During the early 1840s several companies were in negotiations for what would later be the formation of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MS&LR). One of these companies was the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway (SA&M). On 27 August 1845 the board of the SA&M decided to construct a locomotive depot and works, chose land at Gorton on the outskirts of Manchester and approved plans for construction on 4 March 1846. The works were planned by the locomotive superintendent Richard Peacock, then aged 26, who later became a partner in Beyer Peacock & Co. In the early 1850s he established their works directly opposite Gorton Works.
The works were completed by 1848. There were separate depots for locomotive work and for carriage and wagon work, the latter being on two floors with an elaborate lift system to take carriages to and from the first floor. In the early years work was confined to repairs and adjustments. A decision to build locomotives was made in 1857 and the first Gorton-built locomotive appeared in 1858.
For the whole of the life of the Works it was common to outsource construction, principally to Kitson & Co Ltd of Leeds, Beyer Peacock next door in Gorton, and Neilson & Co of Glasgow. Other contributors to the fleet included Stephensons, Armstrong Whitworth and Sharp Stewart.
Always confined as to space the Gorton Works soon earned the nickname of ‘The Tank’. Overcrowding became such that in 1910 a new site was opened at Dukinfield, to which carriage and wagon work was transferred in 1910.
In 1897 the MS&LR was re-styled as the Great Central Railway (GCR) in anticipation of the completion of its London extension. Its headquarters were removed to the London Terminus at Marylebone. Following amalgamation under the post-war grouping scheme in 1922 the GCR became in turn part of the London and North Eastern Railway. Locomotive construction was increasingly concentrated on the Darlington and Doncaster works, though a small amount continued after nationalisation under the aegis of British Railways. The last locomotives were built during 1950.