Henry Cort by Samuel Smiles
See Henry Cort
Henry Cort was born in 1740 at Lancaster, where his father carried on the trade of a builder and brickmaker. Nothing is known as to Henry's early history; but he seems to have raised himself by his own efforts to a respectable position.
In 1765 we find him established in Surrey Street, Strand, carrying on the business of a navy agent, in which he is said to have realized considerable profits. It was while conducting this business that he became aware of the inferiority of British iron compared with that obtained from foreign countries. The English wrought iron was considered so bad that it was prohibited from all government supplies, while the cast iron was considered of too brittle a nature to be suited for general use. Indeed the Russian government became so persuaded that the English nation could not carry on their manufactures without Russian iron, that in 1770 they ordered the price to be raised from 70 and 80 copecs per pood to 200 and 220 copecs per pood.
Such being the case, Cort's attention became directed to the subject in connection with the supply of iron to the Navy, and he entered on a series of experiments with the object of improving the manufacture of English iron. What the particular experiments were, and by what steps he arrived at results of so much importance to the British iron trade, no one can now tell. All that is known is, that about the year 1775 he relinquished his business as a navy agent, and took a lease of certain premises at Fontley, near Fareham, at the north-western corner of Portsmouth Harbour, where he erected a forge and an iron mill. He was afterwards joined in partnership by Samuel Jellicoe (son of Adam Jellicoe, then Deputy-Paymaster of Seamen's Wages), which turned out, as will shortly appear, a most unfortunate connection for Cort.
As in the case of other inventions, Cort took up the manufacture of iron at the point to which his predecessors had brought it, carrying it still further, and improving upon their processes. We may here briefly recite the steps by which the manufacture of bar-iron by means of pit-coal had up to this time been advanced.
In 1747, Mr. Ford succeeded at Coalbrookdale in smelting iron ore with pit-coal, after which it was refined in the usual way by means of coke and charcoal. In 1762, Dr. Roebuck (hereafter to be referred to) took out a patent for melting the cast or pig iron in a hearth heated with pit-coal by the blast of bellows, and then working the iron until it was reduced to nature, or metallized, as it was termed; after which it was exposed to the action of a hollow pit-coal fire urged by a blast, until it was reduced to a loop and drawn out into bar-iron under a common forge-hammer.
Then the brothers Cranege, in 1766, adopted the reverberatory or air furnace, in which they placed the pig or cast iron, and without blast or the addition of anything more than common raw pit-coal, converted the same into good malleable iron, which being taken red hot from the reverberatory furnace to the forge hammer, was drawn into bars according to the will of the workman.
Peter Onions of Merthyr Tydvil, in 1783, carried the manufacture a stage further, as described by him in his patent of that year. Having charged his furnace ("bound with iron work and well annealed") with pig or fused cast iron from the smelting furnace, it was closed up and the doors were luted with sand. The fire was urged by a blast admitted underneath, apparently for the purpose of keeping up the combustion of the fuel on the grate. Thus Onions' furnace was of the nature of a puddling furnace, the fire of which was urged by a blast. The fire was to be kept up until the metal became less fluid, and "thickened into a kind of froth, which the workman, by opening the door, must turn and stir with a bar or other iron instrument, and then close the aperture again, applying the blast and fire until there was a ferment in the metal." The patent further describes that "as the workman stirs the metal," the scoriae will separate, "and the particles of iron will adhere, which particles the workman must collect or gather into a mass or lump." This mass or lump was then to be raised to a white heat, and forged into malleable iron at the forge-hammer.
Such was the stage of advance reached in the manufacture of bar-iron, when Henry Cort published his patents in 1783 and 1784. In dispensing with a blast, he had been anticipated by the Craneges, and in the process of puddling by Onions; but he introduced so many improvements of an original character, with which he combined the inventions of his predecessors, as to establish quite a new era in the history of the iron manufacture, and, in the course of a few years, to raise it to the highest state of prosperity.
