Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,457 pages of information and 245,911 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Nasmyth, Gaskell and Co

From Graces Guide
James Nasmyth's sketch of the works.
1841. Great Western Railway Locomotive "Leo".
1842. Great Western Railway Locomotive "Tityos".

Nasmyth, Gaskell and Company of Bridgewater Foundry, Patricroft, Manchester.

The company was a Locomotive manufacturer near the town of Eccles. The works was located adjacent to both the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and the Bridgewater Canal, and could export locomotives after, May 1894, via the Manchester Ship Canal.


1836 The Bridgewater Foundry was founded by James Nasmyth, famous for the "Nasmyth Hammer," and his brother George Nasmyth, in partnership with Holbrook Gaskell. James Nasmyth had previously been employed in Henry Maudslay's workshop in Lambeth and his interest was mainly, but not limited to, specialist machine tools.

1836 Henry Deacon was apprenticed to Galloway and Sons, a London engineering firm. After Galloway and Sons failed, Michael Faraday arranged for Henry Deacon to join Nasmyth and Gaskell.

Nasmyth and Gaskell supplied machinery to Pilkingtons of St Helens, where Deacon moved after completing his apprenticeship in the early 1840s.

1839 Nasmyth produced nine locomotives in 1839, thirteen in 1840, eight in 1841 and sixteen in 1842. They may well have been sub-contracted from other makers. Those for the Midland Counties Railway were 2-2-0 with 5'6" driving wheels and 12"x18" cylinders, probably similar to that railway's Bury machines, apart from one which was 2-2-2, and had smaller drivers, with 5'0" and 14"x18" cylinders.

1839 Nasmyth's steam hammer introduced. [1]

1841 The Birmingham and Gloucester Railway had found some American Norris 4-2-0 locomotives very successful, especially on the notorious Lickey Incline, and so the company built six similar ones for the line.

1843 March. Partnership change. George Nasmyth, James Nasmyth, Holbrook Gaskell, Henry Garnett and George Humphreys, Patricroft, engineers (as regards George Naysmyth).[2]

1843 Robert Wilson joined the firm.

1843 The steam hammer was adapted to become self-acting. [3]

1845 Fatal boiler explosion at Bridgewater Foundry. See below for more inforamtion.

1847 Rack-planing machine; portable drilling machine; compound planing machine; steam hammer; wrought iron furnace; steam pile driver

1848 A circular saw for cutting iron bars, driven by a reaction steam turbine, was described and illustrated in The Practical Machinist's Journal [4]. The saw was approx 3 ft 8" dia, and the turbine wheel approx 2 ft 3" dia. 2000 rpm & 60 psi.

1848 'Imperial Present.— The Emperor of Russia has presented (through Baron Brunnow,the Russian ambassador) a very superb diamond ring to Mr. Nasmyth, of Patricroft, the inventor of the steam-hammer and pile-driving macldne, as expression of his satisfaction with the working of two pile-driving machines, erected by Messrs. Nasmyth and Gaskell, and employed at some extensive works at Cronstadt, and an acKnowledgement for a series of elaborate drawings of those machines, which Mr. Nasmyth had presented to his Imperial Majesty. - Manchester Courier.'[5]

1848 July. Partnership change. James Nasmyth, Holbrook Gaskell, Henry Garnett and George Humphreys, Patricroft, engineers (as regards George Humphreys).[6]

