Openshaw Industry

A Quick History

I grew up in an Openshaw that was dominated by industry, mainly light and heavy mechanical and electrical. The very first factories, though, in the Gorton and Openshaw area were mills, Gorton Mill in 1825, and the first recorded mill in Openshaw was High Bank Mill in 1861. There were other mills about which little is known, Union Mill in Tamworth St, Victoria Mill in Victoria St, and Imperial Oil Cloth Company behind Hampson Wrigley’s.

Birdcage Walk

Birdcage Walk

The move away from textiles to engineering was prompted by the construction of Gorton Tank in 1848. The Tank was initially a repair depot for the Manchester Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, later LNER. This was the first time that an engineering works had been built in Openshaw, and eventually it spawned a cluster of more engineering works. By the early 20th century Openshaw was the most heavily industrialised suburb in Europe.

A very good history of Gorton Tank is on Dave Gosling’s website here.

Beyer Peacock was the first spin off from the Tank, making locomotives. It was just opposite the Tank on the other side of the railway line, actually just in Gorton.

B&S Massey followed in 1861 on the site on Ashton Old Road opposite Cornwall St and next to the canal and canal bridge. I have memories of Masseys, not exactly pleasant ones, because we lived at the top end of Cornwall St, maybe a hundred yards from the external wall of Masseys. They made steam hammers and must have used them to make more steam hammers, because every ten seconds or so there would be an almighty bang, and the whole house shook. This went on all through the working day, and if business was good, all through the night as well. You got so used to it that you only noticed it when it stopped.

In 1880 Joseph Whitworth moved to a factory in what became Whitworth St, later amalgamated with Armstrong & Co to become Armstrong Whitworth, and later still became English Steel. This was a huge site at the corner of Clayton Lane and Ashton Old Rd, and must have employed thousands.

In 1882 Crossley Brothers started manufacturing engines on Pottery Lane.

Laurence Scott Electromotors set up in 1914 on Louisa St. Ferguson Pailin opened after WW1 to manufacture high voltage switchgear. Lindsay Williams moved to Openshaw in the early 1920s.

This is just a roll call of some of the larger companies trading in Openshaw in the early 1900s. The decline started from about the 1950s, and by the end of the 1980s, it had pretty well all gone.

 

Some Personal Stuff

I never worked in Openshaw, while I lived in there, I worked at Ferranti’s in Moston, turning out Bloodhound missiles. So my knowledge and experience of Openshaw’s factories is slight and second hand.
My dad worked at Gorton Tank; he had been an engine driver with LNER, working up, as you did in those days, from being a cleaner, then a fireman, and finally an engine driver. He ended his railway career as a foreman in the repair shop at the Tank. I’m not sure how he got to be in Openshaw, as he was born in Stoke on Trent, and I assume he worked for the Great Central Railway before it became LNER in 1923. One of the highlights of his driving career was driving a very early Flying Scotsman that was brought out of retirement to celebrate the jubilee of a record breaking run from London to Edinburgh in 1888. He drove it on a trip from Manchester to Liverpool. Dad sheffield united

I don’t know much about his driving career, as he was working full time at the Tank as a foreman when I was growing up, but he must have driven some seriously impressive locos-I have a picture here of him in front of Sheffield United, which looks like it could be a Pacific class.

Working for the railways, he got subsidised travel, and a small number of free tickets each year. This meant that we could go to some interesting places for holidays, provided, of course that we went by rail, and also by rail company owned steamer. So we had several holidays in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and one in Ireland.

My brother worked at Ferguson Pailin, near Fairfield Road. They made high voltage switchgear, used on the National Grid, where voltages can get up to 440,000 volts, and needs special equipment to turn it on and off. Fergie’s seemed a reasonably healthy company, but was taken over first by Associated Electrical Industries of Trafford Park, and later by GEC, run at that stage by Arnold Weinstock, who held the purse strings in a vice like grip. The factory closed some time in the 1980s, I believe.

