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Robert Hudson Ltd was a major international supplier of light railway materials, based in Gildersome, near Leeds, England. The name was later changed to Robert Hudson (Raletrux) Ltd.


The business

The business was founded in 1865 by Robert Hudson at Gildersome, near Leeds. The Hudson family owned the local Victoria Colliery in Bruntcliffe, Morley. To improve access to the works a connection with the Great Northern Railway main line from Wakefield to Bradford was established in 1890 thus allowing raw materials and finished goods to be transported by rail. A head office was established in Meadow Lane, in the centre of Leeds, which was ideal for customers arriving by rail. This was principally the sales and design office.

The Gildersome works occupied a 38-acre (150,000 m2) site, and included an iron and steel foundry with two Bessemer furnaces, machine shops, erecting shops, pattern making and a detail drawing office. To transport material around the site a hand worked 2-foot (0.61 m) gauge tramway was used.

Overseas branches

In 1906 offices and stores were opened in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the supply of light railway materials to the diamond and gold mining industries. In 1907 an Agency was opened in Calcutta for the development of the Indian trade. Subsequently a works and offices were built at Kidderpore, near Calcutta. There was also an office in Cairo to serve Egypt and North Africa.

In 1927 the first South African works was built in Durban. This was followed later by a works near Johannesburg, which was replaced in 1948 when a large new works was erected at Benoni, near Johannesburg.

Between World War I and World War II the largest project Hudson were involved in was the supply of the complete equipment required for the Luanda railway in Portuguese West Africa. The permanent way alone cost over £900,000 sterling and consumed 80,000 tons of British steel.

The Products

The company’s primary products were vehicles and trackwork for narrow gauge railways but also included aerial ropeway systems. The range of items supplied was very extensive and included supporting equipment such as platelayers' tools.

To support the main business and provide a complete service to the customer, Robert Hudson supplied almost any related equipment. To achieve this range of products, many of the items were bought in. A typical example of this is weighbridges that were supplied by Denison’s Foundry in Leeds.



Hudson tipper wagons preserved at Embsay station

In 1875 Hudson patented the “triple centre” side tipping truck. This truck is of triangular section and has support frames at each end with three pivot points. The centre pivot being the normal rest position whilst the two outer pivots being used for tipping left or right. This arrangement allows the contents to be easily removed by one man without overturning the truck. Another innovation that Hudsons introduced was the use of hydraulic machinery to form pressed steel components. The use of corrugation as part of the pressing process also helped to provide a strong body with thinner gauge steel. This combination provided a competitive advantage that contributed to Hudson’s success.

Steam locomotives

In 1911 Robert Hudson entered into an agreement with Hudswell Clarke for the manufacture of narrow gauge locomotives. This arrangement produced 16 standardised designs, designated A to Q, which ranged from four coupled (0-4-0) 5 hp engines to six coupled (0-6-0) 55 hp models. The designs were sufficiently flexible to allow for the various track gauges in use. Over the years, 188 locomotives were supplied to these designs.

Petrol and diesel locomotives

Hudsons also realised the advantages of the internal combustion locomotive and the 1915 catalogue offered a range of five petrol (gasoline) locomotive supplied by Avonside Engine Company of Bristol.

When the Fordson petrol tractor became widely available in the 1920’s Hudsons adapted this unit to make a simple locomotive. The locomotive used a four wheeled cast chassis to which a roller chain drive connected to the tractor axle. The tractor gearbox had three forward speeds but only one reverse gear, which clearly was a limitation for a locomotive that has to operate bi-directionally. Only a few of these machines were constructed but fortunately a 2-foot (0.61 m) gauge, 1928 model is preserved at the Armley Mills Industrial Museum, Leeds.

The manufacture of internal combustion locomotives was not pursued and Hudsons often supplied Avonside Engine Company or Kerr Stuart units to their customers. When the Hunslet Engine Company took over these designs it was only logical that Hudsons would form a partnership with Hunslet. The first locomotive to carry the Hudson Hunslet plate was in March 1937. The locomotive frame was a one piece casting and the power was delivered by a chain drive and friction clutch from a 20 hp (15 kW) Ailsa Craig CF2 diesel engine. Subsequently 25 hp (19 kW), 30 hp (22 kW), 40 hp (30 kW) and 50 hp (37 kW) versions were built. A 1944 version is also preserved at the Armley Mills Industrial Museum in Leeds. In the 1950’s these designs were refined and the 20 hp (15 kW) unit relabelled 21 hp (16 kW). In practice differences were small, the driver was given a seated position, the height was lower and the bonnet or hood was fitted with sloping sides and removable engine covers.

In 1968 Hudson ventured into locomotive manufacture again and produced two experimental locomotives using Gardner engines and hydraulic transmission. One of these, LX002/1968 is preserved by the Moseley Railway Trust.

Mining equipment

Whilst Hudsons primary product was not locomotives, they were major players in setting standards for coal haulage. In the 1930’s the introduction of practical locomotive haulage in coal mines demanded better wagons than the traditional plain bearing designs. Hudsons introduced new designs with pressed steel corrugated bodies with roller bearing wheels. This style of vehicle was ultimately adopted by the National Coal Board as its standard coal haulage vehicle.


The catalogue issued in 1957 illustrates the vast range of products and consisted of nine separate books:-

  • Section A - Track and Track Accessories. Turnouts and Switches and Crossings. Turntables and Easy Turnouts. Platelayers tools.
  • Section B - Contractors’ and Quarry type Tipping Wagons and Miscellaneous Light Tipping Wagons.
  • Section C - Double Side Tipping Wagons, Double End Tipping Wagons, Tippler Trucks, and Box Cars for Mining and Tunnelling.
  • Section D - Mine Cars, Colliery Tubs, Man Riding Cars.
  • Section E - Granby and Special Side Dump Cars. Anode and Cathode Cars. Side and Bottom Discharge Hopper Wagons. Box Cars. Containers and Skips. Goods Wagons and Brake Cars.
  • Section F - Sugar Cane, Sisal and Fruit Cars. Trailers. Platform and Tank Wagons. Brick Cars and Industrial Trucks. Logging Bogies and Estate Cars.
  • Section G - Wheels, Axles, and Axleboxes. Springs. Lubrication. Brakes and Braking. Buffers and Coupling. Parts and Attachments for Wagons. Special Steels.
  • Section L - HUDSON/HUNSLET Steam and Light Diesel Locos.

Road vehicles

In 1950’s Hudsons recognised the threat to their business in the construction industry from rubber tyred road vehicles. To meet this challenge they introduced their own range of road vehicles starting in 1960 with the LEEDSALL dumper truck. This was followed by the KIWI crane,the TIMISER low loading trailer and the FRONTOMATIC concrete mixer. These developments initially provided replacement work for the declining orders for railway equipment and to consolidate this, a Contractor’s Equipment division was formed in 1964. In 1968 a separate building was opened on the main Wakefield-Bradford Road with showrooms and land for demonstration purposes. With the demise of the Gildersome works the company became a sales and service organisation for construction plant and machinery e.g. Ford, Barford, Kubota.

In 1981 the much reduced Raletrux business relocated to Mill Green in the Wortley district of Leeds, however, the declining railway business finally took its toll in 1984 when the company was liquidated. The remaining plant, machinery, stores and equipment were auctioned on 31 January 1985 at the Mill Green works. The goodwill passed to NEI Becorit and ultimately to Clayton Equipment, based in Derby, who are still very active in the narrow gauge railway industry and using the Robert Hudson name in their marketing.


  • Haigh, A.J. (2005) Robert Hudson Ltd.published by the Author

External links


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