‘McConnell is my name…’
Paul Clark’s song weaves the intricate story of an ambitious young engineer into a ballad, a musical poem telling the story of how he came to Wolverton, creating a world-class Works there.
‘At thirteen I set out from home…’
In 1828 McConnell was apprenticed at Claud Girdwood & Co of Gorbals in Glasgow; and in 1837, he joined Bury, Curtis & Kennedy in Liverpool where –
‘I learned the mechanics’ skill.’
‘On the Birmingham and Gloucester line, where Yankee engines fail…’
In 1842 he was appointed Locomotive Superintendent of the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway and in 1845, he built a ‘Lickey banker’. The Lickey Incline was – and still is – the steepest sustained main-line railway incline in Great Britain; a ‘banker’ (a support locomotive) provided extra power at the rear of trains, to protect against wagons breaking away downhill. McConnell’s banker was deemed the work of an engineering genius.
‘And now I’ve come to Wolverton…’
McConnell became Locomotive Superintendent of LNWR's Wolverton railway works in 1847. He oversaw ground-breaking engine designs there and was a founding member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
‘And I shall do my share…’
James McConnell developed Wolverton Works as a the foremost locomotive manufactory in the country attracting high-calibre engineers and artisans. He designed and built a prototype express train known as the ‘Bloomer’, considered a masterpiece. Weighing more than 34 tons, able to run at 70mph and with seven-foot exposed driving wheels, the locomotive evoked the scandalous American, Mrs Amelia Bloomer, whose dress designs revealed her legs!
Images and material from LAMK archive. The song is featured on the Living Archive Band’s album Real Lives (LAMK)
Note: the lyric includes the following railway terms:
‘jennies’= locomotive cranes
‘mules’= mechanical spinning machines