Industry in the town

The area between Railway Terrace and Albert Street, when first developed in the 19th century was occupied by industrial and commercial activities. Apart from the gas works there were a number of timber yards and lots of small workshops and warehouses. In the last 30 years most of the area has been redeveloped.

Warehouses / workshops stood where Pinders Court is now as well as in Pinders Lane. The old Postal Sorting Office, stood in Murray Road north of the Cattle Market. All this area was demolished in 1984-85.


The Oxford Canal was built around Rugby in 1773 following the 304ft contour. This avoided having to build large earthworks but produced long loops up the Avon and Swift valleys, almost doubling its length between Hawkesbury Junction, Coventry, and Brinklow. Between 1829 and 1834 this section of the Oxford canal was almost rebuilt, replacing the loops with new aqueducts and at Newbold on Avon a 250 yard long tunnel.. Some of the old line of the canal became ‘Arms’ continuing to serve wharfs along them – e.g. Rugby Wharf; another length along the east side of the Swift valley remains as a water supply feeder. Other lengths were abandoned totally and the only traces of them are curved hedges in areas of square fields. A notable local exception is the entrance to an original tunnel that can still be seen adjacent to Newbold on Avon churchyard. Although freight traffic along the Oxford Canal has ceased, the canal through Rugby is today busier than ever due to its popularity as a major pleasure cruising route. 



At its height, rails converged on Rugby from 9 directions operated by 3 different companies. In the last 30 years five of the lines have been closed and most of the railway buildings have been demolished. What is left is a fine collection of bridges and viaducts and some examples of railway company housing.

Railway Locomotive Testing Station

The Locomotive Testing Station was the idea of Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LNER. Building started in 1936 as a joint project with the LMS railway, but was stopped during the war. It finally opened in 1948 under British Railways. Testing of Steam and Diesel locomotives continued until 1965 but the station did not officially close until 1970. The building was demolished in 1984.
The plant consisted of a main testing area containing the rolling road and measuring equipment with a locomotive preparation area / workshop in a lean-to extension on the north side.

Electrical Industry

Messrs. Willans & Robinson’s Victoria Works
Willans and Robinson’s was the first major engineering firm to move to Rugby, opening its works in 1899. Their main product was high speed steam engines to drive electric generators both in power stations and ships. The development of the steam turbine here and elsewhere soon made the engines obsolete and were not used for power stations in Britain after 1914.
The works was described as making “steam turbines & oil engines” when taken over by Dick, Kerr & Co of Kilmarnock in 1916. They formed the English Electric Company in 1919.

British Thomson-Houston Co. Ltd.
The British Thomson-Houston Co. was formed in 1894 to use in the U.K the patents of what became General Electric of the U.S.A. By 1899 they wanted a factory site and chose Rugby. The factory opened in 1902 making electric lamps, motors, generators and meters, Very quickly the product range and the site expanded. At some time or other practically every type of electric powered device was produced by BTH at Rugby. By 1930 the works had expanded across the footpath towards the Leicester Road. Large factories were built for making lamps and motor frames.
The AEI group was formed in 1928 but the name was not used on products until 1961.
The Boughton Road site was developed in the 2nd World War to make magnetos for aircraft engines and other war products. The AEI research laboratory was added in 1960.
The size of the site peaked around 1960. Since 1970 there have been several changes of ownership and the product range has been rationalised. Many of the redundant buildings have now been removed and the land redfeveloped for commercial and residntial purposes.

Some pictures of the BTH Works