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Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd was a major British manufacturing company of the early years of the 20th century. Headquartered in Elswickmarker, Newcastle upon Tynemarker, Armstrong Whitworth engaged in the construction of armaments, ships, locomotives, automobiles, and aircraft.


In 1847, engineer William George Armstrong founded the Elswickmarker works at Newcastle, to produce hydraulic machinery, cranes and bridges, soon to be followed by artillery, notably the Armstrong breech-loading gun, which re-equipped the British Army after the Crimean War. In 1882 it merged with the shipbuilding firm of Charles Mitchell to form Sir WG Armstrong Mitchell & Company and at the time its works extended for over a mile along the bank of the River Tyne.Armstrong Mitchell merged again with the engineering firm of Joseph Whitworth in 1897. The company expanded into the manufacture of cars and trucks in 1902, and created an "aerial department" in 1913, which became the Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft subsidiary in 1920.

In 1927 it merged with Vickers Limited to form Vickers-Armstrongs.


The Armstrong-Whitworth was manufactured from 1904 (when the company took over construction of the Wilson-Pilcher designed by Walter Gordon Wilson) until 1919 (when the company merged with Siddeley-Deasy and began construction of the Armstrong Siddeley) in Coventrymarker.

The Wilson-Pilcher was an advanced car, originally with a 2.4 litre engine, that had been made in London from 1901 until 1904 when production moved to Newcastle. Two models were made, a 2.7 litre flat four and a 4 litre flat six. The engines had the flywheel at the front of the engine. Drive was to the rear wheels via a preselector gearbox and helical bevel axle. The cars were listed at £735 for the four and £900 for the six. They were still theoretically available until 1907.

The first Armstrong-Whitworth car was the 28/36 of 1906 with a water cooled, four cylinder side valve engine of 4.5 litres which unusually had "oversquare" dimensions of bore and stroke. Drive was via a four speed gearbox and shaft to the rear wheels. A larger car was listed for 1908 with a choice of either 5 litre 30 or 7.6 litre 40 models sharing a bore but with strokes of and respectively. The 40 was listed at £798 in bare chassis form for supplying to coachbuilders. These large cars were joined in 1909 by the 4.3 litre 18/22 and in 1910 by the 3.7 litre 25 which seems to have shared the same chassis as the 30 and 40.

In 1911 a new small car appeared in the shape of the 2.4 litre 12/14, called the 15.9 in 1911, featuring a monobloc engine with pressure lubrication to the crankshaft bearings. This model had an wheelbase compared with the of the 40 range. This was joined by four larger cars ranging from the 2.7 litre 15/20 to the 3.7 litre 25.5.

The first six cylinder model, the 30/50 with 5.1 litre bore by stroke engine came in 1912 with the option of electric lighting. This grew to 5.7 litres in 1913.

At the outbreak of war, as well as the 30/50, the range consisted of the 3 litre 17/25 and the 3.8 litre 30/40.

The cars were usually if not always bodied by external coach builders and had a reputation for reliability and solid workmanship. The company maintained a London sales outlet at New Bond Street. When Armstrong Whitworth and Vickers merged, Armstrong Whitworth's automotive interests were purchased by J. D. Siddeley as Armstrong Siddeley.


Armstrong Whitworth established an Aerial Department in 1912. This later became the Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Company. When Vickers and Armstrong Whitworth merged in 1927 to form Vickers-Armstrongs, Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft was bought out by J. D. Siddeley and became a separate entity.

Elswick Ordnance Company

The Elswick Ordnance Company (sometimes referred to as Elswick Ordnance Works) was the Armstrong Whitworth armaments branch. It was originally created in 1859 to separate William Armstrong's armaments business from his other business interests, to avoid a conflict of interest as Armstrong was then Engineer of Rifled Ordnance for the War Office. Armstrong held no financial interest in the company until 1864 when he left Government service, and Elswick Ordnance was re-united with the main Armstrong businesses to form Sir W.G. Armstrong & Company.

