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Hawthorn Leslie


Hawthorn Leslie

Hawthorn Leslie & Company
Former type Public
Industry Locomotive manufacturing
Fate Acquired
Successor(s) Vodafone
Founded 1886
Defunct 1993
Headquarters Hebburn, UK

R. & W. Hawthorn Leslie and Company, Limited, usually referred to as Hawthorn Leslie, was a shipbuilding and locomotive manufacturer. The company was founded on Tyneside in 1886 and ceased building ships in 1982.


The Company was formed by the merger of the shipbuilder A. Leslie and Company in Hebburn with the locomotive works of R. and W. Hawthorn at St.Peter's in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1886.[1] The Company disposed of its locomotive manufacturing interests in 1937 to Robert Stephenson and Company which became Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns Ltd.[2]

Perhaps the most famous ship built by the Company was HMS Kelly launched in 1938 and commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten.[3] In 1968 the Company's shipbuilding interests were merged with that of Swan Hunter and the Vickers Naval Yard to create Swan Hunter & Tyne Shipbuilders.[4]

The Company's shipbuilding interests were nationalised and subsumed with British Shipbuilders in 1977; in 1979 its engine business was merged with George Clark & NEM, which had also been nationalised, to form Clark Hawthorn.[5]

The Company's main shipbuilding yard at Hebburn closed in 1982,[6] was sold to Cammell Laird[7] and then acquired by A&P Group in 2001[8] but now lies derelict.[9] The Company itself, deprived of its main activity, diversified into telephones.[10] In March 1993 Vodafone made a bid for the Company which by then had become a mobile phone air time reseller.


After the merger the locomotive side continued manufacturing for main line, light and industrial railways, including a large number built for export, usually to the designs of the Crown Agents.



The company manufactured locomotives to order for main line companies. Four 0-4-4 locomotives were supplied to the Metropolitan Railway between 1896 and 1901. In 1915 F.G.Smith of the Highland Railway ordered six 4-6-0s to his own designs. However they were rejected by that railway as being too heavy, they were taken over by the Caledonian Railway. The London and North Eastern Railway ordered a batch of Great Central designed locomotives from the Company in 1925/6.

In addition it built locomotives to its own designs such as a 4-2-2-0 with four cylinders - two inside and two outside - connected separately to the two pairs of driving wheels. It was produced for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 but could not produce sufficient steam to compete effectively with the American products.

The company later had a number of standard designs including 0-4-0 saddle tanks and fireless locomotives.


Hawthorn Leslie, in collaboration with the English Electric Company, built diesel shunting locomotives for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in the 1930s. This design formed the basis for the later British Rail Class 08 diesel shunter.


Hawthorn Leslie, and its successor Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns, built four electric locomotives for Kearsley power station between 1928 and 1946 and three of these still exist.[11] No. 2 has been converted to battery operation and is in use at Heysham nuclear power station. Nos. 1 and 3 are preserved, see below.

Preserved locomotives


A number of Hawthorn Leslie Saddle Tanks are in preservation today:

Commander B, 1899 0-4-0ST, ( formerly Newcastle) awaiting overhaul at Hollycombe Steam Collection.

  • Burra a 0-4-0ST Locomotive of 1923 operational at the Illawarra Light Railway Museum
  • Wallaby a 0-4-0ST Locomotive of 1913 at the Illawarra Light Railway Museum

The Rutland Railway Museum and the Cambrian Heritage Railways both have an 0-6-0ST awaiting restoration. Another, works number 3837, has recently been sold to the Hawthorn Leslie 3837 Preservation Society.[12] It has been moved from Leatherhead Leisure Centre to the Lavender Line in East Sussex where it is undergoing a full restoration. Asbestos, Hawthorn Leslie 0-4-0ST, 2780 (built 1909), is preserved at the Chasewater Railway.


LMS diesel shunter no. 7069 (built by Hawthorn Leslie in 1935) is preserved at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.


Two of the Kearsley power station locomotives (see above) are preserved. No. 1 at the Electric Railway Museum, Warwickshire and no. 3 at the Tanfield Railway.


Ships built by Hawthorn Leslie included:

Aircraft Carriers




Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Merchant ships

See also


Further reading

  • J. F. Clarke (1979), Power on Land and Sea: 160 Years of Industrial Enterprise on Tyneside: A History of R. & W. Hawthorn Leslie & Co., Ltd., Engineers and Shipbuilders, Clark Hawthorn

External links

  • Photographs from Urban Exploration of the yard in 2007
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