agent in 1870. He set up his office at Portway, and for four years continued merely as their employee. However, in 1874 he advertised that he had set up on his own, representing various firms. (fn. 81) The 'Implement and Machinery Depot' appears to have been successful in those years of agricultural prosperity, for in 1875 we find himmoving to Woodcock, a disused sandpit some way east of the town and near to the railway, where he built himself a factory for agricultural implements. (fn. 82) He continued his agency besides, he acted as representative for Fowler's of Leeds, and as a steam-ploughing contractor. He made wire fencing for the Inclosure Commissioners and later on private account. (fn. 83)
Round the turn of the century his main business was the manufacture of hay and corn elevators and water-supplies. The elevator, like Reeves's, was in advance of its time and continued substantially unchanged until the nineteen-twenties. The watersupply work led to specialization in the boring of artesian wells, pipe and pump work, and then wind pumps. He obtained contracts first in the county, then also in Italy, British West Africa, and elsewhere. At the peak of this activity some 150 men were employed, some of them constantly travelling (like Haden's men) to fit up equipment. After John Wallis Titt's death in 1910, business declined for some time. In 1929 only 25 men were employed. But since then trade has revived under the management of Mr. G. T. Frost and in 1952 about 60 men were working there on the agricultural and waterworks side.
At Devizes, we find the agricultural engineering trade dominated by one firm, T. H. White. (fn. 84) As was mentioned earlier, its origins lie in the ironmongery businesses of T. H. White of the Brittox (fn. 85) and Thomas Carter of Sidmouth Street. (fn. 86) It was founded in c. 1855 by George White and obtained its later name from T. H. White, George's grandson, who died in 1899. A number of other undertakings were merged in it at various times, and branches acquired at Swindon and Marlborough. The firm became a limited company in 1914, with Mr. A. J. Salmon as managing director, a position he still occupied in 1952. One of the businesses acquired was that of T. Pope Ltd., High Street, Marlborough. This was started by Thomas Pope, an engineer of Ogbourne St. George in 1844 and moved to Marlborough in 1870. The manager at Marlborough in 1952 was Mr. T. Pope, grandson of the founder.
White's also acquired the firm of William Box, who appears to have been active in the district around Devizes in the middle of the 19th century. We first find him as an engineer in the Bath Road in 1842. (fn. 87) In 1847 (fn. 88) he was mentioned as an iron- and brass-founder in Northgate Street and at The Nursery in 1848. (fn. 89) This address was used for a number of years, but he also appears as an iron-founder at Poulshot in 1855 (fn. 90) and at Market Lavington as a steam-engine maker in 1850.
At Chippenham in the 1870's there existed an iron-founding and engineering business owned by T. Ayland & Cook. This was acquired by H. G. Phipps in 1883 and under his management attained a considerable size. When Phipps closed down (either just before or just after the First World War) his assets were taken over by White. More recently White's opened a branch at Swindon.
The most important firm in that town was that of William Affleck, who is first mentioned as an engineer in 1855 (fn. 91) and in the following year specifically as an agricultural engineer at Prospect Place. (fn. 92) By 1908 his sons were acting as iron-founders, steam and motor engineers under the style of 'F. and T. Affleck'. (fn. 93) The two sons continued in business until about 1915 when the assets were sold out to the Swindon Engineering Co. (fn. 94) T. Affleck became manager. About 20 to 30 men were employed mainly for agricultural foundry work. They also did constructional work, including the Swindon Old Town Railway Station. In 1933 the Swindon Engineering Co. went out of business and its assets were acquired by the North Wilts. Engineering Co., formed by two employees of the former concern, Hopgood & Kempster. They were still operating at Bradford Road in 1952, mainly on engineering work. A. Deller, another of Affleck's old employees, went into business on his own on a site off Bradford Road, formerly occupied by Garratt, a bicycle manufacturer. Garratt existed in c. 1910, mainly on Post Office contracts. Deller was still in existence in 1952 as a mechanical and agricultural engineer, occupying a new building on the old site. (fn. 95)
A few other firms deserve mention amongst the many in this field. At Malmesbury Edwin Ratcliffe, son of a blacksmith, started an iron-foundry in c. 1870. This was later known as the Westport Iron Works and employed up to a dozen men on agricultural and civic contract work in the district. One of their jobs was the casting of sluice gates and the manufacture of well-linings for the water-supply for Luce's brewery at Malmesbury. (fn. 96)
At Chippenham W. H. Humphries's wagon works were started in 1857. (fn. 97) By 1915 this was Humphries & Sons, Agricultural Engineers, (fn. 98) but later the firm returned to their former line of business and became manufacturers of steel trailers under the name of Humphries & Simon Ltd. (registered 1947). They employed about 30 men in 1952 and were doing a national trade with their product under the trade name of 'Simple Simon'. A. Brewer, blacksmith, appears at Wilton in 1860. This business developed into A. Brewer, agricultural implement makers in about 1875, (fn. 99) and in the 20th century became the largest manufacturers in this line in the south of the county. They employed about 40 men in 1952 and specialized in grain-drying equipment and elevators. (fn. 100) Lastly, we have George Whatley, later Whatley & Co., at Pewsey in 1875, (fn. 101) first at High Street and then at Avonside Works. In addition to their agricultural engineering, they did a variegated trade as iron- and brass-founders, general and domestic engineers and bell-founders. In 1952 they employed about 50 men on every aspect of mechanical engineering. (fn. 102)
We have listed only some of the more important survivors in this line. In the last quarter of the 19th century there must have been hundreds of 'agricultural engineers'. By 1950 most of them would have gone out of business, been converted into garages or even reverted to the blacksmith's trade. The new mass-produced implements made in East Anglia killed all but the most adaptable firms.
The steam-engine made its first appearance on British farms in the 1830's, sometimes for ploughing but more often for threshing. James Caird noted it in common use for the latter purpose in the south of the county in 1880. (fn. 103) The centre of the steam-engine trade was Devizes: W. Box has been mentioned in connexion with T. H. White Ltd., and J. Clissold occurs in 1868 at Phoenix Foundry as a maker of 'portable' (i.e. movable) steam-engines.
But the most important firm was Brown & May. (fn. 104) In 1854 William Brown went into partnership with Charles Neale May to found an engineering works and to manufacture portable steam-engines. They took premises at Estcourt Street, Devizes (then called The Green). In July 1854 (fn. 105) they advertised that their building was completed and that they were willing to supply steam-engines, threshing machines, winnowing machines, ploughs, harrows, horse hoes, chaff-cutters, oil-cake breakers, and grinding mills.
C. N. May had gained his experience with Ransome & May, the famous Ipswich firm. It is said that he had been a partner there and he certainly seems to have brought in some capital. The concern prospered in a remarkably short time and they obtained contracts all over the world. Some of their engines had extraordinary long fire-boxes which made them suitable for wood and straw burning in colonial and other undeveloped areas, where coal might be difficult to obtain. The company was responsible for numerous technical developments for special purposes in the steam-engine field. Quite early they made a locomotive-type boiler for use in a confined space. They also made tractionengines for agricultural and road use, and pumps for waterworks. Late in the 19th century they had a large contract with the Egyptian Government for the supply of machinery for irrigation work. In 1901 they developed a track-laying engine for use on soft ground, a development well ahead of its time. Some of their early engines used the heat of the exhaust steam for pre-heating the feed water. This economized fuel. Some of their threshing machines were still to be seen at work in the Devizes region 40 years after the firm closed.
Why was such a flourishing concern (they had 350 employees in 1901) forced out of business as early as 1912? One of the reasons, possibly, was the fact that the founders lost control in 1895. A limited liability company was registered on 30 November 1895 with a capital of £35,000 (£20,000 cumulative preference 6½ per cent. shares and £15,000 ordinary shares). The new directors included Charles Neale May, but it is clear that he was no longer in effective control. Two of his fellow directors were Basil Peto, M.P. and Colonel C. E. H. A. Colston (later Lord Roundway). Under the new management the firm indulged in one or two doubtful ventures including an excursion into the manufacture of oil engines which could not compete with the best in the field. From about 1903 they made about ten different types of these engines, without, however, achieving a great market and in fact losing money on them. The steam-engine business continued to be moderately prosperous; sales had been £20,000 in 1902 and were £37,000 in 1911, leaving a profit of more than £2,000 in that year. Seen in relation to the capital, these figures are not large and as soon as sales fell off in 1912 the company got into difficulties. It is said that oil and petrol engines of other makers were flooding the district. In May 1913 the winding-up proceedings were started and the official receiver commented that their estimated assets of approximately £45,000 were low in relation to the liabilities. Most of the employees were paid off and this, of course, had serious effects in Devizes, where Brown & May were the only employers of any size. Many of them appear to have been absorbed by the G.W.R. works at Swindon and the Westinghouse Co. at Chippenham. By the end of 1913 all machinery and plant was sold and the last employee dismissed. The goodwill and other trade assets went to Taskers of Andover.