As early as 1786, Lord Sheffield recognised the great national importance of Cort's improvements in the following words: - If Mr. Cort's very ingenious and meritorious improvements in the art of making and working iron, the steam-engine of Boulton and Watt, and Lord Dundonald's discovery of making coke at half the present price, should all succeed, it is not asserting too much to say that the result will be more advantageous to Great Britain than the possession of the thirteen colonies (of America); for it will give the complete command of the iron trade to this country, with its vast advantages to navigation." It is scarcely necessary here to point out how completely the anticipations of Lord Sheffield have been fulfilled, sanguine though they might appear to be when uttered some seventy-six years ago.
We will endeavour as briefly as possible to point out the important character of Mr. Cort’s improvements, as embodied in his two patents of 1783 and 1784. In the first he states that, after "great study, labour, and expense, in trying a variety of experiments, and making many discoveries, he had invented and brought to perfection a peculiar method and process of preparing, welding, and working various sorts of iron, and of reducing the same into uses by machinery: a furnace, and other apparatus, adapted and applied to the said process." He first describes his method of making iron for "large uses," such as shanks, arms, rings, and palms of anchors, by the method of piling and faggoting, since become generally practised, by laying bars of iron of suitable lengths, forged on purpose, and tapering so as to be thinner at one end than the other, laid over one another in the manner of bricks in buildings, so that the ends should everywhere overlay each other. The faggots so prepared, to the amount of half a ton more or less, were then to be put into a common air or balling furnace, and brought to a welding heat, which was accomplished by his method in a much shorter time than in any hollow fire; and when the heat was perfect, the faggots were then brought under a forge-hammer of great size and weight, and welded into a solid mass. Mr. Cort alleges in the specification that iron for "larger uses" thus finished, is in all respect's possessed of the highest degree of perfection; and that the fire in the balling furnace is better suited, from its regularity and penetrating quality, to give the iron a perfect welding heat throughout its whole mass, without fusing in any part, than any fire blown by a blast. Another process employed by Mr. Cort for the purpose of cleansing the iron and producing a metal of purer grain, was that of working the faggots by passing them through rollers. "By this simple process," said he, "all the earthy particles are pressed out and the iron becomes at once free from dross, and what is usually called cinder, and is compressed into a fibrous and tough state." The objection has indeed been taken to the process of passing the iron through rollers, that the cinder is not so effectually got rid of as by passing it under a tilt hammer, and that much of it is squeezed into the bar and remains there, interrupting its fibre and impairing its strength.
It does not appear that there was any novelty in the use of rollers by Cort; for in his first specification he speaks of them as already well known. His great merit consisted in apprehending the value of certain processes, as tested by his own and others' experience, and combining and applying them in a more effective practical form than had ever been done before. This power of apprehending the best methods, and embodying the details in one complete whole, marks the practical, clear-sighted man, and in certain cases amounts almost to a genius. The merit of combining the inventions of others in such forms as that they shall work to advantage, is as great in its way as that of the man who strikes out the inventions themselves, but who, for want of tact and experience, cannot carry them into practical effect.
It was the same with Cort's second patent, in which he described his method of manufacturing bar-iron from the ore or from cast-iron. All the several processes therein described had been practised before his time; his merit chiefly consisting in the skilful manner in which he combined and applied them. Thus, like the Craneges, he employed the reverberatory or air furnace, without blast, and, like Onions, he worked the fused metal with iron bars until it was brought into lumps, when it was removed and forged into malleable iron. Cort, however, carried the process further, and made it more effectual in all respects. His method may be thus briefly described: the bottom of the reverberatory furnace was hollow, so as to contain the fluid metal, introduced into it by ladles; the heat being kept up by pit-coal or other fuel. When the furnace was charged, the doors were closed until the metal was sufficiently fused, when the workman opened an aperture and worked or stirred about the metal with iron bars, when an ebullition took place, during the continuance of which a bluish flame was emitted, the carbon of the cast-iron was burned off, the metal separated from the slag, and the iron, becoming reduced to nature, was then collected into lumps or loops of sizes suited to their intended uses, when they were drawn out of the doors of the furnace. They were then stamped into plates, and piled or worked in an air furnace, heated to a white or welding heat, shingled under a forge hammer, and passed through the grooved rollers after the method described in the first patent.
