Earlestown Wagon Works

The L&NWR Earlestown wagon works were situated at Newton Junction where the line north from Warrington met the Liverpool to Manchester line. The Company had leased a factory, known as the Viaduct Foundry, in 1853 and shortly afterwards named the area Earlestown in honour of the then senior director of the Company, Hardman Earle. It must have proved a successful venture because the Board authorised the outright purchase of the factory in 1860. Originally, the works provided additional facilities for the manufacture of wagons for the rapidly expanding railway, but eventually rationalisations at Crewe, Wolverton and Saltley resulted in the manufacture of all LNWR wagons being concentrated at Earlestown along with the production of a wide range of horse-drawn vehicles for the Goods Department.. The works passed to the LM&SR in 1923 and to British Railways in 1948. After a long and distinguished life closure came in 1964, but even today many of the buildings remain in use as part of an Industrial Estate.

During the L&NWR period the works had just five Superintendents:

  • Mr Owen Owens : 1853 – 1867
  • Mr J. W. Emmett : 1867 – 1903
  • Mr H. D. Earl : 1903 – 1910
  • Mr A. R. Trevithick : 1910 – 1916
  • Mr W. W. H. Warneford : 1916 – 1924

Mr Owens found it increasingly difficult to rise to the challenge of the growing demand for wagons to meet the needs of ever expanding goods traffic. By the mid -1860’s an unsustainable proportion of wagons were held up in the works awaiting repair, thus causing a shortage of wagons throughout the system. In 1867 the Board decided to replace him with Mr Emmett who, at the time, was the Wagon Superintendent of the L&Y Rly where he had served his apprenticeship under his father and his uncle.

Mr Emmett’s reign was synonymous with a small wagon policy in which the standard length was 15ft. 6in, later increased to 16ft, together with a wheelbase of 9ft. 0in. He built new facilities and introduced modern machinery to cope successfully with the increased demands placed on the factory by the goods department. By 1900, towards the end of his tenure, the factory employed 2000 men, with a further 750 working at repair shops around the system. Surviving data shows that between 1898 and 1902 the factory was capable of building 4000 new wagons a year together with 13,000 heavy repairs. By the time of his retirement in 1903 Mr Emmett had faithfully served the Company for 36 years. In the last few years of his office he recognised the need for larger wagons and experimented with small groups of larger wagons, but this line of development was only brought to fruition by his successor Mr H. D. Earl.

It was Mr Earl who introduced a new design standard for 18ft long wagons with a 9ft 9in. wheelbase. Although the carrying capacity remained at 10tons the size of the standard covered vans, for example, was raised from 600 to 958 cubic feet. Also during his tenure oil filled axleboxes replaced the traditional grease lubricated boxes of Mr Emmett’s time together with improved braking systems and even the fitting up of a fleet of vacuum braked wagons for express traffic. Details of these wagons and their significance in the development of L&NWR goods vehicle are addressed later.

In 1910 Mr Earl moved to Wolverton to become Carriage Superintendent and his place at Earlestown was taken by Mr A. R. Trevithick. This line of succession continued when in 1916 Mr Earl retired and Mr Trevithick took over as manager of the Carriage Works at Wolverton. Mr W. W. H. Warneford, also from the works manager stable at Crewe, succeeded Mr Trevithick at Earlestown and remained there until shortly after the formation of the LM&SR. No major changes in goods wagon design and development arose during the tenure of Mr Trevithick or Mr Warneford at Earlestown. Indeed the rate of construction tailed-off and the factory was concerned mainly with the repair of the existing fleet of some 80,000 wagons.


Crewe Official photograph OS138.
The photograph was displayed as part of the LNWRS ‘Wagons’ exhibition in Newton-le-Willows library (within a mile or two of Earlestown Works) in January and February 2000 and brought a good response from the visitors who saw it. The descendants of some of the men in the wagon still live in the area. Although Earlstown’s Viaduct Wagon Works was closed in 1964 the local people remember it with pride.

Earlstown was considered a relatively prosperous area right through the 1920s and 1930s and the 1878 record commemorated here is apart of local folk-lore.

Left to right in the wagon: G. Mottram, G. Profit, V. Rampton, L. Sydes, J. Hatton, J. Massey (foreman), Wills, M. Watkins, Jones, D. Owen, C. James. On the ground: F Harwood (Chief Foreman). Thanks to Mr Ian Fisher of Newton-le-Willows for identifying the Earlestown group.