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Dick, Kerr & Co a lost Preston behemoth

Posted on - 5th June, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Ashton-on-Ribble, History, Nostalgia, Preston News, Riversway
Blackpool rail cars at the Dick, Kerr factory, 1935. Pic. English Electric
Blackpool rail cars at the Dick, Kerr factory, 1935. Pic. English Electric

Early in the 20th century the Dick, Kerr Company was a major national business with a large plant  in Preston. Later, various companies amalgamated, after WW I, to form English Electric. Next, they went into aircraft production. The old tram factory on Strand Road still made aircraft components until 1992. 

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There was once another factory on the opposite side of Strand Road. Note, there is a lot of empty space that was once packed with railway sidings. 

The Dick, Kerr site today, Pic Google Maps
The Dick, Kerr site today, Pic Google Maps

Early history 

Dick, Kerr & Company opened in Preston in 1893. They also had operations in Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle and elsewhere. 

The company was founded by W.B. Dick and John Kerr, who joined in 1883. Kerr was M.P. for  Preston from 1903-1906. Consequently, they were early entrants in the street tramway business.  Notably, they made steam tram engines, and later moved into electrical equipment. 

In 1899 the English Electric Manufacturing Co was incorporated into the Dick, Kerr Company and  a new factory was built opposite the earlier plant, off Strand Road. 

The Dick, Kerr works in 1900, These are wooden tram bodies under construction. Pic. English  Electric
The Dick, Kerr works in 1900, These are wooden tram bodies under construction. Pic. English Electric

Growth 

The map below shows the Dick, Kerr works, on the left, and the now lost English Electric factory.¬† Notice the enormous number of railway sidings. All of this has now gone. The map was drawn up in the 1950’s.¬†

The Dick, Kerr works in the 1950's Pic. English Electric
The Dick, Kerr works in the 1950’s Pic. English Electric

International tramway exhibition 

By 1900 many towns were converting their tram networks to electricity and Dick, Kerr were a  major exhibitor at the International Tramways And light Railways Exhibition, in London. 

The agricultural hall, Islington, site of the 2nd International Tramways And Light Railways  Exhibition. Pic. Wikimedia
The agricultural hall, Islington, site of the 2nd International Tramways And Light Railways Exhibition. Pic. Wikimedia

Additionally, the company always had a eye on the export market. In 1904, They supplied eleven  alternators to The Municipal Council Of Sydney, for the cities lighting system. The Dick, Kerr  factory was near Preston Docks, which assisted with exports. 

Blackpool had one of the first electrical tramways in Britain. However, by the 1930’s the original¬† trams were wearing out and Blackpool ordered a set of streamlined rail-coaches. These were made¬†at the Dick, Kerr works in 1935.(See the header image).

Read more: See more nostalgia and history stories on Blog Preston

Dick, Kerr Electrifies Manchester 

Below is one of the two cars made for the Holcombe Brook branch. Note the overhead wires and pantograph. 

 Holcombe Brook station, 1912. Pic. East Lancashire Railway
Holcombe Brook station, 1912. Pic. East Lancashire Railway

One of the first lines to be electrified in the Manchester area was the result of an experiment by the  Dick, Kerr Company. This involved the Holcombe Brook branch, just to the north of Bury. The  company wanted to test it’s traction supply and motive power equipment. Consequently, they paid  for the line to be electrified with an overhead system.  

Two cars were made, with only one being fitted with Dick, Kerr equipment. Later the line was  converted to the three rail system, as used by the Bury to Manchester line. The Holcombe Brook  branch closed in 1961. 

Finally, the Metro took over in 1992, running trams back into Manchester from a new terminus in Bury. 

English Electric later became the British Aircraft Corporation.

Read more: When the car of the future was made in Preston

Did you work at Dick Kerr? Or know someone who did? Let us know your memories in the comments below

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