As might be expected, the concern played a large part in the life of Devizes. William Brown was mayor in 1863 and 1880 and C. N. May in 1868. The latter was also active in local church affairs.
In the early days of their existence Brown & May had themselves been agents to other machinery makers and had undertaken commission work in the foundry and engineering line. As they became larger they appointed their own agents in various parts of the world—three of them in Russia. Nearer home, J. W. Titt at Warminster was one of their first Wiltshire agents and their trade helped to establish a number of other firms.
Development of transport
The steam-engine-makers made some contribution to the problem of communication. Thus Brown & May constructed road rollers, and Tilke & Smith at Melksham were road-plant contractors in about 1900. But it is mainly among the civil and mechanical engineers that we must look for evidence of new firms created by the revolution in transport.
The 'civil engineer' came into his own in the 18th century. He was principally a surveyor, acquainted with the properties of materials and a competent bridge and lock builder. Thus in Devizes we find T. Blackwell in 1839 (fn. 106) at the Kennet & Avon Canal offices, Foxhangers (Rowde); and J. Blackwell of the same address in 1847. (fn. 107) But the Blackwells may be said to have been survivors of an earlier age, for the canal system was complete by that time. Similarly, at Malmesbury in the same year, we have W. Buckland, civil engineer and surveyor, (fn. 108) probably working on road construction and Aulay MacAulay (there were numerous Scots in this business) at Boreham Road, Warminster in 1848. (fn. 109)
The first railway contractors in the county were near the main Great Western railway line. In 1847 (fn. 110) there is mention of J. Pritchard, railway contractor, at Colony Place, Melksham. In the following year, Rowland Brotherhood made his first appearance at the Railway Works, Chippenham, (fn. 111) and in 1851 he also had an establishment at Swindon.
The Brotherhood's firm unfortunately disappeared before 1890 and no records survive. The G.W.R. Board of Directors authorized its locomotive superintendent, Joseph Armstrong, in 1870 to rent temporarily some premises 'lately belonging to Mr. Brotherhood at Chippenham station to be used as carriage sheds at a rental of £120 p.a.'. (fn. 112) It is known that Brotherhood was a railway contractor on a large scale and built much of the Great Western railway line in Wiltshire (fn. 113). He was a close associate of I. K. Brunel and a famous builder of locomotives. Although there are many references to Brotherhood in the annals of railways, and his locomotives were exported to many parts of the world, the extent and composition of his Chippenham works are now unknown.
The Westinghouse Brake and Signal Co.'s works at Chippenham, second in size only to the railway works at Swindon (see below, p. 207), grew as a result of a long process of concentration there of the activities of a number of different companies producing railway equipment. The oldest of these was Saxby & Farmer, founded in 1860, to exploit the patents, including one for an interlocking signal system, (fn. 114) taken out by John Saxby, a fitter employed by the London and Brighton Co. (fn. 115) Farmer, his partner, supplied capital, and together they set up their first works at Haywards Heath (Sussex), and later at Kilburn. Control of the company was acquired in 1900 by Evans and O'Donnell (see below), the capital was twice increased, and in 1904 the Consolidated Signal Co. took over, as it did in the case of the other founder companies. Meanwhile, in 1903, the company transferred its works from Kilburn to Chippenham. Legally, it retained its identity for another 20 years until its affairs were wound up and control finally passed into the hands of the Westinghouse Company. (fn. 116)
The next firm in the group by date of foundation was Mackenzie & Holland, founded in 1861 as Mackenzie, Clunes, & Holland, at Worcester. The basic patent exploited by this firm was Austin Chambers's patent No. 31 for a locking signal frame. Their chief contribution to technical progress in later years was the pneumatically operated signal (c. 1900). In 1905 they too were acquired by the Consolidated Signal Co., and in 1920 the concern became Westinghouse property. The Worcester works were closed in 1921.
The last firm was that of Evans, O'Donnell & Co. Ltd. Originally incorporated in 1895 with a nominal capital of £45,000, (fn. 117) it was formed by A. G. Evans and J. P. O'Donnell to construct signalling apparatus incorporating Evans's patent roller gear. The patents were taken out in 1891, and the premises at Chippenham were acquired in 1894. The original site was soon found to be too small, and in 1895 4½ acres of land were acquired from George J. Bailey, and a siding connexion with the Great Western Railway was established. By 1900 about 200 people were employed. The scope of manufacture was extended from signals to pneumatic tools made under licence from the International Pneumatic Tool Co. Ltd. The signalling department was managed by Arthur Evans and his son, Guy Evans. Later, O'Donnell, who was a consultant engineer, and Charles Hodgson became joint managing directors with Arthur Evans. Hodgson had been a substantial shareholder in the Saxby & Farmer company from 1893, and was one of the leading spirits behind the amalgamations.
In 1900 the original company went into voluntary liquidation and was reorganized under the same style with a greatly enlarged capital (£100,000 nominal) with Evans and O'Donnell as joint managing directors. The board included D. E. Norton, (fn. 118) who later on became a director of the Consolidated Signal Co. and of Westinghouse and retained this connexion until his death in 1934. Norton was instrumental in 1901 in negotiating the acquisition of the reformed company's capital by a new firm, the Pneumatic Electric and General Engineering Co. Ltd. This was the concern which became the Consolidated Signal Co. in 1904 and absorbed Saxby & Farmer and Mackenzie & Holland. In 1922 the company was finally liquidated by the Westinghouse concern. (fn. 119)
In 1905 the Consolidated Signal Co. were already the most important manufacturers of railway signalling equipment in the country. New developments, especially in the application of pneumatic power to apparatus, took place constantly, and numerous patents continued to be taken out by members of the staff. (fn. 120) During the First World War the company produced munitions on a large scale as well as tools needed for other industries. At this time further American connexions were established, and in 1920 the Consolidated Signal Co. was acquired by the Westinghouse Brake Co. Ltd. This firm had been founded in 1881 by George Westinghouse, the inventor of the air brake, to market his apparatus in England. Its premises were at York Way, Kings Cross, London. A factory was also established there which functioned until 1932 when it was transferred to Chippenham.
Liquidation of the subsidiary companies followed this acquisition and a new company was formed, the Westinghouse Brake and Saxby Signal Co. Ltd. (later shortened by the omission of the name Saxby). Although the company was owned in America to a large extent, and many American patents were used, it remained substantially under British management. Between 1930 and 1934 all American interests were sold to British nationals. The company was associated with the installation of the world's first colourlight signalling system, on the Liverpool Overhead Railway in 1921, and the first fully automatic signalling system on the old District Railway. (fn. 121)
Since a history of technical developments would be out of place here, it remains to record growth at Chippenham. As the company increased in size, it took over the premises formerly occupied by Hathaways, the churn manufacturers (see above, p. 189), at the corner of New Road and Foundry Lane. The 46 acres it occupied in 1952 must also have included the site of Rowland Brotherhood's railway works and H. G. Phipps's old foundry in the lane to which it gave its name. The needs of the Second World War, when most of the departments still remaining in London were evacuated to Chippenham, led the company to acquire the Pew Hill Estate.
The buildings, which covered about 23 acres by 1952, included some dating from the time of Evans and O'Donnell, like the machine shop and the foundry, but most of them were built after the move from London in 1932. This growth was of great importance for the development of Chippenham, which grew from 5,074 inhabitants in 1901 to 8,006 in 1911, reached nearly 8,500 by 1931, and was finally brought to a total of 11,850 in 1951 by the move of the London works and the effect of the Second World War. (fn. 122) By 1952 the works employed just over 3,300 men and women, most of whom lived in the town. The employees of the company took an active part in the town's affairs and provided a mayor on five occasions. Westinghouse's were also prominently associated with the maintenance of the local hospital and the Chippenham Technical School.
In 1952 the range of their activities included air-pressure and vacuum brakes; every type of signalling apparatus; electrical equipment including several types of rectifiers, plating plant and battery chargers; mechanical handling gear for collieries; brakes for road vehicles; railway-heating apparatus, and other specialized engineering products. A subsidiary, Westinghouse Garrard Ticket Machines Ltd. jointly owned by this firm and Garrards of Swindon (see below, p. 203), was in 1952 engaged in making ticketprinting-and-issuing machines and had premises in Hawthorn House, Hawthorn Road.
The building at York Way, Kings Cross, since the war, housed only the sales and signal and colliery administrative departments, although it remained the registered office of the company. Chippenham may properly be regarded as the centre of the British brake and signalling industry.
