This piece ought, perhaps, to be re-titled ‘highlight’ rather than spotlight, for the ironworks in and around Elsecar were not an ‘added extras’, rather they formed the very basis for much of the growth of the village and its population, stimulating demand for coal and ironstone which sustained the sinking of so many pits in and around the village, on Earl Fitzwilliam’s estate.
Established in the late Eighteenth century, years of Napoleonic conflict and the coming of the Dearne and Dove Canal to Elsecar, the national demand for iron – and therefore the profits and losses accruing to the ironmasters and their landlords – fluctuated dramatically throughout the following 90 years. These highs and lows largely dictated employment prospects for people in the local area – whether the skilled or labouring hands employed in the ironworks themselves, the ironstone miners providing the raw material, or indeed the colliers providing fuel for boilers and coke for the metals. They were all, to a large degree, interdependent.
Elsecar furnace was established first in 1795, under Darwin and Company – a partnership including:
John Darwin, Francis Frith and Joseph Ridge.
Darwin & Co. ran into financial troubles over a number of years, with Joseph Ridge pulling out in 1823 (see: London Gazette, No. 17893, 4 February 1823, p.196) and the works were taken back in hand by Earl Fitzwilliam around 1828, with Henry Hartop (1785-1865), manager at Milton, see below) being paid to oversee the works, eventually appointed manager. Control later passed to his son, John Hartop (1815-1902) who maintained the business on behalf of the 5th and 6th Earls Fitzwilliam as proprietors.
The Milton Ironworks was established by the renowned Rotherham firm of Walker and Company. The Walkers were a major national supplier of iron products, including cannon for the Napoleonic wars. They were led by Mr Joshua Walker (1750-1815). Joshua Walker & Co named their new furnace in honour of the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam’s son and heir, Lord Milton.
The Milton ironworks developed from 1798, with the Walkers purchasing a blowing engine from Boulton and Watt, but the first furnace was not built straightaway. Ironstone records show that the Walkers were working the minerals at Tankersley from 1801. They began to withdraw from all of their Yorkshire iron interests at the end of the Napoleonic wars as the iron trade went into decline. In 1820 the Walkers recorded:
Resolved. That a letter be written to Mr Newman [Legal representative of Earl Fitzwilliam], to endeavour to negociate for giving up the leases of minerals at Milton Furnace and Tankersley Ironstone Works.
(cited from John, A.H., p.27)
At this stage a new partnership of Sheffield businessmen with family ties took over the Milton property, consisting of Henry Hartop, John Sorby, James Sorby, John Sorby junior, Henry Sorby and John Littlewood – known as ‘Hartop, Littlewood and Sorby‘.
By 1825 however, only Henry Hartop remained. He had sought further capital from two London iron agents, brothers William Graham (1780-1862) and Robert Graham (1793-1874), but their new partnership became acrimonious and in March 1829 this partnership also faltered. Graham & Co. were in control until 1848 when they too gave up on the works – selling much of the Milton works stock and machinery, wooden patterns, wagons etc.
Milton and Elsecar
With the lease of the Milton works being advertised, William Henry and George Dawes from Staffordshire agreed to take on both Milton and Elsecar works, and continued to run both concerns together from 1849 onwards. The Dawes were significant ironfounders with interests around the country – see the portraits of George and William Henry, on the BBC Your Paintings/PCF website – held by North Lincolnshire Museums Service). They invested significantly in the Elsecar and Milton works over the next thirty years, experimenting with new improvements and expanding the infrastructure.
In 1865 a puddling furnace at Milton was modified according to Mr Edward Brown Wilson’s patented improvements to furnaces. The trial was successful, allowing the cheaper, poor slack coal to be used to heat the furnace, but producing less smoke overall due to higher combustion in the furnace. However the innovation was strongly resisted by the workforce initially, with the iron puddlers tossing complaints on the new system compared to the old which led to strike action. Nevertheless in 1867 ten Wilson modified furnaces were still working.
