History of Metropolitan Vickers, Trafford Park (video)

Alistair Lyall       The Flying Scotsman

Alistair Lyall gave an excellent  talk at the History Group on Feb 6th 2014. A packed room of nearly 60 people heard him talk about his career as an engineer at Metrovics in Trafford Park.  Some of the background information about the firm is included below. Alistair went on to describe the switch from steam and the electrification programme as part of British Railways 1955 Modernisation Plan.  He talked about some of the train developments he was involved in,  including  the advanced passenger train programme and the problems with the tilting train. He ended with his views on the lates plans for high speed train, HS2, which as a traction engineer he is keen on, but is doubtful whether it will ever provide value for money

In the discussin that followed it was clear that there were several people in the audience who had themselves worked at Metrovics and they were able to share their memories of working there

Slide 1alastair 04

alastair 01

Alistair waits for the audience to settle down.
Beside him are various models he used as props 
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Alistair with a picture of the 1950’s Metrovics Trafford Park site being shown to the audiencealastair 07

Alistair talking to the audience with an old poster of the Coronation Scot behind himalastair 06Part of the audiencealastair 05Graham Pythion publicises his new book on WW2 Manchesteralastair 02More of the audience


Alistair grew up near the Queens Park Works in South Glasgow where in 1937 he saw from a nearby hill the first high speed train, the Royal Scott on the Glasgow to London line


Streamlined Coronation Scot train on the London-Glasgow route in 1937.

The music named after this train – “Coronation Scot” by Vivian Ellis was later used in Paul Temple radio programme in the 1960’s  see:

Alistair finished school at end of war and went to university after doing his national service. He was awarded a degree in mechanical engineering from Glasgow University and later became a chartered engineer

He joined Metropolitan Vickers (“Metrovics”) in Trafford Park and stayed there for much of his career working in turn for Metrocics, AEI Traction, GEC Tractiona and finally Alstom. He started off as a graduate apprentice, became a junior engineer and then an assistant chief engineer

Metrovicks and its successors  – “The wheels the world runs on “

The firm was originally the UK branch of an American Company – British Westinghouse Electrical and Manufacturing Company (1899). During WW1 it became a fully British Company – Metropolitan Vickers (1917). Much later it was swallowed up in AEI (1959), then GEC (1972,  GEC Alstom (1989) and finally the French owned company, Alstom (1998).  The Trafford Park  plant closed in 2000 and the main building demolished in 2002

The firm occupied 64 acres of Trafford Park. The main building was a copy of the Westinghouse building in Pittsburgh.  The site for Trafford Park Works was bought in 1899 and building started in 1901 – the factory when completed used over 11m bricks. It was one of the most important and largest engineering factories in Britain for much of the last century and at one time the 130 acre site employed 23,000 people

Metrovics became well known for manufacturing industrial equipment such as turbines, transformers and switchgear, generators and the like. They produced  the Avro Manchester bomber for WWII on a site on the Western side of Mosley Road (the top left of the picture above), but they suffered heavy losses in air raids; in the end they made 1080 Lancaster bombers in the region.

The main building at MV was a copy of the Westinghouse building in Pittsburgh


Laying of the Foundation Stone  3rd Aug 1901

This image shows the extent of the works in 1955. Watersmeet (where the Bridgewater Canal branch splits off towards Manchester City Centre) is a the bottom, with Mosley Road on the far left.

Slide 10

“The [cast iron water] tower proved to be a superb guide for enemy bombers. They lined up on the tower and caused tremendous damage to the works. Truly British, we removed the tower on the following day. Hardly any roofing was left and half the machinery was destroyed; yet in a month, we were back on full production. Trafford Park itself suffered greatly (7 out of 10 of the world’s biggest warehouses were destroyed).”

mv water tower

Cast Iron Water Tower

2ZY was the name of a radio station broadcast by the British Broadcasting Company from Manchester, England, between 1922 and 1927. The station aired its first test transmission on 450 metres on 17 May 1922 and began regular broadcasting on 15 November 1922, just a day after sister station 2LO began daily programmes in London. The programmes were made and broadcast at first from the Metropolitan-Vickers electricity works in Old Trafford. The ornate iron water tower at the works was the site of the transmitter

Slide 15

Alistair was responsible for promoting Metrovics and their role in the modernisation of the railways in the 1960s. He and a colleague (Pictured above) built a spectacular model railway which was displayed at Lewis’s store in central Manchester and also at various trade exhibitions including the one below in New YorkSlide 16

Slide 25

Alistair showed this slide of one of the traction engines built by Metrovics in action in South Africa. The end of the iron ore carrying train can be seen at the top left of the photo. There were over 100 carriages and the drive had a moped which he could use if he ever needed to examine one of the units towards the rear of the train

In the 1960s Metrovics merged with other engineering companies to become GEC. The site finally closed in the 1990s and is now used by many other companies – Kelloggs have expanded into the area for warehouse storage, and Biffa have a state-of-the-art highly automated super-MRF (materials recycling facility) on the site. The plant processes 200,000 tonnes of waste materials per annum and achieves recycling rates of over 90%.