Lincoln’s Engineering Industries:  A Concise History, c.1780-1980s

Lincoln’s Engineering Industries: A Concise History, c.1780-1980s (edited by Andrew Walker) is A5 portrait format, 112 pages, cover price £9.50. ISBN 978-0-9931263-6-9    The title is repeated on the spine. 

This collection explores the important contribution made by the city of Lincoln over more than 200 years to the engineering industry. Attention is paid to the fortunes of Lincoln’s ‘big four’ companies, all with international reputations – Clayton & Shuttleworth, William Foster & Co., Robey & Co. and Ruston, Proctor & Co. (later Ruston & Hornsby) – but also to smaller, innovative and sometimes short-lived firms. The work examines how the focus of the city’s engineering production changed over time, from largely agricultural engineering in the Victorian period to a more diverse range of outputs in the twentieth century, epitomised during the First World War by the city becoming a major site of aircraft production and the birthplace of the tank. Emphasis is placed upon the later development and manufacture of products such as those related to railway and road transport, excavators, gas turbines and semiconductors. The work emphasises the need for this important part of the city’s history to be cherished, and engineering’s continuing significant contribution to Lincoln’s present and future to be celebrated. 


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Extract from the chapter: 

Clarke’s Crank & Forge Company    by Andrew Walker 

In 1861, in a newspaper report relating to a railway accident at Greetwell in which his nephew, John Clarke, a millwright of Horncastle was killed, Edward Clarke was described as a blacksmith. Two years earlier, Norfolk-born Edward Clarke had established a forge at 3 Hungate. Initially, Clarke’s business was based upon the manufacture of agricultural equipment. However, he soon started specialising in the production of crankshafts for steam engines. By 1864, he had property in Canwick Road as well as his Hungate address. In 1871, he was living at 28 Canwick Road and his business premises were nearby, on Coultham Street, (now the eastern part of Kesteven Street). 

Clarke took out a patent in 1872 relating to a hydraulic crank-bending machine. The patented device took a bar of iron at a yellow heat, or red-hot steel, and placed it on a die. One hydraulic ram pressed down on the middle of the bar and two others applied pressure at both ends of the bar, pushing it into the required shape. The process took between six and eight minutes, with movement taking place slowly and steadily, thus preventing the internal structure of the iron or steel from being compromised by repeated hammering. It replaced the need for a smith and two strikers to take up to three hours to produce an equivalent crank – of an inferior quality – from a 3.5-inch iron bar. As a result of this invention, a large number of British firms discovered that they could purchase cranks from Clarke’s that were cheaper and of a higher quality than could be produced at their own works. 

Clarke advertised his products extensively, proudly proclaiming that they were manufactured at the ‘Patent Crank Works, Lincoln’. The cranks produced by the company included those for locomotives, portable and fixed engines, thrashing machines, pumps and weaving looms. In 1875, Clarke’s Crank Company became a private limited company, providing the capital to extend further. 

By 1885, the company had invested in three large steam hammers, and a substantial hydraulic forge manufactured by Messrs Fielding and Platt of Gloucester. In an account of that year of a visit of members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers to the Coultham Street works, it was reported that the visitors saw the forging press manufacture suspension bridge links. The report speculated that this was the only machine in the country that was adapted for this kind of work. The account also noted that the works employed approximately 100 men, on a site which covered just over two acres and connected with the Great Northern and Great Eastern Railways. In the same year as this visit, the company’s name was changed to ‘Clarke’s Crank & Forge Company’, reflecting the wider range of products now manufactured by the firm. 

Building plans reveal that further development of the company’s works continued, particularly between 1912 and 1920. Prior to the First World War, a new smithing workshop was opened in 1912, and a loading shop and mess room were built in 1913. During the war, substantial growth in production took place, particularly of marine crankshafts. This led to further building work, including roofing over the forge and railway sidings, together with the addition of new ‘conveniences’, possibly in part to accommodate the needs of the new female munition workers employed at the firm. By May 1915, 25 per cent of Clarke’s workforce was either fighting at the front or serving in various departments of the British army. In 1917, the Admiralty provided the company with the necessary funds to invest in extending the forge and machine shop facilities to enable the production of heavy forgings for ships. 

Following the First World War, in a difficult market, the company entered a combine with other British engineering companies, called the Agricultural and General Engineers (AGE), which remained in place until 1932. Formed in 1919, AGE was a holding company that combined five British engineering companies: Aveling & Porter, E. H. Bentall, Blackstone, Richard Garrett and J. & F. Howard. Nine other companies were acquired in 1920, including Clarke’s Crank & Forge Company (hereafter Clarke’s). The aim was to unite these machinery businesses into one strong combine where rationalisation could take place and efficiency be improved. Unfortunately, the expensive London headquarters offset any benefits gained from the amalgamation of the companies and AGE was wound up in 1932. Clarke’s was subsequently revived as an independent business 

end of extract

Map (below) showing locations mentioned in Lincoln's Engineering Industries

Lincoln Industry map_v3 (5).pdf