Chester-le-Street Heritage Group
In Slater’s Directory for 1876-7 there is an advertisement.—
“Thomas Murray Steam Engine Builders, Cast Iron and Brass Founders, Makers of Blowing Engines, Heavy Pumps and Manufacturers of every Description of Castings for Colliery purposes “. Within two years Thomas Murray was dead and the works were closed.
This venture was once the prime employer in the town. It also acted as a stimulus during the middle years of the 19th century to the economic well-being of both the town and the surrounding area.
The business was started in 1793 by William Murray Senior. He was a trained millwright who served his apprenticeship under Tristram Lloyd in 1776 for seven years as a house carpenter, trunk-maker and millwright. If the known ancestry is correct he was the son of Walter Murray, a flour merchant of Gateshead.
After 1793 William Murray started paper and lead production as well as working with water mills and agricultural machinery. Production was sent all over England and abroad to a growing reputation.
A son William joined his father in the business and a younger son, Thomas was sent to the South of England to be trained in engine building. By 1826 the two brothers were running the business expanding the engine side to meet a growing market. This period of time witnessed a remarkable demand for machine engines, pumps, locomotives and standing engines to assist with the growth of the coal industry in the north-east.
Some of the earliest known Murray engines, those at the Eppleton Jane and the Elemore Isabella Collieries, date from this time. By 1834 the works had two foundries and a steam engine for each in operation on its site located close to the present Wilkinson’s Store.
New buildings came along in 1836 following the deaths of both father and son. At this time the operation was in the sole hands of Thomas the younger son. The production of engines took off from this time meeting the needs of the developing coal-field . The Warden Law haulage engine at Houghton-le-Spring dates from 1836 and continued in use until the closure of the line in 1955. In 1841 Murray added boiler-making and underground haulage engines to his production capacity as well as colliery winding engines. The first of these was made for the Fortune pit at Burnhope. In operation by 1845 it continued to be faithful servant until the end of the 1940’s. Winding engines were also built around this time for Tanfield Moor Pit and Wearmouth ‘A’ shaft.
The large pumping engines for Ryhope Colliery were built between 1856 and 1859 and throughout the next decade many engines found themselves in other countries as the export trade grew.
Thomas Murray died in 1860 and the business passed to his nephew Thomas Hunter Murray, the son of William. In 1863 some interesting statistics were published. The firm employed 200 people and since the firm had started it had made 350 stationary engines, 500 boilers and 400 corn, clay and lead tread mills as well as brick-making machinery and water wheels. The annual work done was in the region of £30,000.
The last known engine was built in 1874 for New Herrington Colliery and within a few years of the death of Thomas H. Murray in 1878 the works were closed.
Finally the works were put up for sale in 1890 and Murray’s yard became a memory. The site was used for a variety of purposes until in 1985 it was cleared to make way for a car park adjoining the new Co-op supermarket.
There is no doubt that the firm had a resounding influence on the development of engineering as well as that of Chester-le-Street. No known photographs appear to be available showing the engine works, but as shown above there was a sketch made in the 1850s by ‘Farrow of Chester-le-Street’ which depicts the works and also shows the Parish Church and Lumley Castle in the background.
Another branch of the Murray family lived in ‘Prospect House’ which was located near the Market Place where the present Methodist Church now stands.
Note the Mechanics Institute in the background now known as MILE House.
A view from behind the works of Mr. Thomas Murray’s Engineer &c - as sketched in the 1850s by Farrow of Chester-le-Street.
Thomas Murray was buried in the old cemetery which surrounds the Parish Church of St. Mary & St. Cuthbert, in Chester-le-Street.
His tomb still stands on the south side of the church.
A restored example of a Murray single cylinder pumping engine can be seen at the National Railway Museum in York.
The view from Murray’s house showing Murray’s Garden and fountain looking towards the Front Street.