B. Hick and Sons

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Hick, Hargreaves & Co.
General partnership
Industry Engineering
Heavy industry
Predecessor B. Hick and Son
Successor Hick, Hargreaves & Co. Ltd.
Founded 10 April 1833
Founder Benjamin Hick
Headquarters Soho Iron Works,
Crook Street, Bolton, United Kingdom
Number of locations
Key people
John Hargreaves Jr.
John Hick
George Henry Corliss
William Hargreaves
William Inglis
Robert Luthy
Benjamin Hick
John Henry Hargreaves
Number of employees
1000 (1894)[1]
600 (1961)[2]
350 (1990)[3]

B. Hick and Sons, later known as Hick, Hargreaves & Co, was a British engineering company, based at the Soho Ironworks in Bolton, England.[4][5] Benjamin Hick had originally been a partner in Rothwell, Hick and Rothwell, later Rothwell, Hick & Co. and set up his company in partnership with two of his sons, John (1815–1894) and Benjamin (1818–1845) in 1833.

Benjamin Jr left B. Hick and Sons after a year for partnership of a firm in Liverpool believed to be George Forrester & Co,[6] however in April 1841 he filed a patent governor for B. Hick and Son featured on the front page of Mechanics' Magazine using his father's Egyptian winged motif.[7]


Portrait c.1840 of Benjamin Hick, founder of B. Hick and Sons by George Patten ARA (1801–1865)

The first B. Hick and Sons steam locomotive Soho was built in 1833 for carrier John Hargreaves, together with an unconventional, gear driven four wheeled rail carriage for Bolton solicitor and banker Thomas Lever Rushton (1810–1883). The engine was the first 3-cylinder locomotive and the design incorporated turned iron wheel rims with plate discs as an alternative to conventional spokes.[8][9]

Several more locomotives followed over the remainder of the decade, a number were built for export to the United States[10] including a 2-2-0 Fulton for the Pontchartrain Railroad in 1834,[11] and New Orleans and Carrollton for the Saint Charles Avenue Line, New Orleans in 1835;[12] a second New Orleans for the same line in 1837.[13]

Between 1837 and 1840 the company became a subcontractor for Edward Bury and Company, supplying engines to the Midland Counties Railway, the London and Birmingham Railway, the North Union Railway, the Manchester and Leeds Railway and indirectly the Grand Crimean Central Railway via the London and North Western Railway about 1855. Engines were also built for the Cheshire, Lancashire and Birkenhead Railway, Chester and Birkenhead railway, Eastern Counties Railway, Liverpool and Manchester Railway, North Midland Railway and the Paris and Versailles Railway.

In 1841 the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway found some American Norris 4-2-0 locomotives very successful, especially on the notorious Lickey Incline, and Hick built three similar ones for the line. Between 1844 and 1846 the firm built a number of "long boiler" locomotives with haystack fireboxes, plus four 2-4-0s in 1848 for the North Staffordshire Railway.[14][15]

Hick, Hargreaves & Co[edit]

B. Hick and Son 6 hp steam engine, mill-gear and ornamental column at the Great Exhibition. Photograph 1851 by Claude-Marie Ferrier (1811–1889) from the Reports of the Juries.

After the death of Benjamin the elder in 1842, the firm continued as Benjamin Hick & Son (also known as B. Hick & Son) under the management of Benjamin's eldest son, John Hick (1815–1894). In 1845 John took into partnership his brother-in-law John Hargreaves Jr (1800–1874) followed by his younger brother William Hargreaves (1821–1889) in 1847.[16] John Hargreaves Jr JP left the firm in 1851.[17][18] The same year the firm exhibited engineering models and machinery at The Great Exhibition in Class VI. Manufacturing Machines and Tools, including a 6 horse power engine and mill-gear driving Hibbert, Platt and Sons' cotton machinery.[19] The firm received a Council Medal award for their Mill gearing, radial drill mandrils and portable forges.[20] At the time the Benjamin Hick & Son London office was situated at 1 New Broad Street in the City of London.[21][22]

