The establishment of Shildon Works is somewhat confusing, due mainly to the existence of the works commenced by the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1825 and managed by Timothy Hackworth which were developed by him when he severed his connection with the Company in 1840, and he named the works "Soho Works".
The initial labour force consisted of 20 men, all unskilled, however by the time Timothy Hackworth built "Royal George" in 1827, the numbers had increased to 50. Equipment was basic, with no lathes or even lifting gear to handle heavy engines and boilers. During the dark winter days, work was carried out by candlelight in freezing conditions. Frequently, engines would come into the works at night, after a full day working, and the necessary repairs had to be completed for the engine to resume work the next morning, with the inevitable consequence of the men, including quite regularly Timothy Hackworth, working throughout the night.
1833 was the year in which Shildon Works as we knew it was really founded with the objective of maintaining and building locomotives for the Stockton & Darlington Railway.
In 1835 Timothy Hackworth designed and built a new engine called a "ram engine" which was used to drive the machinery in Shildon Works until 1858.
During those early years, despite the lack of facilities, a large number of locomotives were built for the Stockton & Darlington Railway.
In 1840 Timothy Hackworth terminated his contract with the Stockton & Darlington Railway and relinquished his control of the mechanical engineering of the railway. The responsibility for the works was taken over by Oswald Gilkes and William Bouch as Foreman. By the late 1840's the development of Shildon Works began to take shape, with the formation of the Shildon Works Company in 1849 and the building of a separate running shed with 9 roads for engines and supporting facilities. This was followed in 1852 by a building in which to wash the locomotives at a cost of £238 2s. 10d.
In 1854 a new shed was added at a cost of £2,345 7s. 2d., which may have been the first roundhouse on the site. A further shed, the second roundhouse, designed to hold 24 engines was authorized in 1856. A new tool house was built in 1854 and offices were added in 1855.
Following the death of Timothy Hackworth in 1850, the Soho Works were purchased by the Company in July 1853 for £4,900 and until the closure of the Soho Works in 1883, the Shildon Works Company controlled 2 locomotive works in Shildon on separate sites, albeit they were adjacent to each other.
In 1854 John Dixon suggested to the Committee that more consideration should be given to location of the locomotive headquarters. Upto this time the headquarters of the railway had been centrally located in Darlington, however the locomotive and engineering works had been situated in Shildon. His suggestion was that Darlington would be more ideally suited for the locomotive headquarters with Shildon relegated to the role of wagon repairs. After 3 years deliberation, the Committee agreed with his proposals and in 1857 a piece of land was purchased at North Road, Darlington by the Shildon Works Company.
To most, this signaled the run down and possibly the end of Shildon Works, however, what in fact happened was the opposite.
After 20 years service with the Stockton and Darlington Railway, William Bouch was appointed Locomotive Superintendent in 1860. A position he held with the railway and subsequently with the N.E.R. until his death in 1876.
He originally served his apprenticeship with Robert Stephenson & Co. before joining the railway in the late 1830's. It was he who privatised the works at Shildon, which was his base, albeit in effect a subsidiary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. He was responsible for the design of a number of locomotives, one of which "1275" is preserved and was displayed at the Darlington Railway Centre and Museum from 1975 until 1989, when It was transferred to the National Railway Museum at York. It was built by Dubs & Co. of Glasgow in 1874 and withdrawn from service in 1925. It was restored to take part in the centenary celebrations. 1st January, 1863 saw the opening of North Road Works under the auspices of The Shildon Works Company and the transfer of the building, repair and maintenance of Locomotives from Shildon. Significantly, "Shildon Shops" did not decline as may have been expected at the time. Over 150 staff were transferred from Shildon to Darlington and it also resulted in the movement of the headquarters of the Shildon Works Company led by William Bouch. The first locomotive to be outshopped from Darlington was "Contractor", designed by Bouch and delivered in 1864. Within a few months of the opening of North Road Works, the Stockton and Darlington Railway was taken over by the N.E.R., once again casting doubts on the future of Shildon Shops.
The works continued to grow and the last locomotive to be outshopped from the works was "England" in 1867 and by 1871 all locomotive repair work had been transferred to North Road.
In 1880, the labour force was 337, comprising:-
In 1873, William Bouch reported that further accommodation was required to house the increased number of engines, and after deliberation a new shed was authorised as a result of his representations to the Committee. It is known that 3 circular sheds existed in 1870 and it is not clear which shed was authorised at this time.
In 1883, Soho Works was officially closed and the workmen were transferred to the main works, by which time it was recognised that workspace at the works was at a premium. Extensive rebuilding started in 1886, with the acquisition of a new turntable for No. 1 shed at a cost of £388. The following year saw the addition of a machine shop, a sawmill, a forge and a new wagon building shop. This was followed by the rebuilding of No. 2 shed and thereafter No. 3 shed in 1892, however the turntable was not renewed until 1906 at a cost of £870. A paint shop was added in 1897, followed by a new office in 1898 for the works manager.
