IT is a timely feature because an historic building on the site of the former train yard looks set to be demolished as heritage experts have withdrawn their objections to the plans.

Historic England, which had previously opposed the new £12m access road at Horwich Loco Works, no longer opposes the plans.

But Mr Whittle, and members of Horwich Heritage, believe the remaining building on the site is an important reminder of the part the works played in the railway industry.

Production began at the works on November 15, 1886, initially repairing Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway locos built elsewhere. The first loco built at Horwich was a 2-4-2 radial tank engine designed by the CME. John Aspinall, No.1008, still survives today and stands proudly at the National Railway Museum in York. It was followed by a succession of fine locomotives designed and built by the leading engineers of their day.

The words of H.E. O’Brien, works manager in the early years of the 20th century, echo down the decades as testimony to the quality of the town and its people: “Horwich was a great railway town, its engineers were inventive and efficient and made a big contribution to the development of the railways. The people were the best – so friendly, so good-hearted, I’ve never forgotten them”.

At its peak, the works employed more than 5,000 people. It transformed this once sleepy Lancashire village into one of the six leading railway towns of Great Britain, making a major contribution to our industrial development and having an impact across the world. It changed for ever the lives of the original villagers and the thousands of newcomers who came from all over the country to work here.

But by December 23, 1983, the last railway workers made their way out of the Loco Works for the last time and railway production finally ceased.

The story of those 97 eventful years of railway history is one of a time when the works and its fortunes dominated the lives of the people of Horwich. It provided not only their employment but their social, recreational and educational needs through the Railway Mechanics Institute, the famous RMI – whose legacy still lives on in the town today. Many families can trace several generations of their relatives who were employed on the Works.

The Horwich we know today is still based on the new town created by the arrival of the L&YR Co. over a century ago. And there are many landmarks still standing to remind us of that time. And yet it could all have been so very different. But for a twist of fate, Horwich might never have been chosen as the site for the new L&Y Railway Works which, in the 1880s was urgently required to replace the inadequate facilities at Miles Platting & Bury. But for that, the sleepy village might have slumbered on relatively untouched by the industrial age or been developed in a completely different way. It wasn’t even on the shortlist of sites that the L&Y Board were considering in 1884 until an estate in Horwich was spotted by Elias Dorning, a surveyor working with the board’s main advisors, John Ramsbottom and William Barton-Wright.

The estate was due to be auctioned at the Mitre Hotel in Manchester on May 27, so time was of the essence. The directors liked what they saw and the whole estate of 736 acres, including the works’ site and land at Wallsuches, Makinson Moor & Pilkingtons, was purchased for just £36,000.

In September 1884 the L&YR Co. commissioned a layout plan for the works with a spur from the main railway line into the 96 acre site which was situated between Red Moss and Chorley New Road. Today, a lonely pathway is all that remains of the route taken by the now disused railway line which led to the works and on to Horwich Station.

The first building contract was let to Joseph Nowell for the foundations of the erecting shop on March 9, 1885, at a cost of £16,129, and the process which changed the course of Horwich’s history so dramatically had begun.

On November 15, 1886, Horwich Loco Works was officially opened and the workforce, many of whom had been transferred from Miles Platting, began work immediately.

The existing Horwich population of less than 4,000, most of whom lived on the ‘top side’ in the vicinity of Wallsuches Bleachworks & Holy Trinity Church, were both intrigued and appalled at the prospect of a major influx of new residents, forecast by the railway company to be in the region of 7-8,000.

In 1881, the population of Horwich was 3,500, by 1891 it was over 13,000 and by 1901 it was 15,000. New workers came from all over the United Kingdom with successive generations working at the works.

Not surprisingly, the more than trebling of the population in ten years placed an enormous strain on the town’s infrastructure which spilled over into social unrest. Everything was in a state of flux as the local board strove to deal with the demands for new roads, services and social facilities, and to curb ‘jerry building’. his in turn required higher rates. As the construction workers and the railway workforce converged on the town, there was a crisis in the provision of accommodation. Although new houses sprung up at a remarkable rate, built both by the Railway Co. and builders (more than 1,000 in the first months), it was not uncommon for the ‘navvies’ to live in tents on the massive loco works construction site and for rail workers to be crammed into any form of lodgings they could find – forcing up rents dramatically. The strain was bound to tell, and there was increasing tension both on the works site and in the town, particularly amongst the navvies.

As the works grew, industrial relations were generally good but, with so many trades being represented and membership of trade unions becoming part of the employment contract, strikes and lock-outs did occur, particularly in the early years.

Still remembered in Horwich today, John Audley Frederick Aspinall has rightly been called the ‘Father’ of Horwich Loco Works. He was a protégé of Ramsbottom and Barton-Wright, the engineers responsible for laying out the works site Having moved through the ranks of the L&YR Co, and in July 1886, at 35 years of age, he was appointed CME.

Aspinall’s job was to oversee the construction work taking place, get loco production underway and build a community around the works to house the workforce and look after their needs - quite some task but one he accomplished with great enthusiasm, dedication and foresight.

He not only laid the foundations of the works but also the Horwich we know today and also found time to design locomotives. As well as all this, he set up a premium apprentice scheme at the Mechanics Institute which became the envy of the railway world and produced some of the leading railways engineers during the glory days of steam railways – men like Sir Nigel Gresley and Sir Henry Fowler.

Horwich Loco Works played an important role in the production of armaments in both World Wars, producing tanks and shells, and it was during this time that women became part of the workforce. In the post WWII years, the works became part of British Railways and diesel and electric trains gradually replaced steam. The last steam locomotive was built at Horwich in 1957 and the last one repaired in 1964. But the works went on for another 20 years, producing diesel and electric units, carriages and wagons, until its closure at the end of 1983.

In its time, Horwich Works had a world- wide reputation and had produced 1,830 steam locomotives and repaired 50,000 others. It also produced 169 diesel locos.

Until recently the works premises still dominated the skyline of Horwich as they continued as an industrial estate after the railway operations ceased.

In 2008, the whole site was designated a Conservation Area, which should have afforded the buildings some protection. However, a few years later it was earmarked as a ‘strategic development site’ and permission was granted for the building of 1,700 houses and employment uses.

With the whole site now under threat, it was agreed to retain four important ex-loco works buildings as part of the ‘heritage core’ (village centre). Of those four buildings, only the office block has a secure future. The other three are disused and under threat of demolition. The most iconic of these and the one under the most immediate threat is the remaining half of the erecting shop – which as the name suggests was where all the parts made in the various workshops across the site were brought together and assembled into locomotives or repaired. It was originally one third of a mile long but only half now remains. However, the impressive original steel structures and gantries are still there and, with some imagination, could still brought back into use to house the many community uses the new population of 5,000 will need.

A mere glance inside will inspire the viewer to say that this is a building that should be saved for ‘posterity’ as a lasting reminder of the industry and workers who built the proud railway town of Horwich.