Table of Contents
William Alexander Adams
Midland Wagon Company historical notes
Reminiscences of the Midland RC & W Co Ltd
Metro-Cammell, Some Early Recollections and Impressions ca 1929

William Alexander Adams (1821-1896)


Born at Quintero, Chile, 26th August 1821, son of William Bridge Adams.


Came to London 1826.


At 15 years old he began work in the carriage works of his father and uncle in Drury Lane.

In 1843 the Fairfield Works, Bow were erected by them and he was taken into partnership. In 1846 he severed that connection and became body shop manager to Messrs Fox, Henderson and Co., of the London Works, Birmingham. However, in the latter part of 1846 he set up in business with George Allcock trading from his newly built Midland Works in Soho; the partnership was dissolved in 1850 when Allcock withdrew from the business at a lean time. Adams then carried on his own through the poor period until orders revived.


Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers; presented papers on railway carriages and wagons, 1850, 1852


He formed the Midland Wagon Company in 1853 with a group of Yorkshire business men, the head office was in Rotherham. The company was formed solely to purchase and lease wagons. Adams appears to have been the sole supplier of wagons in the early years. From the minutes of the Midland Wagon Co it can be seen that he was also selling and leasing wagons in his own right to other companies as well. He was the major shareholder at the formation of the Midland Wagon Co taking 300 of the 1000 £50 shares initially. Later he took more.


He advised the board of the Midland Wagon Company on 25th April 1854 that he had sold the Midland Works at Soho and removed to a new Midland Works in Landor Street adjacent to Lawley Street Goods Station. This latter works is shown on the 1850-1855 Piggot-Smith maps. On an 1863 map of Birmingham this works is shown and referred to as the Midland Works.


“W. A. Adams & Co” is first referred to in the Midland Wagon Co minutes of 29th November 1853. Previously all previous mentions were just to “W. A. Adams”.


In 1863 he and his then partner Henry Griffith sold the business W. A. Adams & Co to the Midland Wagon Co and both became directors of that company.


Became a director of Muntz’s Metal Company around 1863.


Elected Associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers, 1865.


Introduced the purchase lease system of letting railway wagons into the USA 1874.


Formed the Union Rolling Stock Company for financing wagons on that system in the USA 1875.


Presented to the Institute of Civil Engineers a paper on railway rolling stock capacity 1876.


Director of the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank.


Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire.


He died at Gaines, Hertforshire, 31st January 1896.


In the University College London there is a bound typescript autobiography, ‘The Record of a Busy Life’ by W. A. Adams, 1891, dealing with his life in Chile, London and the Midlands, including family history, family, associates, business, and other reminiscences, with a 2 page biography from the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (vol cxxiv, Session 1985-96, pt ii) inserted.

The title is Adams Autobiography and the reference is GB 0103 MS ADD 401


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Midland Wagon Company historical notes


The following notes were made Mike Newport from historical records and Midland Wagon Company Minute Books kept in the ‘strongroom archive’ in Leigh Road offices of Alstom Transport 2003-5.


26th May 1853 – The initial meeting took place in Rotherham to promote a company to be called ‘Midland Waggon Company’ to hire wagons. Those present were: George Wilson Chambers, William Owen, James Solly, William Alexander Adams, William P. Marshall & Robert Wright.


9th June 1853 – The second half yearly meeting chaired by William Owen noted that the prospectus had been advertised. 500 shares were allotted with William Adams (300) and William Owen (100) being the major shareholders.


June 1853 – The undated prospectus stated that the Company is formed ‘for the purchase and supplying Railway Waggons to Coal Owners and others…’

‘Proposals have been made by Mr .W. A. Adams, of Birmingham, Waggon Owner and Builder, to supply to the Company 500 waggons, of a fit and proper construction, 200 to be placed forthwith at the Company’s disposal, and the remainder as may be required; and to repair and maintain the same for a term of nine years at the stated amount.


