Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Armstrong Whitworth: 1934 Review

From Graces Guide

Note: This is an abridged version of a chapter in British Commerce and Industry 1934


ALTHOUGH in days gone by the name of Armstrong Whitworth was associated throughout the world with warlike products, the activities of the present great Armstrong Whitworth group are essentially different in character. To-day the group may be broadly described as General Engineers, Shipbuilders and Iron-founders, with particular interests in the development of transport by rail, sea and road.

The parent or holding company is now Armstrong Whitworth Securities Company Ltd., and the principal operating companies of the group are:—

  • Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Co. (Engineers) Ltd.,
  • Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Co. (Shipbuilders) Ltd. and
  • Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Co. (Ironfounders) Ltd.


The works of the engineer's company are at Scotswood, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This establishment is one of the most extensive and up-to-date steam and Diesel locomotive, marine and general engineering works in the country.

Laid out in 1919 as a locomotive building establishment it has a potential capacity of 200 steam locomotives per annum in addition to large numbers of boilers and component parts.

Some very large locomotive contracts have been carried out at Scotswood, notably one for 200 heavy main line locomotives for the Belgian State Railways, said to be the largest single order for locomotives ever placed. These engines were transported from the Tyne to Belgium in fully erected condition.

Realizing the important position which the Diesel engine is destined to occupy in the future of rail transport, Armstrong Whitworth were early entrants into this field of activity, and in conjunction with the Swiss firm of Sulzer Brothers have in recent years been especially prominent in pioneer work.

The first Diesel electric vehicle to be completed at Scotswood was the "Tyneside Venturer," a 250 H.P. Railcoach which has already proved its merits in intensive service. After successful trials covering some six months' regular running on the L. and N.E. Railway this vehicle was formally taken into regular service by the railway company and is now operating on one of the most exacting runs on the system. At the time of writing it has covered with entire success over 84,000 miles and has proved most economical in running costs.

A sister vehicle, equipped as a luxury saloon, made history as the first Diesel city to city express to operate in England when, under the title of the "Armstrong Shell Express," it carried out a daily service between London and Birmingham during the British Industries Fair of 1933. In this service it was sandwiched between two closely timed regular L.M.S. expresses, and was thus compelled to maintain a very strict schedule.

Other notable Diesel vehicles constructed at Scotswood are a series of 1,700 H.P. mobile power houses and locomotives for the Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway, and a group of light Diesel electric railcars for H.H. the Gaekwar of Baroda's State Railway, which has the honour to be the first railway to inaugurate a Diesel service in India.

Following these vehicles came a light stream-lined Rail Bus of novel construction, designed on motor-coach lines for fast and frequent suburban or country services at exceptionally low running costs, to compete with road transport. This vehicle is in service on the L. and N.E. Railway, where it is very much appreciated by the travelling public, and has now put up an enviable record for reliability and economy of operation.

Armstrong Whitworth are now in a position to supply Diesel units of all types from main line express locomotives, or mobile power houses running at seventy miles an hour or more, to small shunting engines for industrial users.

Special attention is now being paid to the development of light-weight motor trains and "Universal" Diesel locomotives. This "Universal" Diesel locomotive, either singly, or in multiple under the control of a single driver, will perform all the locomotive duties likely to be met with under normal conditions, and will make it possible to dispense with a multiplicity of types now maintained for varying duties. Standardization along these lines will not only go far to reduce the initial cost of locomotives, but will lead to greater availability, and greatly simplify the problem of spares and maintenance which is such a serious matter to-day, owing to the many types of engines in use on any one system.

An important section of the Scotswood Works is devoted to Marine Engineering, and is similarly well equipped for the construction and installation of all types of propelling machinery, including reciprocating steam engines, Armstrong-Sulzer Diesel engines, and marine boilers.

Since 1919 a hundred vessels have been equipped with machinery installations of various types, and very gratifying reports of the performances achieved by these vessels are regularly received.

A most important feature of the work of the marine engineering department is the undertaking of repair and conversion contracts, which they are equipped to handle in the most economical and speedy fashion. Notable contracts of this character include the conversion for oil burning of the Cunard Liners Aquitania and Berengaria, the complete reconditioning of the Lloyd Brasileiro steamers Camamu and Lages, which included new boiler-room equipment and important structural modifications, and the fitting of superheat and Bauer-Wach exhaust turbine installations in a number of vessels of the Ellerman Line. A contract of special interest, in that it constitutes a record, was the fitting of the Anglo-American Tanker Company's vessels Cadillac and Saranac for superheat within twelve working days.

In the sphere of general engineering the plant and facilities at the Scotswood Works are of such an exceptionally varied nature that practically any class of engineering work, either large or small, can be undertaken in a prompt and efficient manner on a strictly competitive basis.

Among the lighter products of the Scotswood Works the range of pneumatic tools has achieved an enviable reputation. This range has lately been greatly extended and now includes tools for every class of engineering, shipbuilding, structural and foundry work, as well as for the mining, quarrying and road-making industries. Other notable products are "Ironclad" light weight bodies for commercial vehicles, trailers for road transport, air compressors, Spencer-Hopwood water tube vertical boilers, industrial furnaces, cotton ginning machinery, etc.

One section of the Scotswood Works is devoted to the production of heavy oil engined commercial road vehicles under the control of an Associated Company, Armstrong-Saurer Commercial Vehicles. These vehicles have quickly attained a great success and are probably the most efficient and reliable heavy oil vehicles on the road to-day. The present range includes sixteen types for pay-loads from 5 tons solo to 14/16 tons with trailer.


The shipyards of Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Co. (Shipbuilders) Ltd., which are situated at Walker, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, are now solely concerned with the building of mercantile craft.

Armstrong Whitworth have built well over one thousand vessels, of which nine hundred come within the category of merchant ships. These include every type of passenger liner, cross-channel passenger steamer, oil tanker and cargo vessel, together with large numbers of highly specialized craft such as train ferries, icebreakers, locomotive carriers, lightships, etc., as well as floating docks, of which the great dock at Southampton is an outstanding example. The shipyards, which are capable of an output of 90,000 gross tons per annum, are thoroughly up to date and are staffed by men of unique experience in the design and construction of every class of mercantile shipping.

The first keel was laid in 1852, and it can be justly claimed that from that date the firm of Armstrong Whitworth has been pioneers in the development of modern ship design and construction. They possess the advantage of eighty years of accumulated experience coupled with extensive facilities which permit of quick delivery and strictly competitive prices.


Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Co. (Ironfounders) Ltd. are located at Close Works, Gateshead-on-Tyne, and operate an entirely modern and up-to-date plant. They are capable of turning out a very wide range of iron castings up to thirty-two tons in weight for all classes of engineering work.

A speciality of Close Works is the range of "New Process" refined irons produced in rotary furnaces heated with powdered fuel. These irons, which can be supplied to guaranteed analyses, and which exhibit remarkable physical properties, are the outcome of extended research to obtain a low carbon homogeneous degasified iron, and they place all previously conceived ideas of grey or malleable iron on a new plane. They are firmly established in the automobile industry and among producers of malleable castings, and have proved incomparable for hydraulic, steam and oil engine castings.

A new enterprise at the Close Works is the manufacture of chilled iron rolls for bar, strip and sheet mills. These rolls, which are made of special alloy iron containing nickel and other elements, are conspicuous for their exceptional strength, fineness of surface and resistance to cracking. Their introduction has met with immediate success, and has resulted in the fulfilment of a demand hitherto satisfied only by foreign manufacturers.

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