Category Archives: Industrial

Bubble market: William Gossage & Sons

William Gossage & Sons was the largest soap manufacturer in the United Kingdom, and possibly the world, by 1877.

Early life and Stoke Prior
William Gossage (1799 – 1877) was born in Lincolnshire. After serving an apprenticeship to his uncle in Chesterfield, Gossage commenced trade as a chemist and druggist at Leamington Spa in Warwickshire.

William Gossage (1799-1877)

Gossage was appointed chemist to the Stoke Prior Salt and Alkaki Works in Worcestershire from 1830. Gossage sank a shaft that was to prove highly successful in pumping brine. He was eventually appointed a director and managing partner of the business.

Gossage commences the manufacture of soap in Widnes
Gossage established a soda-making plant at Widnes, Merseyside, from 1850. He also produced alkali from crushed limestone. He soon gave up soda-making, and commenced the smelting of copper, which was to prove successful.

Soap prices increased during the Crimean War (1853 – 56) due to inflated tallow prices. Gossage began to manufacture a low-cost alternative soap of similar quality using sodium silicate and palm oil from 1855.

Gossage introduced blue mottled soap from 1857. Mottled soap served no superior utilitarian function, but gave the soap the pleasant aesthetic appearance of marble.

William Gossage was considered a model employer, and was highly popular with his workforce. He employed 80 men by 1861.

The two sons and T S Timmis enter the business
Alfred Howard Gossage (1831 – 1904) and Frederick Herbert Gossage (1832 – 1907), sons of William Gossage, had entered the business as partners by 1861.

Thomas Sutton Timmis (1830 – 1910) joined the business from 1865, and became a partner.

Thomas Sutton Timmis (1830 – 1910) c.1892

A H Gossage retired in 1866.

William Gossage & Sons held a contract to produce dry soap for R S Hudson from 1869.

William Gossage & Sons was the second largest soap manufacturer in Britain by 1870.

William Gossage retired from business due to ill health from 1874.

Frederick Gossage and Thomas Timmis were to drive the business forward. Gossage had the technical expertise, and Timmis possessed a keen aptitude for finance.

William Gossage & Sons was the largest soap manufacturer in the United Kingdom, and possibly the world by 1877, with an output of no less than 500 tons a week.

William Gossage & Sons employed 500 men and 40 boys by 1881.

Over 200,000 tons of mottled soap were produced between 1862 and 1887.

William Gossage & Sons held a contract to produce Sunlight soap during the early days of Lever Brothers. Frederick Gossage was said to have taught William Lever how to make soap.

Gossage and Timmis converted the business into a private limited company, William Gossage & Sons, from 1894.

William Gossage & Sons produced 1,400 tons of soap a week by 1897, and was probably the second largest soap manufacturer in the world after Lever Brothers. The business focused on the overseas trade, and had a large market in China.

Frederick Gossage died with a net personalty of £709,396 in 1907.

Thomas Timmis died in 1910 with a net personalty valued at £643,247.

Thousands of tons of blue mottled soap were produced annually by 1911. William Gossage & Sons accounted for 57 percent of all soap exported from the United Kingdom, and held 33 percent of the foreign soap trade worldwide.

Acquisition by Brunner Mond
Brunner Mond, the largest chemical manufacturer in the world, acquired William Gossage & Sons and Joseph Crosfield & Sons of Warrington, a rival soap manufacturer, in 1911. Brunner Mond was a major supplier of raw material for the soap industry, and the merger was motivated by an intent to create a strong competitor against the increasingly dominant Lever Brothers.

The Widnes site covered about fourteen acres by 1914. About 1,500 people were employed. Exports were strong throughout the British Empire, and in the Far East.

Sale to Lever Brothers
Lever Brothers acquired William Gossage & Sons and Joseph Crosfield & Sons in 1919.

William Gossage & Sons employed around 1,300 people in 1928.

The Widnes site was closed in 1932, and production was transferred to Lever Brothers-controlled plants in Bromborough and Warrington.

William Gossage & Sons was merged with Joseph Watson & Sons, a Leeds soap manufacturer that was also controlled by Lever Brothers, to form Watson & Gossage from 1937.

Ring their praises: Bell Brothers

Bell Brothers was the second largest producer of pig iron in the North of England.

Bell Brothers
Thomas Bell (1774 – 1845) was born at Lowhurst, Cumberland. In 1808 he entered the business of Losh & Co of Newcastle upon Tyne, a firm of merchants which was branching out into the manufacture of alkali and iron.

He became a partner in the firm, which became known as Losh, Wilson & Bell.

His sons, Isaac Lowthian Bell (1816 – 1904) and John Bell (1818 – 1888) established Bell Brothers in 1844. Initially they leased an iron smelting works at Wylam on Tyne.

Lowthian Bell was the senior partner. Educated in the sciences at the Sorbonne in France, he spoke fluent German, Danish and French. Bell would later be heralded as the first scientifically trained ironmaster.

John Vaughan discovered sizeable deposits of ironstone (from which iron ore could be extracted) at Eston in the Cleveland hills near Middlesbrough.

John Bell made his own ironstone discovery at Normanby, and leased the land from the Ward Jackson family. Two blast furnaces were erected at Port Clarence, Cleveland in 1853. Three more were built the following year.

