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The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter XIII

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CHAPTER XIII. CLEVELAND IRON AND STEEL

Bolckow, Vaughan and Co

In addition to the general reference to manufacturing firms on the North-east Coast made in Chapter XII, something must be said in more detail about the great companies now carrying on what is known as the Cleveland iron and steel trade, which have absorbed most of the lesser firms. Bolckow, Vaughan and Co takes the first place, inasmuch as Ferdinand Bolckow, a naturalised Mecklenburger who had made money in the grain trade in Newcastle, and John Vaughan, the discoverers in 1850 of the principal Eston vein of Cleveland ore, were the founders in 1841 of the Cleveland industry as we know it and of this firm, which rapidly took the lead in the Cleveland metallurgical world. Impressed by the possibilities of Middlesbrough, they had put up an iron foundry and rolling-mills, and had afterwards built a blast furnace at Witton, to use the ore found in the coal measures. Then came the discovery of Cleveland ore already described.

In the year 1864 the private firm was registered as a limited company, with a capital of £2,500,000 and the support of shareholders from Lancashire and other districts. The first Chairman was Ferdinand Bolckow. After him came his nephew Carl Bolckow, and then Henry Davis Pochin, whose grandson, the Hon. Henry Duncan McLaren, C.B.E., is one of the present Directors of the Company. He was succeeded in the Chair by Henry Lee, E. Windsor Richards and Sir J. E. Johnson-Ferguson, Bart., whose son, Colonel E. A. Johnson-Ferguson, is another of the present Directors. The present Chairman is the Hon. Roland Kitson, D.S.O., M.C., son of the late Lord Airedale, who was long connected with the engineering industries of Leeds. The paid-up capital of the Company is now £5,024,960 Ordinary and £472,080 Preference Shares, and £1,000,000 Debentures.

Great changes have taken place in the works of this Company. The original Clay Lane installation became a four-furnace plant, and is now almost abandoned. Cleveland Works, built to use the Thomas Gilchrist process in Bessemer converters, have been radically reconstructed. The Middlesbrough furnace has been practically abandoned. The two older furnaces at the steel works have been replaced by two higher ones, and are known as the Bessemer furnaces. At Southbank five new furnaces have replaced old ones. Two large ones with complete equipment have been added to the Cleveland Iron Works, and are known as the Grangetown furnaces. These make thirteen in all. The Company owns ten collieries, eight of them in the Bishop Auckland district, equipped with batteries of by-product coke ovens. It also owns iron mines in proximity to its blast furnaces. The steel products of the firm are rails, ship plates, angles and sectional material of every kind for constructional purposes. The steel works are of great magnitude. They consist of fifteen open-hearth steel furnaces, and plate and rail mills.

The Company has recently amalgamated with Redpath, Brown and Co, makers of structural steel, with works in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and various places abroad, with a capital of £500,000 in Preference and Ordinary Shares. Bolckow, Vaughan and Co. has also acquired the whole capital of the Darlington Rolling-Mills, makers of light rails and sections. Before the War the annual output of material of Bolckow Vaughan and Co.'s works and mines was about 2,750,000 tons of coal, 700,000 tons of pig iron and 230,000 tons of finished steel, with twenty-three blast furnaces blowing at one time. The Company is sinking, in partnership with the Cortonwood Colliery Co, a new colliery at Upton in South Yorkshire.

Dorman, Long and Co

Dorman, Long and Co originally owned the Britannia Steel Works and leased the Clarence Steel Works from the old firm of Bell Brothers, founded by Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, Bart., the Ordinary Shares of which it afterwards acquired, together with the shares of the North Eastern Steel Co, and a large holding in the collieries at Shotton and Horden, in South-east Durham. It has also an interest in the Channel Steel firm which controls the iron and coal in the neighbourhood of Dover. About 1915 it acquired the ordinary shares of Sir B. Samuelson, from the blast furnaces of which Company the Britannia Steel Works were accustomed to draw large supplies of molten metal. In 1923 it bought, at the price of £2,000,000, the whole of the assets of the Carlton Iron Co, a concern chiefly engaged in the manufacture of ferromanganese and spiegeleisen, with a large connection in Italy, France and the Rhine, and owning also the Mainsforth Colliery in the county of Durham.

In May 1923 the whole of these Companies were liquidated and their assets taken over by Dorman, Long and Co, whose output is principally structural steel, in relation to which trade it has works in London, Melbourne and Sydney, and a half interest in the firm of Wade and Dorman in South Africa and in the British Structural Steel Co. in the Argentine. It has contracts on hand for great bridges at Sydney Harbour, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Khartoum, the Nile bridge at Dessouk and another on the Atbara in the Soudan. The Chairman of the Company is Sir A. J. Dorman, K.C.B., one of the founders. Sir Hugh Bell, Bart., is also on the Board, together with his eldest son, Colonel Maurice Bell.