The processes described by Cort in his two patents have been followed by iron manufacturers, with various modifications, the results of enlarged experience, down to the present time. After the lapse of seventy-eight years, the language employed by Cort continues on the whole a faithful description of the processes still practised: the same methods of manufacturing bar from cast-iron, and of puddling, piling, welding, and working the bar-iron through grooved rollers - all are nearly identical with the methods of manufacture perfected by Henry Cort in 1784. It may be mentioned that the development of the powers of the steam-engine by Watt had an extraordinary effect upon the production of iron. It created a largely increased demand for the article for the purposes of the shafting and machinery which it was employed to drive; while at the same time it cleared pits of water which before were unworkable, and by being extensively applied to the blowing of iron-furnaces and the working of the rolling-mills, it thus gave a still further impetus to the manufacture of the metal.
It would be beside our purpose to enter into any statistical detail on the subject; but it will be sufficient to state that the production of iron, which in the early part of last century amounted to little more than 12,000 tons, about the middle of the century to about 18,000 tons, and at the time of Cort's inventions to about 90,000 tons, was found, in 1820, to have increased to 400,000 tons; and now the total quantity produced is upwards of four millions of tons of pig-iron every year, or more than the entire production of all other European countries. There is little reason to doubt that this extraordinary development of the iron manufacture has been in a great measure due to the inventions of Henry Cort. It is said that at the present time there are not fewer than 8,200 of Cort's furnaces in operation in Great Britain alone.
Practical men have regarded Cort's improvement of the process of rolling the iron as the most valuable of his inventions. A competent authority has spoken of Cort's grooved rollers as of "high philosophical interest, being scarcely less than the discovery of a new mechanical Power, in reversing the action of the wedge, by the application of force to four surfaces, so as to elongate a mass, instead of applying force to a mass to divide the four surfaces." One of the best authorities in the iron trade of last century, Mr. Alexander Raby of Llanelly, like many others, was at first entirely sceptical as to the value of Cort's invention; but he had no sooner witnessed the process than with manly candour he avowed his entire conversion to his views.
We now return to the history of the chief author of this great branch of national industry. As might naturally be expected, the principal ironmasters, when they heard of Cort's success, and the rapidity and economy with which he manufactured and forged bar-iron, visited his foundry for the purpose of examining his process, and, if found expedient, of employing it at their own works. Among the first to try it were Richard Crawshay of Cyfartha, Samuel Homfray of Penydarran (both in South Wales), and William Reynolds of Coalbrookdale. Richard Crawshay was then (in 1787) forging only ten tons of bar-iron weekly under the hammer; and when he saw the superior processes invented by Cort he readily entered into a contract with him to work under his patents at ten shillings a ton royalty.
In 1812 a letter from Mr. Crawshay to the Secretary of Lord Sheffield was read to the House of Commons, descriptive of his method of working iron, in which he said, "I took it from a Mr. Cort, who had a little mill at Fontley in Hampshire: I have thus acquainted you with my method, by which I am now making more than ten thousand tons of bar-iron per annum." Samuel Homfray was equally prompt in adopting the new process. He not only obtained from Cort plans of the puddling-furnaces and patterns of the rolls, but borrowed Cort's workmen to instruct his own in the necessary operations; and he soon found the method so superior to that invented by Onions that he entirely confined himself to manufacturing after Cort's patent. We also find Mr. Reynolds inviting Cort to conduct a trial of his process at Ketley, though it does not appear that it was adopted by the firm at that time.
The quality of the iron manufactured by the new process was found satisfactory; and the Admiralty having, by the persons appointed by them to test it in 1787, pronounced it to be superior to the best Oregrounds iron, the use of the latter was thenceforward discontinued, and Cort's iron only was directed to be used for the anchors and other ironwork in the ships of the Royal Navy. The merits of the invention seem to have been generally conceded, and numerous contracts for licences were entered into with Cort and his partner by the manufacturers of bar-iron throughout the country.
