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German-born Charles Beyer had undertaken engineering training related to cotton milling in Dresden before moving to England in 1831 aged 21. He secured employment as a draughtsman at Sharp, Roberts and Company's Atlas works in central Manchester, which manufactured cotton mill machinery and had just started building locomotives for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. There he was mentored by head engineer and prolific inventor of cotton mill machinery, Richard Roberts. By the time he resigned 22 years later he was well established as the company's head engineer; he had been involved in producing more than 600 locomotives.
Richard Peacock had been chief engineer of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway's locomotive works in Gorton when he resigned in 1854, confident in his ability to secure orders to build locomotives. Beyer's resignation presented Peacock with a partnership opportunity. However, the business at the outset (Beyer, Peacock & Co.) was a legal partnership and the partners were therefore liable for debts should the business fail; in a mid-Victorian economic climate of boom and bust, it was a risky venture. Beyer could raise £9,524 (nearly £900,000 in 2015) and Peacock £5,500, but they still required a loan from Charles Geach (founder of the Midland Bank and first treasurer to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers), of which Beyer and Peacock had been founding members. Soon afterwards, however, Geach died, the loan was recalled, and the whole project nearly collapsed. Thomas Brassey came to the rescue, persuading Henry Robertson to provide a £4,000 loan in return for being the third (sleeping) partner. It was not until 1883 that the company was incorporated as a private limited company and renamed Beyer, Peacock & Co. Ltd. In 1902 it took on its final form as a public limited company.[note 1]
During the Great Depression, faced with competition from tramways and electric railways, the company began to look for alternatives so that they were not dependent on one product. In 1932 they acquired their first company and in 1949 formed a joint company with Metropolitan-Vickers to build locomotives other than steam. By 1953 Beyer, Peacock had acquired more than five subsidiary companies; two others followed five years later. In 1958 Beyer, Peacock (Hymek) Ltd was formed.
Not to be confused with Gorton Works (also known as Gorton Tank).
Layout of the Gorton Foundry workshops of Beyer, Peacock and Co. Ltd
Beyer and Peacock started building their Gorton Foundry in 1854 two miles east from the centre of Manchester at Openshaw on a 12-acre site, on the opposite (south) side of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR) line from Peacock's previous works.[note 2] The site was chosen because land was cheaper than in the city, allowing ample room to expand, and there was a good water supply from an MS&LR reservoir. At the Foundry, Beyer designed and manufactured machine tools needed to build the locomotives, and oversaw locomotive design and production. Peacock dealt with the business side, often travelling to continental Europe to secure orders.
In July 1855 the first locomotive, built for the Great Western Railway, left Gorton Foundry. Between 1854 and 1868 the company built 844 locomotives, of which 476 were exported. The company sold mainly to the British colonies, Southern Africa and South America; it never broke into the North American market.
During the First World War Beyer, Peacock manufactured artillery; in August 1915 Gorton Works was put under government control with production switching almost entirely to the war effort, especially heavy field artillery. During the Second World War, the company was again brought under government control but continued to build locomotives throughout the war.
Condensing locomotives for underground railways
Beyer, Peacock's innovative condensing locomotive of 1871 - the inaugural motive power for London's underground railway. The large black pipe and another on the right-hand side took steam from the cylinders to the side tanks rather than ejecting it into the atmosphere as on conventional locomotives.
A technological innovation that strengthened the company's reputation was the world's first successful condensing[note 3] locomotive design for London's first underground railway - the Metropolitan Railway A Class4-4-0tank engine. Between 1864 and 1886, 148 were built for various railways; most operated until the lines' electrification in 1905. The locomotives' main designer, Hermann Ludwig Lange (1837-92), was a native of Beyer's home town, Plauen, Saxony (now Germany) who had undertaken an apprenticeship followed by engineering training. Beyer had invited him to England in 1861 and employed him for the first year in the company workshops, then as a draughtsman under his direction. He became chief draughtsman in 1864 or 1865. After Beyer's death in 1876, he became chief engineer and co-manager of the company.
Beyer-Garratt articulated locomotives
The three separate units of a Beyer-Garratt locomotive. The tractive effort of this locomotive was double that of its predecessor. (Click to enlarge.)
An articulated locomotive design that became renowned in the 20th century was another innovation, the Beyer-Garratt articulated locomotive (generically known as a "Garratt"), invented by Herbert William Garratt, who was granted a patent in 1908; Beyer, Peacock had sole rights of manufacture in Britain. After the patents ran out in 1928, the company began to use the name "Beyer-Garratt" to distinguish their locomotives. They became widely used throughout Africa, South America, Asia, Australia and the South Pacific, where difficult terrain and lightly laid, tightly curved track, usually narrow-gauge, severely limited the weight and power output of conventional locomotives. In Garratt's design, two girders holding a boiler[note 4] and a cab were slung between two "engine" units, each with cylinders, wheels and motion. The weight of the locomotive was therefore spread over a considerable distance. Both engine units were topped by water tanks. The unit adjoining the cab end also held a fuel bunker.
In the decade following 1954, the company built four types of diesel-powered locomotives and two electric types, listed below.
Decline and closure
The late 1950s saw a rapid transformation in locomotive manufacture. In 1955 British Railways decided to switch from steam to diesel traction and by then overseas railways had done the same. A major problem the company soon faced was that it had chosen to make diesel-hydraulic locomotives when the Western Region had opted for lightweight locomotives with hydraulic transmission under the British Railways Modernisation Plan of 1955; but British Railways opted for diesel-electrics.[note 5] The company all but closed down the Gorton Foundry at the end of 1958.
In 1966, after 112 years of operation, all production ceased at Gorton Foundry. During that time, the company had built nearly 8,000 locomotives.
As of 2012 the building that housed the former boiler shop, tender shop and bolier mounting shop - 550 feet (167 metres) in length - remained in use as part of the Hammerstone Road Depot of Manchester City Council.
^The public company was incorporated as Beyer, Peacock & Co. (1902) Ltd; the "(1902)" was dropped in 1903.
^The two works were adjacent, on either side of the line between the present-day stations of Ashburys and Gorton.
^By condensing steam, little of it emanated from the locomotives, and using coke (later, "smokeless" Welsh coal) greatly reduced smoke pollution.
^Significant in the performance of the boiler, hence power output, was that the Garratt's firebox was no longer confined to the narrow space between a locomotive's frame but was constrained only by the much greater distance between girders.
^Beyer Peacock (Hymek) Ltd was formed as a joint venture between Bristol Siddeley Engines, which was licensed to build Maybach engines, and Stone-Platt Industries, licensed to build Mekydro transmissions.