Bell Brothers was registered as a limited liability company in 1873. The company remained entirely family controlled.

Two new blast furnaces were opened in 1874, and the company announced plans to increase capacity to 750 tons of iron per day.

Bell Brothers pioneered the Teesside salt industry. The company began to bore salt from 1882, and by the end of the year had a productive capacity of up to 400 tons of salt a week. The salt was sold to Tyneside chemical manufacturers, who used it to produce alkali. By April 1883 the company was produced 860 tons of salt a week.

By this time, Teesside was the largest producer of iron in the world.

Bell Brothers operated twelve blast furnaces at Port Clarence by 1877. The company also operated ironstone mines, limestone quarries and collieries. Around £1 million in capital was invested in the business. The company was second only to Bolckow Vaughan in pig iron production in the North of England.

By this time Thomas Hugh Bell (1844 – 1931), the son of Lowthian Bell, was responsible for managing the business.

Bell Brothers announced plans to develop a steel works at Port Clarence in 1887. The works would use the Siemens-Martin process, instead of the established Bessemer process, to manufacture steel from Cleveland pig iron. The strategy allowed the company to exit the increasingly competitive iron market.

Bell Brothers employed 4,500 men in 1898. The company had an authorised capital of £825,000.

Bell Brothers divested its salt interests to Salt Union Ltd and Brunner Mond Ltd in 1899.

Merger with Dorman Long
Dorman Long acquired half of Bell Brothers from Thomas Hugh Bell in 1899. The remaining half was acquired from Lowthian Bell in 1902.

Lowthian Bell became chairman of Dorman Long. With a capital of £1 million, the merged company was the largest iron and steel manufacturer in the North of England.

Bell Brothers produced 360,000 tons of pig iron in 1903. The number of blast furnaces had been reduced to eight by 1905.

Bell Brothers blast furnaces at Port Clarence in 1917

Lowthian Bell died in 1904 and his estate was valued at £768,676.

The Bell Brothers subsidiary was formally liquidated in 1923.

Weetman Pearson: Britain’s oil baron

Weetman Pearson was probably the most powerful British businessman in the early twentieth century. He transformed a family firm into the largest public works contractor in the world, before going on to develop the Mexican oil industry.

S Pearson & Son was a public works contractor founded by Samuel Pearson in Yorkshire in 1844.

At the age of 16 Weetman Pearson (1856 – 1927) entered the business founded by his grandfather.

Weetman Pearson became a partner in the family firm from 1883. The headquarters of the firm were relocated to London.

Described as a “hard-headed Yorkshireman”, Weetman Pearson was credited with growing the family firm from a regional concern into an international player. Pearson modestly described himself as a “stolid, uninteresting slogger”.

Major public works contracts
S Pearson & Son won the contract to construct the Blackwall tunnel underneath the River Thames in 1892. Upon completion in 1897 it was the largest underwater tunnel in the world, and established the reputation of the firm.

Weetman Pearson in 1917

Pearson embarked upon a £2 million project to provide a drainage canal for Mexico City, which had experienced seasonal flooding, in 1890. The Grand Canal in Mexico City was completed to schedule and on budget in 1896.

S Pearson & Son was registered as a private limited company with a capital of over £1 million in 1897.

Around the turn of the century, Pearson built three harbours, Vera Cruz, Salina Cruz and Puerto Mexico, as well as the Tehuantepec railway (completed 1905) which connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

S Pearson & Son employed 30,000 men by 1901.

Pearson enters the oil industry in Mexico
Weetman Pearson began to acquire oil concessions in Mexico from 1901. He was encouraged by President Porfirio Diaz (1830 – 1915), who was keen to develop a rival to the Standard Oil, who controlled the Mexican oil industry.

Porfirio Diaz  (1830 – 1915) in 1907

Pearson soon found himself in conflict with Standard Oil. He refused to back down however, saying, “in a mild way I am going to be ruthless”.

S Pearson & Son won a contract to tunnel the Hudson River and the East River in Long Island, thus linking Brooklyn and New Jersey by rail, in 1904.

S Pearson & Son was the largest engineering firm in the world by 1905, employing 60,000 men. Weetman Pearson was one of the wealthiest men in England.

Pearson struck oil in Mexico in around 1905. He agreed to supply C T Bowring, the largest distributor of petrol in Great Britain, with oil at a fixed price. Unfortunately, his well ran dry, and he was forced to buy crude from his rival, Standard Oil, at inflated prices in order to fulfil the contract.

Mexican Eagle
Pearson discovered the Dos Bocas oil reserves in 1908. With a daily output of 300,000 barrels, it was the largest deposit yet found in the world.

The Mexican Eagle Co, controlled by S Pearson & Son, was formed to exploit the Pearson oil assets.

Mexican Eagle went public in 1910, with a capital of £3 million. Its production output over the next two years was estimated at 750,000 tons.

Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell virtually controlled the global oil market at this time. Pearson was reluctant to rely on his competitors, and established the Eagle Oil Transport Co in 1912 to process and distribute his raw product.

