English Electric Growl 

Growlette: English Electric, Construction Sites

Construction SItes

© English Electric Growl / English Electric Growl Collection

Queensland, Australia

This December 1959 aerial photo, shows the then English Electric, Rocklea Works in Brisbane, Queensland.

© English Electric Growl Collection

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The 'English Electric' company had numerous sites that were used to construct locomotives, although only three were used to build locomotives that were fitted with the English Electric 12CSVT Diesel Engine. Two were in the United Kingdom, those being the Vulcan Foundry at Newton le Willows and the Darlington 'Stivvies' Works of Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns. The remaining works was in the southern hemisphere, part of the English Electric Australia company at Rocklea Works, Brisbane in Queensland.

  • Vulcan Foundry
  • Darlington Works
  • Rocklea Works

The original 'Vulcan Foundry' was created in 1832 by the Charles Tayleur and Company who had a contract to make girders and ironwork for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. As the premises developed the company became 'The Vulcan Foundry Company' in 1847, becoming a limited company in 1964, it changed in 1898 to 'The Vulcan Foundry Limited'.

The company developed many designs of steam engines and were renowned for it's exports around the globe and on many occasions supplied the first rail traction equipment to countries. In 1928, the company delivered a number of 'Crocodile' electric locomotives to India, soon followed by the first experimental diesel shunter for the british home market in 1931.

Throughout the 1930's, the company struggled in the home Market as recessions caused many to tighten their belts. During this time the company once again lived off exports to countries like India and Argentina to name two. By the end of the decade, the world was a war and the site was used by the company to build tanks used in the conflict. By 1943, orders for locomotives were again being made and the foundry began to turn out locomotives for the War Department.

Robert Stephenson had a big influence on the company in the early days, becoming a partner when the company was initially formed, although this partnership was subsequently dissolved as Stephenson concentrated on other projects. In 1944, the Vulcan Foundry bought out the remains of the 'Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns' company, gaining locomotive orders in the process. With the end of the worldwide conflict in 1945, some countries required assistance to rebuild their rail networks, with a number of orders from India helping the company keep the order books full.

Earlier experiments into Diesel traction evolved, including an order for a number of Diesel railcars for New Zealand in the late 1930's. One of these was lost at sea after being despatched from the port of Liverpool in 1940, only for the ship to be sunk by enemy action. During the late 1940's the company pressed on with Diesel production and did so throughout the 1950's until 1957 when the whole company was purchased and became part of the 'English Electric' group.

The company continued to provide traction locomotives around the globe throughout the 1960's, but by the end of the decade the longterm health of the company was bleak. This led to the takeover of 'English Electric' by 'GEC' and the ultimate cessation of locomotive building at the Vulcan Foundry in 1970. It did not end there though, the site was revamped and continued to trade under the 'Ruston Paxman Diesels' banner, suppyling diesel engines for Marine and Static applications. The company continued to supply engines for rail use, but the glory of locomotive building was never to be regained.

The Vulcan Foundry at Newton le Willows continued to trade until 2002, in the 1970's in was part of 'GEC Alsthom' group which became just Alsthom. The last change of ownership happened in 2000 when 'MAN B&W' took over the site, but just two years later in June 2002, the foundry gates were closed for the 'last' time.

In October 2007 the factory buildings were demolished in preparation for the site to be redeveloped into a housing estate containing 630 new homes.

The Robert Stephenson Co. moved locomotive production from Newcastle to Darlington in 1902, leaving shipbuilding and other enginerring projects at the Newcastle site. At Darlington, the new works was built on a site north of the town and east of the East Coast Main Line. In 1937, Robert Stephenson took over the R. and W. Hawthorn, Leslie and Co. in Newcastle and the company became Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn.

During World War II, the company maintained locomotive production, all for small industrial locomotives. In 1943 the War Department placed an order for almost 100 of the Austerity design of locomotives, which the works produced for a number of years. By the mid 1950's the company was beginning to show the signs of financial difficulties, which culminated in the take over by the 'English Electric Company'.

The takeover by EE gave the works at Darlington a new lease of life, it worked alongside the Vulcan Foundry at Newton le Willows, to produce many locomotives for the British and Export market, although this was a shortlived reprieve as 'English Electric' was looking to trim off the waste which led to the closure of 'Stivvies' in May 1964, the last locomotive to be released from the works was for British Railways in the shape of 12CSVT fitted English Electric 17/3 Class no. D6898.

After closure, a company called Phoenix Tubeman Ltd bought the site and reconfigured the the area into smaller industrial units. The site remained unchanged until the late 1990's, when it was demolished and redeveloped into a housing estate.

The Rocklea Works at Evans Road in Brisbane began life in the 1940 as part of wartime considerations. Developed by the Evans Deakins Co. to make parts for the 'River Class' ships, these parts were then moved to the copany's Kangaroo Point shipyard for assembly and launch. The following year the site was further developed by the Australian Shipbuilding Board and the Commonwealth Marine Engine Works was born.

In 1948 the buildings of CMEW were purchased by English Electric. The company was based in the UK, but it was expanding across the world at the time and wanted to develop a southern hemisphere location to construct equipment, a search for appropriate locations led to Brisbane and the CMEW site. By 1958, English Electric gained ownership of the 13.9 acres of land and further expansion of the buildings on site took place. These new buildings were the turning point for the site at the time, when the company began the construction of locomotives in Australia.

All orders for Asia and Australasia during the 1960's were dealt with at the Rocklea Works. In 1968 the parent English Electric company was in trouble and it formed a short term partnership with AEI which evolved into the GEC (General Electric Company) - AEI engineering in 1969. By 1970 the AEI name was dropped and the company proceeded forward as GEC, subtitled as GEC Australia to differentiate it from the US company of the same name.

In 1976, the last locomotive to be constructed at Rocklea was a 12CSVT diesel engine fitted diesel electric for use in Tasmania. ZA6 left in June and brought the end to almost 20 years of locomotive construction on site.

The site has been used by GEC-Alsthom and subsequently Alsthom for other uses and is still extant.


This page was last updated on Sunday March 11th 2018