By late 1871 one of two new iron-cased blast furnaces erected at Elsecar was in blast. Other machinery included a Siemen’s gas furnace working the puddling and heating furnaces. Also at Elsecar they installed a White’s patent blooming mill, having four pairs of rolls with a reverse crab, worked by a beam engine of 120 HP. (Engineering, 22 Dec 1871, p.406; Supplement to the Economist: Commercial history and review of 1871, Vol.XXX, No.1490, 16 March 1872, p.41).
In 1876, the brothers divided their partnership interests as follows:
NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore
subsisting between us the undersigned,
William Henry Dawes and George Dawes, carrying on
business as Iron Masters, at the Milton and Elsecar Iron
Works, in the townships of Hoyland and Brampton Bierlow,
in the parish of Wath-upon-Dearne, in the county
of York, under the style or firm of William Henry and
George Dawes, and at Denby, in the county of Derby, under
the style or firm of the Denby Iron Company, and at the
Trent Iron Works, in the township of Scunthorpe, in the
parish of Frodingham, and in the parish of Appleby, all in
the county of Lincoln, under the style or firm of the Trent
Iron Company, has been dissolved by mutual consent; and
that the said business at the Trent Iron Works will henceforth
be carried on by the said William Henry Dawes alone,
and that the said businesses at Milton and Elsecar and at
Derby aforesaid, will henceforth be carried on by the said
George Dawes alone.
—Dated this 25th day of March, 1876.
William Henry Dawes.
George Dawes continued the works alone until the mid 1880s when they were finally given up and many of the buildings and extensions erected under the earlier lease were demolished as the works reverted to the proprietor – Earl Fitzwilliam.
ABANDONMENT OF ONE OF THE OLDEST IRONWORKS IN YORKSHIRE.
-During the past week the last ray of hope in connection with the establishment of the old and well-known Elsecar Works, near Barnsley, has vanished. The works, which were replete with valuable machinery for the purpose of producing sheet, rod, and bar iron, in addition to other kinds of work, have been carried on by Mr. G. Dawes, the property belonging to Earl Fitzwilliam. The lease expired at the close of last year, and not being renewed, the machinery and plant were dismantled, the hammer beds being blown up with dynamite. The buildings, which belonged to Earl Fitzwilliam, were left standing, and hopes were entertained that the works would be again restarted either by the noble owner or some district firm.
This, however, cannot be the case, as during the week five large chimneys connected with the various departments, for many years so briskly carried on, have been pulled down. The work, which has been executed by Messrs. Haigh, of Hoyland, by his lordship’s instructions, was witnessed by a large company of the astounded villagers. The first of the chimneys fell on Saturday and the last on Tuesday night. They were cut
round at the base and wooden wedges inserted, and these being removed, they were allowed to fall.
At such an epoch in the history of the works it cannot fail to be interesting to note that in 1796 one blast furnace was at work at Elsecar, which yielded 950 tons. In the year 1806 two furnaces were in blast at Elsecar, belonging to Messrs. Darwen and Co., which yielded 2495 tons of pig iron. Passing on to the year 1823, three furnaces appear to have been at work at Elsecar, which had an output of 1400 tons.
History appears to be silent respecting the works between the years 1823 and 1851. In the latter year three furnaces were returned as out of blast at Milton an Elsecar. On coming into the hands of Mr. Geo. Dawes the works were extended. In the year 1869 two of the blast furnaces were built the other two being of an older construction. Each furnace yielded about 150 tons of iron per week. In the year 1882 there were 31 puddling furnaces and two rolling mills at work. At the close of 1880 three out of the four furnaces at Elsecar were in blast. One of these was blown out early in 1881 and the others were damped down before the close of the half-year. The puddling furnaces and mills were partly worked up to the close of last year.
The Milton Works, which adjoins those at Elsecar, have also been partly dismantled. At these works in 1806 there were one if not more furnaces in blast. In 1823 two furnaces at Milton yielded 2187 tons. In 1882 five rolling mills and fourteen puddling furnaces were at work. The two blast furnaces were blown out in the year 1883, and the works were then closed. In connection with these large undertakings, an extensive staff was at one time employed. Mr. Dawes for a number of years enjoyed an easy contract for coal for the use of the works, which were drawn from the collieries belonging to Earl Fitzwilliam. The dismantling of the works is a sad blow to the neighbourhood, which is a popular one, whilst it, to a great extent, reduces the output of pig and finished iron.