1915 saw the adaptation of No. 3 shed to house the 10 electric locomotives built for working the line to Newport. An NER diagram shows eleven stalls fitted with overhead wiring, bearing a number on a board above the tracks indicating the stalls of the respectively numbered locomotives( these were numbered 3 to 12). No. 3 the first of the locomotives commenced trial runs on the route in 1915. The electric locomotives ceased working in 1935. They were stored at North Road before being moved to South Gosforth. A further locomotive No. 13, which was built for main line express passenger runs was delivered in 1922, but apart from trial runs between Shildon and Newport, it never entered service.
On the the death of William Bouch in 1876, William MacNay took over as Works Manager until 1890, he in turn was succeeded by W.J. Dixon who was Manager for 12 years. In 1902 R. Pick was appointed until 1910. R.W. Wordsell was manager during World War I until 1923. With an acute shortage of labour, women were introduced into the works and trained as welders.
In addition to to the normal construction and repair of railway wagons, the works became a production unit for shells and tanks.
With the formation of the four main railway groups in 1923, Shildon Works came under the control of the London & North Eastern Railway and with them came a new manager, Mr. Stephenson, who reigned until 1934. He was succeed for a brief spell of 4 years by Major Wells Hood.
Mr. T. Cruddas was appointed manager in 1938, and steered the works throughout World War II.
After the second world war the Foreman of the Smith's Shop was awarded the O.B.E. for his services.
New shops were added in the late 1940's and in 1948 with the nationalisation of the railways, the works came under the control of the Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer for the E. & N.E. Regions.
Concentration of all works within a separate Workshop Division, took place in 1962 and was seen as necessary to modernise the old and obsolete equipment within the workshops throughout the country and implement a 5 year plan which involved the closure of 15 of the 31 works. The remaining 16, of which Shildon was one, benefitted from an injection of cash for rebuilding of £17 million.
Under B.R. and B.R.E.L. there have been a succession of Managers, holding brief spells in the position:
The introduction of the 1968 Transport Act provided the works to manufacture products for private customers and it was at this time that British Rail Engineering Ltd. was formed with the purpose of developing the Engineering Works under their control and exploiting their potential in world markets.
The modernised Shildon Works was well placed to handle these opportunities and became the first B.R.E.L. works to receive an export order of 150 covered vans for the Malayan Railway, built at the rate of 10 per week. Undoubtedly, the main product of the Works was the high capacity coal wagons for the Central Electricity Generating Board for the "Merry-go-Round" service, carrying coal between the Collieries and the Power Stations. The wagons with bottom doors were opened and closed automatically by lineside equipment and were pulled by locos equipped with slow speed controls which allowed the wagons to load and unload whilst moving at a speed of half a mile per hour.
The familiar 40 ton "Railfreight" covered vans capable of being hauled at 75 m.p.h., of which hundreds were built and specialised wagons for the construction industry were all part and parcel of the production lines and with the regular workload for repairing wagons, Shildon Works was a profitable unit.
On 23rd April, 1982 British Rail Engineering Ltd., announced their proposal to reorganise the wagon building part of their operations, which involved the closure of Shildon Works. In June of that year, the Chairman of British Rail decided to defer the rationalisation programme as a consequence of the Serpell review of rail finances and the possibility of new wagon building orders for export. In January, 1983, the Serpell report was published and painted a bleak outlook for B.R.E.L. and proposed that surplus capacity should be reduced.
On 17th February, 1983, before the ink was even dry on the report, B.R.E.L. announced the proposal to go ahead with the closure of Shildon Works, starting in 1983, to be completed by the end of 1984.
The closure was announced barely two weeks after the Works won a multi-million-pound order for the Congo against tough competition.
Despite being "doomed", on 24th September, 1983, the Works were opened to the public in celebration of its 150th Birthday.
"The Staff of Shildon Wagon Works ask you to join them today in commemorating 150 years service to Railways and pay tribute to all those railwaymen and women who, throughout the years have been loyal servants of the Shildon Works" - B.R.E.L. Souvenir Brochure
It is difficult to understand how a management who were planning a celebration of a works success, could be at the same time plotting its destruction.
In 1983 the works covered 55 acres of which 13 acres were occupied by workshops.
In October, 1982, the M.P. for Bishop Auckland, announced proposals to mount a takeover bid for the works, involving 6 union convenors, a local bank and a Shildon businessman. that the repair work of British Rail could be continued to be done at Shildon by the proposed new Company. Regretfully, the takeover never materialised.
A deputation from the Works travelled to London on 2nd March, 1983 to hand in a petition to the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street. This was followed by mass protests and meetings where Politicians, Business Men, and the people of Shildon were vociferous in their protestations.
The protests fell on deaf ears and on 29th June, 1984, the works officially closed, although a number of Staff were retained for the final run down of operations. The final contract in the course of completion was for BR, being YEA perch wagons for working in the new Long Welded Rail Trains. The last wagons were completed and delivered by August, 1984 and the end of Shildon Works, one of the largest in Europe, had arrived after 151 years of successful working.