Many of the trains that were used on the local railway lines were built by Tulk and Ley – a 19th-century iron mining company in west Cumbria which also ran an engineering works at Lowca near Whitehaven. Established on the Lowca site in 1800 as “Heslops, Milward, Johnston & Co.”- the engineering and ironfounding expertise coming from the brothers Adam, Thomas & Crosby Heslop, formerly associated with the Seaton ironworks- the firm was taken over by iron-mining firm Tulk, Ley & Co. about 1837.
Ley was an absentee investor, the driving force behind the enterprise being engineer John Augustus Tulk. His decision to concentrate on finished goods rather than simple foundry products swiftly paid off, with orders for locomotives from the new Maryport and Carlisle Railway. The first two were a 2-2-2 and an 0-6-0, with a further 2-2-2 in 1843. They then built a number of 0-4-2 locos for various Northern railways. They also attempted to move into the shipbuilding business in 1842-3, producing Lowca, the first iron ship ever launched in Cumberland. Tulk’s engineering specialist, a Mr Matthewson from the Tay Ironworks at Dundee, invented an improved mechanism for loading coal onto ships at Whitehaven, and other products included boilers and a machine for cutting iron plates (used in construction of the Lowca).
One of Lowca’s most significant achievements was the construction of the first Crampton locomotive. From 1847 they built a number of engines to the Crampton pattern, the first three, Namur, Liege and another, being ordered in 1845 by G and J Rennie for the Namur and Liege Railway. The order was undelivered because the railway was not ready. Namur was tested by the LNWR in February – April 1847; the LNWR had ordered a similar but larger engine in June 1846 which was delivered in June 1847. It was named London and was reported to have reached 65mph. In the end the first three Crampton locomotives were all acquired by the South Eastern Railway. One was sold to the Dundee and Perth and Aberdeen Junction Railway, one to the Maryport and Carlisle Railway and two for the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway. The rough riding that was typical of Crampton locos, and difficulties with steaming, meant that they did not stay long in service, although they were more successful on the continent, and were an important step in the development of standard gauge railways.
Fletcher and Jennings took over the business of Tulk and Ley in 1857. From then, until 1884, the company concentrated on four and six-coupled industrial tank locomotives, although other goods such as bridge girders, and blast-furnace shells for the burgeoning local iron industry, were also produced. By then nearly two hundred locomotives had been built and the company acquired limited liability as Lowca Engineering Company Ltd. It might be thought that “Lowca” is a play on the word “loco” but, in fact, it refers to the village where the factory was established in 1800.
In 1905, the name changed again to the New Lowca Engineering Company Ltd. but it was short-lived. Orders had fallen and, after a disastrous fire in 1912 all production ceased, the company being finally wound up in 1927. The Talyllyn No1 engine, built in 1864 by Fletcher and Jennings, exists today on the Talyllyn Heritage Railway.