Only one motor-car manufacturing concern ever operated in Wiltshire—the Scout Motor Car Co. of Salisbury. (fn. 123) This was founded by Albert Thomas and William Burden of Mill Road, Salisbury. (fn. 124) The two brothers had originally been partners in a firm under the style of Dean & Burden, clock-makers. It was probably established in 1888 as the City Clock Factory at 101 Fisherton Street, (fn. 125) later sold to Williamson & Sons and burned out before the First World War. (fn. 126)
It appears that the Burdens first made a motor-cycle engine about 1902. In that year the firm was still a private partnership, but a new company, Dean & Burden Bros. Ltd., was registered with a capital of £3,800. The title soon changed to Scout Motors Ltd. and the capital was increased to £30,000 in 1904. Albert and William Burden were the directors. (fn. 127)
The first motor-car engines were probably made in 1903, according to an advertisement asking for contracts, but the factory was operating on a very small scale. It was called 'Excelsior Works' but the premises at the Friary were little more than a backyard. (fn. 128) In 1907, however, the production of motor-cars was increasing, and the works were moved to Lower Road, Bemerton, (fn. 129) with another building at Churchfields for the manufacture of engines and wheels. At their peak, in 1912, Scout Motors produced two cars a week, (fn. 130) having abandoned their previous side-lines of motor-cycle and motorboat engines. By 1912 four or five different models were on the market up to a 6-cylinder, 40 h.p. model. They appear to have enjoyed a certain popularity and one of them was ninth in the Tourist Trophy Race of 1906. (fn. 131) Forty years later one or two of them were still to be seen at the races of the Veteran Car Club. The most notable development, however, from the point of view of local history was that of the market bus. Scout Motors built a small bus for the Wilts. & Dorset Co. capable of bringing the rural population to Salisbury by the narrow and uneven roads of the time. (fn. 132) Judging by later reminiscences, this caused something of a revolution in social habits.
At its peak, the company employed about 150 men: a contemporary photograph shows about 50 at work in a highly mechanized machine shop. All parts, except such drop forgings as crankshafts, were made on the premises. (fn. 133) The war ruined the firm. There was some trouble between them and the Admiralty, for whom they produced mines, as they wished to continue production of cars. Apparently this led to difficulties with the supply of materials when the time came to start again. (fn. 134) Advertisements appeared after the war, but it seems that very few cars, if any, were in fact marketed. The company was liquidated and all stock bought by Whatley & Co., of Pewsey (see above, p. 196) in 1922.
The oldest firm in the aircraft trade in Wiltshire was the Wessex Aircraft Engineering Co. Ltd., founded at High Post, near Salisbury, in 1933. (fn. 135) Almost immediately after their establishment they started making auxiliary equipment (especially for signalling aircraft) and from then onwards specialized in government contracts for pyrotechnic stores. Very soon they ceased to have direct connexion with the aircraft industry, and to avoid confusion, after the Second World War the firm changed its name to waeco Ltd. During the war the company designed the first marine daylight distress signal which became standard equipment in the Merchant Navy. Since then the works have been making military, naval, and air force stores and even fireworks for civilian use. In 1952 the factory spread over 27 acres and was still expanding.
The New Mendip Engineering Co. Ltd. was formed in about 1910 and moved to Atworth, near Melksham, in 1921. (fn. 136) They turned from general engineering and aircraft components in the early thirties and in 1952 were manufacturers of parts and completed units for jet engines and hydraulic equipment for aeroplanes. They were employing 350 people and had completely changed the nature of the village where they were situated.
From 1945 onwards the Royal Air Force itself employed civilian engineers in its maintenance establishments at Colerne, Hullavington, Yatesbury, and Compton Bassett. Unfortunately it is impossible to give details of these. But it may be noted that they contribute considerably to the engineering capacity of the county.
Vickers-Armstrong also came to Wiltshire with the Second World War (see below, p. 205).
In the 19th century the demand for piped water-supplies, main drainage, gas, and later electric lighting and steam heating, gradually spread even to the rural districts of England.
As an example of the new trades, we may take the firm which in 1952 was called Edwards & Bays at Swindon. (fn. 137) George Kerr had been the founder of a business in Victoria and Albert Street. It was a brass- and iron-foundry which occasionally made small steam-engines to a customer's order. In about 1856, (fn. 138) this business was taken over by W. V. Edwards who had been connected with the ironmongery firm of Edwards & Thompson in Wood Street, Old Swindon. Edwards made castings mainly for domestic use, was the principal local supplier of gas fittings and maintained the gas company's retorts. As a side line he was making agricultural implements. In 1861 (fn. 139) the firm had become Edwards & Suter, Castle Foundry, and combined the hardware and engineering trades. They were general contractors for the installation of sanitary fittings. Richard Jefferies in 1867 noted a vine which grew against their ironmongery shop. (fn. 140) They went into the dairy utensils trade and also did some local engineering work, for example, for the Golden Lion Bridge over the old Wilts. & Berks. Canal in Regent Street, Swindon, and fencing contracts for railways. (fn. 141) The business continued in the same line and in 1952 still combined a flourishing ironmongers trade with occasional engineering work. The foundry was no longer used.
The Acetylene Light Syndicate which functioned at Cradle Bridge mills in Trowbridge in about 1898 were engaged in the manufacture of all equipment needed in this trade and made many installations in churches, as testimonials from clergymen testify. (fn. 142) Their site was taken over by Chapmans Ltd., manufacturers of mattresses, who had been established in 1870 (it is not clear whether on a different site or adjoining the acetylene company), but they certainly occupied Cradle Bridge mills in the first half of the 20th century. (fn. 143)
The first electrical contractors in the county appear to have been Tilke & Smith at Melksham, who installed electric lighting in that district from 1900 onwards. (fn. 144) They were rapidly followed by numerous others which have been excluded from this survey as none appear to have been manufacturers of fittings. Four new firms appeared in the county in the second quarter of the 20th century. The first of these was Savage Transformers Ltd., founded in 1926 by W. Brian Savage. (fn. 145) They were manufacturers of transformers, chokes, and other electronic equipment at Nursteed Road, Devizes, and in 1952 employed 35 workers. Linolite Ltd., of Malmesbury, and the Weir Electrical Instrument Co. of Bradford will be mentioned below. In 1949 the Hinchley Engineering Co. was established at Pans Lane, Devizes, and by 1952 employed about 200 workers in the manufacture of various types of electrical components. (fn. 146)
The new economic factors
In the 19th century the siting of industrial enterprises was conditioned mainly by the proximity of raw materials and markets. In the 20th century these primary considerations were occasionally forced into the background by new factors—the absolute shortage of labour at times of full employment, the scarcity of industrial premises in the established centres, and in war-time the danger of aerial attacks. The firms most likely to be moved by these factors were those for whom the weight of raw materials was not a major consideration, and whose markets were widespread. Wiltshire received a number of these firms for it was easily accessible from London and the ports of Bristol and Southampton; it had already a number of industrial centres like Swindon, where the men had found employment but where there were no trades suitable for women, and it was thought to be relatively safe from aerial attacks. The result was the diversification of industry at any rate in the Swindon district.
The earliest arrival in this field was the firm of Garrard at Swindon. Garrard & Co., Crown Jewellers, of Albemarle Street, London, were founded in 1721. They existed until 1952, when the firm was amalgamated with the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company, but a year later the title of the combined concern was changed to Garrard & Co., Crown Jewellers, to preserve continuity. In 1915 the directors of the original firm, anxious to make a contribution to the war effort and retain existing craftsmen in employment, formed an engineering concern under the title of 'The Garrard Engineering and Manufacturing Co. Ltd.' and rented a small works at Willesden where they started to manufacture such precision instruments as bomb-sights. This class of work continued until 1918 when the company decided to make light precision mechanisms a permanent feature and started to concentrate on gramophone motors—an article then not made in England in any quantity, but imported from the United States, Germany, and Switzerland. Looking for suitable premises, they found a factory at Newcastle Street, Swindon, of approximately 27,000 sq. ft., where they began to manufacture in 1919. (fn. 147) The factory provided welcome employment for female labour, and their workers were often daughters of the men at the railway works. A branch establishment was also used during the Second World War. As Garrard's grew they had to recruit from an everincreasing distance and by 1952 their employees lived in many places in north Wiltshire.
The early hand-made gramophone motors were soon followed by a mass-produced article, but although this made them cheaper, they lost none of their precision and the business grew. Additions to the floor-space had to be made in 1923 and in 1928; office blocks were added in 1938 and a canteen and other amenities as well as manufacturing space were added during and after the Second World War. They had started with 30 people in 1919, but sixteen years later they had 1,750. In between the boom periods of expansion there were, of course, spells of depression as was inevitable with a product such as they made. One of the lessons learned in depression was the need for diversification. Clocks were added accordingly in 1931, and automatic record changers in 1932.
War in 1939 once more saw Garrard's switching over to the production of armament parts requiring great accuracy, radar mechanisms, timing devices, and small motors capable of many uses. (Electric motors had been built there since 1927.) Additional premises were taken over in Swindon and at Arkell Hall, Gorse Hill. (fn. 148) A small factory was started at Marlborough during the war and continued in production afterwards. (fn. 149) Before and after the Second World War, large numbers of record changers and radiogram units were made and exported all over the world and these articles constituted the chief products of the firm. In 1952 the total buildings of the firm covered approximately 170,000 sq. ft. and land had been acquired for further extension. About 1,800 people were employed. Mr. H. V. Slade, O.B.E., J.P., one of the founders of the business, was chairman and managing director of the company.
