WHR Irish Mail at Porthmadog 05-08-10 34

Irish Mail is typical of many small engines built at Hunslet for use in quarries

The Hunslet Engine Company is a British locomotive-building company founded in 1864 at Jack Lane, Hunslet, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England by John Towlerton Leather, a civil engineering contractor, who appointed James Campbell (son of Alexander Campbell, a Leeds engineer) as his Works Manager.

In 1871, James Campbell bought the company for £25,000 (payable in five installments over two years) and the firm remained in the Campbell family ownership for many years. Between 1865 and 1870, production had averaged less than ten engines per year, but in 1871 this had risen to seventeen and was set to rise over the next thirty years to a modest maximum of thirty-four.


The early years 1864-1901Edit

Standard gauge

The first engine built in 1865 was Linden a standard gauge 0-6-0 saddle tank delivered to Brassey and Ballard, a railway civil engineering contractor as were several of the firm's early customers. Other customers included collieries. This basic standard gauge shunting and short haul 'industrial' engine was to be the main-stay of Hunslet production for many years. From the start, Hunslet regularly sent fitters to carry out repairs to its engines on customers' premises and this is a service that the Hunslet Engine Company were still offering in 2006, over 140 years after their establishment.

Narrow gauge

Dolbadarn built for the Dinorwic Slate Quarries in 1922 and now on the Llanberis Lake Railway

In 1870, Hunslet constructed their first narrow gauge engine Dinorwic, a diminutive 1 ft 10+34 in (578 mm) gauge 0-4-0 saddle tank for the Dinorwic Slate Quarry at Llanberis in North wales. This engine later renamed Charlie was the first of twenty similar engines built for this quarry and did much to establish Hunslet as a major builder of quarry engines. This quarry was linked to Port Dinorwic by a 4 ft  (1,219 mm) gauge line for which Hunslet built three 0-6-0T engines Dinorwic, Padarn and Velinheli. Much larger than the normal quarry type, 1 ft 10+34 in (578 mm) gauge 0-4-0ST engines Charles, Blanche and Linda were built in 1882/3 for use on the Penrhyn Quarry Railway 'main line' between Bethesda and Port Penrhyn in North Wales. Two of these still operate on the Ffestiniog Railway while Charles is preserved in the Penrhyn Castle Railway Museum.


The first Hunslet engine built for export was their No. 10, an 0-4-0ST shipped via Kingston upon Hull and Rotterdam to Java. Remarkably, the last industrial steam engine built in Britain was also built at Hunslet in 1971 and also for export to Java. This engine later returned to Britain and is preserved in working order. A large number of short wheelbase tank locomotives (0-6-0) were supplied to the Manchester Ship Canal Company and one of these (No.686 of 1898 'St. John') still survives on the Severn Valley Railway and is still in regular use as a 'Thomas The Tank Engine' lookalike. By 1902, Hunslet had supplied engines to over thirty countries worldwide, often opening up new markets. In Ireland, Hunslet supplied engines to several of the newly opened narrow gauge lines and also in 1887 built the three remarkably unorthodox engines for the Lartigue Monorail system used by the "Listowel & Ballybunion Railway".

Beginning in 1873, a large number of Hunslet locomotives were exported to Australia for use on both main line and lesser lines.[1]

Change and development in the Twentieth CenturyEdit

Limited company

By 1901, James Campbell was still in charge as proprietor and James's four sons were, by then all working for the company including the eldest son Alexander III who had taken over as Works Manager on the death of his Uncle George in 1890. However in 1902, the company was reorganised as a private limited company with the name Hunslet Engine Company Ltd. but still a family business. Following the death of James Campbell in 1905, the chairmanship passed to Alexander III and brother Robert became works manager, whilst brother Will retained the role of secretary and traveller with a seat on the board.

Africa and Wales

About this time Hunslet was building a series of 2-6-2 tank locomotives for the Sierra Leone Government Railway design elements of which were included in the construction of the famous Russell a 1 ft 11+12 in (597 mm) gauge engine built for the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway, which later became a constituent company of the Welsh Highland Railway.

