Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,192 pages of information and 233,429 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
1833 The Viaduct Foundry was a small engineering works originally set up by predecessors of Jones, Turner and Evans which partnership was formed in 1837. Amongst other products they built at least one locomotive named Black Diamond for use at the nearby Haydock Collieries, in which Evans had a major interest. Pumping machinery for the mines was also manufactured.
The Foundry had rail connections at the easterly end of the Sankey Viaduct, and it is claimed locally that the Rocket was serviced and watered in the works; proof of this claim is lacking, but excavations under the floor of the Square Smithy on the spot where the watering is said to have taken place revealed a line of stone blocks with cast iron rail chairs with chair bolts set in lead, presumably the early Liverpool and Manchester permanent way.
1851 June. Partnership between Jones and Potts dissolved. Dissolution of the Partnership between John Jones and Arthur Potts, at the Viaduct Foundry, in Newton-in-Makerfield, in the county of Lancaster, as Ironfounders and Mechanical Engineers, and all other our partnership affairs and concerns. The engine series had reached number 290. John Jones carried on as John Jones
1852 January. Sale of plant and equipment due to declining business.
Towards the end of 1852, the locomotive shops at Crewe were inadequate for the number of repairs currently required and it was decided in January 1853, that the Edge Hill shops at Liverpool should concentrate wholly on locomotive work. Additional accommodation would have to be found for the operations of the Wagon Department of the Northern Division of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) and negotiations were entered into with Jones and Potts.
They were prepared to lease the foundry for two years at 650 pounds per annum or for seven years at 600 pounds per annum. This would provide accommodation for building 1000 wagons and 50 engines every year, and the premises to be let included: "one 24 horse engine, one 18 horse engine, 40 smiths fires, one large hooping furnace, one foundry, three cupolas, one brass foundry, gas apparatus, one office and drawing room, warehouse, dining room for 200 men and stables for eight horses".
The tenancy was approved on 12th February 1853, and the lease of the property dated from 1st March 1853. At the end of the seven year lease the property was bought for ?15,000.
By 1853 the works covered about eight acres and included some 33 workers cottages (Owen and Norris Streets), all of which were later demolished to make way for the development of the factory under the railway management. The country lane giving access to the foundry was originally called Pepper Alley Lane, but was renamed Earle Street as a compliment to Sir Hardman Earle, the LNWR Director under whose guidance the company bought and developed the Works. His name is also commemorated in the name of Earlestown, the settlement for the employees which was built close to the Works by the Railway Company.
Turning to the history of the years of railway ownership, and recalling the growth of the works and the activities carried on, there are three distinct phases which can be clearly seen:
When the Foundry was taken over by the LNWR in 1853 and additional staff was transferred from Ordsall Lane in Salford, the expansion began, and apart from the extra workshops which were constructed it was necessary to provide housing adjacent to the Works and so Chandos, Booth, Lawrence and Rathbone Streets were built, together with Haydock Place and Newton and Sankey Terraces, forming the nucleus of the housing, and Earlestown began to take shape.
A rapid expansion of the Works was begun by Owen Owens between 1853 and 1867. This was continued by Mr. Emmett, under whom practically three quarters of the workshops were built, although some of them have had several uses since that time.
1854 To accommodate the work a new wagon shed was authorised early in 1854, on additional land which had already been purchased next to the Long Smithy. By 1864 wagon production was in full swing and Mr. Owens reported that production for the first half of that year was 652 new vehicles and 180 vehicles repaired; for the second half, 529 new vehicles and 202 repaired. This made a total of 1,552 rail vehicles and 11 road vehicles.
The production of new vehicles varied with the orders placed. At the same time the Works were engaged on heavy repairs to wagons and the manufacture of wheels, iron and brass castings and wrought iron parts. These were both for use at the Works and to be dispatched to other repair depots in the northern district.
1863 The last engine was made (for Spain)
In 1867 J. Watson Emmett succeeded Mr Owens as Works Superintendent and was faced with a wholesale reduction in the building programme, resulting in 124 of the staff being discharged. Fortunately this phase did not last long and by the beginning of 1869 orders had been received to build 1,560 new wagons.
The pace of the development is shown by the following extracts of the Minutes of the Northern Section of the Locomotive & Engineering Committee:
"February 1868 - LNWR Chairman visited the works and agreed Mr. Emmetts proposal to build a new shed for the tyre press at ?460. Alterations to old Smithy ?300. October 1868 - New Spring Shop and furnace ordered. February 1869 - Shop heating installed to Fitting, Carpentering and Wood Machine Shops. January 1870 - Wheel making plant authorised. April 1870 - Plans for new stores authorised. July 1871 - Timber shed approved ?7,800. June 1872 - New Wagon Shop ?8,500."
