Category Archives: Iron & Steel

Steely resolve: Consett Iron Company

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

Founded in 1840, by 1860 the Derwent Iron Works in County Durham was the largest in England. Nearly 4,000 men and boys were employed on a site of over 70 acres with eleven blast furnaces.

Despite its scale, the company was notoriously unprofitable. When the Northumberland and Durham District Bank went bust, the Derwent Iron Works owed the bank £1 million.

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

In 1865 the company employed 4,000 to 5,000 men.

In 1869 William Jenkins (1825 – 1895), a Welshman, was appointed general manager, 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.

By 1875 the company had the largest iron plate works in the world. In 1878 the company employed 5,000 people.

In 1880 the firm manufactured 1,600 tons of iron plate every week. By 1890, 132,085 tons of iron and steel were produced, and the company had share capital of £736,000.

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

In 1922 the company had share capital of £3.5 million.

In 1940 the company established a steelworks at Jarrow, Tyneside.

The company’s seven collieries were nationalised in 1947.

In 1955 the company had an authorised capital of £19 million. 6,300 people were employed at the Consett and Jarrow sites.

In 1965 the company employed 7,337 people.

The company was nationalised in 1967 and became a part of British Steel.

The Consett steel works was closed in 1980 due to overcapacity in the industry. 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.

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

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

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 straight-forward and likeable man, he rose to the position of assistant manager.

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

Developing business led Dorman Long to acquire the Britannia Works from Bernard Samuelson and steel production commenced on a large scale.

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

In 1899 a half share in Bell Brothers of Middlesbrough was acquired from Sir Hugh Bell. Bell Brothers held extensive collieries, ironstone mines and limestone quarries.

In 1902 company capital was increased to £1 million to purchase the remaining half of Bell Brothers  from Sir Lowthian Bell, 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 the enormous United States Steel by Andrew Carnegie.

In 1903 the North Eastern Steel Company was acquired.

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

In 1915 the six blast furnaces of Walker Maynard & Co at Redcar were acquired. The following year a steelworks was opened at Redcar.

The Newport Ironworks of Sir B Samuelson & Co and the Carlton Iron Co were also acquired.

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

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

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

Dorman Long acquired Bolckow Vaughan in 1929 to form the largest steel, iron and engineering firm in the British Empire. The merged firm 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 due to a slump following the post-war boom, and neither firm had issued a dividend since 1921.

A J 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.

In 1936 the firm opened the second largest coking plant in Europe at their Cleveland Works. In 1937 the firm employed 39,889 people, with the vast majority working in County Durham and Yorkshire.

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

By 1938 Dorman Long controlled collieries with an annual output of four million tons, and ironstone mines with an annual capacity of 2.5 million tons. 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.

By 1963 Dorman Long had declined relatively, to be the 38th largest steel manufacturer in the world, 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.

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

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

Dorman Long Technology still specialises in the construction of bridges. It has company headquarters in Northamptonshire, and maintains its North of England headquarters in Darlington.

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, 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.

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

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

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

In 1872 the firm had nine furnaces (7.5 of which were in blast) 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.

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

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

After being dismissed from his company in 1878, Vaughan retired from business. In his latter years he was an invalid.

Irons in the fire: Bolckow Vaughan

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

Henry William Ferdinand Bolckow (1806 – 1878) was a German who emigrated to Newcastle upon Tyne. He made a fortune in the corn trade as a partner in C Allhusen & Co. In 1840 he entered into partnership with John Vaughan (1799 – 1868), a Welsh ironmaker.

Henry Bolckow (1806 - 1878)
Henry Bolckow (1806 – 1878)

In 1841 they 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 two men were attracted to the site due to reasonable shipping costs, the easy import of Scottish pig iron from Fife, and a ready supply of fuel from the Durham coalfield via the Stockton and Darlington railway.

Initially the firm built engines, and in 1843 supplied the engine for the English Rose, the first steamboat built on the Tees.

In 1846 the firm erected four blast furnaces at Witton Park near Bishop Auckland, with ironstone (from which iron was made) sourced mainly from nearby Weardale.

That year the firm used 62,400 tons of ironstone, 104,000 tons of coke and coal and 20,800 tons of limestone. By this time the Middlesbrough works produced over 400 tons of iron rails each week.

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

Strong growth ensued, and 1855 saw over 120,000 tons of iron produced, and 4,000 people employed. By 1864 the firm had 17 blast furnaces. Bolckow and Vaughan were largely responsible for a boom in the population of Middlesbrough.

In 1864 H W F Bolckow spent over £20,000 to dedicate the 100-acre Albert Park as a public space for the town. A staunch Liberal, Bolckow became the first mayor of Middlesbrough in 1853, and became its Member of Parliament from 1868 until his death.

Bolckow Vaughan & Co Ltd was registered as a limited liability company in 1865 with a capital of £2.5 million, which made it the largest new company to date. The firm 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.

Statue of John Vaughan in Middlesbrough
Statue of John Vaughan (1799- 1868) in Middlesbrough

Vaughan was 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, inherited his fortune.

In 1875 the firm built a steelworks at Eston, the first in the North of England to use the Bessemer process.

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

By 1877 the firm produced 300,000 tons of iron a year with 20 blast furnaces. 12,000 workers were employed.

By 1878 the firm had twelve collieries and produced one million tons of coal annually. That year, at the initiative of E W Richards, the firm began to use the Thomas-Gilchrist process for steel manufacture.