Cort himself made arrangements for carrying on the manufacture on a large scale, and with that object entered upon the possession of a wharf at Gosport, belonging to Adam Jellicoe, his partner's father, where he succeeded in obtaining considerable Government orders for iron made after his patents. To all ordinary eyes the inventor now appeared to be on the high road to fortune; but there was a fatal canker at the root of this seeming prosperity, and in a few years the fabric which he had so laboriously raised crumbled into ruins. On the death of Adam Jellicoe, the father of Cort's partner, in August, 1789, defalcations were discovered in his public accounts to the extent of 39,676L, and his books and papers were immediately taken possession of by the Government. On examination it was found that the debts due to Jellicoe amounted to 89,657L, included in which was a sum of not less than 54,853L owing to him by the Cort partnership. In the public investigation which afterwards took place, it appeared that the capital possessed by Cort being insufficient to enable him to pursue his experiments, which were of a very expensive character, Adam Jellicoe had advanced money from time to time for the purpose, securing himself by a deed of agreement entitling him to one-half the stock and profits of all his contracts; and in further consideration of the capital advanced by Jellicoe beyond his equal share, Cort subsequently assigned to him all his patent rights as collateral security.
As Jellicoe had the reputation of being a rich man, Cort had not the slightest suspicion of the source from which he obtained the advances made by him to the firm, nor has any connivance whatever on the part of Cort been suggested. At the same time it must be admitted that the connexion was not free from suspicion, and, to say the least, it was a singularly unfortunate one. It was found that among the moneys advanced by Jellicoe to Cort there was a sum of 27,500L entrusted to him for the payment of seamen's and officers' wages. How his embarrassments had tempted him to make use of the public funds for the purpose of carrying on his speculations, appears from his own admissions.
In a memorandum dated the 11th November, l782, found in his strong box after his death, he set forth that he had always had much more than his proper balance in hand, until his engagement, about two years before, with Mr. Cort, "which by degrees has so reduced me, and employed so much more of my money than I expected, that I have been obliged to turn most of my Navy bills into cash, and at the same time, to my great concern, am very deficient in my balance. This gives me great uneasiness, nor shall I live or die in peace till the whole is restored." He had, however, made the first false step, after which the downhill career of dishonesty is rapid. His desperate attempts to set himself right only involved him the deeper; his conscious breach of trust caused him a degree of daily torment which he could not bear; and the discovery of his defalcations, which was made only a few days before his death, doubtless hastened his end.
The Government acted with promptitude, as they were bound to do in such a case. The body of Jellicoe was worth nothing to them, but they could secure the property in which he had fraudulently invested the public moneys intrusted to him. With this object the them Paymaster of the Navy proceeded to make an affidavit in the Exchequer that Henry Cort was indebted to His Majesty in the sum of 27,500L and upwards, in respect of moneys belonging to the public treasury, which "Adam Jellicoe had at different times lent and advanced to the said Henry Cort, from whom the same now remains justly due and owing; and the deponent saith he verily believes that the said Henry Cort is much decayed in his credit and in very embarrassed circumstances; and therefore the deponent verily believes that the aforesaid debt so due and owing to His Majesty is in great danger of being lost if some more speedy means be not taken for the recovery than by the ordinary process of the Court."
Extraordinary measures were therefore adopted. The assignments of Cort's patents, which had been made to Jellicoe in consideration of his advances, were taken possession of; but Samuel Jellicoe, the son of the defaulter, singular to say, was put in possession of the properties at Fontley and Gosport, and continued to enjoy them, to Cort's exclusion, for a period of fourteen years. It does not however appear that any patent right was ever levied by the assignees, and the result of the proceeding was that the whole benefit of Cort's inventions was thus made over to the ironmasters and to the public. Had the estate been properly handled, and the patent rights due under the contracts made by the ironmasters with Cort been duly levied, there is little reason to doubt that the whole of the debt owing to the Government would have been paid in the course of a few years. "When we consider," says Mr. Webster, "how very simple was the process of demanding of the contracting ironmasters the patent due (which for the year 1789 amounted to 15,000L, in 1790 to 15,000L, and in 1791 to 25,000L), and which demand might have been enforced by the same legal process used to ruin the inventor, it is not difficult to surmise the motive for abstaining."