3rd February 1854 – The First Half-Yearly Meeting. The company name is now given as ‘Midland Wagon Company, Rotherham’. The double ‘g’ has gone from the word waggon. The Directors were: George Wilton Chambers (Chairman), John Aldred (Deputy Chairman), William Owen, Robert C. Hoyle, William F. Hoyle & James Solly. All were from Rotherham except the latter who was from Tipton. (Surprisingly W. A. Adams was not a director, maybe due to a conflict of interest as he built and supplied wagons. M.N.)

519 wagons were noted as being let at £6454 per annum. Wagons cost around £55 each.


17th March 1854 – Board Meeting. The Secretary was authorised to procure tenders for 250 six ton Wagons for delivery by Christmas 1854.

(This seems to be the first time tenders were sought for a batch of wagons. W.A.Adams appears to have been automatically awarded all previous orders. M.N.)


25th April 1854 – Board Meeting. Having gone out to tender for 250 wagons the following quotes were read: Brown Marshall £68/15/0 each, Joseph Wright £63 each & W.A.Adams £62. The contract was awarded to the latter. 3 other companies (incl.John Ashbury of Manchester) declined to quote.

W.A.Adams stated that he had sold Midland Works (Soho.) and suggested that the words “Soho Station on the Stour Valley Railway” be obliterated from all future agreements


17th November 1860 – It was stated in a circular that from 1st January 1861 the Company offices would be removed to Bennets Hill, Birmingham.


20th February 1861 – Fifteenth Ordinary Half-Yearly Meeting. Report of the Directors.

The Company offices is now given as Bennets Hill, Birmingham. The Directors were William Owen (Chairman), William Allen Boulnois, Arthur Ryland, John Jaffray, Matthias Royce Griffin & William Shakespear. The latter four are from Birmingham.

It was noted that at 31st December 1860 3419 wagons were at work.


20th August 1863 – A letter of that date stated that the Company had agreed to purchase the Works and Freehold Land of Messrs. W. A. Adams & Co., Lawley Street, for the sum of £19250 so as to enable the Company to manufacture and maintain their own wagons.


1st September 1863 – A letter of that date stated that the W.A.Adams & Co and Midland Wagon Co were that day amalgamated and that Mr.W.A.Adams and his partner Mr.H.Griffiths will take seats on the board of the amalgamated undertaking.


20th February 1864 – A notice was issued and advertisements posted stating that the Company offices were removed from Bennets Hill to the ‘Midland Works, near the Lawley Street Station’.


9th August 1864 – Twenty First Ordinary Meeting. Report of the Directors.

This was the first annual meeting. The previous 20 were half-yearly. It was noted that the combination of the manufacturing and hiring departments were essential.

It was noted that 5874 wagons were on hire giving a revenue of £33,273.


8th August 1871 – Twenty-Eight Ordinary Meeting. Report of the Directors.

It was stated “The Midland Railway Company exchange five acres of Freehold Land with easy access to their Railway, and to the Birmingham and Warwick Junction Canal, for the two and a half acres now occupied by your present Works. The Railway Company agree to pay to your Company a sum of money sufficient to cover the cost of Rebuilding, and also the removal of Machinery and Tools.”


14th August 1872 – Twenty-Ninth Ordinary Meeting. Report of the Directors.

It was stated “In the last Report allusion was made to favourable arrangements negotiated with the Midland Railway Company for an exchange of 5 acres of land and the removal of the Works. Your Directors are happy to inform the Shareholders that the New Works are in a very forward state, and portions are already occupied and in working order.”

It was reported that Mr. Adams had resigned his seat on the board (note: following a conflict of interest over negotiations for the chairmanship of the Metropolitan Railway and Carriage Co in the summer of 1871)


21st August 1873 – Thirtieth Ordinary Meeting. Report of the Directors.

It was stated “Reference was made in the last Report to the forward state of the New Works, and the Directors have the pleasure to report to the Shareholders that the same are now completed, and in full operation.”


14th August 1877 – Thirtieth Fourth Ordinary Meeting. Report of the Directors.

It was stated “The Directors further report that, with a view to extending the building of Railway Carriages, they have purchased the Abbey Works at Shrewsbury, and so soon as trade revives they anticipate good results from the undertaking.”


