The thread about old railway photos of Granton and some history of Bruce Peebles; electrical engineers to the world

This thread was originally written and published in August 2018. It has been lightly edited and corrected as applicable for this post.

#NowAndThen at Granton. A BR Standard Class 5 with a mixed freight picks its way across the transfer tracks at Granton Middle Harbour. This was the main point of goods transfer in Edinburgh between the old North British/LNER and Caledonian/LMS railway systems.

In 1980, the rails still led as far as a Texaco fuel depot where Saltire Street now is. The direct line from Roseburn was long gone, so the approach was along the shore at Wardie then across Lower Granton road, as we see a railtour doing here. There was no level crossing gates and this required a member of the train crew to get out and stop traffic by waving a little flag.

There’s a photo of the depot entrance here (the branch to the left of the photo) with the United Wire Works in the background (still there, although a smaller operation now.)

25232 25090 Granton A
A pair of Class 25 engines shunting at Granton in the early 1980s. Photo embedded from the Flick or Alan Rintoul

I know it’s a combination of winter lighting, the quality of cheaper camera film, the filthy state of BR locos at this time and the industrial backdrop, but gosh the 80s can’t half look grim when captured on camera.

I was reminded about East Pilton, Which made me think about the Bruce Peebles works. If you’re cycling along the path just before the bridge at Ainslie Park Leisure Centre (heading west, towards Roseburn), you can see some older bits of wall and palisade fence on your right in the undergrowth that was where a workers entrance (via level crossing across the railway) and the rail entrance to the works was.

East Pilton Halt, Edinburgh with Bruce Peebles in the background (picture courtesy of Hamish Stevenson)
East Pilton Halt with the Bruce Peebles works in the background. Embedded from the Flickr of Kenneth G. Williamson.

That last photo was East Pilton Halt by the way, looking east towards the works. Here’s the rail entrance (the level crossing was to the photographer’s back)

The railway entrance to Bruce Peebles works, looking west. Embedded from the Flickr of Steven S.

Bruce Peebles. Actually named not for a man called Bruce Peebles, but a man called David Bruce Peebles, the founder of a gas engineering company in Edinburgh in 1866. Peebles (don’t you love the word “Peebles?”) soon began to specialise in the new-fangled business of electrical engineering and became a global success story

Advert for Bruce Peebles & Co. Ltd. Electrical Engineers, Edinburgh.

Peebles became electrical engineers to the world, specialising in high voltage transformer equipment.

A transformer being readied for transport to Australia in 1959. Embedded from the Flickr of Steven S.

The Peebles site at East Pilton grew into a large, modern engineering works in the agricultural outskirts of the city, soon to become the suburbs as the Corporation threw up new estates in the land between Leith and Granton in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

Aerial photo of the Peebles works in 1978. The line of the former railway runs from the left middle of the photo to the top middle.
Aerial photo of the Peebles works in 1978. The line of the former railway runs from the left middle of the photo to the top middle.

Many of the big power station schemes built in the 1960 and 70s had bits made by Peebles. Here’s a transformer heading for Peterhead through Granton Square in 1977.

Tight squeeze at Granton Square. Embedded from the Flickr of Steven S.

It was a tight fit, but using special tractors and trailers, huge bits of kit could be gotten to Granton for loading onto ships. This vessel is the Central Electricity Generating Board’s specialised transport vessel “Kingsnorth Fisher“.

Loading a transformer onto the “Kingsnorth Fisher” at Granton in 1966. Embedded from the Flickr of Steven S.

And here’s a transformer for the South of Scotland Electricity Board station at Clydesmill crawling along Maybury Road, with the old seed testing station in the background

Pickford’s convoy taking a Peebles transformer to Clydesmill Power Station in Lanarkshire along the Maybury Road. In the background is the former Seed Testing Station. Embedded from the Flickr of Steven S.

And another, this one for Longannet, with a banner proclaiming it was the largest load yet moved from Peebles, 270 tons (or 355 including the tractor and trailers). Headed again for “Kingsnorth Fisher” for a short hop across the Forth to Rosyth.

Longannet transformer en route to Granton. Embedded from the Flickr of Steven S.

Those with longer memories may recall that Silverknowes Roundabout used to have gated-off roads across it. That was for the abnormal loads from Peebles which couldn’t go round so had to go through (or so I’ve been told). The same may once have been true of Crewe Toll roundabout.

Silverknowes Roundabout.

Peebles was bought by Reyrolle Parsons in 1969 (descendent of Charles Parsons’ original steam turbine company), and became part of the Northern Electrical Industries (NEI) into the 1980s. Rolls Royce took over in 1989.

An NEI branded transformer leaves the Peebles Works in the late 1980s. Embedded from the Flickr of Steven S.

Rolls Royce split the company for sale in 1998, the transformer business to Austrian VA Tech and the motors and generators side to the Australian Pope (no, an Australian company called Pope). A catastrophic fire destroyed most of the transformer works the next year.

The Peebles works ablaze in 1999.
The fire cast a huge cloud of smoke across the city.

There are more photos of the day of the fire here. The factory never re-opened and the site was cleared for housing. The transformer business moved to Leith Docks, the motors and generators to Rosyth Docks.

VA Tech were acquired by Siemens in 2005 and the Leith site was closed. Clyde Blowers bought the Rosyth business in 2013, where it is still going. Here’s a nice photo inside the Transformer works of a small piece of test kit.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed a small electrical tram locomotive on the advertising poster further up the thread .

Bruce Peebles Edinburgh enamel sign, which would have been proudly mounted on equipment before it left the works.

For a time Peebles built small electrical industrial locomotives, in fact they even built one for themselves (here it is shunting an old steam locomotive into retirement). This steam loco was built in Leith by Hawthorns in 1861 and is now in the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street

The loco 'Ellesmere' (built by Hawthorns of Leith in 1861) being prepared for removal and preservation in Bruce Peebles, Granton, date unknown
The Hawthorn locomotive “Ellesmere” being shunted into retirement by the Peebles works electric shunter. Embedded from the Flickr of Kenneth G. Williamson.

…and cycling pals, check out those covered bike racks in the background! No doubt custom built on site, not too sure about the bikes being stowed vertically though…

Anyway, thanks for coming to my lecture about Bruce Peebles. There’s a heap more excellent photos on the Edinphoto site of bits of outsize electrical gear being squeezed through the city streets. I particularly love the one at Foot of the Walk.

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These threads © 2017-2023, Andy Arthur

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