Edgar Alcock

Following family disagreements both Will and the youngest brother Gordon soon left the company and a serious injury left Robert disabled and unable to continue as works manager. The post of works manager was advertised and Edgar Alcock, then assistant works manager at the Gorton Foundry of Beyer-Peacock, was appointed in 1912. Alcock came to Hunslet at a time of change when the industry was being asked for far larger and more powerful locomotives than had ever been required in the past. This was true at Hunslet which found its overseas customers asking for very large engines. One example was an order for two 86 ton 2-8-4 tank locomotives from the "Antofagasta, Chile & Bolivia Railway".[2]

First World War

By 1914, Britain was at war and overseas orders had dried up. During World War I, the company, like many others, found itself employing women on the shop floor and engaged in the manufacture of munitions. It continued to produce limited numbers of locomotives, significant examples being lightweight narrow gauge 4-6-0T designs for the War Department Light Railways.

Post World War I

After the war, trading conditions were very difficult but Hunslet were once more able to attract overseas orders and they also received a series of repeat orders from the London, Midland and Scottish Railway for a total of 90 LMS Fowler Class 3F 'Jinty' 0-6-0T shunting engines. It was during the 1930s that Hunslet built their largest locomotives. These two 0-8-0 tank engines, built for a special train-ferry loading job in China (which they fulfilled for many years) were at that date the largest and most powerful tank engines ever built. A year or so later the same design formed the basis for an 0-8-0 tender engine for India. Many other 'large-engine' orders were received in these inter-war years.


Other independent British manufacturers failed to survive the depression and Hunslet with considerable foresight acquired the patterns, rights and designs of other builders notably Kerr Stuart and the Avonside Engine Company.


Scootacar - SFV 535 at Netley Marsh 11 - IMG 7364

Hunslet Scootacar MkI at Netley Marsh Steam Show 2011

The company had made 2 brief diversifications into road vehicle production.

  • The Attila was an English car produced from 1903 to 1906; the car, had three-cylinder 20 hp engine.
  • The Scootacar was a Microcar produced from 1958-65. The MkI had a 197 cc Villiers engine, and a 3 wheeler layout with a glass fibre body. Around 1,000 were built.

The internal combustion engine and the war effortEdit

Diesel locomotives

John Alcock, who, following in his father's footsteps, became Managing Director of Hunslet in 1958, recalled his father telling him circa 1920, when he was still a schoolboy, that his main endeavour for the company would be in the application of the internal combustion engine to railway locomotion. Throughout the 1930s Hunslet worked on the perfecting of the diesel locomotive.

J94 68081 Wansford

Austerity 68081

World War II

During the second world war, the company again served the country well in the manufacture of munitions, but they also built engines, both steam and diesel for the war effort. Particularly noteworthy is their role in the production of the "Austerity" 0-6-0ST shunting locomotive. This was an austerity revision of the 50550 shunter design, itself a development of the Hunslet 48150 shunter design of which 16 had been built pre-war.[3] Hunslet produced 149 Austerities during the hostilities, and sub-contracted construction of almost 200 more.


Locomotive construction continued with renewed vigour after the war. Important in post-war production was the Hunslet flame-proof diesel engine for use in the coal mines, as well as further batches of Austerity shunters for the National Coal Board and the Army, and rebuilding of some older Austerities which continued into the early 1960s. The last three Austerities were sold in 1970; one directly to preservation, one for scrap and one to the NCB.[4]

Closure of Jack Lane Works

The "Jack Lane, Hunslet, Leeds" works was closed in 1995, the last order being a batch of narrow gauge diesel locomotives for tunnelling on the Jubilee Line Extension of the London Underground.

Preserved LocomotivesEdit

For a complete list of preserved locomotives of the Austerity design, see List of preserved Hunslet Austerity 0-6-0ST locomotives.
FR Blanche at TYG 05-08-12 11

Much-rebuilt Hunslet Blanche running on the Ffestiniog Railway

For a complete list of preserved Hunslet narrow gauge steam locomotives and links to the railways they work on, see List of preserved Hunslet narrow gauge locomotives.

Hunslet Engine Co locomotives can been seen operating on heritage railways across Britain including:

In Museums

The Leeds Industrial Museum has a number of Hunslett locomotives in its collection.

The National Railway Museum at York has several examples.

