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Brief History of Beyer Peacock


 Beyer Peacock & Company Formed 150 years ago

The Founders

Charles Frederick Beyer (1813 - 1876) , the eldest partner, was 41 when his firm was founded. Son of a poor weaver from Plauen in Saxony, he worked his way through the Dresden Polytechnic, spending only £60. l0s.0d. in his three years there. In 1834 a travel grant enabled him to make a trip to England to study textile machinery and, in spite of offers of employment in Germany, he returned to this country and entered the drawing office of Sharp Roberts & Company, Manchester. When this firm began to build railway locomotives again in 1837, Beyer was moved to that department and in 1843 became the Chief Engineer. Disappointment at not receiving a partnership, or possibly at being refused in marriage by one of Sharp’s daughters, made him leave in 1853, and the following year he entered into partnership with Richard Peacock to start a firm of mechanical engineers whose business was to be confined chiefly to the manufacture of locomotive engines.

The locomotive superintendent of the Manchester & Sheffield Railway, Richard Peacock (1820 - 1889), knew Beyer through buying some Sharp Bros. engines for his line and also through the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which they both helped found in 1847. Peacock left Leeds Grammar School at the age of fourteen to become an apprentice with the firm of Fenton Murray & Jackson in Leeds. At the age of eighteen he became locomotive superintendent of the Leeds and Selby Railway, but when this was taken over by the York and North Midland Railway in 1840, he went to work under Daniel Gooch on the Great Western. His connection with Manchester began in 1841 when, only 21, he became the locomotive superintendent of the Sheffield, Ashton under Lyne and Manchester Railway and laid out their running sheds at Gorton, where later the railway workshops, nicknamed “Gorton Tank’, were established. It was due to Peacock’s influence that Gorton was transformed from meadows and cornfields into a great engineering centre.

The third partner, Henry Robertson (1816 - 1888) was born at Banff on 16 January 1816. After graduating from Aberdeen University, he spent some time in the Lanarkshire collieries and then joined the firm of Robert Stephenson & Locke, which was building railways round Edinburgh and Glasgow and into England. Among other work for them, he levelled and set out that part of the West Coast route over Shap Fell. After a varied career in Scotland, he became interested in the Brymbo estate of the great ironmaster John Wilkinson and decided to redevelop it by building a railway direct to Chester. He helped with the Chester - Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury - Birmingham, Shrewsbury - Hereford lines among others on the Welsh borders and designed two famous viaducts, one of 19 arches over the Dee near Ruabon and the other over the Ceiriog at Chirk. Although he joined the firm of Beyer, Peacock mainly to provide capital, he was far from being a sleeping partner, giving advice on many occasions and even securing some orders for engines.

From 1855 to 1966 nearly 8,000 railway locomotives were built at Gorton Foundry by Beyer, Peacock. This was a new company beginning on a new site, and it was founded by three men, all of whom had risen from obscurity to positions of management and authority in different spheres of railway engineering.

The First Engines

Other Types of Engines

In 1890 Beyer, Peacock, in collaboration with Mather & Platt, built their first electric locomotives (7414). These were for the City & South London Railway and were the first electric tube engines in the world. The line was opened formally by the Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward VII) on 4 November 1890. No more electric locomotives were built until 1926, when an order for four was completed in association with the English Electric Company for the Montreal Harbour Railways (02438). These engines, partially rebuilt, were still at work in 1968. In 1960 Beyer, Peacock, in conjunction with Metropolitan - Vickers Ltd. , built ten of the 25kv A.C. electric engines for the London Midland Region of British Railways. These may be seen in Manchester sometimes and are numbered 3046 to 3055.

On the death of Richard Peacock on 3 March 1889, his son Ralph, who had been in the works since 1862, became Managing Director. In 1892, when Lange died, he became responsible for the entire management of the concern. In 1902 he felt that, as there was no longer any family interest connected with the firm except his own, it should become a public company. He retired from active management but served on the Board of Directors until 1905.

But difficult days were ahead, for when the Directors of the new company met for the first time in April 1902, the position of the steam locomotive was being threatened. The internal combustion engine was developing into a reliable machine for road transport, while many railway companies were investigating electric traction. The new company made several enquiries to see whether they should enter either of these fields to meet competition on an equal footing. They decided that to build motor cars would mean re-equipping the works, but they did build about a dozen steam lorries. They also built a few railcar designs (9281). On the other hand, railway engines were getting more and more powerful. On some lines, especially abroad, the limits of development for the ordinary type of locomotive had been reached, and plans for Fairlie, Mallet and Meyer articulated engines drawn up by Beyer, Peacock show that this company was actively investigating new types of engine design during the opening years of the present century.

Garratt Locomotives

Diesel Electric Locomotives

Alongside Garratts, the firm continued to build ordinary steam locomotives which included the same improvements in design as their double-ended counterparts but continual technical improvements in diesel engine design and changes in fashion made steam locomotives obsolete and no more orders for steam engines were received after 1958. The firm turned to building diesel engines. Except for a few industrial locomotives, all their diesel engines were sold to British Railways. 101 diesel hydraulic engines of Beyer, Peacock’s own design were sold to the Western Region, but then British Railways decided to buy only diesel electric types. Beyer, Peacock continued to build diesel electrics for British Railways, but as this was becoming increasingly uneconomic, Gorton Foundry was closed in 1966.

Taken from A Short History of Beyer, Peacock by Dr. R.L. Hills

Volume 40 of the Newcomen Transactions contains a paper "Contributions to Locomotive Develoment By Beyer, Peacock & Co." by R.L. Hills some copies are still available from The Book House, Cumbria www.thebookhouse.co.uk

For a more complete history of the company "Beyer, Peacock Locomotive Builders to the World" By R.L.Hills & D Patrick