Bell Brothers was the second largest producer of pig iron in the North of England.
Thomas Bell (1774 – 1845) was born at Lowhurst, Cumberland. 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, in 1808. He became a partner in the firm, which became known as Losh, Wilson & Bell.
Thomas Bell’s sons, Isaac Lowthian Bell (1816 – 1904) and John Bell (1818 – 1888), established Bell Brothers in 1844. 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 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.
Thomas Hugh Bell (1844 – 1931), the son of Lowthian Bell, was responsible for managing the business by this time.
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 and Brunner Mond 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.
Lowthian Bell died with an estate valued at £768,676 in 1904.
The Bell Brothers subsidiary was formally liquidated in 1923.