The case, however, was not so simple as Mr. Webster puts it; for there was such a contingency as that of the ironmasters combining to dispute the patent right, and there is every reason to believe that they were prepared to adopt that course.
Although the Cort patents expired in 1796 and 1798 respectively, they continued the subject of public discussion for some time after, more particularly in connection with the defalcations of the deceased Adam Jellicoe. It does not appear that more than 2,654L was realised by the Government from the Cort estate towards the loss sustained by the public, as a balance of 24,846L was still found standing to the debit of Jellicoe in 1800, when the deficiencies in the naval account's became matter of public inquiry.
A few years later, in 1805, the subject was again revived in a remarkable manner. In that year, the Whigs, perceiving the bodily decay of Mr. Pitt, and being too eager to wait for his removal by death, began their famous series of attacks upon his administration. Fearing to tackle the popular statesman himself, they inverted the ordinary tactics of an opposition, and fell foul of Dundas, Lord Melville, then Treasurer of the Navy, who had successfully carried the country through the great naval war with revolutionary France. They scrupled not to tax him with gross peculation, and exhibited articles of impeachment against him, which became the subject of elaborate investigation, the result of which is matter of history. In those articles, no reference whatever was made to Lord Melville's supposed complicity with Jellicoe; nor, on the trial that followed, was any reference made to the defalcations of that official. But when Mr. Whitbread, on the 8th of April, 1805, spoke to the "Resolutions" in the Commons for impeaching the Treasurer of the Navy, he thought proper to intimate that he "had a strong suspicion that Jellicoe was in the same partnership with Mark Sprott, Alexander Trotter, and Lord Melville. He had been suffered to remain a public debtor for a whole year after he was known to be in arrears upwards of 24,000L. During next year 11,000L. more had accrued. It would not have been fair to have turned too short on an old companion. It would perhaps, too, have been dangerous, since unpleasant discoveries might have met the public eye. It looked very much as if, mutually conscious of criminality, they had agreed to be silent, and keep their own secrets."
In making these offensive observations Whitbread was manifestly actuated by political enmity. They were utterly unwarrantable. In the first place, Melville had been formally acquitted of Jellicoe's deficiency by a writ of Privy Seal, dated 31st May, 1800; and secondly, the committee appointed in that very year (1805) to reinvestigate the naval accounts, had again exonerated him, but intimated that they were of opinion there was remissness on his part in allowing Jellicoe to remain in his office after the discovery of his defalcations.
In the report made by the commissioners to the Houses of Parliament in 1805 the value of Corts patents was estimated at only 100L. Referring to the schedule of Jellicoe's alleged assets, they say "Many of the debts are marked as bad; and we apprehend that the debt from Mr. Henry Cort, not so marked, of 54,000L and upwards, is of that description." As for poor bankrupt Henry Cort, these discussions availed nothing. On the death of Jellicoe, he left his iron works, feeling himself a ruined man. He made many appeals to the Government of the day for restoral of his patents, and offered to find security for payment of the debt due by his firm to the Crown, but in vain.
In 1794, an appeal was made to Mr. Pitt by a number of influential members of Parliament, on behalf of the inventor and his destitute family of twelve children, when a pension of 200L. a-year was granted him. This Mr. Cort enjoyed until the year 1800, when he died, broken in health and spirit, in his sixtieth year. He was buried in Hampstead Churchyard, where a stone marking the date of his death is still to be seen. A few years since it was illegible, but it has recently been restored by his surviving son.
Though Cort thus died in comparative poverty, he laid the foundations of many gigantic fortunes. He may be said to have been in a great measure the author of our modern iron aristocracy, who still manufacture after the processes which he invented or perfected, but for which they never paid him a shilling of royalty. These men of gigantic fortunes have owed much - we might almost say everything - to the ruined projector of "the little mill at Fontley." Their wealth has enriched many families of the older aristocracy, and has been the foundation of several modern peerages. Yet Henry Cort, the rock from which they were hewn, is already all but forgotten; and his surviving children, now aged and infirm, are dependent for their support upon the slender pittance wrung by repeated entreaty and expostulation from the state.