One example of the Great Exhibition engineering models, a 1:10 scale 1840 double beam engine built in the Egyptian style by Benjamin Hick for John Marshall's Temple Works, Leeds[23] is on display at the Science Museum, it is considered the ultimate development of a Watt engine.[24]

Locomotive building continued until 1855, and in all some ninety to a hundred locomotives were produced; but they were a sideline for the company, which concentrated on marine and stationary engines, of which they made a large number including those for the paddle frigates Afonso and Amazonas built by Thomas Wilson, Birkenhead, builders of the Royal William; screw propelled Mediterranean steamers, Nile and Orontes and the SS Don Manuel built by Alexander Denny and Brothers of Dumbarton.[23] The Brazilian Navy's Afonso is notable for its role in the rescue of passengers from the Ocean Monarch in 1848[25] and the Battle of The Tonelero Pass in 1851; the Amazonas for its participation in the Battle of Riachuelo in 1865.

The firm also made blowing engines for furnaces and smelters, boilers, weighing machines and mill machinery.[26] B. Hick & Son supplied the principle machinery on a new and perfectly unique concept together with iron pillars, roofing and fittings for the paper and pulp steam mill at Woolwich Arsenal for in 1856, the manufacture of cartridge bags of which it could produce about 20,000 per hour, sufficient for the supply of the entire British army and navy. The intention was also to provide the manufacture of paper for the various departments of Her Majesty's service.[27]

Steel boilers were first produced by the firm in 1863, mostly of the Lancashire type, however more than 200 locomotive boilers were made for torpedo boats into the 1890s.[1]

B. Hick and Son were responsible for introducing highly efficient Corliss valve gear into the United Kingdom from the United States about 1864 and closely identified with it thereafter.[1] About 1881 Hick, Hargreaves received orders for two Corliss engines of 3000 hp, the largest cotton mill engines in the world.[28] Mill gearing was a speciality including large flywheels for rope driving; turbines and hydraulic machinery were also manufactured. The works featured an 80ton hydraulic riveting machine.[1]

John Hick JP retired from the business in 1868 when he became a member of parliament (MP), the firm was renamed Hick, Hargreaves and Company about this time. On the death of John Hick's nephew Benjamin Hick in 1882, a much respected member of the firm, active involvement of the Hick family ceased until 1893 when Benjamin Hick's great grandson, also Benjamin Hick started an apprenticeship, followed by his younger brother Geoffrey about 1900.

William Hargreaves JP died in 1889 and, under the directorship of his three sons,[29] John Henry, Frances and Percy the firm, known as Hick, Hargreaves and Company, acquired limited liability the same year.

For the ease of shipping and transportation, Soho Works were traversed by sidings of the London North Western Railway.[1][26]


Entrepreneur, William Hargreaves JP c.1880, from a Photograph by Alex Bassano 25 Old Bond St. W. "INK-PHOTO." SPRAGUE & Co. LONDON. Inscribed Mr Hargreaves Moss Bank Halliwell Bolton

About 1885 Hick Hargreaves & Co became associated with Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti during the reconstruction of the Grosvenor Gallery and began to manufacture steam engines for power generation including those of Ferranti's Deptford Power Station,[30] largest power station in the world at the time.

In 1908 the firm were licensed to build uniflow engines, from 1911 they began the manufacture of large diesel engines, however these did not prove very successful, boiler production finished in 1912. During World War I the firm did much war work, producing mines, 6 and 9.2 inch shells[26] as well as oil engines for submarines.

In the early hours 26 September 1916, Hick Hargreaves' works were targeted unsuccessfully by Zeppelin L 21, the bomb missed passing through the roof of nearby Holy Trinity Church.