The Weir Electrical Instrument Co. Ltd. of Bradford was established in 1937 at Greenland Mill. (fn. 150) The concern was a private limited company which made electrical indicating instruments and relays, many of them on government contracts, and employed about 80 people in 1952. (fn. 151)
It was the outbreak of war which brought an entirely new pattern of industry to Wiltshire. The firm of E. K. Cole Ltd., who manufactured radio apparatus and other communication and electronic equipment under the trade name of 'ekco', had their main works at Southend-on-Sea (Essex). (fn. 152) In September 1939 they came to Malmesbury where they took over Cowbridge House, and erected special buildings in the grounds. They also opened a store in the building formerly used by the Stroud Brewery Co. which they shared with Linolite Ltd. Cole's soon expanded and by 1952 were employing 900 people in Malmesbury. They had found their labour problems were easily solved in this area, and space was less confined. Here again we have an industry where the weight of raw materials is but a small consideration in assessing costs. The whole social pattern of Malmesbury changed as a result of their arrival.
Linolite Ltd. were a London firm, founded by A. W. Beuttell, a lighting engineer and inventor. (fn. 153) Linolite were evacuated to Malmesbury in 1941 by order of the Ministry of Aircraft Production for whom the firm was producing accessories. After the war the firm returned to its original field of electric-light fittings, especially the production of gas-filled tubes. In 1952 they were still government contractors and employed about 50 people.
The Wellworthy Co. of Lymington (Hants) was founded in 1919 and always specialized in the manufacture of pistons and piston rings. (fn. 154) Two new factories were established in Wiltshire as a result of their war-time needs. The first, at West Harnham, was built by their own labour in the latter part of 1940 when they found it necessary to disperse production away from the coast. This was opened in April 1941. A second works was started at once, which ultimately covered 65,000 sq. ft. and was in production in July 1942. Later a hostel and other staff facilities were added and finally the company built its own small housing estate for its works managers. At its peak Wellworthys employed about 1,000 people. In 1952 this was reduced to 450, but the factory had come to stay.
Salisbury was also the first site of Vickers-Armstrong aircraft factories in Wiltshire. It is known that they employed more than 1,000 workers from about 1941 onwards. The factory had to be closed after the war but the company established permanent works both at Swindon (employing 1,500) and at Trowbridge (employing 300) which were still expanding in 1952. (fn. 155)
Another firm to move was the Plessey Co. whose headquarters were at Ilford (Essex) and who, like E. K. Cole, were manufacturers of radio components. (fn. 156) The Kembrey Street works at Swindon were opened in October 1940 and in 1952 were employing nearly 2,300 people. Most of these were women and, naturally, this was a welcome development in Swindon which had long suffered from a lack of alternative industries to the railway works and of suitable employment for female labour.
The end of the war brought fresh problems. An unprecedented demand for capital and consumer goods coincided with the severe shortage of suitable premises in the badly bombed traditional centres of industry. Production managers therefore travelled about in search of accommodation. At the same time they were looking for suitable reservoirs of labour.
A small example illustrates the process well. The Plant Engineering Co. had its main works at Birmingham. (fn. 157) At the end of the war they needed to expand their production of flexible tubing and other electrical components. One of their directors found a small silk-mill in the secluded valley of the Sherston Avon about half a mile from the village of Sherston near Malmesbury. (fn. 158) In 1946 it was acquired by the Plant Engineering Co., which in 1952 was employing 30 people and still expanding. The site was four miles from the nearest railway station, four from the main road and sixteen from Bath, the nearest large town. Since, however, both raw materials and finished products could easily be transported by lorry, the company was well satisfied with this site.
At Swindon the Admiralty had built large workshops in the suburb of Wroughton. These like many other ordnance factories, were offered for occupation to private firms in 1946, and were purchased by R. A. Lister & Co. Ltd. of Dursley (Glos.) in August of that year for their subsidiary, Marine Mountings Ltd. (fn. 159) They began to manufacture small internal-combustion engines of a similar type to that made at the parent works. In 1952 they were employing approximately 350 workpeople and like Plessey and Vickers were helping to diversify the industries of Swindon.
In 1947 two more new firms arrived in the county. The Autotrope Co. was originally founded in London under the name of Anson & Hopwood Ltd. (fn. 160) They changed their name to Self-Changing Gramophones Ltd. in 1936 and to Autotrope in 1938. They moved from Willesden to Salisbury in October 1947, and immediately began the manufacture of aircraft components, industrial photographic equipment, and projectors for optical inspection methods. In 1952 they were employing about 150 people at the Old Sarum Works in Castle Road.
Lastly, we should mention C. H. Blackburn & Co. Ltd., (fn. 161) manufacturing electrical engineers, whose headquarters were in London. There they also had a factory but this was destroyed during the Second World War, and consequently they took over an old saw-mill at Calne which they renamed Stellex Works. There they made conveyors, sterilizers, heaters, and photographic apparatus, employing about 100 people.
The Tintometer Ltd. (fn. 162) of Salisbury owed its arrival in Wiltshire to none of the factors previously mentioned in this account. Joseph William Lovibond was a partner in the brewery of his father John Lovibond at Greenwich. He opened a branch at Salisbury in 1869 and lived in that city until his death in 1917. (fn. 163) He invented a system of measuring the properties of beer with the help of glass disks of standard colour which he compared with samples of the brew. He evolved apparatus for holding disks and samples, a scale of colours, and systems of application of these methods outside his own industry. He also published two books on the subject, Light and Colour and Colour Phenomena. (fn. 164)
After manufacturing apparatus for some years at the back of his house in the Friary, he formed a private limited company in 1896 and enlarged works were built. In 1931 these were moved to Milford, a site formerly occupied by Suttons Mill. In 1952 about 120 people were employed there on all stages of the manufacturing process from glassmaking to engineering. Research work carried out by the company made widespread application possible in medical science, the sugar, tanning, and petroleum industries, and in agriculture. The system was adopted in other countries following investigation in 1931 by the Commission Internationale de l'Eclairage, and in 1952 approximately half the company's output was exported. The engineering side of the works consisted mostly in making colour-comparing instruments. The company was engaged in defence work in both the world wars.
Wiltshire has long been one of the chief bases of military forces both in war and in peace. With increasing mechanization the need arose for permanent workshops to maintain all kinds of transport and armoured fighting vehicles stationed on the Salisbury Plain. The first of these was the Ordnance Workshop in the Command Ordnance Depot at Tidworth, which was established in the early twenties. (fn. 165) By 1928 it employed 150 civilians, and a tank workshop was added in the following year. Further expansions took place in 1938 and 1939. From July 1942 to October 1945 the Tidworth depot was in the hands of the American forces, and returned to the R.A.O.C. at the end of that period. From 1951 the depot formed part of 27 Command Workshop at Warminster, and in 1952 was employing 90 civilians.
The larger establishment at Warminster was opened in 1940, as an overflow from Tidworth, for the repair of wheeled vehicles. Originally there were only 28 civilian engineers. After the evacuation of Dunkirk, the workshops were given the task of providing technical assistance for the re-formation of the 1st Armoured Division, and other projects followed in rapid succession. From 1943 most of the depot was occupied by American forces. A modern engine-overhaul line was installed and many additional buildings erected. At one time more than 2,000 men were employed. In September 1945 the workshops were handed back to the Southern Command authorities. Peacetime reorganization meant the dispersal of most of the labour force, but a nucleus of 150 men was retained. Warminster became 27 Command Workshops, with Tidworth as a subsidiary unit and another small establishment at Bulford employing 10 civilian engineers.
Rearmament once again increased the size of the unit, and by 1952 500 civilians were working at Warminster. By that time an area of more than 34 acres was occupied, and the actual floor space of the workshops amounted to 336,000 sq. ft. The main work carried on was still the repair of all vehicles belonging to Southern Command, which meant, in effect, the largest concentration of military equipment in the British Isles. In addition, the workshops undertook general engineering work. A list of 'work in progress' in 1952 included the maintenance of such divers gear as bacon slicers, lawn mowers, and typewriters. The 600 civilians thus employed by the Army must be regarded as another substantial part of the rising engineering industry of Wiltshire.
The process which has been described has certainly not come to an end. Already in 1952 an entirely new pattern of industry was emerging. It will have been noticed that many of the newcomers were electrical and precision engineers. It does not generally take long for special skills to develop in response to such demands for labour, and local technical colleges and schools would adapt themselves to these requirements. Even, therefore, if one or the other of these firms decided to close down or to return to its headquarters, successors would be found to take advantage of facilities and labour.
