Records of R Y Pickering & Co Ltd, railway rolling stock manufacturers, Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Administration records 1888-1960
  • Financial records 1888-1967
  • Production records 1888-1969
  • Staff records 1893-1973
  • Photographs 1907-1969
  • Plans 1957-1973

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1864  , John Pickering , originally from Yorkshire, England, chose Netherton, Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, Scotland, as the site for his wagon works. His son, Robert Young Pickering ( 1841-1932  ) took over the business in 1878  . Activities at that date included wagon repair and hire but, increasingly, Robert Pickering became involved in the building of new wagons, steel framed from about 1897  , expanding the business to include a second depot at Rawyards, Airdrie, North Lanarkshire. By the late 1880s  however, Pickering was in need of further capital for his ventures. So, he converted the company into a limited company as R Y Pickering & Co Ltd in 1888  with himself as managing director. On the formation of the company he was paid £4,000 in cash and £4,000 in shares (this being half of the nominal capital). However, the main sources of new finance were John Wilson, Lanarkshire coalmaster and wagon owner, J Kennedy, timber merchant and J Mitchell, banker.

Robert Pickering was encouraged to go for rapid expansion by Dugald Drummond, locomotive superintendent of the Caledonian Railway. Drummond secured his own nominee, a Mr Robb, as works manager, but by 1891  the directors became dissatisfied by the low profits he was securing, in spite of his technical innovations, and he was replaced by James Steele. In 1900  , Robert Pickering sold 473 of his ordinary £10 shares, probably in order to finance the purchase of the Conheath estate in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, to John Wilson, making him the major shareholder. From 1901  competition became stronger, and orders from railway companies in Great Britain dropped, although the company was still producing, on average, 3,000 wagons each year. At the same time orders from South Africa and India increased and repair facilities in new depots at Thornton Junction, Fife, Scotland, and at Beighton, near Sheffield, England, did reasonable business. In 1904  , Pickering had secured the appointment of his son as company secretary. The main trend of his affairs, however, was unfavourable. A loss of £5,628 in 1909  was followed by an even more serious loss of £13,980 in 1910  . By 1911  , he personally owed the company at least £3,500. His son was told that his services were no longer required, and in 1911  , Robert Pickering was relieved of his position as managing director.

Under new management, the company made good progress. The events of the First World War (1914-1918) had little effect on the company although by the end of that period, they had their own iron and brass foundries. In the immediate post-war period, Pickerings responded to a world shortage of rolling stock. But by about 1925  the markets began to dry up once more. During the early 1930s  , the company made efforts to develop different lines of business, such as, manufacturing bus bodies. They were, however, dogged by a series of deaths and illnesses amongst the managerial staff and, in 1938  , were taken over by the Lithgow group of Greenock, Scotland, under the direct supervision of Henry Lithgow. Almost immediately, Pickerings found themselves engaged in war production, making gun tractors and light army vehicles. In about 1942  , Dr T Scott Glover of the associated North British Electric Welding Co Ltd took over as general manager at R Y Pickering & Co Ltd . His knowledge of welding processes was put to use and Pickerings developed a department capable of producing engine bedplates and pontoons for the Mulberry Harbour as well as a forge which could drop-stamp high-tensile steels and parts for tanks and guns.

In the short term, even after the end of the Second World War (1939-1945), business prospects looked good. By 1955  , the company was turning out over 50 wagons a week and in that year, Dr Glover negotiated the first of three valuable contracts with Pakistan Railways that kept the workforce in full employment until June 1959  . Once the Pakistan contract was completed, however, Pickerings was forced to contract, the work-force shrinking in the early 1960s  to 400 employees, from a post-war peak of 1,000. By 1960  , the nationalised British Railways was making most of its wagons itself and the future looked bleak.

A partial recovery was made possible by the work the company had been doing since 1952  on vacuum research. This interest, originally related to handling fabrications for the shipbuilding industry, had become the project of a subsidiary of Pickerings, Vacuum Industrial Applications Ltd . In 1959  , Mr D E Martin, formerly of G E C Ltd , was appointed managing director of this subsidiary company which specialised in making vacuum furnaces, degassing equipment, equipment for coating various substances with metal under vacuum, and scientific instruments. Meantime, with K L Wright, originally from North British Electric Welding, as managing director of Pickerings, attempts were made to diversify the heavy engineering side of the business, notably in the development of universal cranes.

Sometime around 1966 the company merged to form Norbrit-Pickering Ltd in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, which was dissolved in 1987.


This material is arranged into series, which consist of numbers of items related by function and/or format. Within series, the items are generally arranged chronologically

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Gift : Lithgows Ltd : c.1972

Other Finding Aids

Digital file level list available in searchroom.

Manual file level list available at the National Registers of Archives in Edinburgh (NRA(S)1634) and London (NRA13688)

Alternative Form Available

Microfilms of some of the drawings in this collection are held by the Historical Model Railway Society

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use & condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures

Custodial History

Acquired directly from owners, Lithgows Ltd, c1972


None expected

Related Material

GB 248 GD 320 Records of Lithgows Ltd

GB 248 UGD 153 Records of P & W Maclellan Ltd

Material in other repositories: no material associated by provenance


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

This material is original

Updated by Jenny Cooknell , Assistant Archivist, 29 October 1999

Updated by Lesley Richmond , Acting Director, 3 March 2000