The Company has recently acquired control of Lord Northbourne's Betteshanger coal areas in East Kent, which are better than those in the Dover district, and in 1924 formed, in conjunction with the engineering firm of S. Pearson and Co, of which the late Rt. Hon. Viscount Cowdray was Chairman, the Company under the Chairmanship of Sir Hugh Bell, Bart., known as Pearson and Dorman Long. The Directors are Sir Arthur Dorman, Bart., K.B.E., Col. Byrne, Sir William Pearson, Sir Clarendon Hyde, and the Hon. Clive Pearson. The finances of this combine have been assisted by a Government loan of £2,000,000 through the Trade Facilities Committee. The share capital is £3,000,000 Ordinary Shares of £1 and £50,000 in one million Deferred Shares of one shilling each. The object of this Company is to develop these areas, as well as the local port of Richborough which did such exceptional work during the War. This new undertaking is remarkable in many ways. The East Kent coal is said to produce a coke equal to the best Durham, and the measures and the adjacent cliffs contain iron which can be smelted on the spot. It therefore seems that this modern firm from the North is on the eve of establishing, rather on the lines of the old Sussex iron industry, but under scientific conditions, a new metallurgical enterprise. Just as in Durham and elsewhere the iron found in the coal measures was smelted in primitive furnaces, so iron had been worked in the Sussex and adjacent wealds from a period which is prehistoric, for the industry was ancient even in the time of the Roman occupation. It was somewhere about the year 1350, however, when the first blast furnace, a rude contrivance of French origin, was installed at Tudeley, in Kent. Only four more were at work 150 years later. In 1543 the first cast-iron cannon made in England was turned out by Ralph Hogge at Buckstead, after which the industry progressed with more rapidity. The first iron foundry in England of which there is a record was set up in 1580 by Godefroi de Bicks of Liege of Belgium, at Dartford in Kent.

Under the Commonwealth, in 1653, no fewer than thirty-five blast furnaces, with forty-five forges, were in operation over the wealds of Sussex, Kent, Surrey and Hampshire. These forges were worked by "water hammers" some 1,500 to 2,500 lb. in weight, which rose and fell in response to a cog-wheel set in motion by a waterfall. Some of these so-called "Hammer Ponds" are still to be found in the valleys of the hill district near Haslemere and Chiddingfold.

In 1740 the number of these furnaces had diminished to fifteen—four in Kent, one in Hampshire, and ten in Sussex. By 1810 only one blast furnace, that of Ashburnham, remained. The extinction of the Southern iron industry is attributed to several causes, of which perhaps the chief was the new method of smelting ores invented by Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale (referred to in a later chapter), the growing scarcity of charcoal fuel in the weald, inadequate water power, and especially the importation of manufactured iron from Sweden and Spain. The discovery of the Kent coalfield will, however, in a sense restore the Southern industry, and place it on a similar footing, though on a smaller scale, to that which is carried on in North Yorkshire. In these circumstances the Kentish iron and coalfield may commercially, though not geographically, be considered annexed to Cleveland.

In this connection it may be mentioned that the Chislet Colliery Co has been established to take over another large area of coal in that district from the Anglo-Westphalian Kent Coalfield. The share capital is £338,000 paid up and Debentures amounting to £209,000. The Chairman is Mr. Joseph Shaw, K.C. (Chairman of the Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Co). Mr. Charles Clark, of Stevenson Clark and Co, is one of the Directors.

There are three large firms, known as the "Furness" group, from the interlocking interests of the late Sir Christopher Furness (afterwards Lord Furness), who was largely instrumental in their foundation, viz. the Cargo Fleet Iron Co, the South Durham Iron and Steel Co and the Weardale Steel, Coal and Coke Co. The Cargo Fleet Iron Co. has expended considerable sums out of revenue in the improvement of its furnace and melting plant. It was here that the Talbot open-hearth furnace was first worked on a proper scale in this country. The rolling- mills are owned by the Ormesby Rolling-Mills firm, whose shares are held by the Cargo Fleet Co. The Company has subsidiary interests in the Irchester ironstone mines in Northamptonshire, in the Wingate Coal Co and the Trimdon Coal Co, as well as in the South Bank Basic Slag Co and the South Bank Chemical Co, for disposal of its tar products. It produces joists and sections for structural and shipbuilding work, and also railway and tramway rails. Probably 30 per cent of its post-war output is exported. The Company appears to have abandoned the use of the local Cleveland ironstone in its three blast furnaces, which work purely for steel works purposes, and do not make iron for the market. Northamptonshire, Spanish and North African ores provide the metal content. Each furnace has a capacity of 1,200 to 1,300 tons per week. The Company used to purchase about 1,000 tons of molten metal per week.

