Plaque to mark factory heritage

On Sunday the remarkable engineering history of a small corner of Leeds will be honoured. Joanne Ginley reports.

IN its heyday Hunslet, in Leeds, was internationally-renowned for the manufacture of steam locomotives, traction engines, road rollers and steam wagons.

At the weekend one of the city's most famous engineering companies will be recognised for its contribution to Leeds' industrial heritage.

A blue plaque will be placed on the site of the former Midland Engine Works of J & H McLaren Ltd, at 100 Jack Lane, Hunslet. Today the site is occupied by Equinox Design Ltd and because the works building no longer survives, the plaque will on a plinth built out of bricks taken from the last surviving wall of the building.

The Leeds Civic Trust plaque will read: "J & H McLaren produced steamrollers, traction and ploughing engines on this site until 1938. From 1926 they were Britain's first volume maker of high-speed diesel engines, transferring to the Airedale Works, Hunslet Road in 1946.

"Their products were exported worldwide."

It is yet another in a series, which the civic trust, in partnership with Leeds and District Traction Engine Club, has put up to celebrate the industrial heritage of Hunslet. The director of Leeds Civic Trust, Kevin Grady, said: "Anyone who has attended a traction engine rally will know what wonderful vehicles McLaren's manufactured.

"It is fascinating to look at their old catalogues showing their products in use all over the British empire in the Victorian era and beyond.

"Having already placed plaques on the surviving building of the Hunslet Engine Company, the Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Company and Mann's Patent Steam Cart and Wagon Company, all very close together in Hunslet, the trust has been very keen to give McLaren's the recognition it so richly deserves. "

The company was founded by brothers John and Henry McLaren in 1876. McLaren's early years saw the development of good quality machines powered by steam.

But the development of the oil engine at the start of the 20th century, started a revolution that would eventually oust steam.

McLaren's took on development of the oil engine, becoming a major provider of diesel engines for railway traction, power generation and marine applications.

Pioneers of automotive-type diesel engine production in Britain, McLaren's was in the forefront of the use of diesel engines for road, rail and agricultural purposes.

The McLaren family relinquished the business in 1943, on amalgamation with the Associated British Oil Empire. There was expansion and further takeover of the company until the Leeds production base ebbed away.

The unveiling will take place on at 1pm on Sunday. Members of the public, especially former employees, are welcome to attend the event.

Historic products from McLaren's will be on show at the unveiling, amongst them a unique Motor Windlass dating from 1930 which, for the first time will be on show outside its usual home, the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills.

An 1899 McLaren's traction engine, belonging to Dave Bradley, who lives near Knaresborough, will also be at the event. There will be a photographic display about McLaren products in the Leeds & District Traction Engine Club's marquee.