Tag Archives: history of Bolckow Vaughan

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.

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

Bolckow Vaughan closed five uneconomic coal pits in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, in 1926. 2,500 men and boys lost their jobs.

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.