Before Mr Weinstock’s time, Fergie’s had been a very forward looking employer, and had bought an estate in Mottram near Prestbury, for the use of the employees. There was a large house with dormitory accommodation, very large grounds, and a well stocked fishing lake. I went there several times, it was a great place to visit, and literally a breath of country air compared with Openshaw. It was sold off by Weinstock and is now a de Vere hotel, conference centre and golf course.

More Information Needed

This has been a very brief and incomplete history of industry in Openshaw. If anyone has information they can contribute, please do so via the comments field, or on the Openshaw Facebook page, and I’ll try to incorporate it into this page.

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23 Comments

  1. Hi
    My grandparents Hilda and Bill Davies were the steward and stewardess of the club on Ashton Old Road opposite Masseys. This is a long shot but does anyone have photographs of that area maybe showing the club. I have photos inside but of the exterior so I’m talking up to the late 70’s
    Incidentally the club was for the cleansing department for Manchester, bin men etc.
    The club was on the corner of Ashton old Road and Compass Street I think?

    Thanks

    David

    • David,
      The club was the Locomotive Working Men’s club, and was a short distance down Cornwall St, opposite the Baptist chapel, and sandwiched between Halwin’s tyres and the electricity sub station. There is an image on the photo gallery looking up towards the sub station. I think there are no pictures of the outside of the club itself because the entrance was set back from the street, with a small yard before the entrance.
      I’ll send a copy of your comments to Alec Sheldon, who has a much better knowledge of Openshaw than I do, and used to drink in the club.
      There are a couple of active Facebook pages-Openshaw- and -Meories of Openshaw- that you might enjoy. Lots of images of Openshaw as it was.
      Thanks for your comments.
      Derek

      • I got the wrong club when I responded to David.
        So I asked Alec Sheldon, who knows far more about Openshaw than I ever did or could, and his respone is below.

        On 04/02/2020 02:29, Alec Sheldon wrote:
        > Hi Derek,
        >
        > The club that David is talking about was the “bin mens” club. It wasn’t facing Masseys but opposite to Armstrong Whitworths (remember the long wall after Bessemer St.).
        >
        > Going down from Elysian St there was the Vulcan, Spencers butcher’s shop, a chip shop. Then on the next block was Gardiners.. clothes shop The next block was the Staff of Life. The next block was Fords Farm shop, Phil Jones the butcher’s, a cobblers ship Then the Vicarage (quite a big house) Then a Gents toilet and next door to that was the Club.
        >
        > As David says it was the old Rates office on the corner of Compass St. (Compass St. Was called Tram St. when we were kids)
        >
        > My man and dad used it sometimes. Apparently it was a very good club.
        >
        > Hope that helps you. Regards,….,.Alec.

  2. I was born on the parlour table in 16 Bartlett Street in 1956 and lived there till I was 11 or 12. I went to Elysian Street from 1961 to 1966, I think??? Mrs Slinger gave me the slipper for nicking Janet Watson’s rubber. My uncle worked at Lawrence Scotts, I remember the “sit in” when they were closing down, his wife, my aunt, worked at Crossleys in the wages dept for donkeys years.

  3. My name was Wendy Heap and I lived at 28 Pendlebury street openshaw in the 1960s very close to Massey’s my grandmother May Heap cleaned office steps there! I went to Elission primary school and reading this great posting brings back memories of the fun we had from skipping to carting wood for bonfire night to stacking wood on top of the outside toilets so we had the best bonfires ?
    I’m hoping to go back for the first time. In June does anyone know how I can find ny old school and street know it doesn’t exist as such but the vecinity! My memories of the Green growcers giving me red apples and the corner shop at the start of the entry who gave me black jack lollies every Whit Sunday, what a community and what great memories!

    I’m 60 now and live in Australia so looking to retrace the past anyone who can help tell please let us know!