29th August 1877 – Extraordinary Meeting.

It was resolved that the name of the Company be changed to “The Midland Railway-Carriage and Wagon Company”


9th August 1907 – Sixty-Fourth Ordinary Meeting – Report of the Directors.

It was stated “In consequence of the increasing demand for larger and heavier types of Rolling Stock than those for which our present works at Birmingham and Shrewsbury were designed, your Directors have thought it desirable to acquire Freehold Land at Washwood Heath, Birmingham, on which they propose shortly to erect New Works, equipped to meet the growing requirements of the trade.”


10th August 1908 – Sixty-Fifth Ordinary Meeting – Report of the Directors.

It was stated “In our last report reference was made to the acquisition of Freehold Land at Washwood Heath for the erection of New Works. The Directors have delayed their construction owing to the high price of building material, but as the present time is favourable to such operations, the matter is being proceeded with.”


10th August 1909 – Sixty-Sixth Ordinary Meeting – Report of the Directors.

It was stated “In our last report it was stated that the time was favourable for the construction of the New Works. The Directors have pleasure in reporting that the first contract in connection therewith has been let on favourable terms, and the work is being proceeded with.”


12th August 1910 – Sixty-Seventh Ordinary Meeting – Report of the Directors.

It was stated “The Directors have much pleasure in stating that further contracts have been placed and satisfactory progress is being made with the New Works at Washwood Heath.”


11th August 1911 – Sixty-Eighth Ordinary Meeting – Report of the Directors.

It was stated “Considerable progress has been made with the New Works at Washwood Heath. Most of the Shops are built and roofed in, and will soon be ready for the plant and machinery. Contracts for most of the Power Plant have already been placed, and it is hoped that the Works will be ready for occupation early next year.”

Also “The Directors have to record with deep regret the death of their old colleague Mr. Henry Griffiths, who was a valuable member of the board for forty-seven years…”

Note: Mr.Griffiths joined the board with Mr.W.A.Adams on 1st September 1863 after their business – W.A.Adams & Co – was amalgamated with the Midland Wagon Co.


12th August 1912 – Sixty-Ninth Ordinary Meeting – Report of the Directors.

This meeting was held at “The Companies New Works, Leigh Road, Washwood Heath, Birmingham.”

It was stated “The Directors have been disappointed at the delay which, largely owing to the recent Coal Strike, has occurred in the completion of the New Works at Washwood Heath, and has prevented the expected transference of the Companies business before this into the new premises. The Works are, however, being rapidly completed and the plant and machinery is now being delivered and fixed. As will be seen from an extract from the report of the Engineers, Messrs. D. & A. Home Morton, quoted below, it is expected they will be ready for commencing operations in about a month’s time.”


“Extract from Engineers Report dated 1st August , 1912. After a great deal of delay caused by the Coal Strike, the installation of the Power Plant, the key to the situation, is nearing completion, and we trust within a month of steaming and the generation of power, when a beginning can be made with production, and the whole place gradually run up to full work.”


After the meeting the shareholders inspected the New Works.



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15 August 1938





The company was established in the year 1853 with a registered share capital of £700,000[ii]

The Chief Offices were situated in Landor Street, Birmingham and the principal works at Birmingham and Shrewsbury.

The works at Birmingham being limited to the manufacture of wagons and trucks of all designations and of every kind of construction.

The works at Shrewsbury were arranged for the construction of railway carriages, steam, cable and horse tram carsboth for the home and foreign trade.

The Company owned a large number of Wagons for letting on Hire. The Directors in 1912 decided that the Works were much behind the times and inadequate to meet new conditions and requirements. A large site of land was acquired at Washwood Heath, Birmingham, where a modern and up to date works and offices was constructed and opened in 1913.

In 1919 a merger was bought about between the Midland Company and Cammell Laird and Company of Sheffield and again in 1929 a further merger took place between the aforementioned companies and the Metropolitan Carriage Wagon and Finance Company of Saltley, Birmingham, trading under the name of The Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage and Wagon Company Limited.