The career of Richard Crawshay, the first of the great ironmasters who had the sense to appreciate and adopt the methods of manufacturing iron invented by Henry Cort, is a not unfitting commentary on the sad history we have thus briefly described. It shows how, as respects mere money-making, shrewdness is more potent than invention, and business faculty than manufacturing skill.
Richard Crawshay was born at Normanton near Leeds, the son of a small Yorkshire farmer. When a youth, he worked on his father's farm, and looked forward to occupying the same condition in life; but a difference with his father unsettled his mind, and at the age of fifteen he determined to leave his home, and seek his fortune elsewhere. Like most unsettled and enterprising lads, he first made for London, riding to town on a pony of his own, which, with the clothes on his back, formed his entire fortune. It took him a fortnight to make the journey, in consequence of the badness of the roads. Arrived in London, he sold his pony for fifteen pounds, and the money kept him until he succeeded in finding employment. He was so fortunate as to be taken upon trial by a Mr. Bicklewith, who kept an ironmonger's shop in York Yard, Upper Thames Street; and his first duty there was to clean out the office, put the stools and desks in order for the other clerks, run errands, and act as porter when occasion required. Young Crawshay was very attentive, industrious, and shrewd; and became known in the office as "The Yorkshire Boy." Chiefly because of his "cuteness," his master appointed him to the department of selling flat irons. The London washerwomen of that day were very sharp and not very honest, and it used to be said of them that where they bought one flat iron they generally contrived to steal two. Mr. Bicklewith thought he could not do better than set the Yorkshireman to watch the washerwomen, and, by way of inducement to him to be vigilant, he gave young Crawshay an interest in that branch of the business, which was soon found to prosper under his charge. After a few more years, Mr. Bicklewith retired, and left to Crawshay the cast-iron business in York Yard. This he still further increased, There was not at that time much enterprise in the iron trade, but Crawshay endeavoured to connect himself with what there was of it. The price of iron was then very high, and the best sorts were still imported from abroad; a good deal of the foreign iron and steel being still landed at the Steelyard on the Thames, in the immediate neighbourhood of Crawshay's ironmongery store.
It seems to have occurred to some London capitalists that money was then to be made in the iron trade, and that South Wales was a good field for an experiment. The soil there was known to be full of coal and ironstone, and several small iron works had for some time been carried on, which were supposed to be doing well. Merthyr Tydvil was one of the places at which operations had been begun, but the place being situated in a hill district, of difficult access, and the manufacture being still in a very imperfect state, the progress made was for some time very slow. Land containing coal and iron was deemed of very little value, as maybe inferred from the fact that in the year 1765, Mr. Anthony Bacon, a man of much foresight, took a lease from Lord Talbot, for 99 years, of the minerals under forty square miles of country surrounding the then insignificant hamlet of Merthyr Tydvil, at the trifling rental of 200L a-year. There he erected iron works, and supplied the Government with considerable quantities of cannon and iron for different purposes; and having earned a competency, he retired from business in 1782, subletting his mineral tract in four divisions - the Dowlais, the Penydarran, the Cyfartha, and the Plymouth Works, north, east, west, and south, of Merthyr Tydvil.
