Report - - Brock Mill Forge Wigan - May 2017 | Industrial Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Brock Mill Forge Wigan - May 2017

Exploring England

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Brock Mill Forge Wigan May 2017


Today @Bigjames and myself decide to kick start our exploring again after a long nine months out of action. We took a local trip into Wigan to check out a site that we had heard about a while ago but we never seemed to find the time to visit the site.

It was a nice chilled out visit that proved to spark both our interests back into visiting abandoned buildings, with only one small hiccup as @Bigjames managed to put his foot through one of the walkways. He is okay after a little moan, but it seemed to peak his ambitions to visit more derelict places.


A forge at Brock Mill, by the River Douglas in Wigan, existed before 1766. By 1775 a foundry had been established half a mile downstream. In 1788, both were acquired by the Earl of Balcarres who formed a partnership to expand the two businesses and build blast furnaces at the Haigh Foundry site.

The iron smelting business did not go well (the blast furnaces were given up in 1815) but the foundry and forge slowly prospered and began to produce ‘Fire Engines’ – beam pumping engines – for local collieries.

In 1812, Daglish built Lancashire’s first locomotive at Haigh. Modelled on Blenkinsop’s Yorkshire Horse it was to work trains from John Clarke’s Orrell and Winstanley coal pits to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. It worked very well, so much so that he built two more before the end of 1816, one working by adhesion only. It was reported that two of these locomotives remained in use until the collieries closed in 1852.

Haigh Foundry was acquiring a reputation and deserving it. The foundry became skilled at casting ever larger steam cylinders and the forge wrought the parts which couldn’t be cast. As early as 1819, they cast an 84in bore cylinder weighing 22 tons for a local colliery and exported engines and sugar mills to the colonies.

In 1835, The Earl leased the whole business for 21 years to Messrs Evans & Ryley, soon after joined by a Mr Burrows. All three were capable men and they decided to re-enter the locomotive business. Exactly how many locomotives were built will probably never be known but the total was probably between 110 and 120. Most were for main-line railway companies.

Locomotives were only part of the business. Haigh Foundry was becoming a major player, supplying large cast swing bridges and dock ironwork for Hull and Liverpool Docks, and very large steam engines for coal and metal mines. They even dabbled in architectural ironwork.

By the end of the lease, Burrows had already planned to leave with two of the firm’s best engineers to set up a new company. Evans & Ryley were getting old and did not seek to renew the lease. However, Messrs Birley & Thompson saw an opportunity and took out another 21 year lease in 1856. Birley’s huge family had interest in many businesses and an equally large number of contacts with potential customers but one big problem had to be resolved.

The works lay in the valley bottom and the only road out was steep. In 1848, a massive beam engine (possibly the largest in the world at that date) had needed 48 horses to drag its components up the hill. The answer was a railway, linking both foundry and forge to the Earl’s extensive Haigh colliery railways. The line was in use by 1860, worked it appears by Haigh’s own loco and by those belonging to the Earl. Only 9 years later, the Lancashire Union Railway’s Whelley Loop cut right across the foundry line and a new railway was built to connect with the LUR at Haigh Junction.

By the late 1870s, the market was less buoyant and the depression of the early 1880s hit Haigh hard. The lease was given up and the works closed in January 1885. The railway continued in use until 1919 serving a coal yard and tenants of the foundry buildings.

Amazingly, most of the buildings survive, along with two cast iron river bridges, one stone overbridge and almost the whole route of the 1869 railway. The main foundry buildings have been a major producer of herbal medicines for many years! In one corner of the site, an iron foundry (J.T. & E Castings) continues (as of 2010) to operate. Brock Mill forge sadly didn’t survive and all traces were swept away by a totally inappropriate housing development in the 1990s.

History found at http://www.steamindex.com/manlocos/haigh.htm
















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