11. Engineering in Bristol.

1. Engineering in Bristol The railway age offered an abundance of opportunity for the entrepreneurially-minded. One man who responded to the challenge was Henry Stothert of Bath who in 1837 established in Bristol the Avonside Ironworks. Avonside built steam-powered ships and a range of machinery, but its speciality was steam locomotives. The Bristol locomotive building industry never achieved the production levels of Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle or Manchester Š even after the founding in 1867 of a second important factory, Fox, Walker & Co.Õs Atlas works Š but the city ranked for many decades as a centre of international importance, building robust engines for railways in all parts of the world. The Avonside locomotive works was a victim of the depression of the 1930s, and in 1958 the closure of the Atlas locomotive works, after years of struggle and decline, marked the end of steam engine building in the city.#29

BristolÕs involvement in railway engineering was not confined to locomotive manufacturing. The city also had a substantial interest in wagon and carriage building. Prominent amongst local firms was the Bristol Wagon & Carriage Works Co. (B.W.G.W.), formed in 1866 Ņto acquire the business of Agricultural Implement and Machine Makers, Wheelwrights, and Ironfounders, carried on in partnership by Messrs Albert and Theodore Fry at Temple Gate in the City of Bristol.Ó The Fry brothers were sensitive to the rapid growth in the market for railway wagons, trucks and carriages, and wished to raise, through the medium of the company, enough cash to build a factory that, in terms of equipment and efficiency, would be second to none in Britain. Albert Fry became managing director, and within a decade the issued share capital of B.W.G.W. had risen to £110,000. The firmÕs Lawrence Hill works covered 12 acres by 1883, when 900 men and boys were in regular employment. Carriages of the most elaborate kind were built, mainly for export; while basic wagons were turned out in large numbers for the coal trade. Agricultural vehicles and machinery remained a speciality of the firm. The business continued to prosper until after the First World War, paying regular dividends and keeping abreast of new technology, but in 1920, for reasons not known to the authors, it was taken over by the Leeds Forge Co. Three years later, this company amalgamated with Cammell Laird, which closed the Bristol works.#30

The engineering and metalworking trades, however, did not die with the railway age. Indeed, engineering work of various kinds, from the highly sophisticated to the prosaic, remains the regionÕs principal employer in manufacturing. The Engineering Directory, published since 1945 by the Bristol Engineering ManufacturersÕ Association, provides a clear indication of the great volume and variety of work undertaken by Bristol firms. In 1951, for example, the Association had 260 members (about 96 per cent of the engineering firms in Bristol), employing more than 50,000 people. Their products included pumps, welding equipment, diecastings, structural steelwork and buildings, chains and pulleys, wire rope, machine tools, industrial fans, pipework, lifts and conveyors, and domestic appliances. Industrial machinery was a speciality of a number of the regionÕs leading firms. Most local brewers bought their equipment from the Bristol firm of George Adlam & Sons, which until recently was one of the countryÕs foremost brewersÕ engineers. Strachan & Henshaw, since 1920 a subsidiary of Robinsons, has by degrees become a market leader in the production of machinery for the printing and packaging trades, besides making specialist handling equipment to deal with coal, quarry materials, and the like. The Thrissell Engineering Co. produced a wide range of machines for the box-making, printing, packaging and allied trades. It was founded in 1805, and production continued until 1982, when its Easton factory finally closed.#31

Diversity in production has been one important factor of BristolÕs engineering sector in the twentieth century; another has been the continuation of the nineteenth-century tradition of transport engineering. At the very time when railway engineering was beginning to fade, newer forms of transportation were coming to the fore. Bus and lorry manufacture was begun by the Bristol Tramways & Carriage Co. in 1908, and four years later the firm built a Motor Construction Works at Brislington. The new business did well for the Tramways Co., enabling it to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology of the inter-war years. Immediately after the Second World War the outstanding Lodekka design was introduced, which allowed operators to run high-capacity double decker buses on routes previously restricted to single deckers. Standard models were also provided for the bus and freight companies controlled by the British Transport Commission. The Brislington works was transferred to a new company, Bristol Commercial Vehicles Ltd., in 1943, and placed under separate management in 1955. In the 1970s, however, following its acquisition by the Leyland Bus and Truck group, the Bristol works was closed in one of those agonisingly familiar bouts of rationalisation that in recent times have progressively eroded BritainÕs vehicle manufacturing capacity.#32

Motor cycle manufacture is another industry to have risen to prominence and disappear within a single lifetime. In Bristol, the banner was carried by Douglas Engineering of Kingswood, a firm set up in 1882 to manufacture bootmaking equipment. Motor cycles were first assembled in 1907, and production remained at the low level of ten machines a week until 1914. The outbreak of war brought a War Office order for 300 a week, and the finance for a massive expansion programme. Stationary engines, pumps and motor cars (from 1913) also sold well, and in the1930s Douglas built aero engines for the Bristol Aeroplane Co. and Supermarine. But it is for motor cycles that Douglas will always be remembered; victories in numerous speed trials and races boosted sales in all parts of the world. After World War Two, the company experienced financial difficulties, only alleviated in the early 1950s when it began making Vespa scooters under licence. Production continued until 1964, providing employment for a workforce of 2,000. In 1956, the company was acquired by Bendix Westinghouse, the world leaders in airbraking systems, and gradually air brakes have taken over as the principal business of the Kingswood factory, supplying manufacturers like Scania, Volvo, Leyland and E.R.F.#33

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