Neilson & Co.
Neilson & Co., Hyde Park Locomotive Works, Springburn.—
In two departments of engineering industry and science, Glasgow has gained an eminence of celebrity that it has fallen to the lot of but few modem cities to attain by similar means. Her marine engineers are a fraternity known to fame wherever the power of steam is applied to the purposes of navigation ; and in the construction of locomotive engines there are Glasgow firms possessed of reputations unsurpassed throughout the world.
Of these latter firms that of Messrs. Neilson & Co., proprietors and controllers of the universally renowned Hyde Park Locomotive Works, is at once the oldest, the largest, and the most distinguished ; and this can be affirmed in a spirit perfectly free from invidiousness, for the house in question might well and justifiably be termed the doyen of the British locomotive trade. The vast business now centred under the control of this eminent firm at Springburn was founded as far back as the year 1837, and, consequently, the jubilee year of this monarch among locomotive engineering concerns is coincident with that of the gracious sovereign of the nation. Mr. Walter Montgomerie Neilson was one of the early partners of the house, but changes in proprietary have naturally occurred during the currency of the long period of half a century.
Mr. Henry Dubs was for some years associated with Mr. Neilson in the management, the last year being as a partner, but having severed his connection with the firm in 1863, he founded the business thenceforward known under the style of Dubs & Co. Mr. Dubs was succeeded in his position of managing partner by Mr. James Reid, who at a former period acted as manager of the works, and who had subsequently gone to act in Messrs. Sharp, Stewart & Co.’s, establishment, Manchester, in a similar capacity to that which he had filled with Messrs. Neilson & Co. Mr. W.M. Neilson, who, some time subsequent to Mr. Reid’s accession to a partnership, had ceased to take an active part in the management, finally retired in 1878, and since that date Mr. Reid has remained sole principal and proprietor of the concern.
The firm, at the outset of its career, carried on operations in Hyde Park Street, Glasgow ; but a rapid development in all departments of the industry made it expedient for them to secure premises affording sufficient room for such increase as the expanding tendencies of the business led them to anticipate. Ground was accordingly acquired in Springburn, and there works were planned and laid out on the principle and scale best adapted to ensure the turning out of all work with the greatest rapidity combined with the utmost economy in production. In 1862 the entire business was transferred to these new premises, where it has since remained. The anticipations of expansion in trade have been amply realised, and the works have been enlarged from year to year until now they are quite twice their original size, while their productive capacity has also been more than doubled. In 1865 Messrs. Neilson & Co., with 1,000 men, could build 82 engines and tenders per annum ; in 1885, employing about 2,500 men, they were enabled to produce 206 engines and tenders in the same time, or equal to an output of four a week. Even this truly enormous production was exceeded when, during the first half of 1886, the rate of delivery was over five main-line engines and tenders per week. Such development within a period of twenty years is an eloquent and practical tribute to the vigorous spirit of progress and advancement that has always been characteristic of this eminent house. The arrangement of the various shops and working departments comprising the Hyde Park Works admits of the attainment of a most perfect smoothness and system in all the operations engaged in, and naturally leads to the passing on of the material in regular routine until it arrives at its finished state in the department where its components are fitted together and eventually turned out a locomotive engine in forma perfecta, and ready for active service.
The visitor to these most extensive works, after passing through a substantial and handsome entrance gateway, arrives in the yard, which, notwithstanding its frequent use as a store for material waiting to be taken up by the different departments, shows a degree of tidiness and order worthy of imitation. After crossing this yard the first practical department is reached, viz., the pattern shop, and in the same range are the iron and brass foundries, and the coppersmith’s shop. Next in order is the important template shop ; and here it is mentionable that very much of Messrs. Neilson’s work consists in the duplicating of orders and parts of orders previously filled, and hence the greatest care is taken to correctly classify and properly store the different patterns and templates, the particular ones referring to any order being easily arrived at, even after the lapse of several years.
Following the template shop comes the boiler shop, where all the most modern and effective appliances are at work. As far as is practicable, riveting is here carried on by power, both hydraulic and steam, operating machines both stationary and portable. The smithy, which adjoins the noisy boiler shop, also presents a remarkably busy and interesting industrial scene. Nearly a hundred smiths’ fires are brightly burning, and a magnificent equipment of steam hammers, numerous and varied in power and construction, is in constant and effective operation.