The firm's recoil gear for the Vickers 18 pounder quick firing gun was so successful that by war's end a significant part of the factory was devoted to its production. Civil manufacture was not suspended entirely and in 1916 the firm began making high vacuum condensing plant used in power generation. This was greatly expanded in later years as centralised power generation was adopted in Great Britain.[4]

After the war the firm entered a contract with Vulcan Motor & Engineering Co. of Southport for 1000 20 hp petrol engines, but work was discontinued in 1922 with only 150 completed.[26]

As the steam turbine replaced reciprocating steam engines Hick Hargreaves' development continued, by 1927 their engine work was principally steam turbines for electricity generating stations.

During the 1930s they acquired the records, drawings and patterns of four well known, but defunct steam engine manufacturers: J & E Wood, John Musgrave & Sons Limited, Galloways Limited and Scott & Hodgson Limited. As a consequence the firm made a lucrative business out of repairs and supplying spare parts during the Great Slump;[4] large stationary steam engines were still used by many textile manufacturers in the Bolton area until the collapse of the industry after World War II.

Marine engines were built during the 1940s, post War the firm expanded its work in electricity generation, and branched out into food processing, oil refining, petrochemicals and offshore oil equipment production, supplying vacuum equipment. By 2000 their products included compressors, industrial blowers, refrigeration equipment and liquid ring motors.[26]

Soho Iron Works[edit]

Between the 1840s and 1870s, the firm had its own Brass Band, "John Hick's Esq, Band", known as the Soho Iron Works Band with a uniform of "... rich full braided coat, black trousers, with two-inch gold lace down the sides and blue cap with gold band," who would play airs through the streets of Bolton.[31]

Ownership changes[edit]

In 1968 the Hargreaves family sold the company to Electrical & Industrial Securities Ltd. In 2001 the firm was bought by The BOC Group from Smiths Industries, lower costs in Eastern Europe proved attractive so production at the Soho Foundry was wound down and machinery transferred to Czechoslovakia; the historic records, including drawings and photographs were deposited with Bolton library.[26] Hick, Hargreaves was the most enduring engineering company in Bolton and Britain, surviving 170 years from the outset.[32][26]

Smiths had already sold the site to J Sainsbury plc and, despite being marked by a blue plaque, Soho Iron Works were closed 23 August 2002[33] and demolished entirely later that year in favour of a car park, petrol station and Sainsbury's supermarket,[26] opening 27 March 2003.[34] Two switchgear panels, the works clock and symbolic cast iron gateposts with Hick's caduceus logo were saved by the Northern Mill Engine Society.[35][26]

Later The BOC Group plc was taken over by Linde A.G. of Germany who intended to return the combined group to a 'pure gas' business and so sold off the BOC Edwards engineering division[36] into which Hick Hargreaves of Bolton had been placed where it had been combined with the Edwards High Vacuum business of BOC Edwards based at Crawley, West Sussex. The business of the vacuum company was sold to private shareholders CCMP Capital and on 1 June 2007 was re-established as an independent UK private limited company "Edwards Limited".

The Bolton site of Edwards Limited[37] is now a design shop with outsourced UK and foreign manufacture and has moved to new office premises in Lostock, where it continues to sell some steam ejector, feed heater and de-aeration technology of the old Hick Hargreaves business as a Process Vacuum part of Edwards Limited.[38]