A number of these firms still had their effective seat of control outside the county. This was from some points of view undesirable; but in fact local managers were often found and relations with the local authorities and inhabitants were said to be uniformly good.
The Great Western Railway Works, Swindon
The choice of Swindon, in 1840, as the site for the future railway works was determined by geographical conditions and the limitations of the locomotives at that period. The recommendation appears to have been made by Daniel (later Sir Daniel) Gooch, (fn. 166) then 24 years of age and 'superintendent of locomotive engines' to the infant Great Western Railway Co. A point to the north of Swindon (then a town of less than 2,000 inhabitants) (fn. 167) had been found most convenient as a junction between the Great Western Railway on one hand and the Cheltenham & Great Western Union Railway on the other. (fn. 168) Their respective routes were determined by the need for easy gradients in the valleys. Engines, at that time, were not capable of running the entire distance between London and Bristol, and Gooch thought that it would need one engine to perform the fairly level 76½ mile journey from London to Swindon, and another, with driving wheels of smaller diameter, to work the 41 miles of rather rougher gradients between Swindon and Bristol. Moreover, Swindon would be a convenient staging-point, in addition to Reading, for the pilot engines which were then still thought desirable in many cases. The Wootton Bassett incline required bank engines to assist ordinary motive power and these too could be kept at Swindon. The depot could be combined with a large station to serve passengers for the junction line.
Besides, the Wilts. & Berks. Canal adjoined the railway line at this point, and by it access was had to the coal and coke resources of the whole country. (fn. 169) The nearest were at Radstock in Somerset, which could be reached via Semington and the Kennet & Avon Canal. Moreover, there was a chance of good local business arrangements: the Cheltenham & Great Western Union Company owned some land north of the junction (which they had purchased from a Mr. Sheppard), and were willing to make it over to the Great Western 'provided arrangements for all requisite accommodation, both at the engine house and the passenger station, were made for working the Cheltenham line separately'. (fn. 170)
The only difficulty Gooch foresaw was that of a water-supply but he thought he knew how to deal with the matter. On 6 October 1840, the directors resolved accordingly, 'that the principal locomotive station and repairing shops be established at or near the junction with the Cheltenham and Great Western Union Railway at Swindon', and also that a passenger station be erected. (fn. 171)
The decision was amplified by the directors' report on 25 February 1841:
'It has also been decided to provide an engine establishment at Swindon commensurate with the wants of the company, where a change of engines may be advantageously made and the trains stopped for the purpose of the passengers taking refreshment. . . . The establishment there would also comprise the large repairing shops for the locomotive department, and this circumstance rendered it necessary to arrange for the building of cottages, etc., for the residence of many persons employed in the service of the company.' (fn. 172)
The works were built, and brought into operation in January 1843. The manager was Archibald Sturrock, later locomotive engineer of the Great Northern Railway. The original shed was 490 ft. long by 72 broad, and capable of housing, for storage, 100 engines. Adjoining this open shed to the north, and at right angles to it, was the engine house, 290 ft. long, and divided into three bays each of about 50 ft., where the engines were overhauled if not in need of major repairs. They stood 'as horses in the stalls of a stable' in the side bays and were moved in and out on a large travelling platform which moved in the centre bay and connected with all the stalls. There was room for 36 engines in this house. To the north again there were the heavy repair shops where most of the machinery was installed, and to the west an erecting house where 18 engines at a time could be assembled, after the parts had been repaired. (fn. 173) The original establishment was 423 men, (fn. 174) of whom 72 were fitters and turners and other highly skilled engineers. This was in the days when the company did not manufacture its own engines and as yet there was no real indication of the significance of the new town.
One feature showed itself early: after each expansion of the works, the directors took fright as soon as there was a slight business recession, and set about devising means whereby money might be saved at Swindon. In 1843 a sub-committee of economy was appointed, and the board decided to employ I. K. Brunel only on a part-time basis, cutting his salary from £2,300 to £1,000 and enjoined him to keep a close control over the Swindon works. Detailed proposals for 'retrenchment' were made, wage cuts and a change from day to piece-work were advocated, but numbers were not to be reduced below what Brunel recommended. (fn. 175) In the same report, there is a hint that in the very early days a great deal of work had been done by manufacturers which could be done more economically by providing the proper shops and tools and staffing them adequately, thus avoiding the need for overtime payments. (fn. 176)
Both Brunel and Gooch were firmly convinced that they could build their own engines better than their contractors, and by 1846 they had persuaded their directors. (fn. 177) In that year Swindon built its first engines, and by 1849 the buildings had been doubled; one large hollow square of new shops surrounded the original buildings, and a smaller square was added to the north of this. (fn. 178) In 1848 1,800 men were employed (fn. 179) and by the 1851 census Swindon had nearly 5,000 inhabitants. (fn. 180) The company had by that time built a good deal of New Swindon. Rigby had erected 300 cottages, on land provided by the company, (fn. 181) and rents were paid to him by the company, and then recovered from the tenants. Later the company made various additions to these cottages, but after 1860 most of the men found accommodation in privately built houses.
The 'Great Western' Express engine left the Swindon works in April 1846, having been constructed in thirteen weeks from the date of the order. It was to serve for 24 years, and completed more than 370,000 miles. (fn. 182) It was capable of hauling a train of 100 tons at nearly 60 miles an hour, and its achievements did much to build up the great spirit of craftsmanship and the pride in their achievement which were characteristic of the Swindon engineers. This engine was the first of the 'Iron Duke' class, of which 23 were built at Swindon in the following five years, one of them travelling more than 800,000 miles in 30 years.
The first goods engines were of the 'Premier' or 'Ajax' class. The first of these, appropriately the 'Premier', left Swindon in February 1846; but since its boiler had not been made at Swindon, it was never counted as the first Swindon engine. (fn. 183) The first narrow-gauge engine was built in 1855 and, like its successors, transported to Wolverhampton, then the centre of the narrow-gauge traffic, on special broad-gauge trucks. (fn. 184) The Swindon men held the narrow gauge in deep contempt, and were glad to see the last of each engine constructed. But in 1872 the narrow monster reached Swindon, and by 1891 the last broad-gauge stock was removed. Altogether, between 1844 and 1858, 39 passenger and 109 goods engines were built on the broad gauge, (fn. 185) as well as 24 for narrow-gauge traffic. In addition, the works produced 114 tenders and much other rolling stock, including a royal saloon which cost £426 in 1848. The total value of these items appears to have been approximately £600,000, or £40,000 a year.
A good picture of conditions in the works appears in Daniel Gooch's report of September 1849. The occasion was fresh concern about expenditure. A severe slump had hit the railways with the collapse of some speculative undertakings after the boom of 1846. The Bristol and Exeter line became separated from the Great Western Railway. This reduced running mileages and rolling stock considerably, and hence the demand on the capacity of the works at Swindon. Even the remaining traffic appeared to be stagnating, as the half-yearly figures show. (fn. 186) The directors took a great deal of notice of these returns, and in later years often based decisions on their fluctuations even before financial results were known. In September 1849 (fn. 187) the shareholders appointed a committee under T. S. Gladstone to investigate expenditure, and Gooch reported to it. (fn. 188)
He mentioned the various orders in progress—engines, general repairs, coal and stone wagons, and bridges for South Wales ordered by Brunel. There were also orders for guard rails, switches and crossings. The prices of these goods had been agreed with Brunel. Gooch claimed that a profit of £1,300 would be made out of the transactions, though the prices they charged were well below those of outside makers. This was to be a recurrent argument for doing things at Swindon, and Gooch pointed out to the directors on a number of other occasions that this would maintain employment.
'Swindon has been designed and built to employ 1,800–2,000 men, and all the arrangements of tools and shops have been made to employ that number of men to the best advantage, and are therefore not so well adapted for our present diminished numbers, the fixed charges or shop expenses are in consequence heavier than they would be in a plan better proportioned to the work to be done. Any work that can be obtained will therefore assist to reduce these expenses; in fact we have the means at Swindon if we had the work, of earning at manufacturers prices at least £20,000 p.a.'
He also said that less employment meant a loss on the rent for the cottages—although he had dismissed all but three of the single men to keep the houses as full as possible. The loss thereby was £380 a year.
In fact employment had been reduced to about 600 men compared with 1,800 a year earlier, and these were working a notional 45-hour week (it was more owing to systematic overtime). Only a hundred of them were on new engine work. The buildings covered 14½ acres, and this was considered excessive by the shareholders' committee. So were the 35 engines which were surplus to requirements owing to reduced working, whilst the interest on the capital they represented continued to be a charge on revenue. (fn. 189) As a result of the 1849 anxieties, a permanent committee of directors called the Expenditure and Stores Committee was formed, (fn. 190) and all orders for new equipment had to be placed through this. The engineer had to report in writing on his requirements of machinery and rolling stock, and the committee then gave or withheld authority to go ahead. The minutes of the directors on locomotive matters are preserved separately bound, and from them a good impression of the day to day working of the Swindon 'manufactory' is to be gained. Apparently few passenger coaches were made at Swindon in the early days, most of them being ordered from outside contractors or being constructed at Paddington.