The Engineer, 25th Sept 1885, p.247
Although nothing on the scale of the Dawes works returned to Elsecar, part of the site’s remaining buildings at Milton was leased by Thomas C. Ashworth as a smaller iron and brass foundry business. Styled “Ashforth, Hall and Hawthorne” the company consisted of Thomas Copestakes Ashworth (1857-1939), Charles Hall and George Hawthorne. In 1898 the business was registered as a limited company (no. 58115) – Ashforth, Hall & Hawthorne, Ltd. with a capital of £5,000. By 1902 the firm had well established moulding and fitting shops, and were installing a new boiler and a new 66 foot chimney on the site,The business was later renamed the Milton Foundry Ltd, and went into liquidation in 1905.
William and Peter Burgess also ran a scrap iron and carting business nearby for some time afterwards into the twentieth century.
Of the Milton works, almost nothing remains, the site having been cleared and re-levelled in the mid twentieth century. The Furnace public house overlooks ponds which were connected with the ironworks, and the Millhouses park is also crossed by the former trackbed of an incline railway which served both ironworks, once connecting Elsecar with Thorncliffe, and also transported coal from Lidgett Colliery to Elsecar.
Of Elsecar ironworks, there are some remains to be found. A row of apparently derelict buildings down Forge Lane, at the back of the Heritage Centre include buildings dating back to John Darwin’s time. In addition some intriguing stone and brick structures can still be found within the centre itself, extending back from the area now used by the Elsecar Heritage Railway shed.
List of blast furnaces available and active (“in blast”) at various years
Based on statistics from Riden and Owen, pp.127 & 131
|1862-1874||works taken together 6/4 active|
|1875||works taken together 6/5 active|
Clayton, Arthur Kay [1901-2002] The Story of the Elsecar and the Milton Ironworks from their opening until the year 1848. Cusworth Hall Museum, Publication No.9, Rural District Council of Doncaster, 1973
Clayton, Arthur Kay [1901-2002] Hoyland Nether, Hoyland Nether: Hoyland Nether Urban District Council, November 1973
John, A.H. (ed.) The Walker Family: Ironfounders and lead manufacturers 1741-1893, London: Council for the Preservation of Business Archives, 1951
Mee, [Leslie] Graham [1932-2009] Aristocratic enterprise: the Fitzwilliam industrial undertakings, 1795-1857, Glasgow: Blackie, 1975 ISBN:0216900506
Riden, Philip J. & Owen, John G. British blast furnace statistics 1790-1980, Cardiff: Merton Priory Press, 1995 ISBN:1898937052
London Gazette – www.thegazette.co.uk
John Goodchild Collection, Wakefield
The works in print
Here are a few published insights into the ironworks across the years:
Milton and Elsecar Works
In 1796, on Parliament proposing to levy a tax on coals at the pit mouth, the returns from the furnaces are given. In that year there was one furnace in blast at Elsecar, which yielded 950 tons; the output of two furnaces at Thorncliffe being 1,092 tons. At that time thirteen furnaces in the West Riding yielded 13,922 tons. In 1806 two furnaces were in blast at Elsecar belonging to Messrs Darwen and Co., which yielded 2,495 tons. In the same year there were three furnaces in blast at Milton and the Holmes, belonging to Messrs Walker and Co., the output if which was 3,000 tons. In 1823 three furnaces at Elsecar yielded 1,400 tons, and two furnaces at Milton 2,187 tons.
