Funding to help preserve archive of Tyneside company Vickers Armstrong

Cash from the National Archives’ Cataloguing Grants Programme will help keep Vickers Armstrong archive for years to come

Archive image of Vickers Armstrong in Newcastle
Archive image of Vickers Armstrong in Newcastle

Fascinating stories from one of the North East’s best-known engineering companies will be unearthed thanks to a £46,000 grant.

Tyne and Wear Archives has received the funding from the National Archives’ Cataloguing Grants Programme to help piece together the history of Vickers ­Armstrong and its predecessor companies, which made up a major part of the region’s industrial landscape for over 150 years.

Funding for The Workshop of the World project will be used to catalogue a huge collection of records that date from 1847 to 1970.

Archivists believe that the project will reveal a huge amount of information about the social and economic landscape of the North East during the period, as the local engineering company employed 30,000 people at its war­time peak in 1918.

Areas of research will include the company’s business practice over the years, its relationship with the British Government, arms dealing and its relations with foreign powers.

It will also look into the influence of company founder William George Armstrong, who built Northumberland’s Cragside Estate and donated Jesmond Dene to the city of Newcastle.

Carolyn Ball, manager at Tyne & Wear Archives, said: “Tyne & Wear Archives houses one of the biggest collections of 19th and 20th Century industrial source material in the world and we very much see this collection as one of the jewels in our crown.

A bus drives along Scotswood Road past the Armstrong Vickers factory, 4 June 1962
A bus drives along Scotswood Road past the Armstrong Vickers factory, 4 June 1962

“For many people Vickers Armstrong is synonymous with the history of the North East, so it will be fascinating to delve into the huge number of documents that have been donated by the company over the years and piece together the story of such an iconic industrial heavyweight.

“Economically, politically and socially Armstrong and his directors wielded enormous influence across the region, through the manufacturing complex in Newcastle, the artillery ranges at Otterburn and the development of the huge estate at Cragside.” Vickers­ Armstrong was formed in 1927 when Vickers Limited merged with Tyneside­based Armstrong Whitworth.

Vickers was well known as one of Britain’s biggest armament producers during both world wars and project archivist, Alan Hayward, hopes to uncover dramatic stories.

Mr Hayward said, “It would be great to discover records relating to the firm’s work during the First World War.

“That would be very timely with the forthcoming commemorations.

“We hold numerous boxes of glass plate negatives kept by the firm but we know very little about their content. The project may unearth remarkable images of a wide variety of products including tanks and guns.

“One of the intriguing things about the project is that there’s a large amount of completely unlisted material that hasn’t been touched since it came in during the late 1970s. We simply don’t know what we’ll find, which is quite exciting.”

The Armstrong Whitworth manufacturing empire is also celebrated in the Science and Industry and Shipbuilding collections of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

This collection includes Armstrong’s Number 1 gun, regarded as the world’s first modern firearm, and the Armstrong ­Whitworth car from 1912, both of which can be seen at Discovery Museum.


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