The value of Mexican Eagle tripled between 1910 and 1913. Between 1912 and 1913, the company held an estimated 50 percent market share for fuel products in Great Britain. Production in 1913 was eleven million barrels. Mexican Eagle was the largest British company by 1913.

Mexico was the third largest oil producer in the world by 1914, after the United States and Russia, and Pearson controlled around 60 percent of the country’s output.

According to a contemporary quote from the Daily Mail, “oil is the new source of power that will govern the future industrial development of the world”.

Mexican Eagle produced nearly 19 million barrels of oil in 1919.

With a market capitalization of £79 million, the Pearson group of companies ranked as by far the largest business in Britain by 1919, with a valuation more than 25 percent higher than its nearest rival, Burmah Oil.*

Pearson sells Mexican Eagle to Shell
Pearson sold control of his oil interests, including 35 percent of the ordinary capital of Mexican Eagle, to the Shell Transport & Trading Co for a reported £10 million in 1919. Shell representatives were given a majority on both boards of directors.

The merger represented the takeover of the largest British company by the largest European company. The Shell companies had an output of oil in 1918 roughly double that of Mexican Eagle, at around 40 million barrels.

Shell invested heavily to increase production in Mexico. Mexican Eagle produced over 32 million barrels in 1920, accounting for more than 20 percent of Mexican production. An estimated 50 million barrels were shipped in 1921. The company had a daily capacity of well over 100,000 barrels.

Weetman Pearson exited the contracting business in 1926 following a mild heart attack. S Pearson & Son would instead concentrate on its assets in electricals, oil, land and finance.

Pearson died in 1927 with an estate valued at £4 million. According to his obituary in the Manchester Guardian, he “never lost his accent and pleasant Yorkshire ways”.

The Mexican oil industry was nationalised by the government in 1938.

* Bud Frierman, Lisa, Andrew C. Godley and Judith Wale, ‘Weetman Pearson in Mexico and the Emergence of a British Oil Major, 1901-1919’, Business History Review 81 (2007).

Unravelling the history of the Belfast Ropework Co

The Belfast Ropework Co was the largest ropemaker in the world.

W H Smiles establishes the largest ropemaker in the world
William Holmes Smiles (1846 – 1904), the son of Self Help author Samuel Smiles (1812 – 1904), acquired a half share in a small Belfast ropewalk (a place where rope is made) in 1871.

Smiles established the Belfast Ropework Co as a limited company in 1876. He had three partners, including G W Wolff (1834 – 1913), of the Belfast shipbuilding firm Harland & Wolff.

G W Wolff was the chairman, and William Holmes Smiles was managing director. It was the organisational ability and energy of Smiles that would enable the venture to prosper.

50 people were initially employed on a four acre site at Connswater, Belfast.

Edward Harland (1831 – 1895), of Harland & Wolff, soon became a large shareholder.

The business grew in tandem with the growth of the Belfast shipbuilding industry. 300 people were employed at the works by 1880.

Progress was being made in export markets by 1880.

It was the largest rope works in the world by 1892, and the company employed a capital of £250,000.

W H Smiles would see his health broken due to overwork, and he died in 1904 with a relatively modest estate valued at £6,303. By this time the ropeworks spanned over 40 acres and employed 3,000 people.

Smiles was succeeded as managing director of the Belfast Ropework Co by his son, John Holmes Smiles (1875 – 1955). Between 1904 and 1910, Smiles managed to treble company profits.

In one year during the First World War the business produced 20,000 tons of twine, cord and rope.

Over 3,500 workers were employed by 1919, as well as a staff of over 150 clerks. The company served over 100,000 customers.

The Belfast Ropework Company was registered in London in 1930 with a nominal capital of £1 million. The works had a productive capacity of 350 tons of rope a week.

The Belfast Ropeworks site suffered heavy damage due to air raids during the Second World War, but continued to produce goods for the war effort, including camouflage nets.

Post-war decline and closure
The Belfast Ropeworks entered into decline following the end of the Second World War.

The company still operated the largest single rope factory in the world in 1957.

Belfast Ropeworks employed 1,000 people in 1968. However the business was loss-making, and it was sold to McCleery L’Amie in 1970.

McCleery L’Amie ended hemp rope production in favour of synthetic fibres from 1973.

A slump in demand for ropes and twines, as well as the growth of low-cost imports from overseas, particularly Portugal, saw the Belfast Ropeworks become loss-making, and the site was closed in 1978.

McCleery L’Amie was acquired by Lamont Holdings for £2.5 million in 1980.

The Connswater Shopping Centre was opened on the site of the Belfast Ropeworks in 1983.

How Bryant & May met their match

Bryant & May was the largest matchstick manufacturer in Britain. It remains a leading premium brand of matches.

Bryant & May was established when two Quakers from Plymouth, William Bryant (1804 – 1874) and Francis May (1803 -1885), entered into partnership to manufacture tallow and candles in 1844.

Bryant & May acquired the British rights to the safety match from Carl Lundstrom (1823 – 1917) of Sweden in 1855. The product proved so successful that Lundstrom struggled to meet demand, so Bryant & May established a factory at Fairfield Road, Bow, London, from 1861.

The Bow factory

Initially children were numbered among the employees. This was not considered unusual at the time.

