Welcome to Springburn Parish Church

The Workshops

No account of the life of the church would be complete without reference to the railway. If Springburn was a railway centre, the churches were enriched by the calibre of the people who worked there. From the Reid's who were prominent in church life, to the managers, the workmen, they all contributed an intelligent approach and concern. They were as proud of the church as much as they were proud of their work.
Many have been the stories of those who would turn out in the middle of the night to watch the locomotives being drawn to the docks, first by large teams of horses, and later by tractors. John Thomas, the railway historian, for whom the writer had the privilege of conducting the funeral service, tells vividly of the occasion. "The top of the boiler was sheeted with rubber because of the tram wires which would be some six inches above it during most of its journey, and representatives of the tramway department were in attendance just in case of accidents. There was also an official from the water department, for had not a Hyde Park engine once sunk through the road and burst a water main?" It was indeed an occasion.
Looking around Springburn, it is difficult to realise that at one time there were five railway workshops in the area. Now there are none yet the record is impressive, and records show that the locomotives were exported to 59 countries. From Canada, Central America, and practically the whole of South America in the west, to Africa, Europe and Russia, China, Australia and New Zealand in the East. In all, more than 28,000 locomotives were built by these companies and distributed as follows Britain 9550 Europe 2500 India and the Far East 7,900 Africa 3,400 Australia and N.Z. 1,100 N an S America 3,300
In 1953 it was written of the Company (N.B. Loco) and by the Company "The history of the Company and evolution of the locomotive go on. Experiments, research, new ideas and principles point the way to the Future...." It is sad, that eight years after this was written, the Company went into liquidation.
At the outbreak of the First World War, two new buildings, intended for specialised locomotive murk, had only reached the laying of the foundations. It was decided on completion, these buildings, subsequently known, as 'Mons' and 'Marne' factories should be devoted to munitions. The 'Mons' factory produced more than 854,000 high explosive shell cases. The 'Marne' factory made shell forgings, sea mines, casemates of many types and a type of portable machine gun nest.
The building of locomotives (of which 1,412 engines were supplied to war contracts) was accompanied by the manufacture of howitzer carriages, torpedo tubes and tanks. In contrast, the pattern makers were at that time engaged in making artificial limbs. As a contribution to the war effort, the Administration block, opened in September 1909 was converted to a Red Cross Hospital in December 1914 and with five large wards and 400 beds, 8000 patients had been treated up to May 1918.
The works again turned to mass production in 1939. Locomotives ordered by the Ministry of Supply for freight locomotives of L.M.S. 2-8-0 design suitably modified for service in various Theatres of War. The first of these was delivered in July 1940 and in due course a total of 153 were in service.
The "Austerity W.D." locomotive of 2-8-0 arrangement was ordered by the Ministry of Supply in 1942. Drawings were prepared and materials ordered 15 days after the placing of the order and within five months the first of 545 units was delivered. A 2.10.0 type was also placed in service five months after work in the drawing office had commenced and 150 were delivered.
The Second World War history of the firm began in 1936 when orders were in hand for the construction of light tanks. In 1940, 143 were completed and were followed by the 26-ton Matilda tanks. After 1942 the greater demand for locomotives made the discontinuation of tank production inevitable. The Company were still able to contribute 1,600,000 bombs and shells, 12,000 sea mines and 800 dough mixing bowls for the Royal Navy
Towards the end of the life of the Company experiments were made, in conjunction with C.A. Parsons Co. Ltd., of Newcastle to build a coal burning gas turbine locomotive in an attempt to use plentiful home produced coal supplies as opposed to imported oil. It was to work on the "exhaust heater" principle, which resembles a fire tube boiler except that it heats air instead of water. The air is sucked in from the atmosphere and delivered under pressure through the tubes of the 'air boiler' where it is heated to nearly 1300 deg. F. The hot compressed air first drives the turbine, which provides the power for the compressor. But there is plenty of power left over because it has picked up heat energy in the air boiler and this is used to drive a second turbine geared to the locomotives wheels The still heated air is then led to the combustion chamber where pulverised coal is blown in and burns with a fierce flame.
Tie writer has no knowledge or what happened to this experiment. Did the Diesel lobby win and this became a dead duck? Or did it just fail? One wonders what the future of Springburn might have been.
There were of course, the other workshops, which were just as important, the old L.N.E .R. and L.M.S. workshops, where not only were locomotives repaired, but were also built. John Thomas went into the whole "Springburn Story" in his book first published in 1954. What a history that was - and a proud one too!
If Springburn was famous for its engines, and of course other engineering workshops of which there were many, there was also the little bits of daily life. One could not be but fascinated by the slides, which John Thomas took round with him, showing to meetings of all kinds, not only of places, but also of people. Maybe no one could speak about them like John, because there was the pawky sense of humour that came through in his comments. Springburn now is much poorer with the lack of the kind of "worthies" of the past.
© Frank Myers 1997

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