English Electric was a world famous name in just about every aspect of electrical and many other areas of manufacturing industry – from power generation, to transport, aerospace and even computing. But in the railway industry they will forever be associated with the power equipment, and complete locomotives and multiple units running in just about every country on the planet.
It may or may not be true that “all roads lead to Rome” during the empire days, but the majority of ‘roads’ in electrical and especially railway engineering led to Preston and South Lancashire.
lf you want a locomotive for any track gauge, or you need a supersonic jet fighter, a washing machine or a fridge – the maker’s label could quite easily say “English Electric”.
During the 1920s and 1930s, there was considerable interest in the development of non-steam traction, and at the forefront of the latest electrification schemes, mostly it has to be said in former British colonies, and English Electric were out there designing, building, and supporting new technologies.
The company itself was formed in 1919, in the aftermath of the First World War, and the ‘home economy’ was in pretty poor shape, along with many other countries. In fact, Dick,Kerr & Co., Siemens Bros., Dynamo Works, and the Coventry Ordnance Works were merged with Willans & Robinson to form the English Electric Co.
But, from their home base in Preston, the former Dick, Kerr works, the new English Electric Co. began delivering some world beating projects and deployed the latest technology. At the same time, they were focussed on developing that technology, whether for new lines, or new ideas – one of the the world’s unique railways – the Post Office Tube, an automated line was built in the 1920s. Numerous tramway and mass transit rolling stock, as well as equipments for the early electric locomotives came out of the Dick, Kerr shops. Later, the electrification works in Japan, Denmark, New Zealand and India all saw the arrival of the products of Preston, and its workshops.
Of course, these were early days, and neighbouring steam locomotive works – Vulcan Foundry – at Newton-le-Willows were busy diversifying too, with their partnership with A/S Frichs of Aarhus, Denmark as diesel traction began to attract the interest of railway companies. Vulcan Foundry would soon become part of the English Electric brand too, along with another steam locomotive builder – Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns, of Newcastle.
Steam railway technology may have begun in the North East, but the new technologies for non-steam power saw their genesis and power base in Lancashire – and soon English Electric builders’ plates would be everywhere from London and Liverpool to Tokyo.
The images above are linked to the original EE Co. material in PDF form, which I hope you enjoy.
The extent of English Electric’s engineering expertise and skills filled almost every aspect of engineering industry, from washing machines to computers and nuclear power stations, where Hinckley Point included turbines supplied by English Electric. Here are a few examples:
More to come, so watch this space.