Armstrong Whitworth

Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd was a major British manufacturing company of the early years of the 20th century. With headquarters in Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne, Armstrong Whitworth built armaments, ships, locomotives, automobiles and aircraft.

Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd
IndustryEngineering, Shipbuilding
Take over
PredecessorW.G. Armstrong & Mitchell Company
Founded1847 (W.G. Armstrong Co.)
FounderWilliam Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong 
HeadquartersNewcastle upon Tyne, England
Key people
William George Armstrong (Founder)
OwnerWilliam Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong 
SubsidiariesVickers Armstrong
Armstrong Siddeley

The company was founded by William Armstrong in 1847, becoming Armstrong Mitchell and then Armstrong Whitworth through mergers. In 1927, it merged with Vickers Limited to form Vickers-Armstrongs, with its automobile and aircraft interests purchased by J D Siddeley.


In 1847, the engineer William George Armstrong founded the Elswick works at Newcastle, to produce hydraulic machinery, cranes and bridges, soon to be followed by artillery, notably the Armstrong breech-loading gun, with which the British Army was re-equipped after the Crimean War. 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.[1] Armstrong Mitchell merged again with the engineering firm of Joseph Whitworth in 1897.[2] 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.

In 1927, it merged with Vickers Limited to form Vickers-Armstrongs.


The Armstrong Whitworth was manufactured from 1904, when the company decided to diversify to compensate for a fall in demand for artillery after the end of the Boer War.[3] It took over construction of the Wilson-Pilcher, designed by Walter Gordon Wilson, and produced cars under the Armstrong Whitworth name until 1919, when the company merged with Siddeley-Deasy and to form Armstrong Siddeley.

The Wilson-Pilcher was an advanced car, originally with a 2.4-litre engine, that had been made in London from 1901 until 1904 when production moved to Newcastle. When Armstrong Whitworth took over production two models were made, a 2.7-litre flat four and a 4.1-litre flat six, the cylinders on both being identical with bore and stroke of 3.75in (95mm). The engines had the flywheel at the front of the engine, and the crankshaft had intermediate bearings between each pair of cylinders. Drive was to the rear wheels via a dual helical epicyclic gears and helical bevel axle. The cars were listed at £735 for the four and £900 for the six. They were still theoretically available until 1907. According to Automotor in 1904, "Even the first Wilson-Pilcher car that made its appearance created quite a sensation in automobile circles at the time on account of its remarkably silent and smooth running, and of the almost total absence of vibration".[4]

The first Armstrong Whitworth car was the 28/36 of 1906 with a water-cooled, four-cylinder side-valve engine of 4.5 litres which unusually had "oversquare" dimensions of 120 mm (4.7 in) bore and 100 mm (3.9 in) stroke. Drive was via a four-speed gearbox and shaft to the rear wheels. A larger car was listed for 1908 with a choice of either 5-litre 30 or 7.6-litre 40 models sharing a 127 mm (5.0 in) bore but with strokes of 100 mm (3.9 in) and 152 mm (6.0 in) respectively. The 40 was listed at £798 in bare chassis form for supplying to coachbuilders. These large cars were joined in 1909 by the 4.3-litre 18/22 and in 1910 by the 3.7-litre 25, which seems to have shared the same chassis as the 30 and 40.

In 1911, a new small car appeared in the shape of the 2.4-litre 12/14, called the 15.9 in 1911, featuring a monobloc engine with pressure lubrication to the crankshaft bearings. This model had an 88-inch (2,200 mm) wheelbase compared with the 120 inches (3,000 mm) of the 40 range. This was joined by four larger cars ranging from the 2.7-litre 15/20 to the 3.7-litre 25.5.[3]

The first six-cylinder model, the 30/50 with 5.1-litre 90 mm (3.5 in) bore by 135 mm (5.3 in) stroke engine came in 1912 with the option of electric lighting. This grew to 5.7 litres in 1913.

At the outbreak of war, as well as the 30/50, the range consisted of the 3-litre 17/25 and the 3.8-litre 30/40.

The cars were usually if not always bodied by external coachbuilders and had a reputation for reliability and solid workmanship. The company maintained a London sales outlet at New Bond Street. When Armstrong Whitworth and Vickers merged, Armstrong Whitworth's automotive interests were purchased by J D Siddeley as Armstrong Siddeley, based in Coventry.

