Metropolitan Vickers

Prior to 1894 the area of Manchester known as Trafford Park really was parkland.  The area was home to the de Trafford family and around Trafford Hall was a deer park and three farms. 

What changed in 1894 was the completion of the Manchester Ship Canal linking Manchester with the estuary of the River Mersey and making it possible for ocean going ships to sail into the city that was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

Known affectionately as The Big Ditch it runs for 36 miles and provides navigation for ocean going ships into the edge of the city centre.  It cost £15 Million and took 7 years to build opening in 1894. 

Sir Humphry de Trafford opposed the construction of the canal.  It took three attempts to pass the legislation required to build it and in the end construction began two years after Sir Humphry had died.  At the Manchester end an extensive system of wharves was lined with warehouses and the area became an obvious focus for further industrial and commercial development.  It was the de Trafford Estate that offered the best location for the factories, mills and warehouses that were attracted to the commercial opportunities offered by the new port.

The Manchester Patent Fuel Company was the first to establish itself in this new industrial park in 1898.  The first American company to build a factory was the Westinghouse Electrical Company, founded in 1886 by George Westinghouse.  A British subsiduary of the US company, called British Westinghouse Electric Company, built a factory at a place called Water Meeting beside the Bridgewater Canal.

The factory cost one and a quarter million pounds to build and was erected in an amazing 18 months. 

In addition to the factory Westinghouse built a village for his workers on the American style grid system of avenues and streets.  The community had shops, eating rooms, a dance hall, schools, a church, and a cinema.  The village can be seen in the map extract below dated 1930.

The factory went into production in 1902.  That same year a company owned by Westinghouses' rivals, General Electric, called BTH (British Thomson-Houston) also began to operate in Britain.  Westinghouse went into receivership in 1907 and this started the transition of control in the company away from George Westinghouse.  In 1910 Westinghouse was removed as chairman of the company.  In 1916 British Westinghouse looked to the Metropolitan Carriage Wagon Company to provide the funds to buy the American shareholdings and enable the company to progress its business.

One of the features of the factory was the water tower.  It is seen below under construction.  The tower was needed to provide water at an even pressure for operating hydraulic lifts and a sprinkler system.

In 1919 the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Company and British Westinghouse were acquired by Vickers.  In September of 1919 a new company called the  Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company was formed.  Vickers had started out in the foundry business in Sheffield under the leadership of Edward Vickers and George Naylor.  By 1917 Vickers were a highly diversified engineering company manufacturing ship, armaments, cars and aircraft.  This merger with Westinghouse and the Metropolitan Carriage Wagon Company added electrical engineering and railway interests to the already extensive repertoire.

Throughout the life of Metrovicks there was a constant pattern of change.  In 1928 Metrovick merged with the rival British Thomson-Houston (BTH), a company of similar size and basically the same product lineup. Combined, they would be one of the few companies able to compete with the Marconi Company or the English Electric Co on an equal footing.  The next year the combined company was purchased by the Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) holding group, who also owned Edison Swan Electric Co (Ediswan); also Ferguson Pailin in Openshaw, Manchester. Rivalry between Metrovick and BTH continued, and AEI was never able to exert effective control over the two competing subsidiary companies.

AEI’s technical excellence was highlighted in 1935 as Metrovick and B.T.H. became the first two firms in the world to construct jet engines (independently from each other). AEI’s greatest work during the War years was its aircraft. In 1938, Metrovick entered into a joint venture with A.V. Roe to manufacture aircraft. Metrovick assembled 'Manchester', 'Lancaster' and 'Lincoln' bombers for A.V. Roe at Trafford Park.  As this type of work was very different from their traditional heavy engineering, a new factory was built on the western side of Mosley Road and this was completed in stages through 1940.

In 1940 the iconic water tower was partially dismantled because it was seen as a landmark for German bombers.  The remnant of the tower was used as a gun emplacement.

By the end of the war, M-V's had built 1,080 Lancasters. These were followed by 79 Avro Lincoln derivatives before remaining orders were cancelled and M-V's aircraft production ceased in December 1945.

After the war M-V was involved in the building of jet engines before selling off that business to Armstrong Siddeley in 1947.  In the 1950s they were involved in the development of diesel-electric locomotives .

In 1960 the rivalry that had continued between Metrovick and BTH was eventually ended when the AEI management decided to rid themselves of both brands and conduct all their busines under the brand AEI.  Seven years later AEI was purchased by GEC which changed its name to Marconi plc in 1999.

The Trafford Park factory closed and was demolished as was most of the village.  Only a few remnants of the village remain.  The M-V factory which at one time employed 20,000 people is gone forever.

To read much more about Metropolitan-Vickers you can visit the site below

Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Co. Ltd. 1899 - 1949