#98 – Horwich Loco Works

Horwich Loco Works is somewhere I’ve been meaning to look at for some time, but never got round to it. For years I’ve looked at it’s huge long brick Erecting Shop as I pass it on the M61, and last went in the early 90’s when the site was used for car boot sales on sunday mornings. I actually went to the last works open day in 1980, but I was only six at the time, so my memories are limited to what family photographs show me.

I don’t intend relating the history of the site here, you can read more about that on my other site at theviewfromthenorth.org, these are more my thoughts on the visit the other day, for which I must thank the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Society for allowing me onto their visit, and Horwich Heritage for organising the visit. Visits are held every year, and I fear that there won’t be too many more as the site is threatened with redevelopment, of which more later.

The main site shut in quite controversial circumstances in 1983, although the foundry remained in use (in private ownership) until about 2003. The site has been split into industrial units, and is frankly in a sorry state, with plantlife growing in the gutters and many windows broken even in buildings that are occupied. And yet, reminders of its past are everywhere – extensive sections of track, painted signs over doorways – ‘Machine Shop’, ‘Electrical Maintenance’ and the like, heavy duty overhead cranes for lifting locomotives, even patches of camouflage paint from World War 2 when the site made tanks and munitions.

The 1500 feet long Erecting Shop

The most impressive building on site is the erecting shop, in which 1830 steam locomotives were built, as well as 169 diesel shunters. The building is still used by a company making concrete products, and is in a sorry state. However, beneath the concrete, wooden patterns and other detritus lie railway lines, and up above, the old overhead cranes still sit on their tracks, huge hooks still hanging down. Giant iron pillars run the length of the shed, supporting the roof and the crane track, far more substantial than would be found in a modern factory, but a fine example of Victorian over-engineering that has lasted 120 years. Halfway along the shop, up a flight of now rickety stairs, is a wooden balcony level, where the shop manager would have presided over this vast hive of industry.

Iron pillars in the Erecting Shop

The massive overhead cranes in the Erecting Shop

Space

This gap was originally a part of the north end of the Erecting Shop. It was demolished to make way for a new traversor to bring in electrical multiple units, just three years before the works shut. In fact three million pounds was spent on the site at that time, testament to the unusual way in which British Rail was run at the time.

Of course, Horwich was one of several works to close in the 80’s, the most notable casualty being the Swindon Works of the former GWR. While large sections of Swindon have been demolished, Horwich is largely intact, the only significant structure that has gone is the boiler shop which suffered a fire and had to be demolished, although the riveting towers remain.

So what is the future? Despite being a conservation area, none of the individual buildings are listed, and being such a large site, is prime development land that plans are already in place for. This pretty much involves demolishing the whole lot. Horwich Heritage are doing a great job of raising awareness of the site, and English Heritage will be doing a survey of the site soon. At the very least, it would be nice to think that some or all of the Erecting Shop can be kept.

The proud manufacturing past of Bolton and its surrounding districts has all but vanished, with the great names and factories gone or much reduced. It would be sad to think that this last mighty reminder of what made the town great will join them in becoming yet another faceless office / retail / housing development.

More photos on http://www.theviewfromthenorth.org/portfolio98811.html and on my flickr. Photos are NOT to be used without my permission.

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