1850 The name of the firm was changed to James Nasmyth and Company

1852 Portable hand drill

1853 They were described as makers of locomotive engines

1855 'Failure of Nasmyth's Gun Experiment.— We regret to learn that Mr. Nasmyth's wrought iron gun has proved a complete failure, and this not on account of the mechanical difficulties which had to be encountered, formidable as they were, but from most unexpected peculiarity in the material employed when brought together in so large a mess as was necessary for Mr. Nasmyth's purpose. It seems that wrought iron, so tractable under all ordinary conditions of working, cannot be welded together in very large masses without undergoing a change in its molecular arrangement exceedingly injurious to its tenacity. As we understand the explanation which we have received on this point, an immense mass of iron like that which Mr. Nasmyth has welded together continues so long in an incandescent and soft state, that a process analogous to crystallisation takes place within its substanoe, whereby the fibrous texture, from which it derives its tenacity, is destroyed, and it becomes even less capable than cast iron of resisting the explosion of a heavy charge of gunpowder. We understand that, in addition to the unfavourable result obtained by Mr. Nasmyth, at Patricroft, another experiment of a similar nature, made under the direction of government, has proved a complete failure, from the peculiarity of the material to which we have alluded; and a large gun which had been completed was found utterly unfit for use. Indeed, we believe it burst into many pieces on the first trial. Mr. Nasmyth's experiment has consequently been abandoned. Whilst on the subject of wrought-iron guns, we may as well correct a very erroneous statement, which, we believe, originated the Press and has lately been going the round of the newspapers. It is to the effect that a wrought-iron gun, made by Messrs. Fawcewtt and Co., of Liverpool, for the government of the United States, burst on board the ship of war for which it was made, killing the secretary of the navy and several other persons. This altogether incorrect; the wrought-iron gun which burst on board the Princeton frigate, with the results mentioned, was made in the United States. After it had burst, another gun was ordered from, and made by, Messrs. Fawcett and Co., and the Princeton, if we remember rightly, came over to Liverpool to receive it. That gun (we believe of 12-inch bore) was said at the time to have borne all the trials to which it was subjected, and we have never heard of any accident from it. Possibly iron may be forged up to that size without developing the peculiar tendencies which have frustrated Mr. Nasmyth s experiment.— Guardian.[7]

1856 James Nasmyth retired from the company - James Nasmyth and Co.[8][9]

1857 The name changed to Patricroft Ironworks. The firm's main interest remained heavy machine tools and very few more locomotives were built.

1867 Nasmyth took a back seat and Robert Wilson and Henry Garnett became the principal partners and the company's name was changed again to Nasmyth Wilson and Company

From about 1873, the demand for locomotives from overseas increased and up to 1938, over 1,650 locomotives were produced; over one thousand of which were exported. One buyer was the New Zealand Railways Department, and a misunderstanding with the firm regarding the weight limitations imposed on the NZR P class that delayed the delivery of the urgently needed locomotives precipitated a shift in New Zealand away from English manufacturers.

1882 Limited Liability status.

1911 Superheater locomotive for Great Northern Railway of Ireland.

WWI During World War I the factory was mainly engaged in munitions work; but it built twenty 2-8-0 locomotives for the Chemin de Fer de l'État in France and thirty two for India along with a hundred small petrol driven locomotives.

1916 The steam hammer 'Thor', erected for forging guns, was eventually replaced with a more modern version. [10]

1919 It became a Public limited company.

1920 History of the company in The Engineer

1930s Sales continued, but in the early 1930s orders began to dry up after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The last locomotive order dispatched was two 2-6-4T metre gauge tank locomotives, Works No. 1649 and 1650, dispatched in 1938 to the South Indian Railways. Only two other locomotives, Works No. 1651 and 1652, were produced in 1938; both were 0-6-0 standard gauge locomotives for the Palestine Railway.

As part of a planned reorganisation of the industry, the company ceased manufacture of locomotives and handed over all its drawings and patterns to the British Locomotive Manufacturers Association. The company however continued to make steam hammers and machine tools.

1940 On 1 June 1940 the Ministry of Supply took over the factory; and it became a Royal Ordnance Factory, ROF Patricroft. The company was wound up on 7 November 1940, having made a loss of £2,663 in 1939 having built 1,531 locomotives

The Royal Ordnance Factory, too, has now closed and the works is now part of a business and technology centre.

James Nasmyth and the Bridgewater Foundry

An excellent account of the work of James Nasmyth, and of the Bridgewater Foundry under Nasmyth, was written by J. A. Cantrell and published in 1985 [11]. This is a thorough, scholarly work, with numerous references and footnotes, and provides a valuable source of information on the day-to-day working of the business. It critically examines some of the important claims and omissions in Nasmyth's autobiography. A significant omission by Nasmyth in his autobiography is any credit to his brother George Nasmyth, for the part he played in establishing the business.

Boiler Explosion at Bridgwater Foundry, 1845

'BOILER EXPLOSION AT PATRICROFT. A boiler explosion, attended with fatal results, took place on Saturday, at the works of Messrs. Nasmyth end Gaskell, called the Bridgewater Foundry, at Patricroft, and near to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The explosion took place at the dinner hour, on Saturday, about five minutes before one o'clock. Had all the hands been at work (420) there would have been at least forty within the range of the explosion and its destructive effects. We regret to state that one man, the engineer, named John Rogers, was killed by the accident, and that four others were badly hurt....'.