Wilberforce Bryant (1837 – 1906), the son of William, joined the partnership. Francis May left the partnership in 1864.

About 1,500 people were employed by 1871. The Graphic commented that the workforce were “by no means the miserable, emaciated, half-starved creatures whom some of our readers might expect to see. On the contrary they were, as a rule, stout, ruddy and decently dressed, and the younger children especially seemed full of spirit”.

William Bryant died with a personal estate valued at under £160,000 in 1874.

Introduction of white phosphorus matches
Bryant & May began to manufacture “strike anywhere” matches, which used white (also called yellow) phosphorous, which could cause phosphorus necrosis among workers.

Bryant & May employed at least 5,000 people by 1876.

A visitor in 1881 commented in the New Monthly Magazine on the “cheerful labour” of the workforce, and denied the existence of cruel managers, fire risk and ill health caused by phosphorus.

Bryant & May had developed a  considerable export trade by 1881. The Fairfield Works covered over six acres. Matchbox making and labelling employed 3,000 females within their own homes throughout the local neighbourhood.

Bryant & May was registered as a limited liability company in 1884. That year, Bell & Black, its Bow rival, was acquired to create the largest match manufacturer in Britain.

Gilbert Bartholomew (1852 – 1911), the secretary and manager of Bell & Black, was appointed managing director of Bryant & May.

Bryant & May produced around 300 million matches a day by 1886.

1,200 young women went on strike at the Bow factory in 1887.

1,400 young women went on strike at the Bow factory in 1888. Bryant & May management acquiesced to almost all of the strikers’ demands. An unpopular system of fines for misbehaviour was ended. It appeared that foremen had misrepresented the strikers’ position to the company directors, who subsequently requested that complaints be addressed directly to them in future, in order to avoid further misunderstandings.

Bryant & May employed around 2,000 workers in 1895, including around 1,200 to 1,500 women and girls.

Operations were established in Brazil from 1895.

Phosphorus necrosis cover-up
Bryant & May recorded 47 cases of phosphorus necrosis amongst its workforce between 1878 and 1898. A new law meant that every case of phosphorus poisoning had to be referred to the Government from 1893. However the company failed to report 17 cases, including six deaths. None of the deaths were attributed to necrosis poisoning, but the disease may have been a contributory factory.

Gilbert Bartholomew readily admitted the company’s guilt. He argued that matchmaking was a safer trade than many others such as brick-making or linen-weaving, and suggested that Bryant & May would support a ban on the sale of phosphorus matches, which had around 90 percent of the market.

Bryant & May were liberal employers for the period. The deaths went unreported due to a desire to maintain that strong public image.

Wilberforce Bryant subsequently announced that the company would abolish the use of white phosphorus from 1900.

Twentieth century and growth through acquisition
Bryant & May soon found keen competition in the match market. The Diamond Match Company used a Beecher match-making machine which could manufacture superior matches at half the cost of the Bryant & May product. In order to avoid a costly trade war, Bryant & May acquired the Diamond Match Company for £480,000 in 1901 in order to avoid a costly trade war. The acquisition gave Bryant & May the rights to the Swan Vesta brand of matches, and a large factory in Litherland, Liverpool.

A 34 percent stake in the Lion Match Co of South Africa was acquired in 1905.

Bryant & May had a productive capacity of over 90 billion matches and over 100,000 miles of wax vestas and tapers per annum by 1909. The Litherland factory employed around 1,000 people.

Moreland & Son of Gloucester, manufacturer of England’s Glory matches, was acquired in 1913.

The Moreland factory

The Bow and Litherland factories covered seven acres each by 1914.

Bryant & May employed 3,500 workers by 1921. The company produced 95 billion matches per annum.

A factory was established in Glasgow from 1921. The Scottish Bluebell matchstick brand was introduced.

Bryant & May acquired the English interests of Maguire, Paterson & Palmer, match manufacturers of Garston in Liverpool from 1922. With the acquisition of its last substantial British rival, Bryant & May would only contend with competition from imported matches from Sweden.

Bryant & May had an authorised share capital of £2 million by 1922. The company owned, or had large stakes in, factories in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and South America.

Bryant & May was the largest share of the Brazilian match market by 1926.

Merger with Swedish Match
Bryant & May merged with the British subsidiary of the Swedish Match Company to form the British Match Corporation in 1927. The company had a nominal capital of £6 million. Swedish Match held a stake of approximately one third of British Match.

British Match employed 1,000 people and produced 45 billion matches in 1934. British Match was the 35th largest company in Britain, with a market value of £8.1 million by 1935.

The Litherland factory was destroyed during the Blitz in 1941, and production was relocated to Garston.

The decline of matchmaking
Bryant & May held around 55 percent of the British match market in 1971. However the market was in decline, and factory closures were to prove inevitable.

The Bow factory closed with the loss of 250 jobs in 1971. Warehousing and administration functions continued.

British Match entered into disposable lighter production as matchstick sales declined.

British Match employed 12,200 people by 1973, including 4,600 in the United Kingdom.

British Match was keen to diversify its product portfolio. It acquired Wilkinson Sword, with around half of the British shaving razor market, for £19 million in 1973. The company was known as Wilkinson Match.

The Gloucester match factory was closed in 1975.