Between 1823 and 1851 the three furnaces at Milton and Elsecar are returned as out of blast/ The works (after they came into the hands of Mr G Dawes) were extended. At the Milton Works there were two blast furnaces on hot blast, open at the top, the gas being diverted down for heating the stoves and boilers. The iron made was chiefly manufactured into sheets and hoops, but bars and rods were also made. The ore used for many years was an admixture of black mines, from the Tankersley Main, with the North Lincolnshire ironstone. There were four furnaces at the Elsecar Works, two of which were built about 1869, whilst the others are of older construction. Each furnace yielded about 150 tons of iron per week. The manufactured iron, when the markets were in full operation, was made into rail, plate, and bar iron. There was also an extensive foundry, fitting and smiths’ shops. In the year 1882 there were thirty-one puddling furnaces and two rolling mills at Elsecar, with fourteen puddling furnaces at Milton and five rolling mills. At the close of 1880 there were three out of the four furnaces in blast at Elsecar. One of these was blown out early in 1881, and all were damped down before the close of the half-year. The two furnaces at Milton were blown out in 1883, and the works since that time have been dismantled. The puddling furnaces and mills at Elsecar were to some extent worked to the close of the year, despite the scarcity of water.
In connection with the works, Mr Dawes for a number of years enjoyed an easy contract under Earl Fitzwilliam, which, amongst other advantages, gave him a supply of coal from the Hemingfield and Simon Wood Collieries at 4s 6d a ton delivered at the works. Then the works were in full operation they gave employment to a large number of hands. Many years ago the furnaces were, to a great extent, supplied with ironstone from the Tankersley, Lidgett, Swallow Wood mines, which yielded from 1,500-3,400 tons of ironstone per acre.
The Ivanhoe Review, Vol.II, No.11, November 1899, p.129 [apparently quoting from article in The Engineer of 1885]
At Skiar Spring, near Elsecar, the Barnsley thick coal crops out, and an abundance of ironstone lies close at hand. It is perhaps sixty years since a blast furnace was started here by the Walkers, then known as the Kings of Rotherham, great men as they were in their day, and rich. In compliment to the Earl of Fitzwilliam’s eldest son, Lord Milton – and the whole property is upon the Fitzwilliam estate – the furnace and its appendages were named the Milton Ironworks.
The coal, the Barnsley thick bed, 9ft. thick and carrying 10,000 tons to the acre, is practically inexhaustible, and the iron is of superior quality. After a time another furnace was built, and forges, rolling mills, and fitting-shops soon followed. For some years the works how been the property of the Messrs Dawes, by whom they are now carried on. The product of the two furnaces, say 300 tons a week, is turned into plates, rods, and castings, and sent down an inclined plane (for the Milton Ironworks are upon the side of a hill) to Elsecar. There are twenty-seven puddling furnaces, of which a number are upon Mr Wilson’s plan, as described in another column, and the others are to be immediately altered. It is reasonably expected that the works will soon be comparatively free from smoke, for the new furnaces are almost smoke-less, and indeed for most of the times they are absolutely so, even when burning the finest and driest slack. At present the smoke from the old furnaces is a sad blemish to the beautiful country about the works.
At Skiar Spring colliery, Mr Nasmyth some years ago put up one of his large ventilating fans, 15ft in diameter, and driven by a direct-acting engine on the fan spindle, at about 80 revolutions per minute. The action of this fan has been found to give excellent ventilation in all parts of the workings, and from the simplicity of the driving engine the interruptions for repairs are very rare.
At Elsecar below Milton, are four blast-furnaces, turning out each about 150 tons weekly. The gas is taken off to heat the blast, as also the boilers of the blowing engine. There are forty-four puddling furnaces. The rolling-mill has one of the finest trains of plate rolls in the kingdom, and made at Elsecar, as were also the first large rolls employed by Messrs John Brown and Co., at Sheffield, for rolling armour plates. These rolls are reversible at each pass, and the plates, except in the finishing rolls, is rolled in both directions, instead of being lifted over at each pass. The Elsecar works produce large quantities of plates and rails.
The iron is taken away from the works partly upon the canal of the Dearne and Dove Navigation, and for the rest by a branch of the South Yorkshire Railway. The facilities for carriage are nearly equal to those of the leading iron districts of England while, under a very favourable lease from the Earl of Fitzwilliam, the coal and ironstone are got at extremely low prices; so that, on the whole, and taking the good quality of the iron into account, the works compete successfully with those of other districts, and are always in full work.
Besides the Milton and Elsecar works, the Messrs Dawes have four blast-furnaces at Denby, in Derbyshire, three at Trent, in Lincolnshire, and two at Bromford, in the South Staffordshire district. There are thus fifteen in all.