  4. I took early retirement from GEC trafford park in1990 when most of swichgear moved to openshaw. This was the companies way of reducing the workers.Getting rid of those who were near to retirement or did not want to move to openshaw. It did not help those that moved because they also became redundant twelve months later I now live in Scotland and when I visited Manchester years later, I could not believe that the trafford park works had been totally flattened. When I started there in 1945 when it was Metrovicks it employed twenty two thousand people. Strangely enough my grandson now works in a small unit in a place approximately near to the workshop where I worked.

    • Hi Stanley, My farther worked at Metrovicks at the same time you was there. He retired from there after 50 years in 1969. Hi name s Tom Hindley he was a boiler maker. Its a small world. I now live in Australia and have since 1975. I used to go to St Clements and worked at B & S Massey.Now I travel the outback of Australia doing bird photography and 4 wheel driving. My web site is http://www.twitcherscorner.com there are about 400 bird photos on there.
      I hope you all have a great Christmas and a good New Year.

  5. Louise,
    There’s a small bit on Fergie’s in the “Openshaw Industry” post above.
    My brother John worked there from the early 1950s to probably the 1980s.
    I can’t tell any more than I wrote above, but it did seem to be a worker friendly place until AEI took it over.

  6. there was an engineering firm called george saxon of openshaw engineering works who made large steam engines for driving the cotton mills of which i have photos , none of his engines have survived,if anyone has any information on these works could you please let me know.

  7. Hi . Nobodys mentioned that people did not say “I am going to the bank ” but ” I am going to the Gorton ” meaning I am going to the bank . ie Gorton Tank This was in the 1940 s and somewhat later .

  8. My grandfather, Robert Openshaw, Lancashire, soldier, Queen Victoria’s guard, Buckingham Palace, and Bank of England, father thomas Lancashire came to US, chief police Boston?, LT. fall river Mass. Sound Familiar? could you help?

    • Hello Helen,
      What a surprise to see St. Vincent’s jump out at me. I was there ’til 1961 so it was still all in black-and-white. Do you remember ‘Matt’ Dillon and Mrs Lowe?
      Best wishes ,dave

  9. Hi I remember my grandfather was a foreman at Gorton Tank back in the 1950,s his name was George Sydney Walker If anyone has a knowledge of him I really would love to hear from you I would go to meet my granddad every Friday as I there would be a market there I think about lunchtime I would walk from my home which was at 6 Reynolds Drive Gorton and we would walk back home together I now live in Australia leaving my home in 1966 My granddad died just before I left his wife my gran was named Ethel Walker she has also passed away just before my granddad Thank You

  10. Dear Gary & Ian,
    I worked at B & S Massey from 1961 until 1969 and remember having the book “Sons of the Forge”.it was a blue cover if I remember right, but I lost it when I moved to Australia in 1975. I would love to be able to get a copy if you have any idea as to where I might get one I would be appreciated. I used to live at 14 Barn Street Hr Openshaw and after a visit back to England I was so upset to find my house where I was born was gone, my school St Clements was gone and B & S Massey was gone as well as the Alhambra cinema. All my memories where shot down it was as if it never existed.
    I am now retired and spend my time traveling the outback of Australia doing bird photography and I was 70 last December 3rd 2016. If you would like to see some of my photographs my web site is http://www.twitcherscorner.com Any one who remebers me please say hello. My email address is keith.hindley@bigpond.com Hope you all have a great Christmas.
    Regards Keith Hindley

  11. I forgot to add, I started the OPENSHAW group on Facebook a number of years ago, check it out, lots of photos and memories of those days on there.

  12. I lived oposite Masseys in the mid 1960s in Press Street, my father worked at Masseys amongst other local engineering places like the English steel, I remember the birdcage, and the demolition of the tank, leaving a gaping play area for me and my mates, I grew up with vivid memories of the streets of Openshaw having been born behind the Drovers on South street in 1958, we moved in 1970 to Longsight where i still live, I visit openshaw a few times per year to reminisce about those 1960s days, i started painting pictures of the area as it was when i was a child, Ashton old road, the streets, the bonfires, I have just completed my latest painting of Masseys just this evening, the hammers and the workers inside the building, if anyone from Openshaw is interested in seeing my work? then just email me, i would be pleased to show you my memories of the 60s in Openshaw on canvas.

