This celebratory book, which should carry on its cover (missing, unfortunately from my copy) an embossed metallic miniature diamond works number plate from the Queen’s Park works, covers not only the 50 years that NBL was active until the date of publication, but also brief histories of the constituent companies.
The North British Locomotive Company (NBL, NB Loco or North British) was created in 1903 through the merger of three Glasgow locomotive builders; Sharp, Stewart and Company(Atlas Works), Neilson, Reid and Company (Hyde Park Works) and Dübs and Company(Queens Park Works), creating the largest locomotive manufacturing company in Europe. All over the world, North British Locos built at the Queen’s Park works could be recognised at a glance, by the diamond shaped works number plate, the design of which was inherited from constituent, Dübs and Company.
Its main factories were located at the neighbouring Atlas and Hyde Park Works in central Springburn, as well as the Queens Park Works in Polmadie. A new central Administration and Drawing Office for the combined company was completed across the road from the Hyde Park Works on Flemington Street in 1909. The fact that these premises could accommodate a 800 bed Red Cross Hospital 1915-1918 without apparently affecting the firms output, would seem to indicate a certain extravagance. Whilst highly successful as designers and builders of steam locomotives for both its domestic market and abroad, North British failed to successfully manage the transition to diesel and electric locomotive production in the wake of the British Railways 1955 Modernisation Plan. It did build a Paxman engined diesel locomotive, No. 10800, originally ordered for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway before the 1948 nationalisation but not delivered until 1950.
In the late 1950s North British signed a deal with the German company MAN to construct further diesel engines under licence. These power units appeared in the late 1950s’ British Railways D3, D3/1 (later D3/4), and later designated Class 21, Class 22, Class 41, Class 43 (Warship) and Class 251 (Blue Pullman) None of these were particularly successful: constructional shortcomings with the MAN engines made them far less reliable than German-built examples. A typical example of this was the grade of steel used for exhaust manifolds in the Class 43s – frequent manifold failures led to loss of turbocharger drive gas pressure and hence loss of power. More importantly, the driving cabs of the locomotives would fill with poisonous exhaust fumes. BR returned many North British diesel locomotives to their builder for repair under warranty and they also insisted on a three-month guarantee on all repairs (a requirement not levied on its own workshops). Perhaps unwisely, North British supplied many of its diesel and electric locomotives to BR at a loss, hoping to make up for this on massive future orders that never came. This and the continuing stream of warranty claims to cure design and workmanship faults proved fatal – North British declared that it was entering voluntary liquidation on 19 April 1962. Because of the unreliability of its UK diesel and electric locomotives, all were withdrawn after comparatively short lifespans.
Because of its large workshop capacity, NBL had many notable achievements, not least taking the lead in designing and building 50 “Royal Scots” in a remarkably short space of time, which no other private builder could have done. At the outset, the firm had a policy of dividing orders between the three works, thus maintaining a huge manufacturing capacity that would be a Godsend in both World Wars. In hindsight, they might have fared better to close one works after 1945.
So, less than a decade after the publication of this celebratory book, North British Locomotive Co. was no more. It would seem the “diamonds” were not forever after all!