Bolckow was chairman until his death in 1878. He left an estate of nearly £800,000.

In 1879 the firm acquired eight furnaces at the Southbank Iron Works, Eston, from Thomas Vaughan & Co, which had entered liquidation, for £125,000. The deal made Bolckow Vaughan 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 firm could produce over 11,000 tons a week. The firm possessed one sixth of all the furnaces in the North of England.

In 1881 the firm was one of the largest iron and steel-making companies in the world. 10,000 to 12,000 workers were regularly employed 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 firm manufactured 500,000 tons of pig iron and mined 1.5 million tons of ironstone and 2 million tons of coal.

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

In 1885 the firm opened two steel plate mills at Eston. The firm 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 the company the following year as chairman and managing director.

In 1891 Bolckow Vaughan was one of the largest, if not the largest, iron and coal companies in Britain. In 1892 the firm had a capital of £4 million and employed 10,000 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).

By 1915 the firm employed 18,000 people and was the largest iron and steel producing firm in Britain. The steelworks had a productive capacity of 220,000 tons per annum. The firm had 23 blast furnaces on South Bank and a further two in Middlesbrough. The firm had 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.

In 1920 Darlington Rolling Mills was acquired from George E Sisterton.

In 1923 Redpath Brown & Co of Glasgow was acquired. Bolckow Vaughan thus established a presence in structural engineering.

After the post-war boom, the firm entered serious financial difficulties. In 1929 it was acquired by its Middlesbrough rival Dorman Long. Dorman Long had a steel output double that of Bolckow Vaughan. The acquisition established Dorman Long as the largest steel, iron and engineering company in the British Empire.

Marching orders: Palmer of Jarrow

Throughout much of the latter half of the nineteenth century Palmer’s was the largest shipbuilding company in the world. Due to its influence on the Tyneside community, Jarrow was nicknamed “Palmer’s Town”.

The launching of the HMS Queen Mary from Palmer's shipyard in 1912
The launching of the HMS Queen Mary from Palmer’s shipyard in 1912

In 1851 Charles Mark Palmer (1822 – 1907), a colliery-owner, and his brother George, leased a shipyard at Jarrow on Tyne. In 1852 they launched the John Bowes, the first successful iron-built, steam-powered, screw-propelled, water-ballasted collier.

In 1856 Palmer’s received its first Royal Navy contract. The HMS Terror was the first rolled iron, armour-plated ship. The Royal Navy association would remain throughout the history of the company.

Four blast-furnaces were built in 1857, and rolling mills in 1859.

By 1859 Palmer’s was the largest shipbuilder in the world.

By the early 1860s the firm was employing 3,500 men, consuming 18,000 tons of iron and producing over 22,000 tons of shipping every year.

In 1864 Palmer opened a Mechanic’s Institute for the education of the men of Jarrow.

The firm was registered in 1865 as Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company Ltd.

Rolling mills were established in 1874.

In 1874 C M Palmer was appointed as a Member of Parliament. However the business suffered without his presence, and he was forced to return in 1876 to save the company. Various members of management were dismissed.

In 1883 Palmer broke the record for the largest shipping tonnage (61,113) produced in a single year. Palmer was largely producing cargo-carrying steamships for the coal and iron industries of the North of England.

By 1886 the majority of the workforce consisted of Irish immigrants. In 1893 the shipbuilding works employed 7,600 workers.

The works began to make a loss, and Palmer, facing bankruptcy, resigned as head of the company in 1893.

In 1899 Palmer was the sixth largest shipbuilder in Britain, as measured by tonnage. By 1900 just under 10,000 men were employed by the company. Between 1852 and 1900, nearly 1.25 million tons of shipping were produced, more than any other company.

palmerstatue

Palmer died in 1907, and Arthur Bryan Gowan (born 1862), a former draughtsman from Berwick upon Tweed, was appointed managing director.

The company employed 7,500 people in 1908, and was amongst the top thirty largest British manufacturing employers. In 1910 the Jarrow works covered nearly three quarters of a mile on the River Tyne, and about 100 acres. The works included a steel-producing plant and five blast furnaces.

In 1910 Lord Furness, a local industrialist, became chairman of the company. Furness planned to extend and consolidate the firm. Under his impetus, in 1911 the firm acquired Robert Stephenson & Sons, with a shipyard at Hebburn. The Hebburn site included the largest dry dock on the East coast; the only one capable of accommodating the new dreadnought battleships. Hebburn would take on merchant work, and Jarrow would be largely dedicated to naval contracts.

Following a reluctance of shareholders to contribute further capital to the company, as well as his ailing health, Furness resigned in 1912. The national coal strike of 1912 cost the firm £30,000.

By 1913 the firm had built 76 battleships at its Jarrow yard. In 1919 the firm had a capital of £883,145. In 1921 the steel plant alone employed 2,500 men. By 1926 the firm employed 10,000 people when operating at full capacity. Palmer’s built its thousandth vessel in 1930.

Palmer’s shipyard entered receivership in 1934. It was taken over by National Shipbuilding Securities Ltd, a government company which acquired redundant yards.

In 1934 Thomas W Ward Ltd of Sheffield, a dismantling firm, acquired the Jarrow blast furnaces and steel works. The company acquired the yard in 1935.

Vickers Armstrong Ltd acquired the Hebburn site in 1935, which continued to be operated under its old management.

The poverty that ensued among  former Palmers workers led to the Jarrow March of 1936.