Swedish Match sold its shareholding in Wilkinson Match to Allegheny of Pittsburgh, a large American steel business, in 1978.

The marketing and administration departments at Bow were transferred to the Wilkinson Sword headquarters at High Wycombe in 1980.

Allegheny acquired full control of Wilkinson Match in 1980.

The Glasgow factory was closed in 1981.

The Garston site had been largely automated by 1986. It was the last remaining match factory in Britain. It employed 317 people, and had a productive capacity of 35 billion matches per annum.

Allegheny sold Wilkinson Match to Swedish Match in 1987. This resulting in Swedish Match holding over 80 percent of the British match market, and nearly half of the disposable lighter market.

The Garston factory was closed with the loss of 96 jobs in 1994. It marked the end of match manufacture in Britain. Sales had declined due to the decline of smoking and open fires, as well as the removal of excise duty from disposable lighters. Production was relocated to Sweden.

Steely resolve: Consett Iron Company

The Consett Iron Company was the largest steel manufacturer in the world.

The Derwent Iron Works were established Consett, County Durham, in 1840. The works were the largest in England by 1860, with eleven blast furnaces on a site of over 70 acres and a workforce of nearly 4,000 men and boys.

A view of the Consett steel works in 1979 (Credit to Wayne Phillips)

Despite its scale, the company was notoriously unprofitable. When the Northumberland and Durham District Bank failed, the Derwent Iron Works owed the bank £960,000.

The works were acquired by the newly-formed Consett Iron Company for £295,318 in 1864. Capital was £400,000. The company was controlled by John Henderson (1807 – 1884), and two Quakers, Joseph Whitwell Pease (1828 – 1903) and David Dale (1829 – 1906). The company had 18 blast furnaces, only seven of which were in use.

The Consett Iron Co employed 4,000 to 5,000 men in 1865.

William Jenkins (1825 – 1895), a Welshman, was appointed general manager from 1869, having previously managed the works of John Guest. Jenkins was largely credited with the turnaround of the Consett works.

A political Liberal, and a staunch churchgoer, Jenkins was a humane and kind man, and generally retained his workforce, even during slack trading periods. He had a keen commercial mind and was a strong judge of character.

45,038 tons of iron were produced in 1869. Company share capital amounted to £352,732.

The Consett Iron Co operated the largest iron plate works in the world by 1875. The company employed 5,000 people by 1878.

The Consett Iron Co manufactured 1,600 tons of iron plate every week by 1880. 132,085 tons of iron and steel were produced in 1890, and the company had a share capital of £736,000.

The Consett Iron Co was the largest steel manufacturer in the world by 1894. The company was remarkably profitable, a testament to its strong management.

The Consett Iron Co had a share capital of £3.5 million in 1922.

The Consett Iron Co established a steelworks at Jarrow, Tyneside from 1940.

The company’s seven collieries were nationalised in 1947.

The Consett Iron Co had an authorised capital of £19 million in 1955. 6,300 people were employed at the Consett and Jarrow sites.

The Consett Iron Co employed 7,337 people in 1965.

The Consett Iron Co was nationalised in 1967 and became a part of British Steel.

The Consett steel works were closed due to overcapacity in the industry in 1980. Almost 4,000 jobs were lost.

Building bridges: Dorman Long

Dorman Long was the largest steel and iron manufacturer in the British Empire, but is best known for its large structural engineering projects, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Arthur Dorman
Arthur John Dorman (1848 – 1931) was the son of a Kentish tanning yard owner. He relocated to Middlesbrough in the North East of England to serve an apprenticeship to E G Johnson of Richard Johnson & Co, iron producers, in 1866.

Arthur John Dorman (1848 – 1931) in 1918

Dorman was not afraid to get his hands dirty, and although his spectacles and Southern accent caused great amusement to his fellow puddlers, he earned their respect in undertaking their strenuous work. A straightforward and likeable man, he rose to the position of assistant manager.

Dorman Long is established
Dorman partnered with the financier Albert de Lande Long (1844 – 1917) to acquire the West Marsh Ironworks at Middlesbrough in 1876. With 20 puddling furnaces and three rolling mills, the business specialised in producing wrought iron bars and angles for the shipbuilding industry.

Developing trade led Dorman Long to acquire the Britannia Works from Bernhard Samuelson (1820 – 1905) and steel production commenced on a large scale.

Dorman Long became a limited company with a share capital of £350,000 in 1889. It had an annual output of 100,000 tons of steel.

A half share in Bell Brothers of Middlesbrough was acquired from Sir Hugh Bell (1844 – 1931) in 1899. Bell Brothers held extensive collieries, ironstone mines and limestone quarries.

Company capital was increased to £1 million in 1902 to purchase the remaining half of Bell Brothers from Sir Lowthian Bell (1816 – 1904), who became company chairman. The firm was now the largest steel producer in the North of England, and the only one that was entirely vertically integrated.

The merger made logical sense as the result of increasing co-operation between the two firms. It was also a response to the formation of United States Steel, the largest manufacturer in the world, in 1901.

The North Eastern Steel Company was acquired in 1903.

Dorman Long was the first non-armaments company in Britain to dedicate itself to shell production during the First World War.