An Armstrong Whitworth car is displayed in the Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne.[3]


Armstrong Whitworth established an Aerial Department in 1912. This later became the Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Company. When Vickers and Armstrong Whitworth merged in 1927 to form Vickers-Armstrongs, Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft was bought out by J. D. Siddeley and became a separate entity.[5]


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 reunited 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.

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".


After the Great War, Armstrong Whitworth converted its Scotswood Works to build railway locomotives. From 1919 it rapidly penetrated the locomotive market due to its modern plant.[6] Its two largest contracts were 200 2-8-0s for the Belgian State Railways in 1920[7][8] and 327 Black 5 4-6-0s for the LMS in 1935/36.

AW also modified locomotives. In 1926 Palestine Railways sent six of its H class Baldwin 4-6-0 locomotives to AW for conversion into 4-6-2 tank locomotives to work the PR's steeply graded branch between Jaffa and Jerusalem.[9] PR also sent another six H Class Baldwins for their defective steel fireboxes to be replaced with copper ones.[9]

AW's well-equipped works included its own design department and enabled it to build large locomotives, including an order for 30 engines of three types for the modernisation of the South Australian Railways in 1926. These included ten "500" class 4-8-2 locomotives, which were the largest non-articulated locomotives built in Great Britain, and were based on Alco drawings modified by AW and SAR engineers. They were a sensation in Australia.[10] AW went on to build 20 large three-cylinder "Pacific" type locomotives for the Central Argentine Railway (F.C.C.A) in 1930, with Caprotti valve gear and modern boilers. They were the most powerful locomotives on the F.C.C.A.[11]

AW obtained the UK license for Sulzer diesels from 1919, and by the 1930s was building diesel locomotives and railcars.[12] An early example is the Tanfield Railway's 0-4-0 diesel-electric shed pilot, No.2, which was built by AW as works number D22 in 1933. The UK's first mainline diesel locomotive, the 800 bhp 'Universal' locomotive, was built by them in 1933 and was successful in trials, but not repaired after an engine crankcase explosion a year later.[13] A total of 1,464 locomotives were built at Scotswood Works before it was converted back to armaments manufacture in 1937.[6]

Overseas operations

The company can be credited with helping to create the town of Deer Lake in the Dominion of Newfoundland. Between 1922 and 1925, a hydroelectric station was built at Deer Lake by the Newfoundland Products Company and Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Company. The canal system used by the hydroelectric station helped to expand the forestry operations in the area. Some of the equipment used in the construction of the Panama Canal was shipped to Newfoundland island. Electricity from the project was used to power the pulp and paper mill in Corner Brook. Since the 1920s, Deer Lake has grown into a major area for the lumber industry, as well becoming a service-oriented centre.

The company built a hydroelectric station at Nymboida, New South Wales, near Grafton in 1923–1924. This is still in use and is substantially original. In 1925 the company tendered unsuccessfully to construct the South Brisbane-Richmond Gap (on the New-South Wales-Queensland border) section of the last stage of the standard gauge railway linking Sydney and Brisbane. This was a heavily engineered railway which includes a long tunnel under the Richmond Range forming the state border and a spiral just south of the border. Armstrong Whitworth's tender price was £1,333,940 compared with Queensland Railway's tender price of £1,130,142.[14] In the mid-1920s the company clearly was trying to break into the booming Australian market, but was stymied by a preference for local companies.


Shipbuilding was the major division of the company. From 1879-1880 the predecessor shipbuilding company of Charles Mitchell laid down a cruiser for the Chilean Navy at Low Walker Yard. This vessel was later supplied to Japan as the 'Tsukushi' of 1883; the ship was launched as of Armstrong Mitchell build.[15] Between 1885 and 1918 Armstrong built warships for the Royal Navy, Imperial Russian Navy, Imperial Japanese Navy, and the United States Navy. Amongst these were HMS Glatton which, due to bodged construction, suffered a magazine explosion in Dover Harbour less than one month after commissioning.

Armstrong Mitchell and later Armstrong Whitworth built many merchant ships, freighters, tank-ships, and dredgers; notable among them was the ice-breaking train ferries SS Baikal in 1897 and SS Angara in 1900, built to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway across Lake Baikal.[16][17] The company built the first polar icebreaker in the world: Yermak was a Russian and later Soviet icebreaker, having a strengthened hull shaped to ride over and crush pack ice.