In 1920 there was formed a Company under the Chairmanship of Viscount Furness (son of the late Lord Furness), called the North-east Coast Steel Corporation, with a share capital of £4,300,000. Mr. Benjamin Talbot is Managing Director. This was intended to be the nucleus of a large merger, incorporating other iron and steel enterprises. Its first act was, after acquiring the Seaton Carew Iron Co, to take over also the properties of Cochrane and Co, the owner of the Ormesby Iron Works, adjoining the Cargo Fleet Works, with three large blast furnaces from which molten metal had previously gone to Cargo Fleet. Cochrane and Co. produced principally cast-iron pipes, railway chairs and large iron castings, in competition with the Derbyshire firms of Sheepbridge, Staveley and Stanton. It owned the Stanghow mines in Cleveland and the Desborough mine in Northamptonshire, as well as the New Brancepeth colliery and coke ovens in Durham. This acquisition improved the blast-furnace capacity of Cargo Fleet and brought the Furness interests into the pipe and foundry trades.

South Durham Iron and Steel Co

The South Durham Iron and Steel Co before the War produced only acid open-hearth steel in fixed Siemens furnaces; but since the War it has adopted the Talbot furnace, using hematite and scrap. Very little expenditure was made during the hostilities. The land, buildings and plant were valued at £612,004 in 1917; £450,000 was spent in 1918, and a further £450,000 in 1919 in connection with the purchase (through the North-east Coast Steel Corporation) of the Seaton Carew Iron Works. The capital has remained unchanged since the year 1914; all improvements have been made from revenue, and the Company is prosperous. It produces steel plates. Its chief market was the shipyards of the North-east Coast, but lack of shipyard work has driven the Company to erect sheet mills with a galvanising plant for rolling plates for building steel pipes of large diameter. The main plants of the Company probably require some reconstruction; and, with this in view, a new site has been acquired on the north side of the River Tees near Stockton. The interests of the Weardale Steel, Coal and Coke Co are now wholly in minerals, coke and refractories. The iron works at Tudhoe have been abandoned. The Company is now exclusively a colliery concern, owning coke ovens and by-product plants. It has a large interest in the Easington Coal Co. and the Broomhill Collieries.

Pease and Partners

Pease and Partners was founded by the Pease family and their Quaker associates. To them is due the origin of the British railway systems and the development of the Durham coalfield and of the Cleveland iron district. The Pease family settled at Darlington about the year 1700, and with the proceeds of the Darlington woollen mills, which they founded and which were until recently carried on by the family, Edward Pease of a later generation was enabled to promote the railway work with which his name is associated, and which gave him locally the name, to which undoubtedly he is entitled, of the "Father of Railways." After great Parliamentary difficulties, the Stockton and Darlington Railway, projected by him in 1817, obtained its powers in 1821, in which year George Stephenson laid before him his invention of a locomotive engine for railway traction. To develop this, Edward Pease devoted his time and fortune. [1] In 1824 he entered into partnership with George and Robert Stephenson and Michael Longridge to build locomotives.

In 1825 the line was opened, under great financial difficulties, which were surmounted by the efforts of the Pease family. Edward's son, Joseph, born in 1799, and the father of the late Sir Joseph Pease, Bart., M.P., married the daughter of Joseph Gurney, the Quaker banker, of Norwich. He was related to John Overend and to Samuel Gurney, who established the bill-broking business associated with their names in the City of London. Through these financiers the line was equipped and projected to Middlesbrough, still encountering opposition, strange to say, from mineral owners in Durham. Four years later the coal-owners changed their attitude, and from that date the success of the county of Durham as a coal-producing area was assured, and the various lines, afterwards united as the North-Eastern Railway, were constructed. Sir Joseph Pease became Chairman of the North-Eastern Railway Co., and remained in office until his retirement in 1902. With other members of the family he was mainly instrumental in making Middlesbrough a shipping port and the centre of the Northern iron trade. Amongst other iron works connected with the family were the Darlington Iron Works, owned by Henry Pease and Henry Fell Pease; Gilkes, Wilson, Pease and Co, owned by Sir Joseph Pease and Joseph B. Pease; Jones Dunning and Co, owned by Arthur Pease and his sons; W. Whitwell and Co, owned by Gurney Pease, and afterwards by his brothers, Sir Joseph Pease and Arthur Pease; and Lloyd and Co, owned by Joseph B. Pease and Sir Joseph Pease. In local railway management Sir Joseph Pease was associated with Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, Bart., and with Sir David Dale, Bart.