The growing community and the need for some local centre for relaxation and recreation was recognised, and in June 1873 plans were approved for a two-storey building, to serve as a dining room for the staff on the ground floor, and a library and reading room on the upper floor, to be built close to the Works. This building was opened in 1877 and the Viaduct Institute was established. The personnel of the Works contributed a penny a week for those with earnings over 10 shillings per week and a halfpenny for those earning less.
The importance of the Earlestown works as the principal wagon works of the LNWR was recognised in 1895 when it was visited by the International Railway Congress on 28th June. The personnel employed in the works in 1901 was about 2,000 and its capacity reported at the time was 4,000 new wagons, 13,000 heavy repairs and 300 new horse drawn-vehicles of various types.
The period from 1903 to 1923 was not remarkable for great changes, but nevertheless steady improvement took place in keeping with production requirements. About 1890 the old Griffin Hotel had been demolished (formerly Mr. Joness House), and the new Griffin constructed in 1891. This made way for further development at the extreme easterly end of the works. In 1913-14 the White Shop was built. It was so named as it was constructed from reinforced concrete and steel which was a departure from tradition as the rest of the works was built in local red brick.
The Institute had also expanded, providing recreation facilities with three bowling greens, a first class cricket pitch, three tennis courts and an athletic track. A number of small buildings and pavilions allocated to the various sections provided adequate amenities. An outstanding feature of the Institutes activities was the pensioners section with an excellent pavilion built in 1923 and named Warneford Hall after Mr. W.H. Warneford, Works Superintendent from 1916 to 1924.
Under the grouping of Main Line Railways the LNWR became one of the constituent companies forming the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS). The Works became the principal LMS factory for heavy repairs to wagons and the manufacture and repair of door to door containers of all types.
The repair of road vehicles, horse-drawn and motor was maintained, and manufacture of wagon laminated springs and three-link couplings for the whole system was concentrated at the Viaduct Works.
Under new management shortly after the grouping Mr. (later Sir) Ernest Lemon became Superintendent of both Earlestown Works and Newton Heath Works, Manchester. He introduced new methods of construction of wagons at Earlestown, and standard wood framed open goods wagons were produced by mass production methods on a production line system. At the same time the Arcade was converted into a wheel assembly and wheel dismantling shop.
In 1931 Mr. Anthony became the Works Superintendent and the task fell to him to repair wagons on progressive lines and to reorganise the Works to accommodate wagon, lorry and road motor body repairs transferred from Newton Heath, which took the place of new work lost at the Earlestown Works. The progressive system was applied, which necessitated the introduction of power-operated hand tools, both electric and compressed air. The thirties saw the abolition of the Stamping shop, Bolt shop, Forge, Rolling Mill and the Iron and Brass Foundries, although their names lingered on for many years.
In October 1943 the old method of manufacturing three-link wagon couplings by hand forging was discontinued and an electric flash-butt welding process was brought into use. The main sawmill supplied the needs of the factory and out-stations in milled timber of all descriptions. On the retirement of Mr. Anthony in 1946, Mr. A .E. Bates was appointed and made changes in Shop layouts. This meant that the large numbers of wagons which were standing idle awaiting repair owing to the after-effects of the war, as well as the increasing number of steel-frame and all-steel wagons, could be dealt with more easily.
In 1952 the workforce was about 1,900, of whom 1,700 were actually employed in the workshops.
It is sad to say that in 1964 the Viaduct Works closed following the controversial Beeching Report on British Railways. However, many memories live on of the Works that was the very foundation of Earlestown nearly 150 years ago.
Jones and Potts, Newton-Le-Willows
"This firm originally started operations as locomotive builders at Viaduct Foundry, Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, at the end of 1837 or beginning of 1838.
At that time a and for five or six years afterwards it was known as Messrs. Jones, Turner and Evans. When the change took place and Mr. Arthur Potts joined Mr. Jones, the writer does not know exactly,but it appears to have been about 1843 or 1844.
Mr Jones was the practical man who took charge inside the works and left the commercial side of the business to Mr Potts, who travelled most energetically all over the country seeking and obtaining orders for locomotives. Some years ago a considerable number of the letters written home to the firm by Mr. Potts were lent to the writer, and from them a great deal of information on the work of the old firm has been obtained."
 Newton-le-Willows Web Site