Engineering, Vol.I, 8th June 1866, p.383
And, a less happy observer – reminding us that this was no industrial idyll:
The Milton Ironworks may be considered, if not out of the pale of civilisation, at least out of reach by any ordinary modes of travelling. The nearest point at which one may arrive with convenience is Barnsley, from which, however, they are six miles off, even as the crow flies, and considerably further is the flight of any bird having a tendency to highways be taken as the standard. A single line of rails conveys the traveller to within two miles and a half or thereabouts of the works, but he who imagines that in taking advantage of them he is doing a clever thing is under a mistake, for the delays in the short distance are of most grievous length, and the slowness of the progress something astonishing.
You may get out either at Wombwell or Dovecliffe (the later humourously varied in the tickets as Darkcliffe). From the former the walking distance is somewhat the greater, but the saving of temper in either case deserves consideration. The probability is, however, that at whichever station the traveller gets out he will arrive at his destination some time in the course of the day, if he starts early enough, and the walk if it does not rain, and if the mud on the road is not deeper than a couple of inches or so, is very pleasant. The scenery is varied with hill and valley, rich in mineral produce and dotted with iron works, blast furnaces, and coke manufactories, whose flames light up the whole country when the darkness of night comes down upon the hills.
The works of Messrs Dawes lie upon the slope of one member of the broken chain; and on reaching the brow, you hear the roar of the machinery, the whirring of the great rolling wheels, the sharp his of the steam which rises in dense clouds, the thunder of the giant hammers as they tenderly handle or fiercely crush the mass of yielding metal, and you see the tall chimneys and the broad-based cupolas and the intense blaze of the furnaces, through a dim medium formed of volumes of mingled smoke and steam which lazily ascend and spread themselves over the landscape…”
The Leeds Mercury, Saturday 20th January 1866, p.8
Tour of the works
In the 1870s a series of articles in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph described a visit to the Milton and Elsecar Ironworks of Messrs G and W.H. Dawes:
“Our Local Industries”
A visit to the Milton and Elsecar Ironworks
Passing from the mill into the fitting shop, we are introduced to one of the tiniest locomotives that ever was doomed to real hard work. This engine is intended for duty on and about the works, and is being re-built for the purpose. It is a four wheel, coupled, with six inch cylinders, and a foot stroke, one wheel being two feet seven inches in diameter. There are thirty tubes in the boiler, each two inches in diameter and made of brass, the firebox being of copper; the boiler has been tested up to to 120 pounds, cold water pressure, and the working pressure will be about seventy pounds. Not far from the little locomotive lay the working portions of a fifty hundredweight steam hammer, which is intended for the Milton works, not far from this, were a pair of pulley wheels, each two feet in diameter, and intended for one of Mr Dawes’ Collieries, at Denby, in Derbyshire. On a former occasion, we had the opportunity of seeing the drawing engines for the same place, which were manufactured at the Milton works, and were then being fitted up. They were a flue pair of horizontal cylinders, twenty inches in diameter, and three feet six inches stroke, and will be worked at a pressure of fifty pounds. We next come to the neucleus [sic] of what is to be a blowing engine for the Trent Iron Works, Lincolnshire, which also belong to Mr. Dawes. This is of the same construction as that we have already described at the Elsecar works. The steam cylinder is twenty-four inches, and the air cylinder fifty inches in diameter. Next came a gigantic slotting machine, which cuts through solid iron as quickly and with as little ceremony as the loving wife pulls a hand-full of hair out of her husband’s head, with a view to convince him of her affection. This machine and another like it, but of smaller dimensions were built by a Glasgow firm. Near this is a shaping machine working horizontally, (we should have said that the slotting machine works vertically), and which can be set to any length of stroke desired from the decimal of an inch to a foot near this machine lay the cylinders for a larger locomotive, which is also being re-built – in fact, we may almost leave the “re” out, and say “built”, for very little of the original will remain when it next commences work. This engine has twelve inch cylinders of eighteen inch stroke, the driving wheels being three feet in diameter. She has ninety-six brass tubes, and like the smaller one already described, has a copper fire-box, and will be fitted with a saddle