Passing next through the grinding shop, the visitor enters the finishing and machine shops, where the first impression received is that there is only “room at the top”. Every inch of space apparently is taken up by a bewildering profusion of machines of every description, but it is soon discovered that ample room exists for all necessary movement, the arrangement of the plant being a veritable study in system ; and, despite the busy energy of action that seems to permeate the very air of the place, the most perfect order is always maintained, and one’s way may be judiciously threaded with absolute safety through what at a slight distance looks like an impenetrable mass of apparatus and an impassable network of swiftly moving belts.
At the opposite end of the building from the finishing shop is the erecting shop, the department to which all the work of the other shops eventually gravitates in sections. When the engines are finally erected they are passed out of the erecting shop and tested under steam in an adjoining shed. Engines for home railways reach their last department in the painting shop, where they receive the finishing touches. No amount of written detail or description could do adequate justice to an establishment like this, in whose building up have been embodied the resource, experience, and unremitting labour of more than half a century.
And yet, eminently famous as are Messrs. Neilson & Co. in the great industry they exemplify in so masterly a manner, they do not forget that much of the secret of enduring prosperity lies in the judicious advancement with the times. Evidences of their recognition of this truth are forthcoming in many and various ways, and in no manner, perhaps, more conclusively than in the handsome structures erected last year at Springburn to serve as drawing offices, and to accommodate the commercial departments. These fine buildings are fitted up with the most recent improvements, both as regards construction and sanitation, and will favourably bear comparison with any similar edifices in the country.
When fully employed Messrs. Neilson & Co., as already indicated, give work to rather more than 2,500 men, and every member of this immense force of hands is engaged on some one or other of the details of locomotive manufacture. Messrs. Neilson’s industry is strictly confined to the construction of locomotives and tenders, and to the making of duplicate parts thereof ; and it may be readily understood that, within these well-defined limits, an enormous amount of work must of necessity be executed in order to take up the entire capacity of their great establishments, and to keep all the shops in full swing.
The engines turned out are of the most varied types, suitable for all the different climatic and other conditions under which they are intended to work ; and their sizes are alike diversified, ranging from the small narrow-gauge eight-inch tank engine, to the large, massive nineteen-inch Ghat engines, and home main line locomotives. Specimens of Messrs. Neilson’s productions are to be found in every quarter of the globe where a regular line of railway of any importance has been laid and instituted while their engines are most numerously in use in France, Italy, Russia, Spain, Egypt, India, Burmah, Canada, South America, Australasia, and Cape Colony. During the firm’s long and illustrious existence as locomotive builders, they have turned out nearly 4,000 engines in all ; and an interesting calculation shows that if all the several units in that truly amazing array of engines were placed buffer to buffer, the line thus formed would extend over a distance of more than twenty-seven miles! With the consummation of a half-century’s work such as is represented in that twenty-seven miles of locomotive engines, Messrs. Neilson & Co. have completed a record of achievements the like of which cannot, probably, be looked back over by any similar house in existence ; and in the possession of the honour, credit, and fame that are the outcome of such a record it is possible for us to leave this celebrated firm, fully conscious of the fact that in the reputation they now enjoy consists the best commendation of their past attainments and the strongest assurance of their future prosperity.
The sole proprietor and director of this remarkable establishment is, as we have already stated, Mr. James Reid, a gentleman in whose personality the characteristics of an unfaltering progress and an untiring energy have gone hand in hand to the accomplishment of great deeds in industry and trade, and one who, notwithstanding the close attention demanded by individual management of such an undertaking as that now under his control, has found time to devote his services largely to the public good, and to engage in spheres of usefulness outside the pale of his own immediate business. Mr. Reid has been a Town Councillor of Glasgow, is a past president of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London, a past Chairman of Council of the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts, and now one of its Vice-Presidents ; is also Chairman of the Springburn School Board, and a justice of the peace, and both in precept and practice has set a worthy example to those ambitious of being regarded, as he now is, as an honoured and a representative citizen of the Scottish commercial capital.
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