The six blast furnaces of Walker Maynard & Co at Redcar were acquired in 1915.

A £2 million steelworks was established at Redcar in 1917.

Sir B Samuelson & Co of Middlesbrough was also acquired in 1917.

Dorman Long was easily the largest iron, steel and coal company in Britain by 1923.

The Redcar steelworks covered 150 acres and employed 2,500 men by 1923.

Richborough, the state-owned Kentish coal port which had been neglected since the war, was acquired in 1924.

Dorman Long enters the bridge-building industry
Dorman Long entered the bridge-building industry from 1924. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was their first contract, constructed at an estimated cost of £4.5 million.

Construction of the Tyne Bridge in 1928. Source: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Dorman Long acquired Bolckow Vaughan to form the largest steel, iron and engineering business in the British Empire in 1929. The merged company had an annual capacity of three million tons of steel (25 percent of British production) and two million tons of pig iron. The merger was motivated by a trade slump following the post-war boom, and neither company had issued a dividend since 1921.

Arthur Dorman died in 1931. His obituary in the Yorkshire Post heralded his strong relationship with his workforce. By this time Dorman Long was the best-known bridge-builder in the world.

A keen Anglican and Conservative, Dorman was also a generous benefactor. He built Dormanstown garden village to improve the living standards of his workforce, and donated the Dorman Museum to the people of Middlesbrough.

Dorman Long struggled during the Great Depression, and entered into receivership in 1933. The board of directors was reconstituted, and managerial control was returned to Middlesbrough.

Dorman Long opened the second largest coking plant in Europe at their Cleveland Works in 1936.

Dorman Long employed 39,889 people in 1937, with the vast majority working in County Durham and Yorkshire. The wage bill for the year amounted to nearly £7 million.

Dorman Long built the second largest bridge in the world at their works in Middlesbrough in 1937. It was erected in Denmark and still stands.

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Dorman Long controlled collieries with an annual output of four million tons, and ironstone mines with an annual capacity of 2.5 million tons by 1938. The South Bank works contained the largest coking plant in England.

By 1949 Dorman Long held 60 percent of the structural engineering industry in South Africa, and owned the largest structural engineering company in South America, British Structural Steel of Buenos Aires.

Relative decline of the business
Dorman Long entered into relative decline, and was the 38th largest steel manufacturer in the world by 1963, with an annual output of 1.745 million metric tons.

Dorman Long was responsible for 22 to 25 percent of British structural steel output in 1964, and employed a total of around 25,000 people.

Dorman Long merged with South Durham and Stewarts & Lloyds to create British Steel & Tube in 1967. The merged company was the largest steel producer in Britain, and one of the largest steel manufacturers in the world, with an annual output of over five million tons.

British Steel & Tube was nationalised later that year under the name British Steel.

Dorman Long reduced its workforce from 9,000 to 3,000 in the early 1980s, in response to large profit losses.

Trafalgar House acquired Dorman Long from British Steel for £10 million in 1982. Trafalgar House merged the business with its own Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Co to form the largest structural steel fabricator in Western Europe, with 7,000 employees.

Dorman Long Technology was demerged from Cleveland Bridge in 2000. It specialises in the construction of bridges. It has company headquarters in Northamptonshire, and maintains its North of England headquarters in Darlington.

Cleveland Bridge continues to operate from a 22-acre site in Darlington, where it employs 250 people.

A Wear we go: William Doxford

Doxford of Sunderland was the largest shipbuilder, and the largest manufacturer of marine engines in the world.

The business is established
William Doxford (1812–1882) established a shipyard at Coxgreen, Sunderland, from 1840. He built wooden sailing ships.

Doxford relocated the works to Pallion, Sunderland from 1858. Here, he began to build composite vessels; ships made from both wood and iron. From this time he was joined by his eldest son, William Theodore Doxford (1841 – 1916).

William Theodore Doxford (1841 – 1916) by Benjamin Stone in 1899. Image used with the kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery.

Business expanded after the firm launched its first iron vessel in 1865.

A larger yard with a five berth capacity was acquired in 1870.

The first government contract, an order for three gunboats, arrived in 1872.

The engineering works were opened in 1878. The marine engines business was to become as important as shipbuilding to the firm.

The firm built the largest steamer afloat, the 4,500 ton Grecian, in 1879.

William Doxford Sr died in 1882, and Theodore William Doxford became the head of the business.

Theodore William Doxford was a firm supporter of trade unions, and stated his belief that, “the stronger the unions are the less likely there will be strikes”.

William Doxford & Sons is incorporated
The business was incorporated as William Doxford & Sons with a capital of £200,000, all owned by the Doxford family, in 1891.

William Doxford & Sons launched the first turret-deck steamer in 1892. The Samoa, the largest cargo vessel in the world, was launched in 1892.

William Doxford & Sons launched the largest cargo-carrying vessel ever built in England or Scotland in 1896. The Algoa, with a carrying capacity of 11,300 tons, was the second largest ship afloat.

William Theodore Doxford was knighted in 1900.

William Doxford & Sons laid down the largest private crane in the world in 1900.

William Doxford & Sons made a limited public offering of shares in 1900. The company had a share capital of £500,000. The works covered 32 acres.

