Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester by Colin Alexander

The Quantock Hills have recently reverberated to the distinctive sound of two Maybach MD870 engines, as preserved Beyer, Peacock ‘Hymek’ diesel-hydraulics D7017 and D7018 were reunited in service on the West Somerset Railway. I first fell in love with these stylish machines when another preserved example, D7029, filled Newtondale Gorge in North Yorkshire with her distinctive growl, and more recently, the fourth survivor D7076 performing superbly on the East Lancashire Railway. The 101 ‘Hymeks’ were among the last locomotives to emerge from the famous Gorton Foundry of Beyer, Peacock, established 1854.

One of Beyer, Peacock's most iconic designs was its 1864 4-4-0T for London's Metropolitan Railway, the world's first underground line. (Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

Among its early products were the famous condensing tank engines for the world’s first underground line, the Metropolitan Railway.

Beyer, Peacock was a versatile manufacturer, constructing some of Britain’s smallest narrow gauge locomotives, as well as the largest of all. By 1907, the Gorton Foundry had erected 5000 steam locomotives, of which two-thirds were for export. Beyer, Peacock locomotives were renowned for their build quality.

Internationally, Beyer, Peacock will always be associated with the legendary Beyer-Garratt locomotive. This was an ingenious solution to the problem of moving heavy trains on lightly laid permanent way, steep gradients and tight curves. It was effectively two locomotives supplied by one boiler suspended on a frame between them. One locomotive carried the water tank and the other the fuel. This configuration ultimately allowed larger boilers and fireboxes, as there were no wheels directly beneath.

The design was patented by Herbert William Garratt, who came to Beyer, Peacock in 1907 with his articulated locomotive design, and the Gorton Foundry constructed the world’s first Beyer-Garratt locomotive. This was the diminutive K1 for the narrow-gauge Tasmanian Government Railway. Happily this iconic machine is now preserved in Britain. From this neat articulated 0-4-0+0-4-0 evolved some of the largest and most successful locomotives ever built, running in 48 countries.

Beyer, Peacock Works No. 1989 of 1881 is a Class 23 0-6-0ST of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, seen in preserved condition at Haworth on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, in May 1981. (Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

Of more than 1600 Beyer-Garratts to run worldwide, over 1100 were built by Beyer, Peacock.  Many of them were destined for South Africa where the GA Class 2-6-0+0-6-2 of 1921 demonstrated its superiority over the ‘Mallet’ articulated locomotive favoured in the USA.  By the end of that decade the South African Garratt had evolved into the massive GL Class 4-8-2+2-8-4, an example of which, appropriately, is preserved in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

The Beyer Garratt design was ideal for developing nations where infrastructure needed to be inexpensive and light axle loading was required. It also obviated the need for costly double-heading with extra manpower.

Just a few weeks ago I was privileged enough to sample Beyer-Garratt haulage for the first time, as a former South African Railways’ NGG16 locomotive took me from Porthmadog to Caernarfon on the spectacular Welsh Highland Railway, with a grandstand view of the engine from the observation car. The effortless way in which she dealt with steep gradients and sharp curves was amazing to see.

Statens Järnvägar No. 75 was an 'A' Class 2-2-2 built by Beyer, Peacock in 1866 as Works No. 627. (Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

Like other British locomotive manufacturers dealing with the economic difficulties of the 20th century, Beyer, Peacock began to experiment and diversify. It dabbled in the manufacture of steam road wagons and took over the established Suffolk steam tractor firm of Richard Garrett in 1932. The factory’s versatility was demonstrated as tanks and other armaments were turned out during wartime.

Attempting to keep pace with changing technologies on the world’s railways, Beyer, Peacock built small quantities of electric locomotives and later, usually in collaboration with other companies, diesels too. By 1949 the firm had joined forces with the established electric traction manufacturers Metropolitan-Vickers specifically to develop non-steam locomotives. For this, a separate factory was established at Bowesfield near Stockton-on-Tees. Beyer Peacock’s first experience with electric traction had come as early as 1890, when in conjunction with the firm of Mather and Platt, it was involved in constructing the tiny four-wheeled locomotives for the City and South London Railway. One of these can be seen today in the London Transport Museum.

By 1966, locomotive orders had dried up and Beyer, Peacock ceased production after 110 years, with more than 8000 locomotives having emerged through the factory gates. There are many examples of Beyer, Peacock locomotives surviving in preservation around the world, but the company’s single greatest legacy is surely the Beyer-Garratt, which opened up so much of the developing world.

 

Colin Alexander and Alon Siton's new book Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester is available for purchase now.