Cowans, Sheldon and Company

By 1914 Cowans, Sheldon and Company had moved into the city from their works at Upperby, and now occupied a prime location between London Road and St. Nicholas Bridge. In the years before the Great War the company’s profits had hit an all-time low, with dividends on shares down to 5% in 1912, and none paid at all in 1913 or 1914.

Upon the outbreak of war around 40 reservists working at Cowans, Sheldon were drafted into regiments. They would soon be joined by a further 55 of their colleagues, who volunteered for service in the opening months of the conflict. Despite so many of their workforce being in active service, Cowans, Sheldon & Co. contributed to the war effort, building cranes for the Royal Navy. The rail link between Carlisle and Newcastle proved a vital connection for Cowans Sheldon, cranes were manufactured in Carlisle and could easily be transported to Tyneside’s shipyards.

General Sir John ‘Jack’ Cowans, the son of co-founder John Cowan, made a name for himself in the Great War, being described by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith as the “best quartermaster since Moses”. Jack joined the Army in 1878 at the age of 16 and trained at Sandhurst before being dispatched to India in 1906 to work in army administration and training.  

He returned to Britain in 1910 and was subsequently appointed Quartermaster General in 1912. As Quartermaster General he was responsible for the logistical management of the whole army.  He served as part of the Army Council throughout WWI. He never saw active service all through his army career despite repeatedly requesting it.  He gained a reputation for being practical and hard-working, with attention to detail.  He could be relied on to ensure that troop movements and other arrangements ran smoothly which made him too useful to be sent to the front.

He was responsible for overseeing the huge expansion of the army during WWI, organising accommodation and supplies for over 1 million troops.


To find out more about some of Carlisle's other Great War sites, return to map