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Warwickshire's Industrial Railways

Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Co Ltd

Middlemore Road, Smethwick

The Birmingham Wagon Company Ltd was registered in March 1855, operating from offices in Newhall Street in Birmingham. They initially sold and hired wagons to railway companies and private firms. The wagons were built by local firms, but after 1866, they carried out maintenance at their own works established adjacent to the Great Western Railway Handsworth and Smethwick station. The company was extremely profitable with wagon orders from the Birmingham Corporation and they rapidly expanded the works and starting wagon construction on the site. In November 1878 the company was dissolved and reformed as the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd and started to manufacture other types of rolling stock, including quality carriages and Pullman stock. The company gained interests in South America and large quantities of rolling stock were exported. During both world wars the factory turned over its production to armaments; manufacturing shells and building planes and tanks. When peace returned they built powered vehicles such as trams, railcars, tube trains, diesel and electric locomotives. Following the end of British Railways modernisation plan, work slowly dried up and by September 1963, the company decided to cease production and divide the works up into smaller units, which were rented out.

The private standard gauge railway was connected by a spur from the Handsworth and Smethwick goods yard which was on the down side of the Great Western Railway Birmingham to Wolverhampton lines. An extensive internal private railway network included a bridge over the Great Western Railway to the North Works. At least four standard gauge steam locomotives were used as motive power around the site, but the tight curves restricted the types that could be used:

Locomotive Type Manufacturer Date Acquired Disposal
No 2 0-4-0ST R&W Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd, Forth Bank Works, Newcastle 1900 (New) unknown
No 19 0-4-0ST R&W Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd, Forth Bank Works, Newcastle 1907 (New) 1951
No 28 0-4-0ST R&W Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd, Forth Bank Works, Newcastle 1917 (New) 1951
No 11 0-4-0ST Avonside Engine Co Ltd, Fishponds, Bristol 1919 (New) 1952

Aerial view of the BRC & WC works  showing the Great Western Railway cutting through the middle of the site
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BRC & WC Ltd
Aerial view of the BRC & WC works showing the Great Western Railway cutting through the middle of the site
Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Works next to Handsworth and Smethwick station in 1920
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Britain from Above
Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Works next to Handsworth and Smethwick station in 1920
The world’s purpose built first ambulance train built by the BRCWC in 1898 for use as a mobile field hospital
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Anon
The world’s purpose built first ambulance train built by the BRCWC in 1898 for use as a mobile field hospital
A Pullman coach manufactured in 1910 for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway is photographed in the works’ sidings
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BRC & WC Ltd
A Pullman coach made in 1910 for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway is seen in the works’ sidings
An 8 ton open wagon typical of the fleet of rental wagons available from Birmingham Carriage & Wagon Company Ltd
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BRC & WC Ltd
An 8 ton open wagon typical of the rental wagons available from Birmingham Carriage & Wagon Company Ltd

A BRC & WC low sided, 10 ton, open wagon with ‘Butterley Patent Steel Bodies’ for Tarmac Limited in 1925
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BRC & WC Ltd
A BRC & WC low sided, 10 ton, open wagon with ‘Butterley Patent Steel Bodies’ for Tarmac Limited in 1925
View of a 1924 GWR twenty ton steel open wagon built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Works Co
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HMRS AAA408
View of a 1924 GWR twenty ton steel open wagon built by the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Works Co

Documentation covering PO Wagons operating on GWR lines

Document  issued to Train Examiners etc ensuring all Carriages and Wagons were in safe order
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BRC & WC Ltd
Document issued to Train Examiners etc ensuring all Carriages and Wagons were in safe order

GWR Mechanics Institution, Swindon Engineering Society visits

In 1912 the GWR Mechanics Institution, Swindon Engineering Society arranged five visits to engineering works in the Birmingham District over a two day period. This included the Works of the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company and the following has been transcribed from the Society's Pamphet No116 which was originally written by D Williams.

The works visited was that of the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company in Smethwick, four miles out of Birmingham. The Company are builders of all kinds of railway rolling stock, and their products find their way to many parts of the globe, although British Dependencies and the South American Republics are their principle customers. The works at Smethwick are large and thoroughly up to date, the fitting shop, which is over 800 feet long, being especially noteworthy. In the forge department it was noticed that stampings have now almost entirely replaced forgings, and that oil fuel is found more satisfactory than coal for the fires. Some particularly fine examples of modern smiths' work were to be seen in this department.

The machine shops are fully equipped with the most modern automatic and semi-automatic machinery, those used for the machining of metal frame members coming in for special attention.

In the fitting shop several 10 ton open goods wagon frames, destined for the Great Western Railway, were seen in course of erection, together with frames for Argentine wagons, and bogies for various passenger coaches. There is sufficient headroom in this shop for a completed passenger coach to be carried over the roof of another, and an installation of modern electric cranes renders ground rails and cumbersome traversers unnecessary.

There are Iron and brass foundries with pattern shop attached, and a very complete wheel department. Wrought iron wheel centres are built on the premise, but steel centres, together with axles and tyres, are obtained outside, only the machining being done in Birmingham.

Modern wheel shop lathe work has to be extremely accurate, as carriage and wagon wheel centres are merely pressed on the axle without any keying device whatsoever. The holes in the centre are bored a few thousandths parts of an inch smaller than the wheel seats are turned on the axles, so that an ultimate pressure of about 80 tons with tyre, or 60 tons without, will be required on the wheel press to put the centres in their proper position on the axles. Tyres are fitted on the centres either before or after the wheel press operation, according to clients’ requirements. The tyres are expanded by heating and then shrunk on to the centres, one or other of the numerous approved keying devices being adopted to secure them.

A very large stock of timber is necessarily on hand at all times, and some beautiful examples of decorative timber were shewn. The coach builders and carriage finishers at Smethwick have a great reputation, and they recently built a Presidential train for a South American Republic which is said to be the most luxurious in the world. Family saloons for South America, containing day saloon, boudoirs, bedrooms and bathrooms on the one frame, were seen in course of erection and were open for inspection by the party.

Other contracts in hand included some fine convertible (day or night) saloon cars for the Federated Malay States, and wagons of various types for the London and North Western, North Stafford and Great Western Railways.

It was interesting to note that the ‘Grinnell Sprinkler’ fire precaution, now fitted up in Swindon Carriage Works, is provided throughout the timber department at Smethwick.

Robert Ferris

The first of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
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BRC & WC Ltd
The first of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
The second of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
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BRC & WC Ltd
The second of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
The third of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
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BRC & WC Ltd
The third of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
The fourth of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
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BRC & WC Ltd
The fourth of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
The fifth of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
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BRC & WC Ltd
The fifth of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd

The sixth of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
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BRC & WC Ltd
The sixth of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
The seventh of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
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BRC & WC Ltd
The seventh of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
The eighth of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd
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BRC & WC Ltd
The eighth of eight photographs showing inside the factory of the Birmingham Railway and Carriage Co Ltd