Crewe Works - A Celebration of Steam

By Keith Langston 

Locomotive No 32 Tamerline became the first steam locomotive to be completed at Crewe Works on 10 March 1843. One hundred and fifteen years later BR 9F No 92250 became the 7,331st steam locomotive to be built at the Cheshire works, when completed in December 1958. This publication is a tribute to the thousands of people employed there during the steam locomotive building era.

In 1913 The Railway Magazine proudly described Crewe as “the most famous railway works in the world”. Indeed, railways throughout the world benefited from adopting ‘best Crewe practice’. Many who worked at Crewe in its heyday, first under the London & North Western Railway and later the London Midland & Scottish Railway, held the firm belief that the works was the ‘beating heart’ of the Cheshire town.

Back in those days you would be hard put to find a local family without some kind of connection to that vast engineering enterprise. In earlier times the works not only provided the steadily growing town with employment, but furthermore supplied the town with both gas and domestic water. For example, the consumption of the gas produced at the works in the 1940s was assessed as 30% to the works, 20% to Rolls-Royce and 50% to the town. Those statistics are a great example of the many close ties that existed between the works and the town.

After the post-war Transport Act, steam locomotive construction and maintenance continued under the newly created company British Railways. From 1948 under Nationalisation in addition to locomotive building, BR Crewe Works was responsible for the maintenance of some 2,779 steam locomotives. However, even as the Standard Locomotive building programme got underway plans for a future railway system without steam traction were being drawn up.

The timeline of this publication highlights those steam locomotive classes which were listed as being built by Crewe Works (in any time period) but importantly included in the BR January 1948 stock list. It also includes BR Standard class locomotives built at Crewe post 1951. Steam traction did return to the works, albeit in only a token manner during the occasion of the September 2005 Great Gathering.

Crewe Works – A Celebration of Steam by Keith Langston is not intended to be a source of detailed steam engineering practices, but is a comprehensively illustrated record of steam locomotive building and maintenance at Crewe Works. Fortunately, important engineering work was still carried out at Crewe Works in 2023. Given the reduced size of the works, and reduction in numbers employed, it would not be unfair to say that the once ‘beating heart’ of the town is at least a ‘discernible pulse’.