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British Industrial History

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Thomas Bonehill

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Born 15 March 1796 at Bilston, Staffordshire

Information from a number of Belgian sources is summarised below:-

In 1836 Thomas Bonehill built puddling furnaces for the Puissant and Licot de Nîmes families; in 1838 the company Société Anonyme des laminoirs, forges, fonderies et usines de la Providence was formed by Clément-Joseph Delbruyère together with Edmond and Jules Puissant and Thomas Bonehill, in order to construct a coke-fuelled blast furnace, together with other equipment for Puissant and Bonehill's company, la société le grand laminoir de la Providence, including steam engines and metal working equipment including hammers, rolling mills, shears, puddling furnaces, casting equipment and moulds, and refractory brick manufacturing facilities.

The first steelworks was at Marchienne-au-Pont, Charleroi (Belgium); in 1843 the company decided to construct a second steelworks in Hautmont (France), equipped to produce plate and rails in expectation of orders for the construction of the French railways. In 1849 Bonehill's successor Alphonse Halbou patented a method for the production of I-beams by rolling.

In 1966 Forges de la Providence became part of Cockerill-Ougrée.

The above information is from the Wikipedia entry for Forges de la Providence.

Thomas Bonehill was requested by Ferdinand Puissant of Agimont to undertake investigations into modification of the blast furnace he operated at Gougnies. Bonehill proposed moving the facilities and the purchase of land in Marchienne-au-Pont, at a place called Providence, near Sambre. On the death of Puissant in 1833, at the age of forty-eight, his widow and Thomas Bonehill formed a partnership. When Mme. Puissant died in 1837, leaving four children, the eldest, Edmond, 24, and Thomas Bonehill constituted the partners in the Forges de la Providence, with Armand Bauchau as a Director.

In 1839, with the company well-established and prosperous, Thomas Bonehill left this position to devote himself to 'metal construction' and to build factories in Belgium, France and Germany.

In 1855 he was back in Marchienne-au-Pont, where he built, on his own account, rolling mills called Laminoirs de l’Espérance. He also built a castle that bears his name.

He died in in Marchienne-au-Pont on 3 or 4 August 1858, aged 62.

The above information is from the Wikipedia entry for Thomas Bonehill. Note: The Wikipedia entry includes a photograph of Bonehill.

Another source[1] provides more detail: Thomas was the sixth child of a working-class family. He came to the attention in the early 1820s of an industrial spy in the service of King William of Orange, and was encouraged to go to Wallonia around 1824, after the British authorities had lifted the ban on emigration which had been imposed on mechanics. Bonehill was first occupied in the modernization of some forges in l'Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse. In the service of a company of which William of Orange was a shareholder, Bonehill built a blast furnace near Thuin, and two fineries, several reverberatory furnaces for melting pig iron, and for cannon boring. He then acted as a consultant to at least 15 companies, selling new techniques and training local staff. On the death of Ferdinand Puissant and his wife Adélaïde Licot, their children, Edmond and Jules Puissant, joined Thomas Bonehill in 1838 founding the S.A. des Laminoirs, Hauts Fourneaux, Forges, Fonderies et Usines de la Providence, with Bonehill as the managing director. New furnaces and a coking furnace were constructed by 1840. A new blast furnace was built at Hautmont to provide material to produce rails. Bonehill's sons established the S.A. Usines Bonehill Frères. In total, Bonehill contributed to the establishment of about 40 factories in Walloon countries.

Another source[2] offers much more detailed information. It refers to Bonehill's involvement in the construction or modernization of numerous rolling mills and other iron plants, including the Hubert Lejeune plant in Hourpes; the rolling mill at the Zone plant in Mont-sur-Marchienne; the rolling mill of the Montigny-sur-Sambre blast furnace and rolling mill (Champeaux-Chapel); another rolling mill in Acoz, within an establishment belonging to De Dorlodot. Thomas Bonehill had many children. One, Edouard Bonehill became forge master at Aiseau, and Emile Bonehill, became head of an iron foundry at Marchienne-au-Pont.

1880 'The exhibit of Messrs. Bonehill Brothers, of Marchien-au-Pont, will be most interesting to the English visitor, from the fact that the partners of the firm are the sons and successors of Mr. Thomas Bonehill, one of the English pioneers who originated the iron industry in the coalfields of Belgium. If they have not forgotten the fact that their father was an Englishman, it is said they know nothing of his native language. To compensate for this, their exhibits show anxiety to compete successfully with English ironmasters, and if one is to judge by the neat sections of the various special irons their works turn out, they must often succeed.'[3]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Connaitre la Wallonie website - Thomas Bonehill, by Paul Delforge, 2013
  2. [2] Charleroi Découverte website, Thomas Bonehill & La Providence
  3. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Monday 12 July 1880