water tank, an arangement which has for years been growing more and more popular, both for convenience of situation, and the additional adhesive force which the weight gives to the wheels. These then, are about a dozen lathes for all kinds of work, one of them being used for turning railway wheel tyres, which are put in red hot and riveted. Besides these, there are two large and one small planing machines. There are also three drilling machines, one of wchi can be swung in any direction. All these machines, and two screwing machines, are driven by a vetical engine of about 20-horse power, working a some forty pounds pressure. In the moulding shop, we saw a couple of small atmospheric hammers, one of which had ben sent to the Exhibition of 1862. They were but small affairs, but showed a great amount of ingenuity in the design and construction, though as far as we have heard the idea has never been put to any practical use. Passing out of the yard adjoining the works, we see another blasting engine in course of manufacture, but this is of rather smaller dimensions, and is intended for a cupola at the Milton works. This engine has a fourteen inch cylinder, and two feet six inch stroke. Not far distant is the carpenter’s shop, in which all the wagons used at the works are built and repaired, and in the same building all the brass bearings are made. In the boiler shop all kinds and sizes of boilers are made, the riveting being done by machinery in a far more neat manner than by hand, the material meanwhile being held up in a hoist worked by steam provided for the purpose. In the same building are to be seen a “mangling” machine as it is called, for bending plates, and another machine for punching the holes through which the rivets are passed.
Such, a far as we  able to describe them, are these famous works, but our effects are but faint to purtray the reality of what is to be seen there, in fact, the task of describing them is difficult in the extreme. Our readers must, therefore, take the will for the deed, and excuse all imperfections.
Our Local Industries.
A visit to the Milton and Elsecar Ironworks.
Having seen the process of making the crude metal, we are handed over pro tem to the care of Mr James, the foreman of the moulding department, who we found equally ready to give information. It is under his supervision that all sorts of curious articles are constructed, such as pipes, wheels, rolls, and in fact an infinite variety of things destined to play their part at some future time in machines of all kinds. There is a feature peculiar to metals as against other minerals, namely, that although the various articles made from them may become worn out as far as the use to which they are applied is concerned, yet the remnants of a broken roll, a shattered wheel, or a burst pipe, have an instrinsic value which they always retain. This was easily to be understood after a look at the smaller furnace or cupola as it is call which stands close to the casting shop. It is an erection very similar to the huge blast furnaces we have already described, but much less in size, and is used for re-melting the iron already produced in readiness for casting. Besides, however, devouring the pig or chilled iron as the case may be, it serves as the receptacle for all the scraps which come from the mill and forges – and here again we may say there is no waste. The principle seems to be “many a little makes a mickle”, and accordingly every bit of metal cut off by the shears or otherwise made useless in its existing form goes to the cupola, is melted again, and thence flows in a river of liquid fire to the moulds. This upola is supplied with a blast of air from he same engines as the other furnaces, and is heated with hard coke. Above the casting shop is the pattern room where the collection of articles in wood which have afterwards been duplicated in iron is most bewildering. Thence we passe to the forge and were once more under the conductorship or Mr Davis. The first process we witnessed here was the conversion of cast into malleable iron which is done here in thirty-two furnaces These are filled with the cast metal and heated by huge fires running alongside, the flames from which pass over the metal which may be seen surging about in a white hot liquid state. At the door of each – or rather we should say most – of these furnaces is a man with a long rake whose duty it is to “puddle” the glowing fluid within. To put it in the very mildest language he has a “warm job”, so warm in fact that his apparel is of the scantiest; but notwithstanding this the perspiration pours liberally from his skin, an as we had once occasion to observe he is of a thirsty nature The duty of the puddler is to keep the molten metal in a constant state of agitation by which means the sulphur and other impurities are got rid of and the refined metal clings together in a glowing pastry ball which [?????]
ever increasing as the puddler’s rake does its work.