Elswick Ordnance was a major arms developer before and during World War I. The ordnance and ammunition it manufactured were stamped EOC.


After the Great War Armstrong Whitworth converted its Scotswood Works to build locomotives, and from 1919 they rapidly penetrated the locomotive market due to their modern plant. Their two largest contacts were 200 2-8-0’s for the Belgium State Railways (in 1920) and 327 4-6-0’s for the LMS (in 1935)[see below]. Their well equipped Works included their own design department, and enabled them to build large locomotives, including an order for 30 engines of three types for the modernisation of the South Australian Railways in 1926. These included ten “500” class 4-8-2’s, which were the largest non-articulated locomotives built in Great Britain, and were based on ALCO drawings modified by AW and SAR engineers. They were a sensation in Australia. A W went on to build 20 large three cylinder “Pacific” type locomotives for the Central Argentine Railway (F.C.C.A) in 1930, with Caprotti valve gear and modern boilers. They were the most powerful locomotives on the F.C.C.A.AW also obtained the UK license for Sulzer diesels from 1919, and by the 1930’s was building diesel locomotives and railcars. A total of 1,464 locomotives were built at Scotswood Works before it was reconverted for armaments manufacture in 1937.

Overseas operations

The company can also be credited with helping to create the town of Deer Lakemarker in the Dominion of Newfoundland. Between 1922 and 1925, a hydroelectric station was built at Deer Lake by the Newfoundland Products Company and Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Company. The canal system used by the hydroelectric station helped to expand the forestry operations in the area. Some of the equipment used in the construction of the Panama Canalmarker was shipped to Newfoundland island. Electricity from the project was used to power the pulp and paper mill in Corner Brookmarker. Since the 1920s, Deer Lake has grown into a major area for the lumber industry, as well becoming a service-oriented centre.

The company also built a hydroelectric station at Nymboida, New South Wales, near Grafton in 1923-1924. This is still in use and is substantially original. In 1925 the company tendered unsuccessfully to construct the South Brisbane-Richmond Gap (on the New-South Wales-Queensland border) section of the last stage of the standard gauge railway linking Sydney and Brisbane. This was a heavily engineered railway which includes a long tunnel under the Richmond Range forming the state border and a spiral just south of the border. Armstrong Whitworth's tender price was £1,333,940 compared with Queensland Railway's tender price of £1,130,142. In the mid-1920s the company clearly was trying to break into the booming Australian market in a big way, but was stymied by a preference for local construction and local tenderers.

Advertisement in the 1923 Brassey's Naval Annual showing


One major division was the building of warships for the Royal Navy, Imperial Russian Navy, Imperial Japanese Navy, and the United States Navy between 1885 and 1918.

Mergers and Demergers

In 1927, the defence and engineering businesses merged with those of Vickers Limited to create a subsidiary company known as Vickers-Armstrongs. The aircraft and Armstrong Siddeley motors business were bought out by J. D. Siddeley and became a separate entity. Production at the Scotswood Works ended in 1979 and the buildings were demolished in 1982.


Hydraulic engineering installations

The forerunner company, Sir WG Armstrong Mitchell & Company, was heavily involved in the construction of hydraulic engineering installations. Notable examples include:


Between 1885 and 1918 they built 25 warships:

They built oil tankers, including:


Armstrong Whitworth built a few locomotives between 1847 and 1868, but it was not until 1919 that the company made a concerted effort to enter the railway market. Contracts were obtained for steam and diesel locomotives in Britain and overseas, including:-


  1. Newcastle Industrial Heritage
  2. Manchester College of Art & technology - The Whitworth collection history - accessed March 2009
  3. Steam index web site
  4. David Burke. Kings of the Iron Horse.Methuen, 1985. p108-127
  5. ARAR org web site
  6. Sulzers web site
  7. Grafton-Kyogle-South Brisbane Railway - Tenders, 9 September 1925 in State Records of New South Wales, Series 15668, Item 4
  8. Newcastle Industrial Heritage web site
  9. Venice Arsenale crane restoration
  10. Steam index

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