Mergers and demergers

In 1927, the defence and engineering businesses merged with those of Vickers Limited to create a subsidiary company known as Vickers-Armstrongs. The aircraft and Armstrong Siddeley motors business were bought by J. D. Siddeley and became a separate entity. Production at the Scotswood Works ended in 1979 and the buildings were demolished in 1982.[18]


Hydraulic engineering installations

The forerunner companies, W. G. Armstrong & Co. and later, from 1883 Sir WG Armstrong Mitchell & Company, were heavily involved in the construction of hydraulic engineering installations. Notable examples include:


Between 1883 and 1925 they built a number of warships:

They built oil tankers, including:


Armstrong Whitworth built a few railway locomotives between 1847 and 1868, but it was not until 1919 that the company made a concerted effort to enter the railway market.[22]

Contracts were obtained for the construction and supply of steam and diesel locomotives to railway systems in Britain and overseas, including those detailed in the following table.

1–501919–192150North Eastern RailwayT20-8-02253–2302to LNER (same numbers) in 1923, class Q6; renumbered 3410–3459 in 1946 scheme.[23]
69–93192125Bombay, Baroda and Central India RailwayG
2-8-0122–146later all-India 26528–26552.[24]
94–110192017Madras and Southern Mahratta RailwayM
2-8-0483–499later all-India 26610–26626.[25]
111–120192110Caledonian Railway724-4-082–91to LMS 14487–14496 in 1923
137–159192223North Western RailwaySGS0-6-02484–2506[26] all except one to Pakistan at Partition;[27] 2500 to Eastern Punjab Railway; later all-India 36889.[28]
161–170192210Buenos Aires Western Railway4F2-6-2T824–833[29]
175–1791922–235Midland Great Western RailwayFa0-6-044–48to GSR 641–645 in 1925.[30]
185–19019236Great Southern and Western Railway4004-6-0407–409
to GSR (same numbers) in 1925.[31]
17 May 1921
200Belgian State RailwaysType 372-8-05001–5200renumbered Type 31 in 1931. 162 upgraded between 1936 and 1947, unrebuilt engines renumbered Type 30
391–415192225North Eastern RailwayE10-6-0T2313–2339to LNER (same numbers) in 1923, class J72; renumbered 8721–8745 in 1946 scheme.[32]
416–4651921–2250Midland Railway3835 / 4F0-6-03937–3986to LMS (same numbers) in 1923
466–467Cancelled(2)Northern Counties Committee(U)4-4-0Order cancelled; locomotives built at Derby Works instead.[33]
468–47219225Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway3835 / 4F0-6-057–61to LMS 4557–4561 in 1930
479–48719239North Western RailwaySGS0-6-02536–2544;[26] to Eastern Bengal Railway 312–318/66/20 in 1929/39;[34] four survivors became all-India 34265–67/73.[35]
488–499192312North Western RailwaySPS4-4-02989–2996, 3006–3009three to Pakistan at Partition;[36] remainder to Eastern Punjab Railway, later all-India 24481–28889.[37]
500–515192316Bombay, Baroda and Central India RailwayA
2-6-4T265–280[38] to North Western Railway 517–532 (not in order) in 1929;[39] most to Pakistan at Partition;[36] seven to Eastern Punjab Railway, later all-India 27106–27112.[40]
516–535192320Oudh and Rohilkhand RailwaySGS0-6-0505–524[41] to East Indian Railway 1448–1457 in 1925; [42] split between Eastern and Northern Railways, later all-India in range 34236–34243,[35] 36804–36818.[43]
536–552192317East Indian RailwaySGS0-6-01390–1406[44] split between Eastern and Northern Railways, later all-India in range 34163–34164,[45] 34218–34224,[35] 36792–36811.[43]
565–56619242Ferrocarril Pacífico de Colombia4-6-0+0-6-429–30[46]
567–591192325Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway11C4-8-04201–4225[47]
605–616192412London and North Eastern RailwayD11/24-4-06388–6399Renumbered 2683–2694 in 1946 scheme.[48]
623–632192610South Australian Railways6004-6-2600–609[49]
633–642192610South Australian Railways5004-8-2500–509[50]