Mr. Richard Crawshay became the lessee of what Mr. Mushet has called "the Cyfartha flitch of the great Bacon domain." There he proceeded to carry on the works established by Mr. Bacon with increased spirit; his son William, whom he left in charge of the ironmongery store in London, supplying him with capital to put into the iron works as fast. as he could earn it by the retail trade. In 1787, we find Richard Crawshay manufacturing with difficulty ten tons of bar-iron weekly, and it was of a very inferior character, (Mr. Mushet says of the early manufacture of iron at Merthyr Tydvil that "A modification of the charcoal refinery, a hollow fire, was worked with coke as a substitute for charcoal, but the bar-iron hammered from the produce was very inferior." The pit-coal cast-iron was nevertheless found of a superior quality for castings, being more fusible and more homogeneous than charcoal-iron. Hence it was well adapted for cannon, which was for some time the principal article of manufacture at the Welsh works) the means not having yet been devised at Cyfartha for malleableizing the pit-coal cast-iron with economy or good effect. Yet Crawshay found a ready market for all the iron he could make, and he is said to have counted the gains of the forge-hammer close by his house at the rate of a penny a stroke. In course of time he found it necessary to erect new furnaces, and, having adopted the processes invented by Henry Cort, he was thereby enabled greatly to increase the production of his forges, until in 1812 we find him stating to a committee of the House of Commons that he was making ten thousand tons of bar-iron yearly, or an average produce of two hundred tons a week. But this quantity, great though it was, has since been largely increased, the total produce of the Crawshay furnaces of Cyfartha, Ynysfach, and Kirwan, being upwards of 50,000 tons of bar-iron yearly.
The distance of Merthyr from Cardiff, the nearest port, being considerable, and the cost of carriage being very great by reason of the badness of the roads, Mr. Crawshay set himself to overcome this great impediment to the prosperity of the Merthyr Tydvil district; and, in conjunction with Mr. Homfray of the Penydarran Works, he planned and constructed the canal to Cardiff, the opening of which, in 1795, gave an immense impetus to the iron trade of the neighbourhood. It may be worthy of note that the first locomotive run upon a railroad was that constructed by Trevithick for Mr. Homfray in 1803, which was employed to bring down metal from the furnaces to the Old Forge. The engine was taken off the road because the tram-plates were found too weak to bear its weight without breaking.
Numerous other extensive iron works became established there, until Merthyr Tydvil attained the reputation of being at once the richest and the dirtiest district in all Britain. Mr. Crawshay became known in the west of England as the "Iron King," and was quoted as the highest authority in all questions relating to the trade. Mr. George Crawshay, recently describing the founder of the family at a social meeting at Newcastle, said, - "In these days a name like ours is lost in the infinity of great manufacturing firms which exist through out the land; but in those early times the man who opened out the iron district of Wales stood upon an eminence seen by all the world. It is preserved in the traditions of the family that when the 'Iron King' used to drive from home in his coach-and-four into Wales, all the country turned out to see him, and quite a commotion took place when he passed through Bristol on his way to the works. My great grandfather was succeeded by his son, and by his grandson; the Crawshays have followed one another for four generations in the iron trade in Wales, and there they still stand at the head of the trade." The occasion on which these words were uttered was at a Christmas party, given to the men, about 1,300 in number, employed at the iron works of Messrs. Hawks, Crawshay, and Co., at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. These works were founded in 1754 by William Hawks, a blacksmith, whose principal trade consisted in making claw-hammers for joiners. He became a thriving man, and eventually a large manufacturer of bar-iron. Partners joined him, and in the course of the changes wrought by time, one of the Crawshays, in 1842, became a principal partner in the firm.
Illustrations of a like kind might be multiplied to any extent, showing the growth in our own time of an iron aristocracy of great wealth and influence, the result mainly of the successful working of the inventions of the unfortunate and unrequited Henry Cort. He has been the very Tubal Cain of England - one of the principal founders of our iron age. To him we mainly owe the abundance of wrought-iron for machinery, for steam-engines, and for railways, at one-third the price we were before accustomed to pay to the foreigner. We have by his invention, not only ceased to be dependent upon other nations for our supply of iron for tools, implements, and arms, but we have become the greatest exporters of iron, producing more than all other European countries combined.
In the opinion of Mr. Fairbairn of Manchester, the inventions of Henry Cort have already added six hundred millions sterling to the wealth of the kingdom, while they have given employment to some six hundred thousand working people during three generations. And while the great ironmasters, by freely availing themselves of his inventions, have been adding estate to estate, the only estate secured by Henry Cort was the little domain of six feet by two in which he lies interred in Hampstead Churchyard.
Sources of Information
- Industrial Biography by Samuel Smiles. Chapter VI (edited)