Locomotive Building in Wolverhampton

The George Armstrong Era

In 1864 George Armstrong took over from his brother Joseph as Northern Division Locomotive Superintendent. His assistant and Works Manager was William Dean. George joined the GWR in 1854 and was associated with William Dean in the take over of the locomotives from the Birkenhead, Lancashire, & Cheshire Junction Railway, when it was jointly taken over by the GWR and L&NWR.

George carried on with, and accelerated the locomotive building program, which was becoming ever more important because of the difficulties of keeping the large number of miscellaneous locomotives running. Throughout George’s reign, Stafford Road Works was very independent from Swindon. George’s designs were quite different to the Swindon designed locomotives of the day. 

An Armstrong 2-4-0 passenger tender engine.

Wolverhampton had its own dark blue-green livery, lined out in black with white edging. The boiler lagging bands were lined and the frames and wheels were painted in a red-brown colour, picked out in vermilion. The chimneys had more rounded copper tops than the Swindon ones.

Stafford Road Works in the mid 1870's.

Under George, existing engines were extensively rebuilt. If this was not possible the locomotive was scrapped and replaced with a new engine. George got to work on the locomotive building programme almost immediately. From 1864 to 1866, eleven 2-4-0 tender engines, and two 0-6-0 tender engines were built. In 1866 work started on twelve 2-4-0 tender engines, sixty 0-6-0 saddle tank engines, and one hundred 0-4-2 side tank engines.

In 1868 Joseph Armstrong called William Dean to Swindon and appointed him as his chief assistant, so putting him in the position to become his successor. This greatly annoyed George as he considered the post to be his. In 1869 thirty three locomotives were built.

 Joseph Armstrong died in 1877 and was succeeded by William Dean. George declared that "he didn’t give a damn for any man and was taking orders from none, he only gave orders!". William Dean knew George's character only to well, and was discrete enough to leave his former chief alone.

A 2-4-0 passenger tender engine.

An 0-6-0 goods tender engine.

Daniel Gooch who was the company’s chairman died in 1889, and attention was turned to the final removal of the remaining broad gauge track. A plan was discussed that would turn Wolverhampton into the chief locomotive building and repair works, with Swindon becoming the carriage and wagon building and repair department.

 This would all hang on the ability to obtain cheap land in Wolverhampton to allow the works to be extended. The plan was to level the top of Dunstall Hill and use the excavated material to build up the lower slopes, to form an extensive plateau. Negotiations with the landlord failed, and so it was decided to enlarge the locomotive building part Swindon works instead.

George’s reign at Wolverhampton lasted for 33 years. During this period 626 new engines were built, and 513 rebuilt. The number of men employed at the works rose from 750 in 1864, to 1500, and large numbers of men were trained here. 

A rebuilt Armstrong 0-4-2 tank engine of about 1880.

George personally superintended the running of Queen Victoria’s special train from Windsor to the junction with the L&NWR at Bushbury, whenever her majesty travelled to and from Scotland. He performed this duty over 120 times.

George was a very generous and likeable character. He was no family man and remained a bachelor all his days. He was a strong Presbyterian and ardent Liberal. He retired in 1897 at the age of 75. On his retirement he was presented with a silver tea and coffee service, a gold watch and chain, and an illuminated address. The presentation was made by William Dean and a number of dignitaries were present, including George Whale of the L&NWR, and T. G. Clayton of the Midland Railway. A horse drawn brougham and liveried coachman were placed at George’s disposal, and he spent a few years of quiet retirement at his home, occasionally visiting the works. He died on 11th July 1901 after a stroke.

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