Sharp Roberts & Co.

The company originated in 1828 in the Atlas Works, Great Bridgeater Street, Manchester and manufactured machine tools and textile machinery Lowe. It was founded by Thomas Sharp and his brother and Richard Roberts. In spite of the products from the firm being known as "Sharps" or Sharpies it is Roberts who provided the dominant engineering skills. The first locomotive was constructed for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, a 2-2-0: No. 32 Experiment. Three similar locomotives were constructed for the Dublin & Kingstown Railway. These early products suffered from steam leakage from the vertical cylinders and these were subsequently abandoned.

In the new design the cylinders were placed under the smokebox and the 2-2-2 type was adopted with outside frames with additional inside bearings for the driving axle, and a combined dome and safety valve fitted near the chimney. Ten of this type were supplied to the Grand Junction Railway in 1837. Lowe states that 600 of this type were made between 1837 and 1857 and were supplied to France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Russia and Spain.

In 1843 Roberts left the firm and it became Sharp Bros. In 1852 John Sharp retired and Charles Patrick Stewart took his place and the firm became Sharp Stewart & Co.

In 1860 the firm acquired sole rights to the Giffard injector and this was described by John Robinson of the firm at a meeting of the Instn Mech. Engrs..

In 1862 three 4-6-0ST, designed by J. Kershaw, for the Bhore and Thul Ghatt Inclines on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway were constructed. In 1863 two further incline locomotives, but 2-6-0ST, were manufactured. In 1872 the firm manufactured 4-2-4ST tram locomotives for the Lisbon Steam Tramways wherein the leading and trailing wheels engaged on a form of mono-rail. Sixteen were built. The last locomotive to be built by the firm in Manchester was WN 3423, an 0-6-0ST Wardley for the Earl of Ellesmere. Lowe stated that 3442 locomotives were constructed in Manchester.

In 1888 according to Lowe the firm acquired the Clyde Locomotive Works in Glasgow to which Sharp Stewart shifted production. A large order was placed by the Midland Railway for 35 4-4-0s and forty 0-6-0s. The Jones Goods (first British 4-6-0) was supplied to the HR in 1894. Lowe considered that 5088 locomotives had been constructed at Manchester and Glasgow before combination took place into the North British Locomotive Co.

Hunt, David. Locomotive builders to the Midland Railway. Midland Record, (21), 111-26.
Sharp Stewart supplied some early Midland Railway locomotives: Hunt did not cite his sources.

Rutherford, M. Sharp's of Manchester. Part 1 Backtrack, 2006, 20, 626
Rutherford, M. Sharp's of Manchester. Part 2.Backtrack, 2006, 20, 690
Dewhurst, P.C. and Holcroft, Harold. The Fairlie locomotive - Part 2. Later designs and productions. Trans. Newcomen Soc., 1966, 39, 1-34.

Thomas Sharp (biographical material)
Marshall  enters two of the Sharp brothers: Thomas (born Manchester in about 1780, died Cheltenham on 20 April 1841) and John (born Manchester in 1786 and died there on 16 May 1856). The family had originated as joiners and builders and the name came to be associated with the Sharp type of locomotive, a 2-2-2 often known as Sharpies. Before the firm became absorbed into the North British combine John Hutchinson Sharp, grandson of one of the founders, had become Managing Director.

Richard Roberts
Richard Roberts was born at Carreghova near Llanymynech in Montgomeryshire on 22 April 1789 where his father was a shoemaker and toll-keeper on a turnpike road. Roberts died in Manchester on 11 March 1864 according to Marshall. Roberts moved to London in 1814 where he spent two years with Henry Maudslay in Lambeth before moving to Manchester in 1816 and setting up a business in Deansgate. He supplied a wide range of machines. He became a founder of the Manchester Mechanics Institute in 1823 and was elected to the Literary & Philosophical Society of Manchester in the same year, where fellow members included James Nasmyth, Joseph Whitworth and William Fairbairn. In 1828 he joined with Sharp Brothers and the new firm became Sharp, Roberts & Co.

Roberts invented cylindrical slide valves, patented in 1832, at the same time as a variable expansion gear for steam engines and a differential gear for road locomotives. He also invented a steam brake. His locomotives were distinguished by superior workmanship and finish, strong frames and large bearing surfaces. He was probably the first among British engineers to apply weights to driving wheels to balance revolving masses.In 1834 Beyer joined the firm and contributed to its success in locomotive building. Roberts carried on in business until 1852 when he gave it up and started as a consulting engineer. His plate punching machine made possible the rapid construction of the Conway and Britannia tubular bridges. Roberts' many other inventions related to machines not connected with railways. He became MICE on 20 March 1838.

The Newcomen Society paper by Dickinson is an important source: it notes Roberts' integrity, his great powers of concentration and his brusque manner. Gillian Cookson (ODNB biography) notes that he held six patents relating to locomotives, and that he died in poverty..

Rutherford Backtrack, 2006, 20, 626 notes that Roberts has been regarded by some as the greatest of all the pioneer nineteenth century mechanical engineers adding that "he was certainly the most inventive and took out innumerable patents"

Beyer Peacock Quartely Review 4.1929
Rutherford. Backtrack, 12, 623.
Dickinson, H.W. Richard Roberts, his life and inventions. Trans Newcomen Soc., 1945, 25, 123-137
Chaloner, W.H. New light on Richard Roberts, textile engineer (1789-1864). Trans Newcomen Soc., 1968, 40, 27-44.
None of the new light appears to fall upon his locomotive manufacturing activities: concentrates on the period 1826-8 and therefore adds little to Roberts, as a locomotive engineer: see Dickinson: 25 page 123 et seq.
Hills, Richard L. Richard Roberts' experiments on the friction of railway waggons. Early Rlys 2, 221-31.

Robinson, John
As noted above John Robinson was a key influence in Sharp Stewart obtaining the British patents for the Giffard injector (see also T.H. Shields, J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1950, 40, 597 (Paper 498). The family retained its links with the firm (and its successors) until the death of C.H. Robinson in 1940 (had been Director NBL: see Discussion by C.D. Hanna pp 669-70)

Robinson, John Frederick
Marshall records that John Frederick Robinson, son of John Robiinson, was born in Manchester on 27 May 1853 and died in Inverness on 12 July 1918. Studied engineering at Owen's College in Manchester. Apprenticed at Sharp Stewart; thence at Crewe (1875-76) and at Baldwin Locomotive Works (1877-78). One of the Managing Directors from 1881, and sole Managing Director from 1888 when firm moved to Glasgow..

Stewart, Charles Patrick
Born in Dublin in 1823 and died in Sunninghill on 6 April 1882. Apprenticed in London, joined firm of Sharp Bros in 1852 which became Sharp Stewart with Stewart as chairman. He was influential in introducing the Giffard injector to Britain. (Marshall)


Back to List of Locomotive Manufacturers

Steamindex home page