George Forrester and Company

George Forrester and Co.
General partnership
Industry Engineering
Heavy industry
Fate Liquidation
Founded 1827
Founder George Forrester
Defunct 1890
Headquarters Vauxhall Foundry,
40 Vauxhall Road, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Key people
Alexander Allan
Charles Hodgson Horsfall
Walter Fergus MacGregor
Benjamin Hick Jr.[1]
Anthony Bower[2]
Andrew Wylie[3]
John McFarlane Gray

George Forrester and Company was a British marine engine and locomotive manufacturer at Vauxhall Foundry in Liverpool, established by Scottish engineer George Forrester (b. 1780/81). The company opened in 1827 as iron founders and commenced building steam locomotives in 1834.


Under Alexander Allan's attendance the first produced were 2-2-0 types, one early in 1834 for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway called Swiftsure and three later that year, Kingstown, Dublin and Vauxhall for the Dublin and Kingstown Railway. In 1835 the Dublin and Kingstown Railway ordered two tank locomotives, Victoria and Comet, being the first tank locomotives to be used in public service. Two others of the same type produced for the London and Greenwich Railway between 1836 and 1837 were the first in England.[4][5]


They were groundbreaking in that for the first time horizontal cylinders were mounted at the front of the locomotive outside the frame. Also Forrester used four fixed eccentrics, rather than two loose ones, to operate the valve gear. A single linkage operated the whole arrangement at once, rather than having four for the driver to operate, and the handles no longer rocked to and fro while the locomotive was in motion.

Stability problems

Forrester's engines were extremely successful for their time, but the outside cylinders and cranks caused the locomotives to sway so much that they were referred to as "Boxers." From 1834 an extra trailing axle was added for some for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.


Three 2-4-0 locomotives were supplied to the London & Brighton Railway between October 1842 and March 1843.[6]

The largest order was for fifteen 2-4-0s in 1847 for the South Eastern Railway. These like the three for the London & Brighton Railway, were of the Stephenson "long boiler" pattern.

Marine engines

SS Liverpool by Samuel Walters
On her first voyage to New York October, 1838. Lieutenant R. J. Fayrer, RN Commander.[7] Engines by George Forrester & Co. An east-bound vessel of the Black Ball Line on the horizon.[8]

George Forrester and Company built direct-acting side-lever engines of 464hp for the 1150ton SS Liverpool, second steam passenger vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Liverpool. The ship was built at Liverpool in 1837 by Humble and Milcrest for former Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Sir John Tobin[8] who sold her on completion to the Transatlantic Steamship Company, a subsidiary of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company.[9]

The Liverpool was the first steamship built and fitted up for the transatlantic service and the first transatlantic vessel with two funnels;[8] after making several return journeys to New York she was sold to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company; it was on this vessel that Samuel Cunard came to Liverpool from Halifax, Nova Scotia to commence business as a ship owner. P&O extended the hull of the Liverpool, increasing her tonnage to 1543 while changing the name to Great Liverpool, and put her on the mail service between Southampton and Alexandria; she was holed on a reef 24 February 1846 and went ashore off Cape Finisterre. The surviving wreck is being studied to assess recovery and preservation in a museum.[10][11][12]

The first British ocean-going iron warship Nemesis, launched 1839 was powered by 120 hp Forrester engines.[13]

In 1846 the firm built 180 hp engines for the Princess Clementine used in 1849 for superintendent of telegraphs for the South Eastern Railway Company, Charles Vincent Walker's successful experiment off Folkestone to pass messages by submarine cable. Walker sent the first submarine telegraph messages to Chairman of the Railway, James MacGregor.[14]

John McFarlane Gray (1831–1908) designed marine engines and various types of machinery for the firm including the first steam-steering gear, retrofitted to the Great Eastern Steamship Company's liner SS Great Eastern in 1867; between 1865 and 1878, the Great Eastern was employed laying submarine cables. Forresters also built engines for the White Star Line ocean liners RMS Atlantic, SS Celtic and SS Republic.[15]


PS Helen MacGregor, lithograph by George Hawkins (1819-1852) from a drawing by Thomas B. Horner,[16][17] dedicated to Joseph Gee of Hull.[18]
"In some of the roughest seas, so well known between Hull and Hamburg, the engines of the Helen Mac Gregor do not seem to suffer the slightest strain in working".[19]

The works manager was Scottish mechanical engineer Alexander Allan (1809–1891) until 1840, when he left to take charge of the workshops of the Grand Junction Railway at Edge Hill, using his experience with Forrester to design the outside-cylinder Crewe-type locomotives.[5]

Benjamin Hick Jr (1818–1845) engineer, formerly of B. Hick and Sons, younger brother of politician John Hick, was working for George Forrester and Co. during 1844 when he presented his improved double-cylinder marine engine to the Royal Society of Arts; a pair equal to 220 hp were built for Scottish shipbuilder John Laird and the 573ton iron paddle steamer PS Helen MacGregor, sailing between Hull and Hamburg for prominent ship owner Joseph Gee (1802–1860).[20][21][22][23][24] One of the vessel's notable passengers during June 1847 was the young artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler; the Helen MacGregor was the first Hull steamer in the St Petersburg trade.[25] Benjamin Jr died relatively young in 1845, age 27.