Pease and Partners, with its paid-up share capital of £2,795,976, and its debenture capital of £984,400 has many associated firms owning blast furnaces, foundries and mills, besides collieries in Durham. Sir Arthur F. Pease, Bart., is the Chairman, and the Rt. Hon. Lord Gainford, another son of the late Sir Joseph Pease, and Patronage Secretary of the Treasury in Mr. Asquith's first administration, is Vice-Chairman. The Rt. Hon. Lord Daryngton, the son of Arthur Pease, Sir James Dale, Bart., the son of Sir David Dale, and the Hon. Joseph Pease, Lord Gainford's son, are among the Directors. The latest investment of this firm has been the Thorne Colliery, which, after great difficulties in overcoming water, has been successfully sunk in South Yorkshire at a depth of 921 yards to the High Hazel and Barnsley seams of coal, at an expenditure of £1,162,280. The firm's actual output of coal in 1925 was over 3,000,000 tons, of iron stone 839,000 tons, and of coke 906,000 tons.

The firm has a controlling interest in the following local companies or ironworks: the Skinningrove Iron Co, with its rolling-mills; the Lackenby Iron Co; the Normanby Iron Works; the Tees Iron Works; the Tees-bridge Iron Works; the Thornaby Ironworks; the North Bitchburn Coal Co; W. Stobart and Co and T. and R. W. Bower, a South Yorkshire firm.

Bell Brothers

Other firms of historic and also of present interest are Bell Brothers, which was founded by the late Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, Bart., whose son, Sir Hugh Bell, Lord Lieutenant of the North Riding, has followed its fortunes since its amalgamation with Dorman, Long and Co.

Linthorpe Dinsdale Co

Another firm is the Linthorpe Dinsdale Co. The Dinsdale Works stand unaltered. Their products have been exclusively ferromanganese and nothing else. It is remarkable that their old slag heaps have been exhausted, as in other parts of the country, by the demand for road material. Hematite weathered slag is a material of the best quality for this purpose. The Linthorpe Works make hematite and spiegel iron only, and have not been largely modified in recent years.

Gjers, Mills and Co

Another old firm is Gjers, Mills and Co, whose works have not been much changed. Their output has hitherto been confined to special grades of hematite and ferro-silicon.

W. Whitwell and Co

The old Quaker firm of W. Whitwell and Co was established for the production of malleable iron and special hematite. Its works were bought by the Amalgamated Industrials, and when the great depression of 1921 came, they were repurchased by the Whitwell family, with the support of Pease and Partners, as this firm wanted the seventy-five coke ovens connected with the Whitwell plant. The puddling furnaces, forges and rolling mills are now practically abandoned.

Middlesbrough-on-Tees, the growth of which during the last fifty years has been so remarkable, received its impetus in the establishment of the great works referred to in this chapter. To-day the town has a population of 150,000 inhabitants; is represented in the House of Commons; has a Mayor and Corporation; possesses handsome public buildings and all that goes to make up a progressive community. The town does not depend on one firm, as in the case of Jarrow, although, of course, as the centre of the Cleveland iron trade, Middlesbrough and the making of iron are practically synonymous terms. Shipyards are found at Middlesbrough, as well as engine works, besides other industries which afford employment for large numbers of men.

In the appendix will be found:

  • Appendix L. Capital invested in North-east Coast Steel Companies in the years 194 and 1925.
  • Appendix M. The production of iron ore, pig iron and steel on the North-east Coast in 1913, 1916 and 1925.
  • Appendix N. North-east Coast production of various classes of pig iron from 192o to 1925.
  • Appendix O. The North-east Coast steel from 1920 to 1925.
  • Appendix P. Exports of pig and puddled iron from the United Kingdom from 1905 to 1925.
  • Appendix Q. Representative ore freights from Bilbao to Middlesbrough, 1913 to 1925, with estimated output of Cleveland Ore.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. James Watt, a Scot who migrated to Birmingham, patented the steam engine in 1784. Richard Trevithick invented a steam-propelled carriage in 1797, and the first steam locomotive was put on rails at Merthyr-Tydfil in 1803. One was also in use at Coalville in Leicestershire. William Hedley in 1813 built the Locomotive:Puffing BillyPuffing Billy, now in the South Kensington Museum, to run on the Wylam tramway in Durham. These ventures dealt with minerals only. It was George Stephenson who designed the first locomotive for general traffic, and it was his Rocket that ran on the Stockton and Darlington Line on its opening day. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was not opened till 1830.