643–652192610South Australian Railways7002-8-2700–709[51]
655–701192447Bengal Nagpur RailwayHSM2-8-0700–729, 744–760later all-India 26174–26220.[52]
702–70719246Metropolitan RailwayK2-6-4T111–116to London and North Eastern Railway 6158–6163, class L2, in 1937; survivors allocated 9070–9073 in 1946 scheme.[53]
714–725192512Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway21014-6-22101–2112[54]
726–760192535Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway11D2-8-04301–4335[55]
761–76919259Southern RailwayK2-6-4TA791–A799Rebuilt to U class 2-6-0
771–801192531Bengal Nagpur RailwayHSM2-8-0761–791later all-India 26220–26251.[52][56]
850–874192725Queensland RailwaysC174-8-0802–826[57]
875–884192710Ferrocarril Central ArgentinoMS6A4-8-4T501–510[58]
885–904192820Egyptian State Railways5452-6-0[59] five appropriated by Israel Railways after the 1956 Israeli invasion of Sinai[60]
905–934192730Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway11C4-8-04226–4255[47]
938–987192850Great Western Railway56000-6-2T6650–6699[61]
1005–1015192911Madras and Southern Mahratta RailwayXD2-8-2853–863later all-India 22397–22407.[62][63]
1024–102519292Great Western of Brazil Railway2-6-2+2-6-2238–239[46]
1026–1037192912Ceylon Government RailwayB14-6-0279–290[64]
1038–1057193020Ferrocarril Central ArgentinoMS6A4-8-4T511–530[58]
1058–1068193011Eastern Bengal RailwayXB4-6-2443–453to Pakistan at Partition.[65]
1069–1080193012Madras and Southern Mahratta RailwayXB4-6-2200–211later all-India 22131–22142.[66][67]
1081–1100193020Ferrocarril Central ArgentinoPS114-6-21101–11203-cylinder with Caprotti valve gear.[68]
1105–111019316Buenos Aires Western Railway154-8-01500–1505[69]
1111–1130193120London and North Eastern RailwayK3/22-6-01100/01/02/06
Renumbered 1899–1918 in 1946 scheme.[70]
1131–11551930–3125Great Western Railway57000-6-0PT7775–7799[71]
1156–11651934–3510London and North Eastern RailwayK3/22-6-01302/04/08
Renumbered 1919–1928 in 1946 scheme.[70]
1166–12651935100London, Midland and Scottish RailwayStanier 54-6-05125–5224[72]
1266–126919354Yue Han Railway, ChinaET60-8-0501–504
1270–1279193610London and North Eastern RailwayK3/22-6-02417/29/45/46
Renumbered 1959–1968 in 1946 scheme.[70]
1280–15061936–37227London, Midland and Scottish RailwayStanier 54-6-05225–5451[72]
D81Preston Docks0-6-0deDuchess250 hp shunter
D91Demonstrator1-Co-1de800 hp mixed-traffic diesel-electric[73]
19311London and North Eastern RailwayRailcar25One Sulzer 6-cylinder engine of 250 hp.[74]
19322London and North Eastern RailwayRailcar224, 232One Sulzer 6-cylinder engine of 250 hp.[74]
19331London and North Eastern RailwayRailbus294One Saurer engine of 95 hp.[74]
19331Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway1A-Bo+Bo-A1CM210Two Sulzer 8LV34 engines of 850 hp. [75]
D2019331London, Midland and Scottish Railway0-6-0de7408250 hp shunter; renumbered 7058 in 1934; to have been renumbered 13000 by British Railways in 1948, but withdrawn before number applied.[76]
D21–D2660-4-0de85 hp shunter
D27–D2819342Demonstrator1-Co-1deSulzer 8LD28 engine, 800 hp, 66-inch gauge; trialled on Ceylon Government Railway; returned; to Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway in 1937.[64][75]
D4319341Ceylon Government RailwayG10-4-0de500122 hp shunter.[64]
D46–D5119346Madras and Southern Mahratta RailwayYZZTRailcar1–6160 hp diesel-electric.[67]
D54–D63193610London, Midland and Scottish Railway0-6-0de7059–7068350 hp shunter; to War Department in 1942 (4) and 1944 (6).[77]
D6419361Bombay, Baroda and Central India RailwayDE0-6-0de800360 hp shunter.[38]


Cannons and other armament were produced by the Elswick Ordnance Company, the armament division of Armstrong Whitworth. An especially notable example is the Armstrong 100-ton gun.