Charles Hodgson Horsfall (1810–1847), younger brother of politician Thomas Horsfall, died two years later in 1847.[26]

Partner in the firm, also from a Scottish family, Walter Fergus MacGregor (1812–1863) was the younger brother of James MacGregor (1808–1858), politician, Chairman and General Manager of the South Eastern Railway. MacGregor's mother was also christened Helen.[27]

Walter Fergus MacGregor has a stained glass window and memorial dedicated to his memory in St George's Church, Everton, also the last resting place of Charles Hodgson Horsfall,[28] it reads:

This Monument is erected by
a few of his numerous friends
as a testimony of his great worth
and many excellencies, and the
unfeigned love and esteem they
bear to his memory.[1]

  1. ^ "St. Georges Church Everton". YO! Liverpool Online. vBulletin Solutions, Inc. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 

MacGregor's second son, Reverend William MacGregor (1848–1937), used his inherited wealth as benefactor to the town of Tamworth, Staffordshire and became a leading Egyptologist and collector of Egyptian antiquities. He eventually held the position of Vice President of the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology. Items from MacGregor's collection are housed in the Ashmolean Museum, British Museum[29] and Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, Swansea.[30]


Locomotive building finished around 1847, thereafter the firm diversified,[31] closing in 1890. Nothing remains of the former sites at 234, 224 and 40 Vauxhall Road, Liverpool.[5][32]

See also


  1. "MacGregor, Horsfall, Hick". Liverpool & South West Lancs Genealogy. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  2. "Anthony Bower". Grace's Guide. Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Grace's Guide. 1891. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  3. "Andrew Wylie". Grace's Guide. Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Grace's Guide. 1900. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  4. "LINKS IN THE HISTORY OF THE LOCOMOTIVE No. XIII." (PDF). THE ENGINEER: 150. 23 February 1883. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  5. 1 2 3 Day and McNeil, Lance and Ian (2002). Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology (Annotated ed.). Routledge. ISBN 1134650191. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  6. "History of the London & Brighton Railway". Kent Past. Kent Past 2010. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  7. "Transatlantic Steam Ship "Liverpool."". The Old Print Shop. New York, Published by J. Childs, Print Publisher, & Colourer, 119, Fulton Street, up stairs. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  8. 1 2 3 "THE TRANSATLANTIC STEAMSHIP CO." (PDF). Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries. (1991) NOVUS DEBUT, Inc. Ft. Mill. SC 29715. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  9. Swiggum and Kohli. "Transatlantic Steam Ship Company". The Ships List. TheShipsList®™ – (Swiggum). Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  10. "The Paddle Steamer "Liverpool"". The Victorian Web. The Victorian Web. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  11. "PSS Great Liverpool (+1846)". WRECK SITE. The Wreck Site. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  12. "Great Liverpool (1838)" (PDF). P&O Heritage. P&OSNCo. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  13. "STEAM NAVIGATION". THE CIVIL ENGINEERS AND ARCHITECTS JOURNAL. Harvard University. 3: 137. April 1840. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  14. Burns, Bill. "1849 Folkestone Harbour Cable". 2012 FTL Design. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  15. Leduc, Martin. "White Star Liners" (PDF). Martin's Marine Engineering Page. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  16. Hull City Council. "Hull Museums Collections". P.S. HELEN MACGREGOR. Hull City Council. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  17. Royal Museums Greenwich. "The Collection". Print. National Maritime Museum. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  18. Hull City Council. "Hull Museums Collection". Hull City Council. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  19. Hick, Benjamin (20 March 1844). "ON GEORGE FORRESTER AND CO.S IMPROVED DOUBLE-CYLINDER MARINE ENGINE, INVENTED BY B. HICK, ESQ. By B. Hick (of the above firm), Engineer". Transactions of the Society of Arts. 54-55: 139. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  21. Hick, Benjamin (20 March 1844). "ON GEORGE FORRESTER AND CO.S IMPROVED DOUBLE-CYLINDER MARINE ENGINE, INVENTED BY B. HICK, ESQ. By B. Hick (of the above firm), Engineer". Transactions of the Society of Arts. 54-55: 136–143. Retrieved 26 March 2014.
  22. "Humberpacketboats". Packet Boats and Paddle Steamers. GAPS. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  23. "Joseph & Elizabeth Jane Gee". Hull Museums Collection. Hull City Council. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  24. "Joseph Gee (1802–1860)". Your Paintings. BBC. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  25. "THE CORRESPONDENCE OF JAMES McNEILL WHISTLER". University of Glasgow. University Court of the University of Glasgow. 21 June 1847. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  26. "Charles Horsfall". Legacies of British Slave-ownership. UCL Department of History. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  27. "Walter Fergus MacGregor". Grace's Guide. Grace's Guide. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  28. Finley, Betty. "Horsfall – Vaulx Families". Rootsweb. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  29. Rogers, Beverly. "The Reverend William MacGregor: an early industrialist collector". Antiquity. Antiquity Publications Ltd. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  30. "The Reverend William MacGregor and the Egypt Centre". Egypt Centre Canolfan Eifftaidd. Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
  31. Speller, John. "Forrester Locomotives". John Speller's Web Pages – SE&CR. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  32. "George Forrester and Co". Grace's Guide. Grace's Guide Ltd. 22 February 2016. Retrieved 30 April 2016.
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