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By Peter Thorpe on

A glimpse into the history of the ‘Concrete Works’

Peter Thorpe digs deeper into the history of the building which still stands in the museum's car park.

A little while ago I was looking through a collection of photographs from our York Headquarters photographic collection and came across a fascinating series of images showing women workers making concrete items during the Second World War. The subject was interesting, but it captured my interest even more as on reading the caption for the photos, it turned out that the photos were taken on what is now part of the National Railway Museum site.

Women working in the York Concrete Depot 1943 (National Railway Museum- York HQ collection)


LNER York Concrete Depot 1943 (National Railway Museum – York HQ collection)

They were taken at the LNER’s York Central Concrete Depot in 1943.  If you have travelled to visit the National Railway Museum by car in the last few years, it is more than likely you parked in this area as it is where the museums’s main visitor car park is, but the area is known to staff at the museum as the “concrete works”.

In fact it is possible to match up the second photo above with a current view of the car park.

The concrete works today – you can see the rise up to Leeman Road and the remains of a 2ft gauge wagon turntable,  which can be seen in the 1943 photos.

These photos inspired me to find out a little more about the history of the site and what went on there.

The LNER York Central Concrete Depot was opened in August 1928, manufacturing around 90 different types of articles for use on the railway, with annual production of around 20,000 articles. In the early part of the 20th century there was a increasing trend towards concrete being used to replace other materials. The LNER Magazine in 1929 lists fence posts, notice-board posts, gate posts, stiles, water troughs, platform-wall sections, and copings as just a few of the items that were produced. There were obvious maintenance advantages to using the material, as concrete posts didn’t rot and didn’t need to be treated or painted on a regular basis, unlike timber ones.

York Concrete Depot soon after opening in 1928,  Narrow-gauge tracks serve the moulding and storage areas. They also feed the loading dock, on the left of the
picture, from which completed articles are despatched (LNER Magazine)

By 1938 a further article in the LNER Magazine explained that the works now employed 44 men producing 84,560 articles of 125 different types.  The aggregates from which the concrete was made were obtained from the LNER’s Hulands Quarry at Bowes, near Barnard Castle, and mixed with quick hardening cement. The works also had a display area to show engineers the different products being made.

York Concrete depot – display area, 1938 (LNER Magazine)

The war led to many of the men employed in the works being replaced by women workers like those featured in the 1943 images, as large numbers of women were recruited throughout the railway doing vital work to keep the system running. On 9 June 1943 the railway women of York paraded through the streets to demonstrate the support they were making for the war effort. Afterward there was a demonstration of concrete mixing and moulding by the women of the Central Concrete Depot. Their stand was dominated by a magnificent Victory ” V ” fashioned in concrete!

The site was still being used to produce concrete items in the late 1980s as can be seen from this aerial view. The building that can be seen here is not the same as the ones seen in the previous photos which were replaced during modernisation in the post-war period.

The National Railway Museum site from the air, 1988 – the concrete works are on the left. (Image ref DS060838)

Here is some video footage from our archives:

This area of York’s historic railway infrastructure is due to change out of all recognition as part of the York Central regeneration, one wonders whether at least part of the history of the site is retained maybe in the form of a length of the narrow-gauge track and a wagon table turntable, or maybe some examples of the items that it produced, some of which still make up part of the railway infrastructure today.

If you want to find out more about the importance of women workers on the railways, or the railway industrial heritage of York, we have plenty of resources available in Search Engine, our library and archive centre. You can find out more on the research and archive pages on our website.

4 comments on “A glimpse into the history of the ‘Concrete Works’

  1. Dear Sir
    Could you please tell me if the GW Rly also constructed their own concrete square fencing posts, and if so, could you give me the date from when construction started.

  2. Dear Sir
    Would you have by any chance details of the basic concrete fence posts manufactured from 1920s onwards (perhaps basic plan/elevation of fence posts, their sizes and hole locations etc.

  3. Very interesting article. Concrete products of the ‘Big Four’ are seldom mentioned with any enthusiasm and rarely documented as part of the development of 20th Century railway architecture and design, and are also very poorly represented overall. The Bluebell has probably one of the largest stable collections, with SR-pattern P-way huts, platform lamps, fences and running in boards amongst other things being used, looked after and maintained. All unremarkable in their day, tens of thousands made, but nearly all have been lost. The Coaling plant at Carnforth is a classic example, Grade 2 listed and the last survivor of many, even then with an uncertain future.

    I think the prevelant attitude is that concrete is a modern, souless and brutal material with no heritage, most unlike your typical reproduction generic GWR cast iron gas lamp of course, so best to get rid of it rather than try and preserve it. Bury it under a carpark or something as hardcore, rather than champion and protect certain items as the last surviving examples of our pre-WW2 railway and industrial design heritage.
    As far as I am aware, there are more LMS steam engines preserved by far, than there are LMS-pattern concrete platform lamps, in good, operable condition.

    It would be refreshing to see a representation of this at the NRM, if only a collection of images rather than replicas or preserved original items. Things that were once commonplace up and down the country.
    The Cambrian Heritage Railway have recently built a brand new modular concrete platform to an original GWR design, which is excellent news. The attention to detail is excellent with regards to the texture and colour of the concrete.

  4. The time when concrete was first invented depends on how the term “concrete” is interpreted. The ancient material is raw cement, which is made by crushing and calcining gypsum or limestone. Lime also refers to crushed and burned limestone. After sand and water are added to these cement, they become mortar, a material similar to the Parisian plaster used to bond stones to any cement. For thousands of years, these materials have been improved, combined with other materials, and finally transformed into modern concrete.

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