    • Just found your entry on the Openshaw Memories website which brought back memories of my childhood. My grandparents lived in Louisa Street, the end house in a terrace next to Stubbs’s Iron Foundry. I can still recall in the late 50s/early 60s being woken by the thud of a steam hammer. My grandfather (and his brother who lived next door) initially worked for Stubbs’s but later moved to B&S Massey for whom he worked until his retirement.

  13. Your dad’s photo was taken by the side of ‘Sheffield United’, which was a Gresley B17 class 4-6-0 loco. They were used on such expresses as those to London Marylebone from Manchester London Road station, and the North Country Continental, from Manchester Central to (I think) Harwich. The B17’s weren’t popular with the Gorton men, as they were rough-riding engines in comparison to the better-built Gorton engines of the Great Central Railway (which became part of the LNER). Although allocated to steam sheds much further south, the B17’s often had their major overhauls at Gorton Tank under British Railways, probably due to their historic workload being based in the Manchester area. This no doubt helped to create a certain amount of work for the men at ‘The Tank’ in the 1950’s. If you lived on Cornwall Street, you should have been aware of the railway men’s’ ‘barracks’ at the corner of Ogden Lane, where locomotive drivers/firemen on ‘lodging turns’ from loco sheds in other parts of the GCR/LNER system could avail themselves of overnight accommodation before their return journey the next day/night. It was also a technical school for enginemen and loco works staff, where improvement classes were run to develop employees’ work skills and knowledge.

  14. Ian,
    I have a M Phil thesis written by G D Crabb of Keele University, called “A Railway Suburb” which describes the industrial development of Openshaw, and, as you say, highlights the importance of Gorton Tank in that development.
    I’ve had the thesis for about a year, and intend to summarise the relevant bits and publish them on this website. Your email will perhaps push me into doing something about it.
    I would be interested in seeing the history of B&S Massey. They were an important part of the Openshaw industrial scene, and I have personal experience, as I lived in Cornwall St, just over the Old Road from Massey’s, and I can still vividly remember the forge hammer that went about every ten seconds, sometimes through the night as well.
    Thanks for your input.

  15. I think you will find what became Gorton Tank actually started as the M S & L’s own loco building works. It was adjacent to the company’s Gorton loco shed, Superintendent of which was a certain Richard Peacock, who later joined with a German contemporary locomotive engineer to form the loco building firm of Beyer-Peacock, which built steam locomotives for countries around the world. B & S Massey (where my mother was secretary to the managing director for many years) was still owned and run – until the 1960’s – by the Massey family. My mother’s boss was Keppel F Massey, the last of the family line to run the business. I still have a copy of their privately published company history – “Sons of the Forge”. Further down Ashton Old Road, just beyond what was then Bessemer Street, was the old Armstrong Whitworth works, behind a long, high wall, and in the 1950’s was an Admiralty gunnery equipment depot. English Steel, used to have materials delivered by rail, when a saddle tank loco of what was called J94 type, took wagons across Ashton Old Road – the traffic was stopped by a man with a red flag (English Steel was on the north side of the road, the railway line from Ashbury’s sidings was on the south side).

    • Hello Ian
      I have just come across your post regarding industry in Openshaw and B&S Massy. Your mothers boss Keppel Massey is a name I remember. My father (Eddie James) worked at Masseys for 33 years covering the 40s,50s,60s and into the 70s until he was made redundant. There was a pub across the road called the Locomotive and this was run in the late 40s early 50s by my maternal grandfather William Shelton. When I arrived in the world we all lived in a horrible little house in Saltburn Street which was directly opposit Massey’s although the street name is not recognised on any old maps I have come across. It seems to be the forgotton tail end of South Street. I have a feeling that this row of grotty houses belonged to Massey’s, I dont know.

      Many thanks

      Keith James keithjames007@aol.com

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