Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

A celebration of Scottish steam


Author and railway expert Keith Langston takes a look at the locomotive building industry and assesses the impact this industry had on the development of steam locomotives.

Scotland is renowned worldwide for its engineering prowess, which of course includes locomotive building. Almost 1/5 of the 20,000 plus steam locomotives which came into British Railways ownership in January 1948 were built ‘North of the Border’.

These ranged from mainline express locomotives, such the famous LMS ‘Royal Scot’ 4-6-0s and the LNER ‘A3’ Pacifics, to an impressive assortment of successful freight locomotives which included the powerful War Department Austerity locomotives. There were additionally a whole host of smaller steam locomotives built, which included the ubiquitous ‘Jinty’ 0-6-0 tank engines. 


The world famous North British Locomotive Company (NBL) of Glasgow was formed in 1903 by the amalgamation of three established locomotive builders: Neilson Reed & Company, Dübs & Company and Sharp, Stewart & Company. The NBL, colloquially known as ‘The Combine’, traded in its own right until 1962 and was responsible for building the majority of Scottish steam locomotives. Although, not dealt with here, it is only proper to draw attention to the huge number of exported locomotives built by ‘The Combine’. However, outside the remit of the NBL there was a lot more to locomotive building in Scotland.

For example, Andrew Barclay Sons & Co of Kilmarnock are to the present day still acknowledged worldwide as the leading British company concerned with the manufacture of ‘industrial’ steam locomotives. A modern incarnation of the firm still survives, trading as Wabtec Rail, Scotland. A large number of UK preserved locomotives, in the care of preserved railways, include working examples of Andrew Barclay Sons & Co engines.

William Beardmore & Co of Glasgow were a company famous for the manufacture of armour plating and other military hardware, but they also built steam locomotives for both the home market and export. In the period between the World Wars the company also produced aircraft engines including those, which in 1930, powered the ill fated airship ‘R101’.

There were other Scottish engineering companies who built varying numbers of locomotives, or operated on the periphery of the industry. A selected listing of 49 such firms is included in my book 'Scottish Steam – A Celebration'.

The development of the coal mining, iron ore, iron and steel making, ship building and heavy engineering industries north of the border created a vibrant home grown market for smaller shunting type industrial locomotives. Many Scottish engineering companies responded in order to fulfil those requirements. In addition, some of those lesser known locomotive builders also recognised the export potential of their products.


Locomotive designs from un-associated firms were often similar in general specification and a great many represented what has since been described as the ‘Kilmarnock type’, i.e. as built in that town by Andrew Barclay & Sons (and others) and being of a basic 0-4-0 saddle tank (ST) form. It is thought likely that some engineering and industrial organisations built steam locomotives as copies of a bought in machine already in their possession, whilst others worked from drawings obtained from another locomotive maker or even assembled engines from a supplied kit of parts.

A prominent example of one such company is The Clyde Locomotive Co of Springburn, Glasgow. The firm’s steam locomotives included a batch of eight David Jones designed locomotives for the Highland Railway (HR), which famously became known as ‘Clyde Bogies’. In 1888, the long established Manchester based engineering firm of Sharp Stewart & Company (a founder member of ‘The Combine’) decided to move to Glasgow and to facilitate that move, bought the Clyde Locomotive Company.

Keith Langston is the author of ‘Scottish Steam: A Celebration’, published by Pen & Sword at £20. The book celebrates the significant contribution made by Scottish railway engineering workshops to steam locomotive development.

QUICK LINK: The excitement of a steam train trip

Image: Sharp, Stewart & Company famously built the first 4-6-0 wheel arrangement locomotives for use by a British railway company. Ex Highland Railway (HR) ‘Jones Goods’ 4-6-0 is seen as LMS No 17929 (formerly HR No 116) on the turntable at Inverness shed.

Note that the loco is fitted with a tablet catcher and snowplough.

Copyright Mike Morant Collection.

Back to "Expert history articles" Category

25/09/2014 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Scottish conductor and composer James Muir Mathieson was born - On this day in history

Conductor and composer James Muir Mathieson was born on 24 January 1911.

James Stewart Earl of Moray was assassinated - On this day in history

James Stewart, Earl of Moray, regent for James VI, was assassinated by a firearm on 23 January 1570. ...

Margaret of Denmark: an enigmatic queen - exclusive free read from History Scotland

Dr Amy Hayes explores the life of Margaret of Denmark, wife of James III, mother of James IV and possibly the ...

Scottish MP Joseph Hume was born - On this day in history

Scottish MP Joseph Hume, who founded the memorial to the Scottish Political Martyrs in Edinburgh, was born on ...

Other Articles

Scottish theologian George Gillespie was born - On this day in history

Church leader George Gillespie was born on 21 January 1613 in Kirkcaldy.

Inventor and engineer James Watt was born - On this day in history

James Watt, inventor of the condensor, which helped make the Industrial Revolution possible, was born on 19 ...

Sir John Pringle died - On this day in Scottish history

Sir John Pringle, President of the Royal Society and physician to King George III, died on 18 January 1782. ...

The Duddingston Curling Society was founded - On this day in history

On 17 January 1795, the Duddingston Curling Society became the first formally organised curling club in the ...