Marshall's Yard – Lincolnshire, England - Atlas Obscura

Marshall's Yard

Once the largest factory complex in all of Europe, this converted shopping center celebrates its industrial past in a big way. 

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The Marshall’s Yard site in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, was formerly occupied by part of the massive Britannia Iron Works owned by the Marshall family. Now a modern shopping center, this slice of history honors its past with pride. 

In 1842, William Marshall bought a defunct engineering works at Back Street Foundry in Gainsborough. In 1849, he renamed it the Britannia Ironworks and began to produce steam engines. In 1857, his son, James Marshall, became a partner and the company name was changed to William Marshall & Son. The industrial expansion was the theme during these early years and during the late 19th century, William Marshall & Son was the largest factory complex in all of Europe.

The company built steam engines, threshing machines, and agricultural machines until the late 20th century, moving into internal combustion engine powered machines in the 1940s.  Exporting their goods all over the world, Marshall’s machinery can be found in heritage museums in Latvia, Australia, and Chile.

During the First World War, the workforce grew to 5,000 to cope with the production of munitions. After 1918, traction engines, steam rollers, and tractors became the main output once again until the Second World War. The workshops were then again converted to produce military materials, including X class midget submarines of which the only surviving example was made by Marshall’s and is in the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.

Like many engineering companies in the United Kingdom, business declined during the 1970s and the Britannia works closed in the 1980s. Construction of Marshall’s Yard Shopping Center began in January 2006 and center opened on Easter 2007. 

The site is steeped in industrial heritage, and many of the original structures have been refurbished and retained, with the required new architecture sensitively designed to blend the old with the new in a seamless way. Some of the external walls of demolished buildings are incorporated into the outer boundary wall.

The building’s heritage is celebrated throughout the site and the highlight is a very rare, once steam-powered, overhead crane from the engineering works, which provides a dramatic archway at the vehicular entrance to Marshall’s Yard. 

Know Before You Go

Just down the road, on the first traffic roundabout as you enter the town across the Trent Bridge, is a fantastic topiary in the shape of a steam traction engine in celebration of the importance of Marshall's to the town. Annually, a popular Tractor Rally event is organized at Marshall's Yard on Father's Day where enthusiasts are given the chance to step back in time with a great display of fantastic old vehicles spanning almost two centuries of Marshall’s history. Parking is available, but do not forget to get a ticket and display it. 

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Dr Alan P Newman
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