An aerial view of the Doxford shipbuilding and engine works in 1967. Image used with permission from Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

The original five berths were replaced with three berths of greater length, each with the capacity for a 12,000 ton ship, from 1904.

William Doxford & Sons held the “Blue Ribbon” for the largest output of any British shipyard in 1905 and 1907. 20 vessels were launched in 1905 with a gross tonnage of 86,532. Output in 1906 was much larger, at 106,000 tons, although the shipyard did not win the Blue Ribbon that year.

William Doxford & Sons constructed its first oil-powered engine in 1912.

During the First World War the shipyard and engineering works concentrated on the construction of destroyers. 21 destroyers were built between 1914 and 1918.

Loss of independence and eventual closure
The Northumberland Shipbuilding Company, controlled by the Sperling Group, acquired William Doxford & Sons for over £3 million in 1919. Chaired by Viscount Furness (1883 – 1940), the combine was one of the largest industrial companies in Europe.

The Doxford opposed-piston, airless injection oil engine was introduced from 1921.

At one point during the 1930s, 90 percent of the world’s diesel marine engines were designed or being built by William Doxford & Sons.

Charles David Doxford died in 1935, the last member of the Doxford family to take an active interest in the management of the business.

William Doxford & Sons launched its largest vessel to date, the 16,500 ton Charlton Venus tanker, in 1951.

Inside the Engine Works Fabricating department (1954). Image courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

The Doxford engine held a 25 to 30 percent global market share throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. The Doxford engine was also produced under licence by 25 different businesses around the world. However foreign competitors such as Sulzer Brothers of Switzerland and Burmeister & Wain of Denmark had begun to take market share.

The Sunderland Shipbuilding Dry Docks and Engineering Company was acquired in 1961. The amalgamation brought the largest engineering works on the River Wear and three shipyards under a single owner.

William Doxford & Sons was acquired by Court Line in 1972. Court Line ran into financial difficulties, and Doxford was starved of investment for research and development.

467 engine making jobs were lost in 1979.

The last Doxford engine was made in 1980. Across its history, 1,200 Doxford engines were sold.

The three Wearside yards of Sunderland Shipbuilders were closed with the loss of 2,500 jobs in 1990.



Thomas Vaughan & Co of Middlesbrough

Thomas Vaughan of Middlesbrough was the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world.

Thomas Vaughan (1836 – 1900) was the only son of John Vaughan (1799 – 1868), a partner in Bolckow Vaughan & Co, iron manufacturers of Middlesbrough, North East England.

Thomas Vaughan worked at Bolckow & Vaughan. His father gifted him half of his shares in the firm, to the value of £200,000. Using these funds, Thomas Vaughan established works at South Bank and Clay Lane, Eston, Middlesbrough.

Thomas Vaughan & Co was the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world by 1869.

T Vaughan & Co opened two new furnaces in 1869 which could each produce 400 tons of pig iron per week. There were 16 blast furnaces by 1871.

700 blast-furnace workers went on strike in 1871, demanding an increase in pay. All of the strikers were dismissed.

In 1872 the firm had nine furnaces (7.5 of which were in use) at South Bank and six at Clay Lane. The firm had 36 puddling furnaces at Whessoe, Darlington and 30 at Bishop Auckland.

George Neesham, the general manager, was brought in as a junior partner to reflect his long service to the firm.

The loss-making business entered into administration in 1876. The gross liabilities of the firm amounted to over £1 million.

Vaughan was dismissed from his business in 1878. He suffered from ill-health in his later years.

Eight furnaces of the South Bank Iron Works were acquired by Bolckow Vaughan & Co for £125,000 in 1879.

Irons in the fire: Bolckow Vaughan

Bolckow Vaughan was the largest manufacturer of pig iron and steel in the world.

Bolckow and Vaughan establish the business
Henry William Ferdinand Bolckow (1806 – 1878) was born in Germany and emigrated to Newcastle upon Tyne. He made a fortune in the corn trade as a partner in C Allhusen & Co.

Henry Bolckow (1806 - 1878)
Portrait of Henry Bolckow (1806 – 1878), c.1860

Bolckow entered into partnership with John Vaughan (1799 – 1868), a Welsh ironmaker, from 1840. The two men established a cast iron works at Middlesbrough, consisting of a foundry, two rolling mills and an engineer’s shop. Bolckow supplied capital of £10,000 and Vaughan provided the technical expertise. Profits were divided equally.

The site offered reasonable shipping costs, allowing for the convenient importation of Scottish pig iron from Fife, and a ready supply of fuel from the Durham coalfield via the Stockton and Darlington railway.

Bolckow Vaughan initially constructed engines, and supplied the engine for the English Rose, the first steamboat built on the Tees in 1843.

Bolckow Vaughan established four blast furnaces at Witton Park near Bishop Auckland in 1846. Iron was produced from ironstone, which was mainly sourced from nearby Weardale.

Bolckow Vaughan used 62,400 tons of ironstone, 104,000 tons of coke and coal and 20,800 tons of limestone in 1846. The Middlesbrough works produced over 400 tons of iron rails each week.