At a later date the Management decided that it would be advisable to deal the Wagon Building and Wagon Letting under the Midland name. A separate Company was subsequently formed reverting to the original title of the Midland Railway-Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd.

There have been of course a great many changes and alterations since I entered the service of the Company in 1891 at Landor Street, Birmingham, both in the personnel, office organisation, and production. Communication from one department to another was very crude, in fact there was one Telephone only in the whole of the Offices, this being used for receiving and sending outside calls. Whenever the Secretary wished to get in touch with another department he did so by blowing down a speaking tube which operated a whistle at the other end. On numerous occasions after blowing himself nearly to pieces with no result, he would go to the Offices to find the whistle not in its position either by accident or otherwise.

Filing arrangement were very antiquated. This was done by folding the letters and placing them in pigeon holes, the outward letters being handwritten and a copy taken by placing same between damp tissue sheets under a press; one can well imagine the result of not sufficiently wet, and too damp sheets.

I can remember the commotion caused amongst the Male members of the Staff when the first Lady Stenographer was engaged, round about 1907.

Communication from the Offices to the City a distance of 2½ miles was accomplished either on Shanks or Hansom Cab. On one occasion when returning from the Bank with the Wages, the axle broke, with the result the wheels came through the side windows, and to add to the predicament the old horse recalled his Grand National days.

Office lighting was very bad, open fish tail Gas burners, what a blessing when Incandescent Mantles came on the market.

On the production side, the Works although old, was very self contained. Practically the whole of the castings required were made on the ground, in addition to the major portion of a competitive firm namely Brown Marshall’s and Company Limited (afterwards absorbed by the Metropolitan Company) requirements.

The Works was well equipped for complete wheel making. Practically all Ironwork required including Axleguards was made on the ground. The Power was steam. What a difference is the present Machine Shop where each Lathe, or Drilling Machine, has a separate Motor, to the old Works, where if one Drilling Machine was required the whole of the Shafting in the Shop would have to be in motion. On the Wood side the difference is very pronounced. Today Frame members are machined almost ready to go in the Vehicle, whereas at the old Works the men had to do there Mortising, Tenoning etc. Wages were low, Labourers 18/- per week, Machinists £1 – 5 – 0 including balance.

At Abbey Works, Shrewsbury, the conditions were much the same. At this Works an old custom prevailed. When an old employee died his coffin was invariably made at the works.

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[i]  William George Henry Barrett born 26th November 1877. An Accounts Clerk who joined the Midland Railway Carriage and Wagon Co on 2nd December 1891 and was transferred into the Metropolitan-Cammell group on 25th February 1929. From his employment record he appears to have died on 31st December 1953, the day before his retirement was due to start on 1st January 1954 aged 76.

[ii] This figure seems extremely high. The value that one can arrive at from other sources seems to be nearer £50,000 ie an order of magnitude different.


circa 1929

The distinction between the "Midland" and the "Met" which persisted although both had just been joined and the evidence of the old company which remained on some internal stationery and on the works and office entrances.

The office coal fires and the iIl-fitting windows which in winter combined to produce a lethal mixture of draughts and smoke and the assertion that when the wind was in a north-easterly direction there was nothing higher to impede Its progress between the Ural Mountains and the offices in Leigh Road!

The office high-stools and long desks and the board room chandeliers fashioned in the shape of coach springs.

The handwritten ledgers and master lists for the Hectograph jelly pads which were the only means of reproducing in quantity.

The caretaker and his wife who occupied the house in the offices and doubled as "Jeeves" to the management.

The greenhouse and pigsty adjacent to the Office which supplemented the dining room menu.

The wagon hiring department in the office basement which monitored company owned vehicles with a card system covering the whole of the office walls.

The company owned farm and outbuildings in Warren Road and allotments in Aston Church Road in addition to the numerous houses in the area for which rents had to be collected each week.

The cottages adjacent to the railway sidings which became derelict and were buried in ashes from the boiler house.

The "iron side" and the "wood side" of the Works between which there was a degree of class distinction and wages differential.

