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Vulcan Foundry, site of
Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, UK
Vulcan Foundry, site of
associated engineer
Charles Tayleur
Robert Stephenson
date  1830
era  Georgian  |  category  Factory/Industrial Plant  |  reference  SJ585940
photo  c.1915, courtesy Steven Dowd, Newton-le-Willows
Vulcan Foundry manufactured ironwork for railways and built early steam locomotives, to designs by Robert Stephenson and others. Later on, the works also manufactured diesel and electric locomotives. Its output was exported worldwide for almost 170 years. The foundry has now been demolished, although the associated workers’ village survives as a conservation area.
In 1830, engineer and merchant Charles Tayleur (b.1785) established Vulcan Foundry at the south end of Newton-le-Willows, occupying 1,350 sq m of a 1.4 hectare yard. The foundry produced all kinds of railway ironwork and supplied the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (opened 1830), the mid-way point of which's route passes through the town.
On 27th June 1832, railway pioneer and engineer Robert Stephenson (1803-59) became a partner in the works. At the time, the locomotive plant he had set up with his father George Stephenson (1781-1848) and Edward Pease (1767-1858) in Newcastle upon Tyne was struggling to keep pace with demand. The opportunity to build additional locomotives here, so close to a major rail link, was too good to miss. The partnership agreement states that Stephenson "shall bind himself to devote" an equal amount of time to Robert Stephenson & Co. in Newcastle and to Charles Tayleur & Co. in Newton-le-Willows.
The works’ earliest steam-powered locomotives were completed in 1833. It is reported that "Mr Hargreaves of Bolton", probably John Hargreaves senior (1780-1860), received the first two 0-4-0 locomotive tenders — appropriately named Tayleur and Stephenson — for the branch line from Wigan to Newton-le-Willows (built 1832) that was to become part of the North Union Railway. Three 2-2-0 tenders went to the Warrington & Newton Railway.
Two 4-2-0 tenders, possibly the first British bogie locomotives, were built for the Camden & Woodbury Railroad in New Jersey, USA. This was the start of a manufacturing business that would spread worldwide.
In January 1834, Daniel Gooch (1816-89) joined the Vulcan Foundry as an apprentice. Three years later, he would become locomotive superintendent of the Great Western Railway under chief engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59), and take over as chairman in 1865. He went on to become Member of Parliament for Cricklade (1865-85) and was knighted in 1866 for his role in laying the second transatlantic telegraph cable.
In 1835, Vulcan Village (SJ585938) was constructed, to accommodate the foundry’s growing workforce. It occupies a triangular area on the south side of the works site, and has six rows of two-storey terrace houses (called Manchester, Liverpool, Derby, Sheffield, Chester and London rows).
In 1836, Stephenson resigned as partner in the foundry, owing to the heavy workload of his other railway commitments — from 1833, he was also chief engineer to the London & Birmingham Railway. Not long afterwards, Tayleur's son Charles Tayleur junior (1810-59) began to take control of the works. By 1837, Vulcan's steam locomotives were also being sent to Belgium, France, Russia and Austria.
Charles Tayleur junior suffered from ill health and put much of the foundry’s management in the hands of his brother Henry Theophilus Tayleur (1812-94). In 1843, another brother, Edward Tayleur (1820-91), joined the company. Locomotives were exported to Germany (1843) and Ireland (1846). The latter are thought to be the earliest railway side tank engines.
In 1847, George Samuel Sanderson (1818-70) became a partner and, in May, the company name was changed from Charles Tayleur & Co. to the Vulcan Foundry Co. The company took over Bank Quay Foundry (established 1837) in Warrington, some six kilometers to the south, which was equipped to manufacture guns, shot, shells, heavy castings and ships. Bank Quay would provide ironwork for Stephenson’s Tubular Bridge at Conwy (1848) and the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait (1850). Bank Quay closed circa 1854.
At Newton-le-Willows, locomotive building continued. Engines were sold in India (1852) and Crimea (1854). In 1853, the eight 2-4-0 locomotives supplied to the Great Indian Peninsula Railway opened the first public passenger railway in that country.
From January 1864, the company acquired limited liability status and was registered as the Vulcan Foundry Co. Ltd on 24th August. By this time William Frederick Gooch (1825-1915), brother of Daniel Gooch, was general manager.
In 1871, the first locomotive for Imperial Japanese Railways was constructed at Vulcan. The railway was inaugurated in 1872, and Vulcan’s 2-4-0 tank engine worked the line between Shinbashi in Tokyo and Yokohama until 1930, ably demonstrating the quality and durability of the foundry’s products. This engine is on display at the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka.
The foundry added another model to its range in 1872, when it completed its first double-bogie double-ended locomotives for railways in New Zealand and Peru. The double locomotive was developed and patented by Robert Francis Fairlie (1830-85) in 1864, and represented a significant development in steam locomotion. It had a pair of back-to-back engines with a central firebox, and was ideal for hilly terrain. Vulcan improved the basic design with separate boilers.
In 1873, Vulcan constructed the last locomotive with flangeless wheels, for the Tredegar Iron & Coal Company in south Wales, which was still using angle rails on its narrow 895mm gauge network (circa 1805).
The 1,000th locomotive trundled off the Newton-le-Willows production line in 1884. By this time, the company was selling steam engines in Uruguay (from 1873), Australia (1874), Burma (1878), Spain (1879) and Barbados (1882). Development of new lines continued and, in 1887, the works built the first 10-wheeled coupled locomotives, tank engines with inside cylinders, for the Taft Valley Railway. In 1890, five 2-4-2 saddle tank locomotives with double frames to all wheels except the trailing pair were supplied to the Rhymney Railway in Wales.
