English Electric Growl 

Growlette: English Electric

English Electric

© English Electric Growl / English Electric Growl Collection
Aerial view of the Rocklea Works of English Electric in Brisbane, Australia in December 1959.

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© English Electric Growl Collection

The history of the "English Electric Company" can be traced back to the mid to late 19th century when the likes of Dick, Kerr & Co. and Siemens Bros, amongst others, explored the thought that other types of traction besides steam could be used for railway haulage.


Preston had grown into an important area for railway related construction towarsd the end of the centruy and in November 1899 two of the renowned local builders, Dick, Kerr & Co. and the Electric Railway & Tramway Manufacturing Company joined forces in a new venture, the "English Electric Manufacturing Company Ltd". The name was only used for around four years until control of the venture passed solely to Dick, Kerr & Co. and the name disappeared.


In 1919, five companies, Dick, Kerr & Co., Willans & Robinson, the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company, the Coventry Ordnance Works and Siemens Bro's. merged to form the "English Electric Company", four of the companies that merged were under the control of John Brown & Co, who had earlier made inroads into the production of the metal rails for use on the railways, but a company that became more known for shipbuilding in Glasgow.


It is surprising to find out that even though the company had the ability to build locomotives and motor coaches "in house", some parts were still sourced from other companies. This continued throughout the 1920's, as the company became quite prolific in the export market, whilst at home the market was somewhat subdued. By the late 1920's, the company struggled with orders and for a few years it suffered a lean period, as did most other companies of the time.


In the 1930's, English Electric grew from strength to strength and became quite a success. An early experimental design for a Diesel Rail-car was not successful in the United Kingdom as expected, but this was due to lack of need for this type of transport! Around the same time though, the company designed and constructed a 6-cylinder engine at the Willans & Robinson Rugby works, which was then fitted to a 0-6-0 Diesel prototype shunter designed by English Electric at Preston. This shunter was also fitted out with E.E. electrical equipment, but the remaining mechanical parts were built by another external company, Hawthorne & Leslie.


With the success of the companies Diesel shunter in the early 1930's, it still struggled to get the Big-Four companies in ther United Kingdom to accept diesels as the way forward for the Home market. In fact, most of E.E. successes throughout the remainder of the decade, were due to the high number of exports to colonies of the commonwealth, in both Diesel and Electric formats. At the end of the decade, World War II broke out and for the time the country was at war between 1939 and 1945, the production lines of the company were used to supply the war effort, ranging from ammunitions to aircraft.


The companies usual designs did not stand still during the war, when time allowed, the designs were developed and the company expanded into other areas, including towards the end of the war, two companies joing the fold to become a part of English Electric. The companies were, D. Napier, which had made itself known in the world of marine propulsion and, Marconi, a name synonymous with the communications industry.


After the war, the Big Four railway companies of the United Kingdom, had a change of heart and were now seeking ways of modernising the railways, the Great Western Railway went down the gas turbine route, whereas the London Midland & Scottish and Southern Railways went for Diesel-Electric. English Electric had a major influence on both the latter, more details will be published in this section soon.


The companies biggest influence on the Home market was to come later in the 1950's, the company was expanding further and the Vulcan Foundry, became part of the English Electric Group. Incorporated into this expansion was the Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn company which had been bought by the Vulcan Foundry in 1944. These expansions had created the principle supplier in the UK and also a strong supplier to export, especially Australia, New Zealand, Asia and a number of African countries.


During the late 1940's, the company realised the scope of the business available in the southern hemisphere and created a new branch, English Electric - Australia. Initially the location in the Brisbane suburbs was used only for non-rail equipment, rail equipment was still built in the UK and exported. By the mid-1950's, the company realised that to fulfill the requirements of British Railways and other Northern Hemisphere countries, it would need to change it's focus and the Brisbane works was given all subsequent orders from this area, leaving the subsequent UK, African and Asian orders for locomotives to the UK plants.


The Modernisation plan of British Railways in 1955, brought English Electric to the fore, and it was by far the most successful locomotive manufacturer in the UK, almost 50 years later, some of the locomotives designed at this time are still in daily service.


By the mid-1960's the company has expanded as far as it was going to expand, with Ruston & Hornsby joining the group in November 1966. In 1967, the company received it's last order for mainline locomotives from British Railways, the "D400´s" were ordered by the London Midland to work express passenger trains north of Crewe to Scotland over the routes that were due for electrification. The class was initially leased to BR, but with the future of the company in doubt by the end of the decade, all 50 examples were ´sold´.


With the company now in decline, it came as no surprise when in 1969 it was taken over by the General Electric Company. The assets of the old company were split between it's parent, with the Rail Traction section becoming part of English Electric-AEI Traction later that year. The English Electric name continued to be used for a further three years, before it was assigned to history when GEC Traction was formed.


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This page was last updated on Sunday February 4th 2024