The numbered tins from which wages were paid and their propensity to trap sixpenny pieces to the advantage of the clerk who re-collated them preparatory to the next pay-out.

Tho coke braziers used for heating on the "iron side" and the practice of throwing hot rivets from the hearths to the "holder up".

The log- mill and the spray of water from wet elm logs when band sawn into planks

The oak framed wagons and teak panelled coaches when a 12 ton colliery wagon was built complete for £245 and the builders still managed to earn some of the highest wages in the works.

The coach roofs with bent ash carlines and then boarded and covered in canvas and white lead.

The extensive narrow-gauge truck system that served all the production bays of which traces can still be seen

The multi-gauge track, the base of which still exists in the end bay of A shop which was set in a sunken section of the floor.

The building of G1which was on open ground sandwiched between the main block and the Foundry and Wheel Forge - hence its reduced width. Was said when built to be the longest coach shop in Europe and equal in length to the Queen Mary

The Spartan works office accomodation on a gantry over the corner of B shop with access via a staircase over the surgery. The Template Shop on a gantry over E Shop and the Trimming Shop and Polishing Shop elevated over the end of A shop.

The railway cutting and platforms near the Bond Stores used for loading shells produced in World War 1, from which use the latter owes its name.

The pre-canteen days when there was one hot water station and tea was made in cans and distributed by juniors carrying numerous cans on notched poles -something of a circus act when stairs had to be negotiated.

The quota of first war limbless whom the Company had an obligation to employ and who seemed to mainly graduate to crane-driving being a sitting down job but with access via a straight ladder.

The lavatory attendents in each toilet block who's duties involved recording the period of occupati on by their clientele, which was later communicated to their relevant foreman.

The licensed social club over the end of A Shop with access via a passage out of Common Lane and its closure following complaints by local residents of its somewhat dubious activities.

The one-armed cornt player who performed an agonizing routine outside Common Lane entrance who was, in desperation, given the job of gate-keeoer and was thus effectively silenced and as an added bonus moved on any aspiring successors.

The slump of the early thirties and the weeks when the total productive labour strength was less than 100.

The Company brass band and in its hey-day when skill with a euphonium had the edge on skill with a spanner for a prospectlve employee.

The barter system initiated by a company official and gardening enthusiast involving the exchange of bags of firewood for bags of manure ex the stables at Liverpool docks using the movement of coaches by road as a means of conveyance.

The chaotic mixture of several hundred types and sizes of rivets when the bags in which they were segregated - not to mention the timber shed in which they were housed - were destroyed by fire. A mass rivet-heating exercise not appreciated by the stores.

The surgery patient who undetected drank his eye-bath and finished his treatment with an emetic.

The solitary telephone in the church hall which did service as an Employment Exchange in Common Lane which due to the hub-hub of the unemployed could not be heard and the need, if they were to be contacted, to send a junior up the road to tell the staff that their phone was ringing.

The department set up to make garden chairs and door mats using small teak off-cuts as links threaded on to steel rods. An exercise in economy of materials.

The horse and cart and stabling and the carter who walked four miles from his house every day of the year to tend the horse.

The "Midland Red" bus chassis without self-starters and in cold conditions the need of up to three men with rope to crank the starting handle.

The fearsome females employed as french polishers whose territory was avoided by the younger male staff.

The dignity that went with status - white aprons for the craft trades and bowler hats for the foremen were virtually uniform and staff considered improperly or too casually dressed had to mend their sartorial habits.

The varied liveries of the coaching stock built for the home market and the numerous coats of brush applied paints and varnishes with gold-leaf linings - hence the cobbled floor of the Paint Shop (part of A shop) which had to be continually hosed to keep down the air-borne dust.

The charisma of the railway industry in all its facets was as strong in this period as it has been over the last 150 years and it is doubtful if any other branch of engineering attracts the same degree of interest and enthusiast following both from withIn and outside its confines. There are few who participate that do not share a sense of involvement and some degree of pride in the achievements of an industry which was pioneered by British skill and enterprise and continues to exercise its influence in the latest railway concepts worldwide.

W A Brown/CPS 22.02.80

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