Thomas Smith & Sons

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Thomas Smith & Sons manufactured steam, diesel and electric powered cranes in their Old Foundry on a narrow strip of land between Town Street in Rodley near Leeds and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

Rodley, West Yorkshire village in the City of Leeds metropolitan borough, West Yorkshire, England

Rodley is a suburb in the City of Leeds metropolitan borough, West Yorkshire, England. The village is situated within the Bramley and Stanningley ward of Leeds Metropolitan Council, just inside the Leeds Outer Ring Road, 5 miles (8.0 km) north-west from Leeds city centre and 4 miles (6.4 km) north-east from Bradford. The hamlet of Bagley borders Rodley.

Leeds City in England

Leeds is a city in West Yorkshire, England.

Leeds and Liverpool Canal

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is a canal in Northern England, linking the cities of Leeds and Liverpool.


Early history

The history of the firm goes back to 1820 and a firm established by Thomas Smith's father David Smith in partnership with Jeremiah Balmforth and based in the nearby area of Calverley. Like several companies operating around Leeds at the time their business was supplying the machinery that would be used in the increasingly mechanised mills of the time. From 1840 hand operated cranes were added to their range of products and these would start a line of business that would be lucrative for all the partners and their descendants for many years. The company were joined by Jeremiah Booth in 1833, he left in 1847 and established his own 'Union Foundry' on Town Street, Rodley. That company also went on to produce large numbers of cranes and was passed on to Jeremiah Booth's son Joseph Booth in 1855, the name Joseph Booth & Bros was adopted. [1]

In the 1850s the original partnership was also passed on to the next generation. Jeremiah Balmforth died in 1858 and his son William Balmforth replaced him, the following year David Smith was succeeded by his son Thomas. Around 1860 they started to produce steam powered cranes capable of handling much larger loads. In 1861 there was a fall out between Balmforth and Smith, Thomas Smith bought out the company and took over its running. William Balmforth set up a new firm the 'Peel Ings Foundry' and remained in the crane manufacturing business. As well as steam cranes they also produced a small number of vertical boilered locomotives. [2] The Peel Ings Foundry didn't enjoy the same kind of success as the works of Thomas Smith and Joseph Booth though. It went bankrupt in 1916 and was bought by bridge maker Samuel Butler & Co but they closed down the works and began production of steam cranes for a time in their own works.

Steam crane

A steam crane is a crane powered by a steam engine. It may be fixed or mobile and, if mobile, it may run on rail tracks, caterpillar tracks, road wheels, or be mounted on a barge. It usually has a vertical boiler placed at the back so that the weight of the boiler counterbalances the weight of the jib and load.

Thomas Smith brought his sons into his firm and they took over when he died in 1902. The company were incorporated as Thomas Smith & Sons in 1918. [3]


One of the company's most popular products were fairly small steam powered cranes. Based on a tall central pivot and with the jib counterbalanced by the boiler these are commonly known as 'Leeds Type' cranes, they were either rail mounted where they were required to move around a site or ground mounted for the likes of quays. Joseph Booth also produced very similar cranes and with high demand at the time there were a few firms nearby that, though specialising in other products such as bridges and structural metal work, produced relatively small numbers of steam cranes. John Butler & Co, Samual Butler & Co (mentioned earlier), Isles and Whitaker Brothers are other local firms to have been involved in steam crane production. [4]

Derelict Smith (Rodley) crane, on the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Mbb canal steam crane sion.jpg
Derelict Smith (Rodley) crane, on the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal

The cranes were used in countless docks, railway yards, quarries and construction sites both at home and overseas. Some of the largest construction projects to use Smith cranes were the Manchester Ship Canal, the Aswan Low Dam, and the Sudan Barrage. [5] As early as 1897 Thomas Smith were producing electrical powered cranes and in later years the internal combustion engine would replace the steam engine as the power source in their cranes. The cranes were adapted to become excavators with buckets replacing the usual crane hook, the company also provided magnets for use in sites handling metals. Caterpillar track fitted versions were offered and these became more numerous in later years as the railway industry lost its dominance. [6]

Manchester Ship Canal canal

The Manchester Ship Canal is a 36-mile-long (58 km) inland waterway in the North West of England linking Manchester to the Irish Sea. Starting at the Mersey Estuary near Liverpool, it generally follows the original routes of the rivers Mersey and Irwell through the historic counties of Cheshire and Lancashire. Several sets of locks lift vessels about 60 feet (18 m) up to Manchester, where the canal's terminus was built. Major landmarks along its route include the Barton Swing Aqueduct, the only swing aqueduct in the world, and Trafford Park, the world's first planned industrial estate and still the largest in Europe.

Aswan Low Dam gravity dam

The Aswan Low Dam or Old Aswan Dam is a gravity masonry buttress dam on the Nile River in Aswan, Egypt. The dam was built at the former first cataract of the Nile, and is located about 1000 km up-river and 690 km south-southeast of Cairo. When initially constructed between 1899 and 1902, nothing of its scale had ever been attempted; on completion, it was the largest masonry dam in the world. The dam was designed to provide storage of annual floodwater and augment dry season flows to support greater irrigation development and population growth in the lower Nile. The dam, originally limited in height by conservation concerns, worked as designed, but provided inadequate storage capacity for planned development and was raised twice, between 1907 and 1912 and again in 1929–1933. These heightenings still did not meet irrigation demands and in 1946 it was nearly over-topped in an effort to maximize pool elevation. This led to the investigation and construction of the Aswan High Dam 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) upstream.


The company was taken over by Thomas Ward shortly before World War II, In 1978 they were taken over by Northern Engineering Industries. NEI had taken over many big manufacturing companies which already included Cowans Sheldon, Clyde Crane, Wellman Cranes and Smith's next door neighbours Joseph Booth. They all became part of the Crane and Bridge division of Clarke Chapman. This was taken over by Rolls Royce plc in 1989 and by Langley Holdings in 2001.


The Clarke Chapman group still operate in Leeds but under the Wellman Booth name, though they are now situated in smaller premises at Yeadon [7] where the design and administration work is carried out, the engineering work taking place in Gateshead. Though Booth's works was demolished and redeveloped with housing, the former Thomas Smith works survives in other industrial use.

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  1. Wellman Booth Company History
  2. Narrow Gauge News, August 2007
  3. The Yorkshire Group of 16mm Modellers
  4. Old Glory, Yorkshire Steam Crane Manufacturers, 3 part article: November 2011 - January 2012
  5. The Basic Industries of Great Britain, Lord Aberconway 1927
  6. Various company advertisements and brochures
  7. Wellman Booth's current website.