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Photographs of “The Elswick Works“ – Britain’s major arms developer before and during World War I

David Goran

William Armstrong established a huge armaments factory in Elswick, west of Newcastle. The Elswick Works was established in 1847 to manufacture hydraulic cranes as well as guns for both the army and the navy.

From these relatively humble beginnings, the company diversified into many fields including shipbuilding, armaments, and locomotives. By 1953, the Elswick Works covered 70 acres and extended over a mile along the River Tyne. This set of images, mostly taken from our Vickers Armstrong collection, includes fascinating views of the factories at Elswick, the products they produced and the people that worked there.

View inside the Heavy Gun Machine Shop at the Elswick Works, Newcastle upon Tyne, c1900 (TWAM ref. 5484). This image shows 8”, 9.2” and 12” guns being machined.

View inside the Heavy Gun Machine Shop at the Elswick Works, Newcastle upon Tyne, c1900 (TWAM ref. 5484). This image shows 8”, 9.2” and 12” guns being machined.

 

2 View inside the Gun Inspection Department, 1905. After completion in the manufacturing shops each gun was sent there. Checks included examination of the bore, rifling, outside dimensions of the gun, ease of working of the breech mechanism and the fitting of spare parts.

View inside the Gun Inspection Department, 1905. After completion in the manufacturing shops, each gun was sent there. Checks included examination of the bore, rifling, outside dimensions of the gun, ease of working of the breech mechanism and the fitting of spare parts.

 

Gauging 4.2 inch trench mortar bombs in the Shell Department.

Gauging 4.2 inch trench mortar bombs in the Shell Department.

 

Pom Pom Metadyne Guns under construction.

Pom Pom Metadyne Guns under construction.

 

8 inch Coastal Defence Mounting in 12 Shop.

8 inch Coastal Defence Mounting in 12 Shop.

 

5.5 inch Mobile Howitzer Gun in 22 Shop.

5.5 inch Mobile Howitzer Gun in 22 Shop.

 

Guns under construction in 5 Shop. Includes 5.118 inch guns for Russia and 4 inch guns for the Admiralty.

Guns under construction in 5 Shop. Includes 5.118 inch guns for Russia and 4 inch guns for the Admiralty.

 

Women workers fitting breech blocks in 5 Shop.

Women workers fitting breech blocks in 5 Shop.

 

A 6-pdr. Valentine Tank on a truck ready for delivery, inside the Tank Shop.

A 6-pdr. Valentine Tank on a truck ready for delivery, inside the Tank Shop.

 

Valentine Tanks on the Assembly Line in the Tank Shop.

Valentine Tanks on the Assembly Line in the Tank Shop.

 

Valentine Tank being lowered on to its track in the Tank Shop.

Valentine Tank being lowered on to its track in the Tank Shop.

Cannons and other armament were produced by the Elswick Ordnance Company, the armament division of Armstrong Whitworth.

The Elswick Ordnance Company (sometimes referred to as Elswick Ordnance Works, but usually as “EOC”) was originally created in 1859 to separate William Armstrong’s armaments business from his other business interests, to avoid a conflict of interest as Armstrong was then Engineer of Rifled Ordnance for the War Office and the company’s main customer was the British Government. Armstrong held no financial interest in the company until 1864 when he left Government service, and Elswick Ordnance was re-united with the main Armstrong businesses to form Sir W.G. Armstrong & Company. EOC was then the armaments branch of W.G. Armstrong & Company and later of Armstrong Whitworth.

Shervick Tractors inside 136 Shop. These tractors were manufactured after the Second World War, using Sherman tanks, which had become surplus to military requirements.

Shervick Tractors inside 136 Shop. These tractors were manufactured after the Second World War, using Sherman tanks, which had become surplus to military requirements.

 

View of locomotives being repaired in 12 Shop.

View of locomotives being repaired in 12 Shop.

 

View of a worker machining a 500 lb bomb.

View of a worker machining a 500 lb bomb.

 

Repairing locomotives in 12 shop.

Repairing locomotives in 12 shop.

 

View of a printing press in 11 Shop.

View of a printing press in 11 Shop.

 

Man cages manufactured at the Elswick Works.

Man cages manufactured at the Elswick Works.

 

Amphibious Tank on the River Tyne.

Amphibious Tank on the River Tyne.

 

Grand Slam bombs awaiting delivery.

Grand Slam bombs awaiting delivery.

EOC’s main customer in its early years was the British Government, but the Government abandoned “Armstrong guns” in the mid-1860s due to dissatisfaction with Armstrong’s breech mechanism, and instead built its own rifled muzzle-loaders at Woolwich Arsenal (“Woolwich guns”) until 1880. This forced EOC to survive on export orders for both muzzle-loaders and breech-loaders until the 1880s when the British Government again began buying guns from EOC, this time rifled breech-loaders with more robust interrupted screw breech mechanisms such as the de Bange system and its successors.

Rolls Royce Cylinders in 24 Shop, Elswick Works.

Rolls Royce Cylinders in 24 Shop, Elswick Works.

 

Manufacturing fishing floats.

Manufacturing fishing floats.

 

Machining gunmetal racer for a set of 21 inch triple torpedo tubes.

Machining gunmetal racer for a set of 21 inch triple torpedo tubes.

 

Rudder frame ready for shipment.

Rudder frame ready for shipment.

 

Armoured cars outside the Elswick Works.

Armoured cars outside the Elswick Works.

 

Building cranes at the Elswick Works.

Building cranes at the Elswick Works.

 

21 inch Triple Deck Torpedo Tubes, Air and Powder Impulse for Chilean Destroyers.

21 inch Triple Deck Torpedo Tubes, Air and Powder Impulse for Chilean Destroyers.

 

Carden-Loyd Carriers at the Elswick Works.

Carden-Loyd Carriers at the Elswick Works.

 

Firing torpedoes on the River Tyne.

Firing torpedoes on the River Tyne.

In 1882, it merged with the shipbuilding firm of Charles Mitchell to form Armstrong Mitchell & Company and at the time, its works extended for over a mile (about 2 km) along the bank of the River Tyne. Armstrong Mitchell merged again with the engineering firm of Joseph Whitworth in 1897. The company expanded into the manufacture of cars and trucks in 1902 and created an “aerial department” in 1913, which became the Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft subsidiary in 1920.

Soldiers pulling 75 mm Mountain Artillery at the Elswick Works.

Soldiers pulling 75 mm Mountain Artillery at the Elswick Works.

 

Mule carrying wheels, trails and axeltree of 75 mm Mountain Artillery. Five mules were needed to carry all the equipment.

Mule carrying wheels, trails and axeltree of 75 mm Mountain Artillery. Five mules were needed to carry all the equipment.

 

75 mm Mountain Gun and Carriage in action.

75 mm Mountain Gun and Carriage in action.

 

Hydraulic forging presses in a bay at the Elswick Steel Works.

Hydraulic forging presses in a bay at the Elswick Steel Works.

 

Workers in the sawmills.

Workers in the sawmills.

A 3.7” anti-aircraft gun on mobile mounting, ready for despatch outside 12 Shop.

A 3.7” anti-aircraft gun on mobile mounting, ready for despatch outside 12 Shop

Elswick Ordnance was a major arms developer before and during World War I. The ordnance and ammunition it manufactured for the British Government were stamped EOC while guns made for export were usually marked “W.G. Armstrong”.

 

Photos: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums