Sunday, 4 June 2017

Putting the Peacock into Beyer, Peacock

Richard Peacock  CE JP MP (1820-1889)
With the imminent return home of Beattie Patent Well Tank No. 30587 to Manchester, On Historical Lines looks at Richard Peacock (1820-1889). He was man who was guided through his life by his deeply-held Unitarian faith.

Born in Swaledale, Yorkshire on 9 April 1820 Peacock was eduacted at Leeds Grammar School to the age of 14. He was then apprenticed to the Leeds firm Fenton, Murray & Co. of the 'Round Foundry'. The firm was originally founded by Matthew Murray of Leeds in 1795. Initially building mill machinery and mill engines, they built the world's first practical steam railway locomotive in 1812 for the Middleton Railway  - the first railway built under an Act of Parliament (1758) and the world's first standard-gauge preserve railway. Other apprentices at Fenton, Murray & Co. included David Joy -progentior of the famous valve gear - and James Kitson who went on to establish Todd, Kitson & Laird, whose main claim to fame is that they built the famous 'Lion' (aka the Titfield Thunderbolt) for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1837. Togehter with James Kitson he would have attended Mill Hill Chapel during his time in Leeds.

 Peacock  married twice. He had two sons, Ralph and Joseph, by his first wife Hannah (daughter of his employer), then two daughters, Jane and Eugenie, and a son, Frederick, by his second wife Frances Littlewood. His eldest son, by then Colonel Ralph Peacock of the Manchester Volunteer Artillery, succeeded him at Gorton Foundry, and was himself succeeded by G.P. Dawson, the husband of Richard's daughter Eugenie. 'Peacok's Tree' in Gorton was planted by Richard to commemorate his wife.

Aged only 18, he was Locomotive Superintendent of the Leeds & Selby Railway in 1839, a post he held until 1841 when the railway was leased to George Hudson, the erstwhile 'Railway King.' Leaving Leeds, Peacockbecame personal assistant to the famous Daniel Gooch on the Great Western Railway, but left after only twelve months. He was then appointed as Locomotive Superintendent to the fledgling Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne & Manchester Railway which was then building the world-famous 'Woodhead Route' between Manchester and Sheffield. It wa Peacock who planned and laid out  the Railway Works at Gorton, on the north side of the line to Sheffield in 1845. Better known as 'Gorton Tank', it closed in 1966.

The original entrance to the Roundhouse at 'Gorton Tank' designed by  Richard Peacock


Together with Carl/Charles Beyer - the senior designer at Sharp, Stewart Ltd. of Manchester - he was present at the inaugural meeting of the Institute of Mechcanical Engineers; George Stephenson became the first President and Beyer the first Vice President. Two years later, Peacock became a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers.

When he left the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway (successors to the SA&M) in December 1854, he was presented with a gift of six-branched silver candelabrum bearing the inscription:

"Presented, with other plate, to Richard Peacock Esq., on his Retirement from from the service of the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway Company, by the officers and servants of the company, and other friends,  in token of their high appreciation of the eminent professional talent and private worth manifested by him during the fourteen years in which he has filled the position of locomotive superintendent of the above company."

It was with Beyer and Henry Robertson that the world-famous partneship Beyer, Peacock & Co. was formed in 1854 - perhaps not the best time to start a Locomtive Building firm as Britain was embroiled in the Crimean War against Russia and international trade was deeply effected. This resulted in the firm getting into financial difficulties but were helped out by the then richest man in Britain, Sir Samuel Morton Peto. Between 1854 and 1963 Beyer, Peacock built over 8,000 railway locomotives, most of them for export, and were rightly known as 'Railway Engine Builders to the World.'

Whilst Beyer led the technical side of things, Peacock was the manager and financial guru. He was a life-long Unitarian, a faith which emphasises that of God within every person; the use of reason and science in understanding the world (and God); the freedom to believe what you can and tollerance toward those of differant beliefs. Unitarians also fiercely believe in equality and that heaven is a place to be built on earth, in the here and now. Famous Unitarians include Sir Isaac Newton, Rev Dr Joseph Priestley (Unitarian minister and discoverer of oxygen); Charles Darwin; Florence Nightingale and more recently Sir Tim Berners-Lee or Matt Groening (creator of 'The Simpsons').



Peacock was passionate that his workforce should be well-housed, laying out a model village for his employees at 'Gorton Tank'; he also provided a free school which was not only free of charge but free from any doctrinal test for admission, unlike, say, Anglican Schools. He also provided a free library; was President of Gorton & Openshaw Mechanics Institute. He was first Chairman of the Gorton Local Board in 1863;  and laid the foundation stone for the new Local Board offices (on the corner of Hyde Road and Kirkmanshulme Road) in May 1865. Although a very rich man, he lived modestly in Gorton at Gorton Hall. His staff were identified through the wearing of peacock feathers in their caps. As manager of Beyer, Peacock he had an 'open door' policy and if wany workmen had a dispute, they were to come directly to him in person. He was very much a 'hands on' manager with little time for 'middle management.' He believed in self improvement, 'found pursuasion and self-help much stronger than coercian'. He worked a minimum of a twelve hour day and had 'often set up untiltwo or three o'clock in the morning' 'devoting all his spare time and money to lectures and reading, to subscriptions to Mechanics' Institutions and Libraries, and the purchase of books and plans.'

Gorton as it appeared in 1905; the tower and spire of Brookfield Church are prominent.

In 1869 he laid the foundation stones of the magnificent Brookfield Unitarian Church on Hyde Road, built to replace the old 'Chapel in Vale' built by the Unitarians in 1703. Completed in 1871 at a cost of £12,000 Brookfield was dedicated 'To the Worship of God and the Development of Education.' The Peel of eight bells are each named after one of his childre. Peacock also paid for the three-manual pipe organ. He was a supporter of the Unitarian cause in East Manchester, and laid the foundation stones of Denton Unitarian Chapel on Wilton Street in 1875.

Peacock was a local Magistrate and later Liberal MP for Gorton; as Magistrate he often paid the fines of those unable to pay and let off foundrymen from Beyer, Peacock who had been found drunk as he understood the harsh conditions in which they worked. When he died in 1889, Gorton lost it's Town Father.

Brookfield Untiarian Church, Gorton. Thomas Worthington, 1869-1871.

Peacock is commerorated by a bronze plaque on the north transept of Brookfield Church, unveilved in new year 1890 and by the lavish Peacock Mausoleum at the West End of Brookfield Church, where his son Colonel Ralph Peacock (1838-1928) and Joseph (1839-1875) are also laid to rest, together with other members of the family.


The Peacock Mausoleum, designed by Thomas Worthington of Manchester

Gorton Hall, where Peacock spent so many years was demolished in 1906; only a lodge remains. Beyer, Peacock closed in 1963 and some of the works buildings still stand. Brookfield Church and grounds stand as the lasting legacy and reminder of Richard Peacock, a man described by his workers as

"A MAN OF STERLING QUALITIES, A KIND AND UNOSTENTATIOUS FRIEND TO THE POOR AND NEEDY, AND A GENEROUS SUPPORTER OF ALL AGENCIES FOR THE SOCIAL ELEVATION OF THE PEOPLE."


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