|THE INDUSTRIAL RAILWAY RECORD||
© JUNE 1969
LAMBTON ENGINE WORKS
COLIN E. MOUNTFORD
County Durham has always been famous for its colliery railways, and easily the largest of these was the Lambton Railway, built by the Earl of Durham to serve his numerous collieries. At its greatest extent, about 1860, it totalled about seventy miles, including its branches, and at that time most, and possibly all, of it was worked by inclines. In the next twenty years, however, much of the system was transformed: a few inclines remained, but on the remainder locomotives were introduced, notably the six−coupled tender engines for which the Railway was to become famous. To serve the Railway and to carry out repairs for collieries a group of buildings - the "Earl of Durham's Engine Works" - was gradually erected alongside the Railway at Philadelphia. later it became much better known as the "Lambton Engine Works".
The original facilities for loco repairs soon became inadequate, despite the fact that a new 0−6−0 tender loco was constructed in 1877, and in 1882 a new loco erecting shop was built. This was a tall, airy building, with two through roads for loco repairs. The remainder of the building was given over to machinery, and in 1883 a clock was installed to overlook the Works yard.* Adjacent to the erecting shop were - and still are - the boiler, fitting and machine shops, so that the Works was almost self-contained, new boilers and fireboxes being the only major items purchased from outside.
In 1884 the Works built an 0−4−0 saddle-tank and later contributed two more tender locos, one in 1890 and another in 1894. The design seems to have been modelled on North Eastern Railway locos of the time, and probably most of the parts were supplied from outside. The Works issued its own maker's plates, and both No.9 (the 1877 loco) and No. 26 (1894) carried them almost to the end.
The Works has passed through a number of changes of ownership in its time. In 1911 Lambton & Hetton Collieries Ltd was formed by the amalgamation of Lambton Collieries Ltd and the Hetton Coal Co Ltd. The latter had owned the famous 8−mile Hetton Railway, and its locos were eventually numbered in the Lambton Railway series, though many of the repairs to them continued to be carried out in Hetton Shops until their closure in the winter of 1934-1935. The two railways were connected via a short tunnel between the two sets of staithes at Sunderland. There were two small additions to the combined system between 1911 and 1924, when there was a further large amalgamation with James Joicey & Co Ltd to form Lambton, Hetton & Joicey Collieries Ltd. This added the Beamish Railway to the firm; but its locomotives retained their former numbers and continued to be repaired at Beamish Engine Works.
In 1911 the Lambton Railway had thirty-three locos (of which twelve were tender engines) and the Hetton Railway five locos, some of both railways' going back to the 1860's. Two books giving an account of repairs carried out in the loco erecting shop between 1911 and 1935 have recently come to light, and these have proved very interesting. Before the First World War the shop was divided into two with a "gang", controlled by a chargehand (some-times two), in each half. As each loco came in for repair it was allocated to a chargehand, whose gang was responsible for it throughout its time in the shop. The repairs carried out were meticulously recorded by the Foreman in charge, John Hay, who was also foreman of the boiler, machine and fitting shops. On his departure in 1934 the post was split up, and the erecting shop was given its own foreman, a system which continues to the present day.
* The crate, straw and NER invoice remain in the clock tower, just as left in 1883.
The locomotive erecting shop in June 1968. (Author)
Lambton Railway No. 20 (Robert Stephenson 2260 of 1876) in full livery at Philadelphia in 1952. (F. Jones)
Loco 6, an 0−6−0 pannier tank built at Lambton Works in 1958 seen here working at Philadelphia, 21st February 1962. (Author)
One of the Welsh tanks with modified cab. 53 (Cardiff Works 302 of 1894) in Lambton Works Yard after completion of repairs, December 1962. (Author)
Before 1914 the shop handled about twenty repairs a year, which fell to about twelve during the 1914-1918 War. The length of time taken to complete a major repair - e.g. a new boiler - varied, but was usually between seven and ten months, though No. 26 was in for 4½ years from 1915 to 1919! After the War things were speeded up, and in 1923 no fewer than thirty-one repairs were handled, though this later settled down to about seventeen a year again. Usually there were four locos in the shop, two to each gang, and at least one of which was a tender engine, though as the 0−6−2 side tanks became more numerous there was usually one of them in. When painted before leaving the shop locos were fully lined out, and a fine sight they looked.
Quite a number of interesting repairs were done during this period, notably to the famous ELECTRIC No.1 (see RECORD, Vol. 1, pp 155 and 310) which first entered the shop in February 1923. From 1929 the ex−Great Western 0‑6‑2 tanks arrived, and the Works was kept busy removing the vacuum brake apparatus, altering the cabs to suit the Staithes tunnel, altering the buffer beams to allow for the "black waggons" and cutting down the tanks so that seats could be provided for the engine crew.
On 1st January 1947 the Works passed to the National Coal Board, and it has since become one of the main repair bases in North-East England. The loco side expanded its activities, receiving locomotives from other collieries in North Durham as well as continuing repairs to the Lambton Railway stud. With the Railway still steam worked, the number of diesel repairs has so far been very small. Rather curiously, the earlier period of its history was recalled between 1951 and 1958, when several locos were extensively rebuilt. This phase culminated in the building of an 0−6−0 pannier tank in 1958 from the parts of three partially scrapped locos, but it was not particularly successful and was scrapped in October 1964. Since then lining out has been abandoned, and apart from one or two locos turned out in unlined green, most locos are now painted in unlined black. The foreman throughout this period, from 1952 to his retirement in the autumn of 1968, was Potter Walton, who began work in the shop in 1917, and whose tall, genial figure will be greatly missed by those who have been privileged to receive his help over the years.
In addition to repairs to surface locomotives, the Works also now carries out repairs to underground diesel and battery locos, but these are done in the fitting shop.
The Hetton Railway closed in 1959, and the Staithes at Sunderland followed in 1967; while the Lambton Railway is but a shadow of its former self. In the loco erecting shop one of the through roads was removed, though the shop continued to handle three or four repairs at a time. Colliery closures in Durham have reduced the need for locomotives, but whatever the future, the Works can look back on an illustrious past, to be remembered with affection by the many enthusiasts who visited it over the years.
ROBERT STEPHENSON & CO. LTD. - "The directors of this company announce that after very serious consideration they resolved to remove the locomotive works established at Newcastle in 1823, by the Messrs. Stephenson and Mr. Edward Pease, to Darlington, and that they have purchased about 54 acres of land at Darlington, bounded for its entire length on the west side by the main line of the North Eastern R. A portion of this site will be devoted to the new locomotive works and their extension, if required; and the rest will be available for sale from time to time for building land for workmen's cottages, so necessary near large works."
("The Railway Engineer", August 1900 - KPP)