In addition to locomotives and wagons, the works soon produced other equipment for the company. In 1849, we find the Isis Bridge for Brunel for the Oxford and Rugby line (fn. 191) under construction in sections, as well as the three bridges for the S. Wales Railway. There appears to have been some trouble because Gooch made goods for other companies without permission—a minute in the same year prescribes the method of obtaining sanction for such work and orders two-thirds of the price to be paid before such goods may be cleared from Swindon.
The directors were soon convinced by Gooch that as much iron work of all descriptions should be made in Swindon where there was spare capacity, as in 1849. But whenever there was a question of expansion at the works to meet some new demands there were voices clamouring for outside contractors to be employed—some of the directors were ironmasters themselves. But in 1849 contractors were not in good odour. One of these was Rowland Brotherhood of Chippenham (see above, p. 198). His accounts were examined, and it was concluded that it would be best not to allow contractors to charge for their own supply of materials needed for construction and repair, where these could be supplied from Swindon. In December of that year, they ordered four weighbridges to be constructed at the works for the use of the company, the engineer having rejected all outside tenders. (fn. 192)
The minute books reveal a growing complexity of machinery, and the frequent addition of new shops to house these or the rolling stock. Gooch knew the leading engineers of his day and liked to install the latest developments at Swindon. Thus, in 1842, he was in touch with James Nasmyth of Patricroft (Lancs.) who supplied steam-hammers. These are shown in a shop on the north side of the works in the plan of 1846. (fn. 193) D. Napier of Lambeth supplied hydraulic presses (fn. 194) and an overhead crane for 'C' shed in 1844 which was still at work in 1911. (fn. 195) The Illustrated Exhibitor and Magazine of Art for 3 January 1852 shows that two carriage shops had been added to the original engine sheds and houses. The smithy had 176 forges for wrought-iron parts and springs, three furnaces, and the steam-hammers. The magazine illustrated the forging of crank axles, wheel-making, and the riveting of boilers. The foundry cast in iron and brass, and made ornamental as well as working parts. The wood-workers and pattern-makers had their own shops. The fitting shop had two engines to drive its machinery, which included two of Whitworth's slotting machines, one of them a 30-in. model and thought to be the largest of its kind. There were long lathes, incorporating the slide rest which the magazine calls 'new'—but it had been known for at least 60 years by that time though by no means universally adopted. (fn. 196) The same shop boasted a fully automatic cylinderboring machine and a host of other modern apparatus.
As the works grew, the company provided a number of amenities for its employees. In 1846 Charles Russell, then chairman, wrote to Gooch asking him for information about baths at Swindon in view of 'the present mania for baths and wash-houses'. (fn. 197) The baths had to wait until 1860, but the foundation with which they were connected began its life in 1843 as a library and in January 1844 became the Mechanics Institute 'for the purpose of disseminating useful knowledge and encouraging rational amusements amongst all classes of people employed by the Great Western Railway'. (fn. 198) Gooch was its first president. It originally had its home inside the works. Various shops in the locomotive department were cleared as required, and finally used exclusively, for theatrical performances, dances, and lectures. (fn. 199) On 1st September 1853 (fn. 200) the company authorized the payment of £3,000 as capital for the New Swindon Improvement Society, to provide various amenities which included a special building for the Mechanics Institute, as well as the baths and wash-houses. It was the centre of technical education in the town until the building of the technical college in 1891. In that year, too, an enlarged building was erected which existed until part of it was destroyed in a fire on Christmas Eve, 1930, (fn. 201) but was subsequently rebuilt.
As early as 1844 the employees had started an independent Sick Fund Society, and this was supplemented in 1847 by the company's own Medical Fund Society, (fn. 202) which received contributions from employers and workers. As later records show, this was not an unmixed act of consideration on the part of the company—in the days before compensation the fund bore many expenses which were morally the employers' liability and were to become so in law before the end of the century.
There is a hint of unrest towards the end of 1851, when Gooch apparently had some trouble about piece-work and systematic overtime with his engineers. At any rate the directors recorded a circular from the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and Machinists, requesting the discontinuation of these practices, but the board decided to back Gooch. (fn. 203) Trade unions were regarded as 'outside bodies' until much later. On the other hand, it must be said in fairness to the directors that they wished to have nothing to do with Sidney Smith's notorious 'Employers' Society' (fn. 204) which was seeking, in the early fifties, to combine the masters in common activity to wipe out trade unions by blacklisting of workmen and other devices. Evidently approaches were made by this body and the London and Brighton Railway Co., for the board recorded Mr. Gooch's opinion that they should leave the matter alone at Swindon where everyone appeared to be satisfied. (fn. 205)
The same conclusion was reached by a sub-committee of directors, under Frederick Ponsonby, who inspected the works in March 1857 to check expenditure. (fn. 206) They were well satisfied with Gooch as locomotive superintendent and his assistant, a Mr. Fraser. All was economically run. They were glad to see that piece-work was generally in operation, and by 'strict adherence to the timing of piece-work, the management was enabled to vary from time to time the prices paid for work done, according to its proper and just value'. Apparently this practice, which would have led to explosions in the 20th century, was accepted; they noticed the great cleanliness, cheerfulness, and order which appeared to exist amongst the workmen. Unfortunately no contemporary description from the workmen's side, such as Alfred Williams's later works, survives.
The last four years before Daniel Gooch retired from his post of superintendent in 1864 were full of speedy development. The annual passenger-engine mileage run, which had been less than 1.6 million miles in 1849, was up to 4.5 million in 1860 and 6.8 million in 1864, and goods-engine mileage similarly increased from 356,000 in 1849 to nearly 3.0 million in 1860 and 5.6 million in 1864. Swindon had nearly 7,000 inhabitants by that time.
The largest new structure was the rolling-mill for rails. Gooch had long been dissatisfied with the rails bought outside, and thought he could use up works scrap with new pig-iron to great advantage. The Board sanctioned this plan (fn. 207) and the expenditure of £20,000 was to be amortized over a period of fourteen years. This project was the subject of disagreement between Gooch and his directors for some time—although the chairman himself (the Earl of Shelburne) had especially gone to Crewe to examine the rail mill there and was satisfied that it was an advantage. (fn. 208) In 1863 the board alleged that the mill was losing 15s. to 20s. per ton of rails produced, or £14,000 to £17,000 a year (giving an output of about 17,000 tons). Gooch replied that his aim had been to make good rails as much as cheap rails, compared with the 'perishable' stuff supplied by the ironmasters. (fn. 209) He was producing them for £6 10s. per ton compared with £9 which they had paid previously. Since the directors limited the original capital outlay in the end to £25,000, he had to charge certain initial costs to the price of the rails. Besides, the directors insisted on charging him £4 8s. per ton for scrap rails, which was excessive. When he increased the mill's capacity to 20,000 tons a year in 1862–3 the expenses in connexion with this operation were also chargeable to running costs.
They examined the Swindon accounts minutely at regular intervals and called for outside reports on the rails, notwithstanding the fact that other railways and contractors like Brotherhood were trying to place orders for these rails with Gooch. (fn. 210) In 1864 we have the first mention of the factor which eventually closed the rail-mill: the directors ordered the purchase of 20 tons of Bessemer's steel, to be made into rails at Swindon and laid in Paddington yard. (fn. 211) When these were later adopted, they were made more cheaply in the large mills of South Wales.
Additional workpeople were accommodated in cottages constructed from the old 'barracks' in which some of the labourers had been housed, and some specially constructed cottages were authorized in 1862 for £2,570. (fn. 212)
On 2 June 1864 Daniel Gooch resigned, though he was to return in the following year as chairman of the company and to serve it for another quarter of a century. (fn. 213) His successor was Joseph Armstrong, who had been manager of the Wolverhampton works. He was given charge of locomotives and carriages for the whole system, instead of the previous divided command. (fn. 214) He was fortunate in obtaining more co-operation from the new chairman than Gooch himself had secured.
