Back in the 1960s, as the British Railways Workshops were being re-organised under a programme announced in 1962, the UK still had a significant number of private sector manufacturers. Although, some were already in serious financial difficulties, as they tried to make the transition from building from steam to diesel and electric traction.
In 1965, the British Railways workshops in North Road, Darlington, some 1,400 employees were building diesel locomotives. So, they had made the transition, and as part of BR were supporting the modernisation programme.
Darlington – the birthplace of railways – the locomotive works closed in the same year that England won their one and only football world cup, resulting in the loss of more than 2,100 jobs. From the autumn of 1962, when news of Darlington’s closure was announced, thousands of protestors filled the A1 (the Great North Road) in the centre of the town, and the traffic struggled to pass. These protests continued – and were widely reported in the local press – continued until the works was closed in 1966.
Politicians too were alarmed at the prospect of closure of the works, and in 1965, the local MP ( Ted Fletcher) made this observation in the House of Commons:
- I did address a Question to the Minister on 22nd March asking him what reduction had taken place in the manpower of the railway workshops over the last five years. I was informed by the Minister that 24,000 jobs had disappeared in British railway workshops over the last five years. So it seems to us that over the five years of Tory rule preference has been given to private enterprise, and publicly-owned industry has been deliberately sabotaged for doctrinaire reasons and, as a consequence, the labour force has been allowed to run down too rapidly.
More tellingly, in the same session Ted Fletcher made this interesting observation:
- As far as I am aware, A.E.I. has not got any locomotive building works. Much of this work is put out to subcontractors. The jigs, the tools, the templates, and the fixtures in Darlington North Road shops were transferred to a private firm—Beyer-Peacock in Manchester—so that it could fulfil a subcontract for part of the order for diesel locomotives.
- This action was taken by the Railways Board in spite of the assurance given by Sir Steuart Mitchell at that time to the Railway Shopmen’s National Council that everything possible would be done in the granting of new orders to alleviate the necessity for redundancy at Darlington. Machinery and equipment were disposed of to private enterprise.
- At the same time, the manpower in the workshops has been allowed to run down.
Fascinating – was it true? Was this a way of the Government trying to support the failing Beyer-Peacock, because the prevailing view about railway workshops was ‘over capacity’, and yet, according to Ted Fletcher in the debate:
- It (British Railways)has completely over-estimated the number of redundancies that should take place. This is borne out by the fact that many railway workshops now work a considerable amount of overtime. This includes some shops in Darlington. As much as 30 hours a week are now being worked in overtime in many workshops.Many of the thousands made redundant struggled to find work, but the nearby Darlington & Simpson Rolling Mills provided some opportunity for continued employment in engineering.
It is equally ironic perhaps that in addition to the closure of BR’s Darlington Works, Beyer-Peacock’s Gorton Works were closed in the same year – 1966. Rather like the North British Loco Co. in Glasgow, which closed in 1962, Beyer’s foray into diesel traction was not successful, as they allied themselves to the Western Region’s use of diesel-hydraulic types. Perhaps the company’s most well known design was the ‘Hymek’ Type 3. That said they also fabricated the mechanical parts for diesel-electric and electric locomotives, but they found that subcontracting activity uneconomic.
On top of that, Beyer Peacock also built what was perhaps the worst diesel locomotive ordered by British Railways – the infamous “Clayton Type 1”. BR had ordered no fewer than 117 of this twin engined, centre cab design, straight off the drawing board, and Beyer’s were unfortunate enough to be the sub-contractors for the last 29, built in the company’s final year of life, 1965.
Looking at Beyer’s position in the 1960s, the possibility of the Darlington tools being transferred to Manchester increases. In 1962 Beyer’s were awarded 2 orders for 18 locomotives each, of the Type 2, (Class 25/3 in TOPS numbering) 1,250hp Bo-Bo design, to be numbered in the range from D7598 to D7677. The other 44 locomotives were to be built at Derby.
NB: The heading illustration shows the preserved D7628 “Sybilla” – on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway in 2016. Photo (c) Charlie Jackson, and Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
However, Beyer-Peacock were unable to complete the final 18 locomotives ordered by BR and the work was transferred to Derby. Given that the Type 2 locomotives were a BR design, and were predominantly built at Darlington – all of Class 25/0, and many from classes 25/1 and 25/2, it does seem likely that any jigs and tools could have been provided to Beyer-Peacock.
The idea that the Government and British Railways Board allowed the transfer of jigs, tools and other machinery to Beyer-Peacock in the 1960s does not seem to have prevented the company from failing.
So, with hindsight both the BR workshops – Darlington in particular, where many BR Type 2 diesels were built – and the Beyer-Peacock works in Manchester were significant losses to the engineering industry. On the one hand, the BR works closed as part of a Government plan to reduce railway workshop capacity, and on the other a failure of the particular private sector business to make the right commercial choices perhaps.