See also


  1. Newcastle Industrial Heritage
  2. Manchester College of Art & technology Archived 27 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine – The Whitworth collection history - accessed March 2009
  3. Tyne & Wear County Museums, Undated, Information Sheet Armstrong Whitworth Car, available here and reverse here .
  4. "The Wilson-Pilcher Petrol Cars", The Automotor Journal, 16 April 1904
  5. Tapper 1988, pp. 25-26
  6. "Steam index web site". Archived from the original on 19 September 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  7. "Dixième période, 1920-1939 – De l'Etat à la S.N.C.B. - Rixke Rail's Archives". (in French). Archived from the original on 12 July 2017. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  8. "Dixième période, 1920-1939. - De l'Etat à la S.N.C.B. (suite) - Rixke Rail's Archives". (in French). Archived from the original on 11 August 2017. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  9. Cotterell 1984, p. 49
  10. Burke 1985, pp. 108–127
  11. ARAR org web site Archived 7 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  12. "Sulzers web site". Archived from the original on 5 June 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  13. Webb (2010).
  14. Grafton-Kyogle-South Brisbane Railway - Tenders, 9 September 1925 in State Records of New South Wales, Series 15668, Item 4
  15. "Tsukushi 1883". Archived from the original on 1 May 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  16. "Irkutsk: Ice-Breaker "Angara"". Lake Baikal Travel Company. Lake Baikal Travel Company. Archived from the original on 24 September 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  17. Babanine, Fedor (2003). "Circumbaikal Railway". Lake Baikal Homepage. Fedor Babanine. Archived from the original on 3 September 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  18. Newcastle Industrial Heritage web site
  19. "The Engineer". 41 (17 March). 1876: 191. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. Venice Arsenale crane restoration Archived 23 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  21. Peter McKenzie; biography of W.G. Armstrong, Newcastle-on-Tyne 1983
  22. "Steam index". Steam index. Archived from the original on 19 September 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  23. Boddy et al. 1984, p. 55.
  24. Hughes 1979, p. 62.
  25. Hughes 1979, p. 66.
  26. Hughes 1990, p. 81.
  27. Hughes 1990, p. 84.
  28. Hughes 1979, p. 80.
  29. Carter 2006, p. 128.
  30. Clements & McMahon 2008, pp. 205–206.
  31. Clements & McMahon 2008, pp. 235–244.
  32. Allen et al. 1971, p. 28.
  33. Rowledge 1993, p. 10.
  34. Hughes 1990, p. 34.
  35. Hughes 1979, p. 58.
  36. Hughes 1996, p. 87.
  37. Hughes 1979, p. 72
  38. Hughes 1990, p. 27.
  39. Hughes 1990, p. 78.
  40. Hughes 1979, p. 74.
  41. Hughes 1980, p. 89.
  42. Hughes 1990, p. 45.
  43. Hughes 1979, p. 78.
  44. Hughes 1980, p. 45.
  45. Hughes 1979, p. 57.
  46. Hamilton, Gavin. "Garratt locomotives from other builders". The Garratt Locomotive. Archived from the original on 13 March 2012. Retrieved 3 April 2011.
  47. Carter 2006, p. 60.
  48. Boddy et al. 1981, p. 102.
  49. "SAR 600 class". Archived from the original on 26 July 2011.
  50. "SAR 500 class". Archived from the original on 12 August 2012.
  51. "SAR 700 class". Archived from the original on 18 August 2012.
  52. Hughes 1979, p. 38.
  53. Boddy et al. 1977, pp. 10–12.
  54. Carter 2006, p. 96.
  55. Carter 2006, pp. 61–62.
  56. Hughes 1990, p. 18.
  57. "Locomotive builders". Queensland Railways Interest Group. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008.
  58. Carter 2006, p. 151.
  59. Hughes 1981, p. 22.
  60. Cotterell 1984, pp. 101, 137.
  61. Whitehurst 1973, pp. 58–59.
  62. Hughes 1979, p. 35.
  63. Hughes 1980, p. 68.
  64. Hughes 1990, p. 94.
  65. Hughes 1990, pp. 34, 38.
  66. Hughes 1979, p. 32.
  67. Hughes 1990, p. 68.
  68. Carter 2006, p. 162.
  69. Carter 2006, p. 130.
  70. Boddy et al. 1982, pp. 142–143.
  71. Whitehurst 1973, p. 68.
  72. Rowledge 1975, p. 11.
  73. "Armstrong Whitworth Locomotives and Railcars in the UK". Derby Sulzers. Archived from the original on 5 June 2014.
  74. Boddy et al. 1990, pp. 77–85.
  75. Carter 2006, p. 72.
  76. Rowledge 1975, pp. 37, 46.
  77. Rowledge 1975, pp. 37–38, 46.


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