Competition with other lines was beginning to affect production plans. In May 1865 authority was given for upholstering second-class carriages and charging the cost to capital. (fn. 215) In October the first experimental 3rd-class carriage was 'stuffed'. In the same year a good deal of attention was paid to signalling plans, and they consulted Saxby's, the forerunners of Saxby & Farmers at Chippenham. (fn. 216) In March 1865 they ordered some wagons from Rowland Brotherhood who was manufacturing them at Chippenham. But this was an isolated instance as most of the rolling stock was already built by the company by that time. In May 1865 850 trucks and wagons of various sorts were ordered. It was only to meet such exceptional traffic demands as those of 1865 (the height of a new trade boom and the culmination of a new railway mania) that outside assistance was required. Of 48 new engines required that year, only 30 could be built at Swindon. But contractors were unpunctual, and sometimes we hear of outside orders finally reverting to the home ground. (fn. 217)
The largest new development at Swindon in the sixties after the rolling-mills were the new carriage shops. They had originally been distributed between Paddington, Saltney (Flintshire), and Worcester (these were burned down in November 1864). (fn. 218) The place first chosen was Oxford, but the proposal was dropped after spirited opposition from the University. Gooch recommended Swindon and £26,000 was authorized at first, with considerable additions later on, especially when the last of the other works closed down. (fn. 219)
In the seventies the pressing problem was that of gauge conversion, for the broad gauge was obsolete and an obstacle to expansion. In 1870 Armstrong reported to Gooch that the works were capable of providing the new narrow-gauge rolling stock needed for alteration of the line from Swindon to New Milford, which would mean 142 engines alone. (fn. 220) A third rail made additional demands on the rail-mill. When it could not be met the directors authorized purchases of steel rails for stations and inclines. These schemes were important in helping to maintain full order books at Swindon for most of the period known as the 'Great Depression'. Swindon did not suffer from it to any great extent. Another factor was the need for modernization of existing stock to attract holiday and excursion traffic and comply with safety requirements. These technical considerations often promoted investment when general business conditions would not seem to have justified them. Besides, absolute traffic figures, as well as receipts, continued to increase with astounding regularity, few recessions being noticeable.
Between 1876 and 1896 (i.e. to the end of the 'Great Depression') passenger traffic increased from 12 million engine miles to nearly 22 million, and goods traffic from 13½ to 20 million, nearly a thousand miles being added to the company's routes in the meantime. It was not surprising then that Swindon works continually needed new equipment. But the directors were occasionally infected with the pessimism of the City and asked for the deferment of some proposals. For instance, they refused to entertain an application for new rolling stock in February 1887. (fn. 221)
On the whole the accent remained on expansion. Chairs for rails were first cast in the early seventies, (fn. 222) ticket machines were added in 1873, (fn. 223) and equipment for the company's steamships in the same year. (fn. 224) A refrigerator van was adapted in July 1874 (fn. 225) by agreement with the inventor, George Acklom. In November 1878 the first order for Saunders's and Bolitho's continuous brake system was given. (fn. 226) On the other hand increased purchases of steel rails meant the end of the Swindon rail mill in 1878, but it continued as an ordinary rolling-mill and turned out up to 200 tons of sections and plates for works use every week. (fn. 227) In 1873 a new boiler shop and foundry were authorized and an additional repair shop for narrow-gauge engines in the following year. The brass-foundry and finishing shops were begun in 1875 and additions to the carriage shops and gas-works followed. Finally, the Paddington carriage shops were closed in 1877 and further buildings erected at Swindon to cope with the additional work. By the end of the century this department alone employed 5,000 people compared with 1,100 in 1870. For the Swindon works as a whole the figures were 4,000 in 1875, 4,500 in 1876, and 11,500 by the end of the century. (fn. 228)
As the entire carriage works could not be accommodated on the old site, their buildings were mostly erected on the south side of the line, between Bristol Street and the railway. A good many cottages were put up around these shops during the same time to house the new workers, but all by private builders. (fn. 229) Later the carriage shops moved east of the Cheltenham line into more spacious quarters. These developments involved fresh land purchases every few years. Thus, in 1871 4 acres were purchased from Messrs. Hicks & Isaacs, and 19 acres in the same year from Guppy's trustees. (fn. 230) Occasionally this expansion was unwelcome to the company's neighbours. In 1876 the Rev. G. Campbell, in charge of St. Mark's, the railway church, complained that the enormous mounds of timber which the carriage department now required to be kept in stock, overlooked his property and disturbed his privacy. The works interfered with his drainage and the smoke and gas from the foundry chimney with his health. This latter nuisance was reported to the Local Government Board, confirmed by a representative of the company's medical officer, and resulted in the removal of the offending furnace. (fn. 231)
Joseph Armstrong died in 1877 and he was succeeded as superintendent by William Dean who held the office until 1902. (fn. 232) The company was fortunate in its servants, for the burden that was placed upon these men was probably unique in the annals of English industrial history. Their first duty was, as engineers, to design locomotives, carriages, bridges, and other equipment, and to arrange for their production. They were responsible for the purchase of all outside stores, including coal, and the supervision of contractors' work. They were themselves managers of an undertaking which employed 14,000 people by 1905. (It was just over 4,000 in 1875.) In addition Armstrong was responsible for all drivers and firemen on the line. There were 3,000 of them in 1889 and they gave more trouble than the Swindon workers. This would probably make it the largest undertaking in British industry at the end of the century, if not in Europe. In this work the engineer was assisted by the works manager, who remained responsible, however, to the locomotive superintendent.
One of the chief tasks was to manage relations with the men, and this became progressively more difficult in the seventies. The reason was plain—a falling general price level convinced the directors of the need to reduce wages if possible. The men at once resisted this demand and asked for shorter working hours. In 1871 these were reduced first to 57½ hours, (fn. 233) in conformity with the practice of other companies and then, in November, to 54, again following precedent. The Midland company had done so just before. (fn. 234) This was a time of competition for labour, and skilled men were at a premium. At the same time a system of weekly instead of fortnightly wages was approved in response to strong pressure. (fn. 235)
When Dean took over in 1877, he was soon faced with rather more serious wages trouble than Armstrong. In August 1879 Britain was in the depths of depression, though the company's traffic figures did not justify pessimism. But the spirit of the City communicated itself to Swindon. Dean introduced a new classification of work and wages so that they should be in 'proportion' to each other. He does not say what this involved in his report to the directors, but in consideration of the saving to be effected under the new regulations, it was agreed to increase the subscription to the Enginemen's and Firemen's Mutual Assurance Society from £800 to £1,200 a year. (fn. 236)
During the next five years the company experienced its only setback in traffic. There was real anxiety about future employment. Hardly any new machinery was needed and no new buildings were ordered between the construction boom which ended in 1878 and the wagon-lifting shop (costing £28,500) which was authorized in February 1887. (fn. 237) No new engines were ordered between March 1883 and August 1887. (fn. 238) This was the longest gap since the beginning of the Swindon works. In fact there would have been severe unemployment as well as wage-reductions had it not been for the needs of competition and safety. Continuous brakes had to be fitted to all existing stock and highpressure gas lighting was introduced, followed by electric lighting in some stations. These developments took some time to accomplish and helped to spread investment over the period of depression. In 1887 the climb back to prosperity began. In May new rolling stock was ordered worth £70,000 (fn. 239) and in August twenty engines were started. (fn. 240) In the following year goods stock for £142,000 was authorized (fn. 241) and 20 acres of land purchased for additional sidings and buildings. (fn. 242) Dean noted the shortage of gas capacity and a gas-works extension for £13,000 was begun which included automatic stoking machinery. (fn. 243) New wheel-turning shops were built. (fn. 244)
In February 1889 came an order for nearly a quarter of a million pounds worth of rolling stock, (fn. 245) which included 105 special trucks for agricultural machinery and fish, meat, and poultry vans. The management also agreed to increase wages. (fn. 246) All grades benefitted and the cost was estimated at £10,000 a year. At the same time Dean suggested an alteration in the Mutual Assurance Society and the superannuation scheme, to make promotion more rapid. Nothing seems to have come of this suggestion. (fn. 247)
The final conversion of the gauge was imminent, and on top of that the Board of Trade gave notice that block telegraph working, interlocking points systems, and continuous brakes were about to be made compulsory. (fn. 248) Swindon found itself fully occupied in all sections. New wage demands in January 1890 are therefore not surprising. The men thanked the directors for the previous year's advances but declared that they were insufficient. (fn. 249) Their requests included a guaranteed six-day week, but this was granted only to men working away from home. Some other slight concessions were made. (fn. 250) It is interesting to note that in connexion with these negotiations the directors received a letter from C. Watson of the General Railway Workers Union asking for a 10 per cent. wage increase and the abolition of overtime. (fn. 251) The directors declined to discuss the matter with an outsider, for as such he must be regarded as his demands were in no way related to those of the men on the spot.
In the 'conversion' year, 1891, the Swindon establishment was asked to undertake a prodigious quantity of work. Temporary sidings were constructed at Swindon for £8,500 (fn. 252) on 10 acres of land bought in February; (fn. 253) these were to receive the old broadgauge rolling stock. Between January 1891 and February 1892 narrow-gauge rolling stock worth £628,270 was ordered. (fn. 254) One must add to that the locking and signalling apparatus required by the Board of Trade which was to cost more than £77,000. In the same period another £128,000 was spent on engine construction. (fn. 255) A good deal of the material had to be bought from contractors. A list of 1892 shows that most high-quality steel forgings, such as laminated springs, were made outside. (fn. 256) But the construction work was all done at Swindon. The annual wages bill, which had been £300,000 in 1875 according to Richard Jefferies, (fn. 257) was more than half a million by this time and constantly rising.