Mills driven by Hick, Hargreaves engines[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Messrs. Hick, Hargreaves and Co., Soho Iron Works, and Phoenix Boiler Works, Bolton.". Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers: 454–455. July 1894. 
  2. ^ "Hick, Hargreaves and Co". Grace's Guide. Grace's Guide Ltd. 2016. Retrieved 22 September 2016. 600 employees. 
  3. ^ Untitled typescript (1990). "Historical Notes". Annual Report and Accounts (FT Annual Reports Service ed.). Hick, Hargreaves and Company, Bolton; EIS Group plc. 
  4. ^ a b c P. W. Pilling, Hick Hargreaves and Co., The History of an Engineering Firm c. 1833 – 1939, a Study with Special Reference to Technological Change and Markets (Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, University of Liverpool, 1985), p. 20
  5. ^ Short Histories of Famous Firms, Messrs. Hick, Hargreaves and Co., Reprint from The Engineer, 25 June – 30 July 1920
  6. ^ "MacGregor, Horsfall, Hick". Liverpool & South West Lancs Genealogy. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Robertson, J.C., ed. (15 May 1841). "Hick's Patent Governor for Steam-Engines and Water Wheels". The Mechanics' Magazine, Museum, Register, Journal, and Gazette. 34. pp. 369–372. 
  8. ^ Hebert, Luke (1836). Internet Archive The engineer's and mechanic's encyclopædia Check |url= value (help). Oxford University. pp. 568–569. Retrieved 7 September 2016. 
  9. ^ Townend, Peter (March 2016). "The first three cylinder locomotive.". Steamindex. Railway Archive (Lightmoor Press). 5 (50). 
  10. ^ Timmins, Geoffrey (1998). "1833 to 1933 at the Soho Iron Works Bolton', Centenary Pamphlet Published by the Firm". Made In Lancashire, A History of Regional Industrialisation. Manchester, Manchester University Press. pp. 222–223. 
  11. ^ Guilbeau, James (2011). St. Charles Streetcar, The: Or, the New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad Louisiana Landmarks (illustrated ed.). Pelican Publishing Company, Inc. p. 18. ISBN 1-879714-02-7. 
  12. ^ Guilbeau, James (2011). St. Charles Streetcar, The: Or, the New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad Louisiana Landmarks (illustrated ed.). Pelican Publishing Company, Inc. p. 12. ISBN 1-879714-02-7. 
  13. ^ American Society of Mechanical Engineers Regional Transit Authority. "St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line, 1835" (PDF). Adapted from the book The St. Charles Street Car or The New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad, by J. L. Guilbeau, revised and reprinted 1977. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers 345 East 47th Street New York, N.Y. 10017. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  14. ^ Christiansen & Miller p. 309.
  15. ^ Paul, S.B. (1968). "The Engineering Industry". In Aldcroft, Derek H. The Development of British Industry and Foreign Competition, 1875 – 1914. London: George Allen and Unwin. pp. 186–222. 
  16. ^ "1833 to 1933 at the Soho Iron Works Bolton". Centenary Pamphlet Published by the Firm. Bolton Library Local History Archive Ref. ZHH. 
  17. ^ "NOTICE" (PDF). The London Gazette (21195): 874. 28 March 1851. Retrieved 25 February 2016. 
  18. ^ P. W. Pilling, Hick Hargreaves and Co., The History of an Engineering Firm c. 1833 – 1939, a Study with Special Reference to Technological Change and Markets (Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, University of Liverpool, 1985), p. 102
  19. ^ "HICK, B., & SON". Great Exhibition 1851. Official, Descriptive and Illustrated catalogue Part II. Classes V. to X. 1851. p. 293. Retrieved 21 November 2015. 
  20. ^ "1851 Great Exhibition: Reports of the Juries: Class VI.". Grace's Guide. Grace's Guide Ltd. 1852. pp. 203–204. Retrieved 29 September 2016.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  21. ^ "Street Directory.". UK City and County Directories 1600s -1900s. 1851. p. 395. 
  22. ^ "Commercial Directory.". UK City and County Directories 1600s -1900s. 1851. p. 791. 
  23. ^ a b A.W.M (16 April 1936). "Models of a Beam Engine and Steam Turbine". Model Engineer. Vol. 74 no. 1823. p. 80. 
  24. ^ Science Museum caption. Energy Hall: Science Museum. Model represents the ultimate development of Boulton & Watt's steam engine. By the time the engine was displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition, Britain used half as much steam power again as the whole of western Europe. 
  25. ^ "BURNING OF THE OCEAN MONARCH." (19952). The Times. 26 August 1848. p. 5. 
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lewis, David (2003). Nevell, Dr. Michael, ed. "Hick, Hargreaves & Co, Engineers, Soho Foundry, Bolton, 1833–2002". Industrial Archaeology Northwest. CBA North West Industrial Archaeology Panel. 1.3 (3): 19–20. ISSN 1479-5345. 
  27. ^ "MILITARY AND NAVAL INTELLIGENCE". The Times (22460): 10:col A. 30 August 1856. 
  28. ^ "ONE THOUSAND HORSE-POWER CORLISS ENGINE.". SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN SUPPLEMENT. XI (286). 25 June 1881. Retrieved 20 September 2016. and they have an order for a pair of horizontal compound Corliss engines intended to indicate 3,000 horse-power. These engines will be the largest cotton mill engines in the world. 
  29. ^ A.W.M (16 April 1936). "Models of a Beam Engine and Steam Turbine". Model Engineer. Vol. 74 no. 1823. p. 79. 
  30. ^ Wilson, John F. (2001). Ferranti: A History, Building a Family Business, 1882–1975. Lancaster: Carnegie Publishing. p. 182. 
  31. ^ Holman, Gavin. "Extinct Brass Bands (S-Z)". ibew (Internet Bandsman's Everything Within). Retrieved 12 September 2014. 
  32. ^ Halton, Maurice J. (14 November 2002). "Firm is moving after 170 years". The Bolton News. Retrieved 18 September 2014. 
  33. ^ Roscoe, Ian. "Hick Hargreaves Present Day". End of an Era 1832–2002. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  34. ^ "New store opens in a flash". The Bolton News. 26 March 2003. Retrieved 18 September 2014. 
  35. ^ Rowe, Joanne (4 September 2002). "Society saves a piece of history". The Bolton News. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  36. ^ Linde sells BOC Edwards
  37. ^ "Where We Operate". Edwards Vacuum. Edwards Limited. 2014. Retrieved 5 November 2015. 
  38. ^ "Chemical & Process Industries". Edwards Vacuum. Edwards Limited. 2014. Retrieved 5 November 2015. 
  39. ^ Turner, John (2000). "Thomas Baron Pitfield 1903–1999". About our COMPOSERS. The Musical Times. Retrieved 21 December 2015. 
  41. ^ "Hick Hargreaves and Co". Grace's Guide. Grace's Guide Ltd. 1921. Retrieved 5 January 2016. 
  42. ^ Duvéré, Sébastien (2014). "BRÉGUET, UN TOURNANT VERS L'AVENIR" (PDF). Usine de Déville-lès-Rouen, 160 ans d'histoire industrielle. KSB S.A.S. (France): 8–9. Retrieved 6 January 2016. 
  43. ^ "Electricity generator". MOSI - MUSEUM OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY. Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester. 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2015. 


