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Lancashire At

Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire

Horwich Locomotive Works

Horwich Works built in 1885 by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in Horwich, near Bolton, is famous for building locomotives. What it is less well known for is its role in WW1 and WW2.


In World War One it manufactured weapons, including Howitzer guns and over two thousand shells a week. In the Second World War, the works built nearly 500 Cruiser, Centaur and Matilda tanks as well as shells, and parts for planes and guns.


The site is now being cleared for re-development (houses) and these iconic buildings are being dismantled to be lost forever.


Left: "Eight inch howitzer, at Horwich railway works, Lancashire, 1916. This gun was manufactured at the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway works, which was partially given over to the manufacture of weapons during the First World War. Locomotives were still repaired in the shop, as guns were built alongside them. Howitzers fired shells over a high trajectory, and were used to bombard enemy trenches and communications lines."

© National Railway Museum and SSPL

Matilda tanks painting

Left: "Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway workers manufacturing ammunition at Horwich works, 1916. This area of the works was usually where the locomotives were put together but during the First World War it was given over to the manufacture of weapons. From June 1915 onwards, around 2200 shells were made every week."

© National Railway Museum and SSPL


Left: "Women workers manufacturing ammunition at Horwich works, 23 March 1917. During the First World War part of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway's works was given over to the manufacture of weapons, and from June 1915 onwards, around 2200 shells were made every week. These women are repairing cartridge cases in the works' boiler shop smithy. Women were widely employed in munitions factories in wartime when men served in the armed forces."

© National Railway Museum and SSPL




The Horwich Works had a covered area of 17.8 Acres. The total enclosed area of the works was 150 Acres.

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Left: One of the huge sheds has already had its roof removed (December 2015). What a shame it is that NO PART of this great building is being saved as part of the new development.


These were the buildings that built locomotives and tanks during the wars.

Left: At the end of these sheds the original train and tram lines are still in place (see bottom right of photo). Locomotive production started again in 1943 and was an important part of the war effort, with Stanier 2-8-0's being produced and American 2-8-0's being modified.


During WW2, according to Horwich Heritage Group: 6,740,000 Oerlikon gun shells were produced here and a further 18,713,000 were renovated. With 4,333,000 fired shell cartridge cases renovated. Both the Cartridge Case Reforming Shop and the Oerlikon Shell Unit were laid out in accordance with the Ministry of Supply's requirements and at their expense. A large number of machines, presses and furnaces were specially built.

Around 200,000 (20mm) shells were produced each month (63,000 per week in June 1943). Between May 1942 and April 1943 2,000,000 shells were produced.


A Naval Ordnance Inspection Department was attached to the Unit.


Below: A 40mm shell on display in the Horwich Heritage Centre labelled as being produced at the Horwich works.

Above: A scale model of the Horwich Loco Works (by Eric Richardson) is one of many displays and information boards about the HLW at Horwich Heritage Centre.


When the erecting sheds stopped producing locomotives they turned their expertise to building Tanks: 481 were produced (406 Matilda MKII Tanks, 45 Centaur Tanks, and 30 Cruiser Tanks) along with spares for these vehicles and for Covenanter Tanks. See a scale model of a Matilda tank outside the factory: Right.


The Works also produced parts for planes such as: Hampden Bombers, and parts for Bofors Guns.


In recognition of their work, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Horwich on May 2nd 1940

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Women during the wars were often employed in Ordnance work and the Horwich Works was no exception. During the Second World War, The Cartridge Case Reforming Shop, Oerlikon Shell Unit and the Base Welding Shop all had mainly female workers.  Women carried out the following roles: Machinists, Fitters, Coppersmiths, Coremakers, Welders, Riveters, Platers' Helpers, amongst other jobs.


Below Left are three photos from the First World War. Again you will see that predominantly it is women who are employed.

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Above: The Horwich Heritge Centre is part of the Horwich Resource Centre on Beaumont Road (off Longworth Road), Horwich, BL6 7BG. OPENING TIMES: Monday to Friday 2.00pm - 4.00pm, Saturday 10.00am -12.30pm

It is well worth a visit as there are lots of displays about all eras of Horwich History and the volunteers are very helpful.

Much of the information on this page is taken from the Heritage Centre's displays.


Other information is taken from the following: 'British Rail Engineering - Horwich Works - Open Day 30th August 1975 - Official Programme'.

A reprint of a pamplet given out during a visit to the Loco Works during World WarTwo by the LMS Directors and Government Officials on Wednesday 9th June, 1943 - marked "SECRET" on the front. Reprinted and on sale at the Horwich Heritage Centre.


The HHC also have a good deal of other publications and DVDs about the Horwich Loco Works HERE

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A HUGE thank you to Horwich Heritage Society who have given us permission to use three of their photographs on this website.


Left: Several tanks outside the Horwich Loco Works. Note that the building is camoflaged with paint and the widows are covered with camouflaged material.


Below Left: A tank being tested on the waste ground nearby with the Works buildings in the background.


Below: A Matilda tank outside the Works.


PLEASE NOTE: These photographs are the Copyright of Horwich Heritage Society and may not be reproduced or used in any form without their written consent.

These pages, all text and photographs, unless stated, are the copyright of The Brothers B. No reproduction is allowed in any form without prior written permission

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