New ZealandEdit

  • NZR/PWD Y class number 542 (Hunslet No. 1444) is preserved at Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology.

Current operationsEdit

Hunslet Engine CompanyEdit

The Hunslet Engine Company, is now part of the LH Group of Companies.[5][6] It now owns the right to use the following British locomotive names, as well as being able to service and repair them, and supply replacement parts:

In 2006 the company manufactured a batch of remote-controlled diesel electric shunters for John M. Henderson & Co. Ltd.[7] to be supplied to POSCO's coking plant at steel plant in South Korea.[8] The same year saw the completion of several orders for underground and mining diesel locomotives. In 2007 Hunslet began developing a new family of locomotives ranging from shunters to vehicles weighing up to 100 tons.[9] The first locomotive of the new class, the DH60C, a 3 axle C diesel hydraulic shunting locomotive was unveiled in July 2010.[10][11]

The company also operates a locomotive hire business, (including a British Rail Class 08 shunter acquired in 2006[12]), mainly of industrial shunting locomotives.

Hunslet-Barclay LtdEdit

Hunslet-Barclay Ltd, a subsidiary of Jenbacher Holdings (UK) plc, chiefly undertook maintenance and refurbishment of diesel multiple unit passenger trains at the Andrew Barclay Caledonia Works in Kilmarnock. However, in October 2007 Hunslet-Barclay went into receivership and in November was purchased by FKI (who also own Brush Traction at Loughborough), and renamed Brush-Barclay.

Graham LeeEdit

Graham Lee, in business with an engineering works situated at Statfold Barn Railway near Tamworth in Staffordshire, constructed in 2005 and 2006 two new Quarry Hunslet locomotives (named Statfold and Jack Lane) similar in appearance to Irish Mail (see main picture). In January 2007 Jack Lane was offered for sale by the manufacturers for £152,750 (Railway Magazine, February 2007). The third of a series of four locomotives is currently under construction. Graham Lee is chairman of LH Group Services Ltd - which in 2005 bought what remained of the Hunslet Engine Company.

The Hunslet Steam Co.Edit

Since the first two Quarry Hunslet locomotives were built, a Kerr Stuart Wren class has been built by the Hunslet Steam Co (also part of the LH Group)[13] and was completed early in 2008 numbered 3905. This locomotive has been sold and is housed at the Amerton Railway and is the first steam locomotive built and sold by Hunslet in 37 years. The locomotive is privately owned but will form part of the regular service trains at Amerton.

List of narrow gauge locomotive typesEdit

For a list of narrow gauge locomotives types designed and built by Hunslet see, see List of Hunslet narrow gauge locomotive designs.

See alsoEdit


  1. Hunslet Locomotives in Australia McKillop, Bob Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, December, 1982 pp266-279
  2. Rolt, p.69
  3. Hunslet Engine Company [1946] (2006). Spare Parts List, Austerity Locomotive. Camden Miniature Steam Services, 31. ISBN 978-0-9547131-4-0. 
  4. Austerity Spares List, p. 32
  7. John M. Henderson & Co Ltd. company website
  8. Hunslet Builds New 50 tonne Locomotive for Korea
  9. Hunslet Developing New Shunter
  10. "Hunslet launch new locomotive on open days 6th & 7th and 8th July".
  11. Paul Abell (September 2010), "A New Shunter from Hunslet", Today's Railways (105): 54–56. 
  12. Hunslet Adds 08 to Fleet


  • Clarke, B.R. and Veitch, C.C (1986). The Eighteen Inch Gauge Royal Arsenal Railway at Wooolwich. Privately published by B.R. Clarke. ISBN 0-948951-00-1. 
  • Neale, A. (1995). Hunslet Narrow Gauge Locomotives. Plateway Press. ISBN 1-87198-028-3. 
  • Railway Magazine (2007). Second new Hunslet just £152,750!, IPC Media, February, No. 1270, Vol.153, p. 57
  • Rolt, L.T.C. (1964). A Hunslet Hundred: one hundred years of locomotive building by the Hunslet Engine Company. David and Charles. 
  • Townsley, D. H. (1998). The Hunslet Engine Works. Plateway Press. ISBN 1-87198-038-0. 

External linksEdit

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