The displaced boiler brought down '.....two chimneys, and the brass foundry. It then want broadside along, carrying before it and along with it an experimental steam hammer and anvil, which together weighed about three tons, and stood about eight feet west of the boiler, and forcing them into the canal, a distance of forty-three yards!'....'

The first man found in the ruins was Joseph Blears, who was said to be in considerable danger. A dresser [fettler] named Henry Davis was struck by a large piece of casting and later died from his injuries. Other injured workers were named as Stephen Barr and Thomas Hurst.

'It appears that the deceased, who had been in the employ of Messrs. Nasmyth and Gaskell since the commencement of the establishment - a period of between eight and nine years - and was an exceedingly sober, careful, and steady workman, was the sole engineman, and had no fireman under him. About half-past nine o’clock on Saturday morning, he had some words with a lad in the employ of the firm, who, in anger, threw a large coal at him. It struck Rogers on the head, knocked him down, and hurt him severely. He complained shortly afterwards to Mr. Torry, the head foreman, and the boy was forthwith discharged, perhaps an hour or two before the accident. About a quarter before one o'clock, Thomas Gatley, a joiner in the establishment, went into the engine-house and found Rogers smoking his pipe. He told Gatley that his head felt very ill from the effects of the blow he had received on it, and said he thought a bit of 'bacco would do him good. ….. Rogers sat down on a step on the iron staircase, still complaining of his head, and Gatley left him there only five or six minutes before the explosion. It would seem, that, the effects of the blow on the head had been to casue some mental confusion, labouring under which, it is supposed that the poor man had either neglected to keep a proper supply of water in the boiler, or had in some way neglected his duty, so as to cause the fatal catastrophe. The deceased, who was upwards of 50 years of age, was a native of Northampton, but he came to Patricroft eleven or twelve years ago….'

The inquest into the death of Rogers was held at the Wellington Inn, Eccles, before Mr. Rutter, coroner. The jury viewed the body at Rogers house in Vine Street, Eccles. Witnesses included Samuel Brabner (fitter), John Hepworth (boiler making foreman), and Archibald Torry (Head Foreman). Mr Gaskell said that ' his opinion the explosion had been caused by over-pressure of steam, produced by the water having been allowed to get too low in the boiler; in which case the boiler flue would become overheated, and, when the engine was started at one o'clock, fresh water would be thrown into the boiler, and a tremendously rapid generation of steam would ensue, which would cause instantaneous explosion..... Verdict: Accidental death.' [12]

Steam Locomotives

Broad-gauge locomotives built for the Great Western Railway[13]:


  • Achilles
  • Milo
  • Hector
  • Castor
  • Sun
  • Sunbeam
  • Gazelle
  • Javelin
  • Djerid
  • Mentor
  • Bellona
  • Actaeon
  • Centaur
  • Orion
  • Damon
  • Electra
  • Priam
  • Pollux
  • Phoenix
  • Pegasus
  • Stentor


  • Hercules
  • Samson
  • Goliath
  • Tityos

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1920/03/19
  2. Globe - Saturday 4 March 1843
  3. The Engineer 1920/03/19
  4. The Practical Machinist's Journal, 1848, p.173
  5. Dublin Evening Mail,3 January 1848
  6. Globe - Wednesday 12 July 1848
  7. Manchester Courier, 8 September 1855
  8. Perry's Bankrupt Gazette - Saturday 3 January 1857
  9. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 3 January 1857
  10. The Engineer 1920/03/19
  11. 'James Nasmyth and the Bridgewater Foundry' by J A Cantrell, 1984. ISBN 0 7190 1339 9
  12. Manchester Times, Saturday 21st June 1845
  13. The Engineer 1910/12/16 Supplement
  • Wikipedia
  • 1853 Directory of Manchester and Salford
  • British Steam Locomotive Builders by James W. Lowe. Published in 1975. ISBN 0-905100-816
  • The Engineer of 12th March 1920 p287
  • The Imperial Journal 1852 Volume II. p417
  • Engineer and Machinist's Assistant 1847. p195; Plate XLIII, LV, CXVII, CXXVII; CXXX, CXXXI
  • The Engineer 1911/10/20 p411
  • 'Nasmyth, Wilson and Co. Patricroft Locomotive Builders' by John Cantrell. Tempus Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7524-3465-9
  • 'James Nasmyth and the Bridgewater Foundry' by J A Cantrell, 1984. ISBN 0 7190 1339 9