In 1892, engineer William Collingwood (1855-1928) took over as general manager. From January 1898, the firm was known as Vulcan Foundry Limited, dropping the word 'company'. Export sales reached markets in Chile (from 1889), Ceylon (1890) and Brazil (1894).
Between 1833 and 1898, the foundry produced over 1,500 steam locomotives, more than two-thirds of which were exported, and was the fourth-largest locomotive constructer in Britain. The majority were built to standard 1.435m (4ft 8.5in) gauge. However, exports to America, Ireland, India, and Russia were made to various wider gauges. The Great Western Railway and some others in England had Brunel’s broad 2.13m (7ft) gauge. From 1868, Vulcan also produced locomotives for a narrow 1.07m (3ft 6in) gauge, mostly for Japan, New Zealand, Australia, South America and Africa.
In 1899, locomotive testing was augmented by the installation of a rolling road, equipped with 'friction wheels'. It consisted of three rotating cast iron drums set in a cast iron pit, with steel rail 'tyres' shrunk onto the drums at the various gauges used in the works, and lined up with the existing multi-gauge track.
Into the 20th century, the foundry added railways in South Africa (1903), Argentina (1905) and Mexico (1910) to its growing list of customers. However, on 15th January1907, a fire in the machine shop destroyed the remaining part of the original 1830s building. Later the same year, the Vulcan Institute social centre opened.
During World War I (1914-18), Vulcan was involved in a large amount of war work, producing shells, gun mountings, components for mine sweepers and "crane tanks". The 3,000th locomotive was completed in 1914.
After the war, in addition to its domestic orders, the works began to supply steam locomotives to Nigeria and Uganda (1922), and Tanganyika (1925). Frederick Seymour Whalley (1885-1958) was the foundry’s general manager 1923-9, and managing director thereafter.
In 1928-9, Vulcan manufactured the mechanical parts for 31 heavy electric freight locomotives being produced by Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Co. Ltd for the Great Indian Peninsula Railway. The 1,939kW 0-6-6-0 engines were Vulcan’s first non-steam locomotives. The company was also the first to transport a locomotive by road, in January 1930.
The 24 largest locomotives ever built by the foundry, in 1935, were 28.4m long. The 4-8-4 locomotives with booster engines were Vulcan’s initial consignment for the Chinese National Railway.
In 1935, Vulcan completed its first diesel locomotive. It had a Vulcan-Frichs 205-224kW four-stroke engine with six cylinders, and was used in goods marshalling yards at Bolton and Crewe. The design work began in 1926, when Vulcan had started working with A/S Frichs of Aarhus, Denmark.
By 1935, the foundry was once again on War Office work, starting with the manufacture of light infantry tanks. In October 1936, it began designing the "Waltzing Matilda" tank, and the prototype was trialled in March 1938. Also in 1938, Vulcan steam locomotives were exported to the Gold Coast for the first time.
During World War II (1939-45), Vulcan manufactured 488 Austerity class steam locomotives and 34 diesel locomotives for the war effort, as well as 250 light infantry tanks, 600 Matilda tanks and more than 50,000 components for armaments. Production boosted the workforce to a record number of 4,128 employees, 850 of them women. In 1944, Vulcan took over another locomotive business, uniting with Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns Ltd in Newcastle.
During the post-war recovery, in the 1940s and 1950s, Vulcan managed to widen its export market, sending steam, diesel, diesel-electric and electric locomotives to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and South America. In 1946, 120 Liberation class 2-8-0 steam locomotives built for the United Nations Relief & Rehabilitation Administration were sent to railways in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland and Luxembourg.
The foundry had produced a total of 6,280 steam locomotives by the time the last ones were completed in 1956, with an order of 46 2-8-4 locomotives for East African Railways. Three 2-6-2 steam tenders were also made for North Borneo Railways, two of which have been restored and were in service in 2001 as rare examples of wood-burning engines.
However, transportation demands were changing. Vulcan had started to work with English Electric Co. Ltd in 1945, developing diesel-electric locomotives. In 1947, Vulcan began making diesel-electric locomotives for British Rail. New erecting, painting and fabrication workshops were built in 1948, especially for the models.
In 1949, six Vulcan-English Electric 1,193kW double-ended locomotives were supplied to Egyptian State Railways. In 1951, one of the 492kW Bo-Bo diesel-electric locomotives constructed for Tasmanian Government Railways was exhibited at the Festival of Britain in London. From 1952, the foundry also made electric-powered locomotives and, on 17th March 1955, it became part of the English Electric group of companies.
In 1962, English Electric set up a subsidiary called English Electric Traction, which included Vulcan. Apparently many of the foundry’s original records were destroyed in the restructuring. Demand for locomotives fell and, in 1963, the Newcastle works of the former Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn closed.
In 1968, English Electric Co. Ltd became part of GEC and two years later, Ruston Paxman Diesels Ltd was formed as a management company for GEC Diesels Ltd, with its headquarters at the Vulcan site. The last main line locomotive was completed (for Ghana Railways & Ports) in 1970, after 138 years of continuous locomotive production at Newton-le-Willows.
In 1986, Vulcan Village was designated a conservation area. The layout of the village and its 114 properties remains largely unchanged since the 19th century.
The foundry’s ownership passed to GEC Alsthom, then Alsthom Engines Ltd and, in 2000, became part of MAN B&W Diesel. In late 2002, the works closed and business was transferred to MAN B&W Diesel’s works in Stockport, Cheshire. For a time, the site was used as Vulcan Industrial Estate, but it has now been cleared.
Research: ECPK
"Short Histories of Famous Firms: No.1 Vulcan Foundry" in The Engineer, pp.84-85, 23rd January 1920

Vulcan Foundry, site of