John Vaughan, together with mining engineer John Marley (1823 -1891), discovered the main bed of ironstone at Eston in Cleveland in 1850. Blast furnaces were erected at Eston in order to smelt the ironstone deposits and manufacture pig iron from 1851.

Strong growth ensued as a result of this discovery, and the business employed 4,000 people and produced over 120,000 tons of iron in 1855.

Bolckow Vaughan had 17 blast furnaces by 1864. The business was largely responsible for the growth of the town of Middlesbrough, as people relocated to the area in search of work.

Bolckow spent over £20,000 to dedicate the 100-acre Albert Park to the town of Middlesbrough in 1864. A staunch Liberal, Bolckow became the first mayor of Middlesbrough in 1853, and served as its Member of Parliament from 1868 until his death in 1878.

Bolckow Vaughan is registered as a limited liability company
Bolckow Vaughan & Co Ltd was registered as a limited liability company with a capital of £2.5 million in 1865. At the time it was the largest company to have been registered, and employed over 9,000 people. 2,000 to 3,000 tons of stone were mined every day, and 160,000 tons of iron were produced per annum.

Portrait of John Vaughan (1799 – 1868), c.1860

Vaughan was originally a Wesleyan Methodist, but became an Anglican in his later years. He had a hard-working man with a keen intellect and a natural instinct for management. He died in 1868, and his only son, Thomas Vaughan (1836 – 1900), inherited his fortune.

At one point it was believed that the rise of steel and the declining importance of iron would ruin the prospects of Bolckow Vaughan. Steel could only be produced from iron that was free from phosphorous, and the Cleveland ironstone had a large phosphorus content. Fortunately the company discovered that it could import hematite, and make steel of equal quality and at lower cost than that imported from abroad.

Bolckow Vaughan established a steelworks at Eston in 1875. It was the first steelworks in the North of England to utilise the Bessemer process.

Edward Windsor Richards (1831 – 1921), who had previously been manager of the Ebbw Vale Co Works, was appointed general manager of the firm from 1876.

Bolckow Vaughan produced 300,000 tons of iron a year with 20 blast furnaces in 1877. The company employed a workforce of 12,000 people.

Bolckow Vaughan had twelve collieries and produced one million tons of coal annually by 1878.

At the initiative of Edward Richards the Thomas-Gilchrist process for steel manufacture was discovered. The process allowed steel to be made using the local iron ore, which had previously been unsuitable due to its high phosphorus content. The new method was introduced at Bolckow Vaughan from 1878, and resulted in lower production costs.

Henry Bolckow served as chairman of the company until his death in 1878. He left an estate valued at nearly £800,000.

Bolckow Vaughan acquired eight furnaces at the Southbank Iron Works in Eston from Thomas Vaughan & Co, which had entered into liquidation, for £125,000 in 1879. The deal transformed the company into the largest manufacturers of pig iron in the world, with 28 blast furnaces, several of which were among the largest in the world. At full capacity the the company could produce over 11,000 tons of pig iron a week. Bolckow Vaughan possessed one sixth of all the furnaces in the North of England.

Bolckow Vaughan was one of the largest iron and steel-making companies in the world by 1881. The business regularly employed 10,000 to 12,000 workers in County Durham and Yorkshire. The Cleveland Works were the largest steelworks in the world, capable of producing 4,000 tons of steel rails every week. Per annum the company manufactured 500,000 tons of pig iron and mined 1.5 million tons of ironstone and two million tons of coal.

Bolckow Vaughan ranked among the largest commercial enterprises in the world, and Teesside was the principal site for British iron production.

Bolckow Vaughan established two steel plate mills at Eston in 1885. The company could produce 1,000 tons of steel plates and 3,000 tons of steel rails per week.

Edward Windsor Richards resigned as general manager in 1888, but returned to Bolckow Vaughan the following year as chairman and managing director.

Bolckow Vaughan was one the largest iron and steel company in Britain by 1891. The company had a capital of £4 million and employed 10,000 people.

Bolckow Vaughan had the largest number of blast furnaces in the United Kingdom for pig iron production, and was the largest producer of steel rails in 1898. The company employed 16,000 people.

The Clay Lane Iron Co of Middlesbrough was acquired in 1899. Its six furnaces were dedicated to the production of foundry iron (used to make cast iron).

Bolckow Vaughan was the largest British iron and steel producer in 1915, and employed 18,000 people. The steelworks had a productive capacity of 220,000 tons per annum. The company had 23 blast furnaces on South Bank and a further two in Middlesbrough. There were four ironstone mines in Cleveland, 13 collieries in County Durham and limestone quarries. An average of two million tons of ironstone were mined per annum.

Decline and sale to Dorman Long
Darlington Rolling Mills was acquired from George E Sisterton in 1920.

Redpath Brown & Co, constructional engineers of Glasgow, was acquired in 1923.

Bolckow Vaughan closed five uneconomic coal pits in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, with the loss of 2,500 jobs in 1926.

Bolckow Vaughan entered into serious financial difficulties following the post-war boom. It lost a total of £2 million between 1920 and 1927.

Bolckow Vaughan was acquired by its Middlesbrough rival Dorman Long in 1929. The acquisition established Dorman Long as the largest steel, iron and engineering company in the British Empire. The combined business had a capital of over £17 million and employed 32,000 people.