The Armstrong Whitworth Company

The Armstrong Whitworth Company was the product of Victorian era entrepreneurs using their ingenuity & problem solving skills coupled to the ever-growing engineering advancements of the Industrial Revolution.
William George Armstrong, born Newcastle upon Tyne in November 1810 finished his early education by becoming articled to a firm of solicitors. After becoming a partner and a good friend of the owner Armstrong’s free time was spent exploring the world of mechanics, particularly the use of waterpower to drive machinery. In April 1847 with financing from close friends land was leased at Elswick, a factory constructed, crane building being the principal activity, the profits from which financed much of the research into other fields. Bridges and their opening mechanisms followed, contracts being received from I K Brunel no less.
Included in the varied research was the invention of the breech loading gun – Armstrong received his knighthood in return for surrendering the patents to the government. The Elswick factory workforce branched out further into the construction of ships, locomotives and armaments.

Joseph Whitworth was born in Stockport in 1804, apprenticing as a mechanic at an Ambergate cotton mill. Further training followed in London & Manchester with a strong desire to improve and enhance the existing mill related technology. His dedication and attention to detail led to the production of precision instruments and the machines & tools required to create them. Whitworth’s claim to fame was the ‘Whitworth thread’ – the mass production of taps & dies, allowing the supply worldwide of standardised nuts & bolts. And as Armstrong’s industrial facilities increased its output of items so Whitworth’s Manchester area factories expanded their production into many products, including guns.
In 1887 Whitworth died, a multi-millionaire in today’s terms, his empire was sold to Armstrong and the company renamed the Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd. Lord Armstrong was also a very wealthy man, in 1894 he purchased Bamburgh Castle, having the majority of it rebuilt. He died in 1900 whilst the castle’s restoration continued.
Further amalgamation occurred in 1919 with the Siddeley Deasey Company, and in 1927 with Vickers, when the greater part of the Armstrong Whitworth company became Vickers Armstrong.
And of course in September 1919 Armstrong Whitworth became a Sulzer diesel engine licensee.

During early 1932 a prototype shunting locomotive was constructed by Armstrong Whitworth that perhaps could be considered the joint precursor (with English Electric demonstrator 7079 of 1936) of a vast fleet of 0-6-0 diesel electric shunters for British Railways.This locomotive was fitted with the same engine that went into the three heavyweight railcars produced just prior to this locomotive – a 250hp 6LV22 engine. The main generator and single traction motor were provided by Laurence Scott & Electromotors, the traction motor was frame mounted within the wheelbase using a jackshaft drive with rods to power the wheels. Length over buffers was 29ft, height 12ft 3in, width 8ft 6in, wheelbase 13ft and maximum tractive effort was 24,000lb.
Essentially the locomotive was built as a demonstrator, not having an immediate buyer, and spent much of 1932-1933 working at several LNER goods yards in the Newcastle area.
Extensive tests were completed by Armstrong Whitworth prior to the handing over to the LNER on June 10th 1932 for testing in their Forth Goods yard.
At the controls for a short time was the LNER
CME Mr H N Gresley, who was impressed by the results. An agreement followed with the locomotive taking up shunting duties from July 11th 1932 at Forth marshalling yard, then in the yards at Blaydon & Heaton. Loads at the Forth Yard were upto forty wagons totalling 600 tons, whilst the Blaydon Yard with its gradients permitted a maximum load of 750 tons. After a month at Blaydon it moved to Heaton Yard. Here it was challenged by taking 800 ton loads up the 1 in 150 Benton Bank. Fuel consumption with this type of working was about 2.5 gallons per hour. Availability for this period was 98.5%, (for the engine it was 100%), the general availability being affected by a derailment and brake troubles. It was noted that although scheduled for three eight hour shifts six days a week, the locomotive actually spent just under one third of that time idling! The LNER trials ended on October 30th 1932.

Breakdown of the trials spent on the LNER:
Forth Yard: July 11th 1932 – July 24th 1932
Blaydon No.3 Pilot: July 25th 1932 – July 31st 1932
Blaydon No.2 Pilot: August 2nd 1932 – August 21st 1932
Heaton No.2 Pilot South: August 22nd 1932 – October 16th 1932
Heaton North: October 17th 1932 – October 30th 1932

After the LNER returned the shunter to Armstrong Whitworth it undertook other trials. These included two months spent on the Southern Region, at Bricklayers Arms, Eastleigh & Norwood Junction. Then followed trials on the Hartley Main Colliery Railway, Northumberland, which ended with the locomotive being hit by a loaded runaway ballast wagon which caused considerable damage to the cab. The locomotive returned to Scotswood for repairs.
Further trials then followed at Lever Brothers, Port Sunlight and with Ribble Navigation at Preston Docks. The locomotive then returned to Scotswood, remaining there until March 1935 when it was purchased by Ribble Navigation. It was named ‘Duchess’ and worked alongside the company’s steam shunters.
Its thirty four years in service saw very few changes to its appearance. At some point the vacuum brake pipes & hoses mounted on the buffer beams were removed.
It remained in service until 1969 when it was withdrawn following the arrival of new diesel shunters.

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