Pioneer locomotive builder & the Hatcham Ironworks
A talk by Mr. Douglas Hills FICME & Mr. Grahame Hood.
At a well attended London Branch meeting at the National Liberal Club, Whitehall, on 26th January 2011, Douglas Hills, MD of Maybrey Reliance and Grahame Hood gave a talk on George England and The Hatcham Ironworks.
The talk, previously having been given at a Scottish Branch conference meeting a couple of years ago traced the history of this important locomotive builder and its transition into today’s modern investment die and sand casting facility at Maybrey Reliance. On this occasion the updated talk placed more emphasis on the actual Hatcham Irons works as well as the colourful life of England himself, and his relationships with the well known engineers Robert Fairlie and Charles Spooner. It also included reference to the fact that George England built a small community of houses around the iron works specifically for his employees; it was also pointed out that Hatcham Lodge, home to the great pioneer, still exists, although no one would know, a point made by Doug Hills to the assembled audience of more than 40 containing a number of members of both Lewisham Historical Society and Lewisham Heritage department and some lively debate ensued on the subject.
For those who perhaps not familiar with George England and his pioneering work in engineering I reprint below a very slightly updated version of the previously published article:
“George England was born in Newcastle in 1811. At the age of 14 he travelled to London to take up an apprenticeship with the Deptford Marine Engineering Company John Penn. He came to public notice again in 1839 when he took out a patent for a heavy lifting screw jack, and he also later patented a machine for weaving wool. He rented factory space, later purchasing the lease and buildings and expanding the works in Pomeroy Street in New Cross in South London, an area then known as Hatcham. He named his new premises The Hatcham Iron Works. In the late 1840s he began to develop an interest in building railway locomotives, and sold his first one in 1849.
In 1855 he exhibited one of his standard engines, known generically as the “Little England” class at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, where it was awarded a Gold Medal for the engines’ “ingenious arrangement and good workmanship.”
George was a forward thinking man and travelled to Lancashire to recruit foundry-men and in the late 1850s built a row of eighteen houses for his key workers called Georgina Terrace ending in his own house, Hatcham Lodge. These buildings still stand today.
Amazingly several of England’s locomotives still exist and are working today. “Shannon”, an 0-4-0T built in 1857, can be seen at the railway museum in Didcot, in Berkshire. The best-known and loved England engines were built for the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog railway in Wales. This was due to England becoming involved with Frances Fairlie, who had many ideas on how locomotives could develop and evolve. His patent design for an independent bogie or bogies on steam locomotives would go on to make him a very wealthy man. England had three children, the two eldest of which were George Jnr, who worked with his father, and Lizzie, who Fairlie took quite a shine to. George suggested she was a little young to be courting, but Fairlie eloped with her, swearing that she had her father’s permission to marry. When they returned from their honeymoon in Spain, England sued Fairlie for perjury. In court it was revealed that England was not married to Lizzie’s mother when she was born (he was already married to another lady, marrying his children’s mother when his first wife died), which meant that, legally, she was “nobody’s child” and did not need her father’s permission to marry. This scandal led to great public humiliation for England, but the family were soon reconciled.
The Hatcham Iron Works built one of the most famous engines ever; “Little Wonder”, a double-ended narrow- gauge Fairlie’s patent engine for the Ffestiniog, which was visited, admired and copied by engineers from all over the world. Though “Little Wonder” had a relatively short working life, the Ffestiniog is still famous for its double-ended Fairlie’s.
A serious strike in 1865 ultimately led to the company’s ruin; left with the substantial investment of locomotives from a cancelled order which took several years to sell. With his health undermined, George Snr. Retired to the south of France in 1869, leaving his son to form a new company with Fairlie called The Fairlie Engine & Steam Carriage Company. This had a very short life; George Jnr. Died in 1870 at the age of 26. Fairlie continued as a consulting engineer and lived well from his patent. He became ill while surveying a railway in Venezuela in 1873 and never fully recovered. George England Snr died in France in 1878, leaving £3000 in his will. His wife returned to England to live with the Fairlies. Fairlie himself died in 1885 and is buried in West Norwood Cemetery.
In 1873 the General Engine and Boiler Company began to use the Hatcham Iron Works site. They developed a range of stationary engines, pumps and winches. They were heavily involved in producing valves for early submarines and were a major producer of equipment used by The Admiralty in The Great War. Advertisements for their product s appeared often in journals of the period, including Jane’s Fighting Ships.
In the period between the wars much of the factory was leased to other new companies, one of which was Maybrey who started producing aluminium die and sand castings in 1929. Other well-known tenants were the Delta Metal Company and Eno’s Fruit Salts.
After the war the company struggled to find markets and took over the Reliance Foundry in the late 1950s. In 1960 the company changed its name to Reliance Foundry Holdings Ltd, who produced bronze and aluminium castings.
In 1986, the Reliance Foundry was taken over by Hills Die-casting and became a major producer of sand and gravity die castings. Then in 2001 they took over Maybrey Precision Castings combining the two companies as Maybrey Reliance in the modern factories we see today producing gravity die and sand castings for varied industries”.
For copies of the booklet which accompanied the talk, “George England and the Hatcham Iron Works” please ring 0208 311 7333 and ask to speak to Mrs Hood. Alternatively e-mail: - email@example.com