Haigh Foundry and Brock Mill Forge – a brief history

This new page consiste of two parts: (1) new material received from Ted McAvoy and (2) the earlier material on locomotives manufactured thereat which mainly came from Lowe and may have suffered from the influnce of Stretton.

A forge at Brock Mill, by the River Douglas in Wigan, existed before 1766. By 1775 a foundry had been established half a mile downstream. In 1788, both were acquired by the Earl of Balcarres who formed a partnership to expand the two businesses and build blast furnaces at the Haigh Foundry site.

The iron smelting business did not go well (the blast furnaces were given up in 1815) but the foundry and forge slowly prospered and began to produce ‘Fire Engines’ – beam pumping engines – for local collieries. In 1804, Robert Daglish was appointed chief engineer and his engineering skill and inventiveness soon made an impact.

In 1812, Daglish built Lancashire’s first locomotive at Haigh. Modelled on Blenkinsop’s Yorkshire Horse it was to work trains from John Clarke’s Orrell and Winstanley coal pits to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. It worked very well, so much so that he built two more before the end of 1816, one working by adhesion only. It was reported that two of these locomotives remained in use until the collieries closed in 1852.

Haigh Foundry was acquiring a reputation and deserving it. The foundry became skilled at casting ever larger steam cylinders and the forge wrought the parts which couldn’t be cast. As early as 1819, they cast an 84in bore cylinder weighing 22 tons for a local colliery and exported engines and sugar mills to the colonies.

In 1835, The Earl leased the whole business for 21 years to Messrs Evans & Ryley, soon after joined by a Mr Burrows. All three were capable men and they decided to re-enter the locomotive business. Exactly how many locomotives were built will probably never be known but the total was probably between 110 and 120. Most were for main-line railway companies.

Locomotives were only part of the business. Haigh Foundry was becoming a major player, supplying large cast swing bridges and dock ironwork for Hull and Liverpool Docks, and very large steam engines for coal and metal mines. They even dabbled in architectural ironwork.

By the end of the lease, Burrows had already planned to leave with two of the firm’s best engineers to set up a new company. Evans & Ryley were getting old and did not seek to renew the lease. However, Messrs Birley & Thompson saw an opportunity and took out another 21 year lease in 1856. Birley’s huge family had interest in many businesses and an equally large number of contacts with potential customers but one big problem had to be resolved.

The works lay in the valley bottom and the only road out was steep. In 1848, a massive beam engine (possibly the largest in the world at that date) had needed 48 horses to drag its components up the hill. The answer was a railway, linking both foundry and forge to the Earl’s extensive Haigh colliery railways. The line was in use by 1860, worked it appears by Haigh’s own loco and by those belonging to the Earl. Only 9 years later, the Lancashire Union Railway’s Whelley Loop cut right across the foundry line and a new railway was built to connect with the LUR at Haigh Junction.

By now, Haigh Foundry was concentrating on winding engines but had also expanded into brick and tile making. Contrary to popular belief, they continued to make locomotives and even tendered for the Festiniog Railway’s ‘Prince’ class. We only have solid evidence that two were built, both for Orrell Colliery but it is likely that at least a further ten were supplied to various local colliery companies and it is possible that some record of these will still be unearthed.

By the late 1870s, the market was less buoyant and the depression of the early 1880s hit Haigh hard. The lease was given up and the works closed in January 1885. The railway continued in use until 1919 serving a coal yard and tenants of the foundry buildings.

Amazingly, most of the buildings survive, along with two cast iron river bridges, one stone overbridge and almost the whole route of the 1869 railway. The main foundry buildings have been a major producer of herbal medicines for many years! In one corner of the site, an iron foundry (J.T. & E Castings) continues (as of 2010) to operate. Brock Mill forge sadly didn’t survive and all traces were swept away by a totally inappropriate housing development in the 1990s.

Ted McAvoy
January 2010

100 locomotives constructed between 1835 and 1856 (but see above). First locomotives manufactured as sub-contractor to Edward Bury (0-4-0 and 2-2-0). In 1837 supplied 0-4-2 Ajax (Fig. 249) to Leicester & Swannington Railway. In 1839 supplied 0-6-0 Hector to same railway. In 1839 supplied two broad gauge 2-2-2 to GWR, proobably Snake and Viper. These had 6ft 4in driving wheels and geared drive (ratio 3:2). This had been patented by William Melling (Lowe states no connection with John Melling). Marshall (Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. v. 3) notes that the works remained unconnected to a railway until 1869. Four 0-4-2s were supplied to the Manchester & Leeds Railway in 1841. Four broad gauge 4-4-0STs were supplied to the South Devon Railway in 1851-3. In 1855 two 0-8-0 locomotives were supplied to the War Department: these were intended to haul guns on 1 in 10 gradients and were sent to the Crimea. See letter from Robin Barnes (Backtrack, 1997, 11, 576) on loss of records to USA. See also Harry Jack Clement Edwin Stretton, Rly Arch., 2008 (18), 66: it would seem that Lowe's list (pp. 307-8) was based on Stretton..