In June 1892 it was reported that the conversion operation of the last of the broadgauge line, west of Exeter, had gone smoothly. (fn. 258) So the great work was accomplished and its end coincided with another general setback in trade, the last to be associated with the 'Great Depression'. Investment at Swindon once more fell off. The line possessed many splendid new engines and carriages, its signalling apparatus was new and satisfied official requirements. Between March 1892 and the end of 1896 there were hardly any orders for new carriages. A few were constructed for the newly acquired Hammersmith and City joint line. (fn. 259) There was a surplus of hands and in April 1893 there is the first reference in the minutes to a reduction in employment. (fn. 260) Nothing is heard about wages in those years.
The year 1896 marks the end of the recession. In the following year G. J. Churchward became assistant chief superintendent and within five years he was in charge. Thus a new era of prosperity and fast technical development was ushered in. The inevitable wage demands were brought forward when trade looked up. This was, on the whole, friendly bargaining on both sides. Demands for reduction in standard working hours were approved in 1898: they were to cost £16,000 a year. (fn. 261) But when in 1900 additional requests were made, Dean thought they would cost £80,000 and the directors declined. (fn. 262)
New developments during the last few years of Dean's period included new engines and pattern shops and the first electric generators and machines. Heavier engines necessitated a new lifting and machine shop and large machine tools costing several thousand pounds each. The complexity of stores used led to the establishment of a central works stores department, but the closer control thus exercised does not seem to have led to many economies. (fn. 263) Later, central laundries and depots for linen, clothing, and kitchen equipment were established which provided more employment for women.
The last half-century at Swindon is not characterized by the same speed of expansion as the previous 60 years. The main advances were technical, particularly in the field of locomotive power. Passenger coaches had been increasing in weight over many years: the successive additions of vacuum brakes, high-pressure gas lighting, and finally steamheating had transformed an adapted cattle truck into an eight-wheeled carriage. A train might weigh 500 tons or more and consequently the old locomotives were insufficient. The new locomotives which G. J. Churchward designed and built at Swindon were soon to exceed 100 tons in weight themselves.
A return of 24 June 1905 gives a total employment of 8,365 in the locomotive works, and 5,081 in the carriage and wagon department. Seven hundred and fifty more were working in the traffic, stores, and permanent-way department, more than 14,000 altogether. (fn. 264) It may be noted here that the distinction between the locomotive and the carriage and wagon departments was always rigorously observed, although the layout of the site made it impossible to separate them physically and in any case many services were common to both departments. With the gradual introduction of steel-framed carriages even the raw materials and therefore working methods of the two sections became similar. The mounds of timber which had been a nuisance to the Vicar of St. Mark's were reduced in size until the Second World War almost removed them.
The fact that the period of expansion at Swindon was past was demonstrated by a number of facts. First of all, the town ceased to grow at the phenomenal rate of the 19th century. Between 1901 and 1911 the population increased by only 12.7 per cent., and in the following decade by only 8.2 per cent. (fn. 265) The total number of those classified in the county as being employed in industry hardly increased at all in the first decade. Employment in the works at Swindon actually fell off before the war. In the minutes of the company there are a number of references to contracts being given to outside firms at times of exceptional pressure (fn. 266) —notwithstanding the general policy of concentration. The directors felt, apparently, that one could not go on adding to the works indefinitely each time another peak demand occurred. Thus, in 1903, £20,000 worth of engines were to be built at Wolverhampton, (fn. 267) and in the following year there was an extension authorized for the factory there. (fn. 268)
The reason for this caution is not stated in our sources, but almost certainly the difficulty was managerial. Churchward spent his time at his drawing-board, and teaching his numerous pupils and apprentices. He must have felt that 14,000 was enough, and the directors probably had their doubts whether an establishment of this size could be controlled without some loss of efficiency.
An additional factor in preventing further expansion may well have been fire danger. A major fire occurred in one of the paint shops in 1911; (fn. 269) this led to some improvement in fire services as the works obtained its own motorized appliances. (fn. 270) Consequently a saw-mill fire in 1912 (fn. 271) caused little damage, but the risk of too great a concentration of assets was real: a million pounds worth of rolling stock is said to have been a frequent concentration at Swindon. As the engines became more powerful, the actual numbers employed decreased somewhat. Goods-train mileage was subsequently lower in 1914 than it had been in 1880. But each engine represented a greater value. By 1910 the heavier engines cost £4,000 each. Even more startling were the costs of rolling stock: the first experimental all-steel coach in 1914 cost £1,400, and the restaurant cars constructed in that year twice as much.
Compared with the seventies and eighties, there is little record of labour troubles at Swindon in those last years before the war. It was a period of rising prices, so that one should have expected demands for wages to keep the standard of living steady. In fact a Board of Trade inquiry in 1908 showed that wages here were not particularly good compared with other urban centres. (fn. 272) Although total trade union membership in Swindon was probably about 3,000 before the war, this would still mean that less than 20 per cent. of those employed in the works would be organized. There is a contemporary account of the conditions in Swindon in Alfred Williams, Life in a Railway Factory. The impression given is one of high technical efficiency and yet an absence of unified managerial control over the whole vast concern (fn. 273) —so that one would see some justification in the board's policy of not extending the works further. Moreover, the extreme departmentalization of the works and the rigid division into shops practising different trades would militate against the development of a strong trade-union movement.
The coming of the war brought great changes. Large parts of the works were turned over to the production of munitions, (fn. 274) and such engine and carriage construction as took place was largely destined for military purposes overseas, and consequently less elaborate than in peace-time. (fn. 275) By 1917, 300 'female clerical workers' were said to be employed. (fn. 276)
G. J. Churchward continued to preside over the works until his retirement in 1921. During the war, his title was changed from that of Locomotive, Carriage, and Wagon Superintendent to the more professional one of Chief Mechanical Engineer. This appellation was borne by Churchward's successors, C. E. Collett, and F. W. Hawkesworth, J.P., M.I.Mech.E., who took over twenty years later. After nationalization, the office became Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer, Western Region, British Railways —but the functions of the holder (Mr. R. A. Smeddle in 1952) were as complex as ever.
At the end of the war reconversion took place, but there was no considerable expansion of activity until the mid-twenties. Modernization then took place, including the conversion of all rolling stocks from Westinghouse (compressed air) to vacuum brakes. Many new types of special carriages and wagons were also introduced. As a result, employment reached a peak of 14,369 workers in May 1925. The slump of 1930 affected the works considerably, and many economies were made. By 1936 employment was down to 11,500, and just before the war the figure was about 10,500. The Second World War and reconversion brought no substantial alteration to this figure, and the latest available return (for December 1952) was 10,119. (fn. 277) Much of this reduction was due to improved technical efficiency.
The period between the wars saw a further reduction in building activity, and few large shops were added. The carriage store added in 1938 which held 265 coaches in ten roads is an exception to this. It is interesting to note that in order to finance this structure recourse had to be made to the arrangement whereby the Government guaranteed certain loans for capital expenditure. This was a long cry from the 19th century when directors could cheerfully vote half a million pounds out of reserves, or make calls on shareholders where necessary. By 1939 the works covered more than 326 acres, of which 79 acres were roofed. This probably marks the limit of expansion and building. (fn. 278)
The Second World War once more made calls on the works for a large variety of munitions, including such precision-built engineering undertakings as midget submarines, tank parts, large bombs, and experimental work on radar components. (fn. 279) Once more locomotive building was simplified, 'utility' carriages devised, and maintenance cut to the minimum compatible with safety. After 1945 work on arrears kept Swindon busy. Nationalization wrought some changes in structure, and standardization of engines meant a reduction in some of the specialized work of the foundries and other shops. With the diversification of industry in Swindon the works lost their once preeminent position. By 1952 the railways employed only about half of those engaged in engineering in Swindon, and only about a third of those gainfully employed. But the importance of the Swindon works to the British railway system has not diminished over the years. A trade survey in 1950 (fn. 280) recorded the vast array of specialized modern machine tools needed to service a force of nearly 4,000 locomotives, 8,000 carriages, and 86,000 wagons, together with the equipment of all the services which provide amenities for passengers, and to handle merchandise on a large scale.
In 1946 77 new engines were built at Swindon: 12 others were converted to oilburning during the acute coal shortage of the following winter. There was a hint of further changes in an order for two 2,500 h.p. gas-turbine electric locomotives. (fn. 281)
Finally, the works were of some importance to the rest of the young engineering industry in Wiltshire. Westinghouse products are an obvious case in point and the connexion with Brotherhood has already been shown. But we also find, for instance, that Brown & May of Devizes were asked to supply a portable steam-engine, (fn. 282) and J. Wallis Titt of Warminster furnished windmill plant for water-pumps for the locomotive department. (fn. 283)