  • Ashmore, Owen, Industrial Archaeology of Lancashire, (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1969)
  • Christiansen, Rex & Miller, Robert William (1971). The North Staffordshire Railway. Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-5121-4. 
  • Halton, Maurice J., The Impact of Conflict and Political Change on Northern Industrial Towns, 1890 to 1990, MA Dissertation, Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, Manchester Metropolitan University September 2001 MA Dissertation
  • Lowe, J.W., (1989) British Steam Locomotive Builders, Guild Publishing
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  • Pilling, P W (1985) Hick Hargreaves and Co., The History of an Engineering Firm c. 1833 – 1939, a Study with Special Reference to Technological Change and Markets (Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, University of Liverpool, 1985)
  • Saul, S. B., The Mechanical Engineering Industries in Britain, 1860 – 1914 in Barry Supple (ed.), Essays in British Business History, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977)
  • Singer, Charles, (ed.), A History of Technology, Volume 5, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958)
  • Singleton, John, Lancashire on the Scrapheap, The Cotton Industry 1945–1970, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)
  • Timmins, Geoffrey, Made in Lancashire, A History of Regional Industrialisation, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998)
  • University of Manchester, An Industrial Survey of the Lancashire Area (Excluding Merseyside), (London: HMSO, 1932)
  • Wilson, John F., Ferranti: A History, Building a Family Business, 1882–1975, (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2001)

External links[edit]