We have said “most of” these furnaces are puddled by hand. There are several however in which that work is performed by mechanical means. In the case of these they are surmounted by a horizontal steam engine which works the rake in much the same manner as it is done by hand, and of course more methodically. We did not enquire the comparative results of hand and mechanical puddling, but from what we have read, and judging from the preponderance of manual labour we should imagine that machinery has not yet been brought to such a stage of perfection as to rival the labour of men’s hands. In such a process as this there must naturally be a large amount of surplus heat partly arising from the molten metal and partly from the furnaces. Now in these days of mechanical science it is an indisputable fact that heat means power, and it is equally true that power produces money. This principle is fully appreciated at the Elsecar works and accordingly we find the surplus heat from the furnaces passed on to a number of vertical boilers which supply the engines driving the machinery with steam. We must now go back a little and describe the fate of the pastry mass we have already mentioned as being produced by puddling. We must confess that we feel more comfortable in describing the process than in witnessing it. The door of the furnace near which we stood was opened, a swarthy giant appeared before it with an iron truck, and the puddler with many a lunge ad tug pulled out on to the truck a glowing mass of pure iron. Off went the man with the truck, coming uncomfortably near our shins, and we retreated only to be warned however that if we had escaped Syscilia on the one side there was Charybdis on the other in the shape of a heap of red hot iron plates fresh from the rolling mill. Having avoided several more of the dangerous truck loads we serious asked Mr Davis if the workmen were not frequently burnt. He replied in the negative, they got used o the danger in fact, (just the same we suggested as the Russians get used to being killed). True it was a risky business, but what business was not risky somehow or other – even an American editor was not altogether in the milk and honey line – and these sturdy iron-workers grew hardened and nimble. It was often a “close shave” or a matter of “touch and go” with them, but on the whole despite the many dangers, accidents were very few.
Our Local Industries,
A visit to the Milton and Elsecar Ironworks
The Milton Works No.2
To continue our description from where we left off a fortnight ago – last week the article was crowded out. At the time of our visit a quantity of T and angle bars were being rolled and a heap of these were lying on a bed of perforated plats in order that the air might get at them, to cool them the more readily. The bars which were about forty feet long were, we were informed, subject to warping in the process of cooling, and in consequence they have to be perfected and straightened when they are sufficiently cool to be handled.
For this purpose they are passed through an ingenious little machine in which they are straightened, the blows required to effect this being regulated in force by a wedge worked by a lever. Next to this is a large lathe for turning the rolls used in rolling both sheet and bar iron, and next to this is a punching machine to perforate the rails for bolts when finished. Next to this is an eighteen inch mill in which sheets and boiler plates are made in the same way as we have already described when speaking of the Elsecar works, and adjoining these is a gigantic pair of shears, for cutting the edges and ends of the plates straight. These shears cut seven feet at a stroke and are driven by an engine of about ten-horse power. Next we were shown the annealing furnace into which the plates are put after being rolled to give them toughness. In this furnace they are kept at a dull heat for about three quarters of-an-hour. The very best of these plates are made of the ends of bars and pieces of iron sheared off the plats which are made up into what are known as faggots, or in other words packed into cubes composed of odds and ends. These faggots are put into what is call the “ball” furnace and fused into one mass and hammered out under the steam hammers until it is fit for the rolls. Closely adjoining the portion of the works where this process is being carried on is the donkey engine of about ten-horse power which supplies the eleven furnace boilers with water. We next visited the small sheet mill where the sheets and “lappings” are got up. The iron rolled here is generally rolled to the sixty-fourth of an inch in thickness, but some had been rolled to the extra-ordinary thinness of one four hundred and fifteenth of an inch, or thinner than tissue paper. To the inquiry “What is it used for”, “No”, said our guide, “the question is hat is it not used for. Why we sometimes get an order for as much as fifty tons at a time for making the sides of pocket knives” Such a fact is undeniably astonishing, when we consider that taking pocket knives on the average this portion would not weigh much more than a quarter of an ounce. Passing to another portion of the works we came to the refining furnace in which all broken castings are re-melted, run into chills, puddled, and used for the finest purposes. Not far from these are the gas works – for all the offices and workshops are lighted with gas manufactured on the premises. There are four retorts, the smudge and refuse coal from the blast furnaces and works being used for the production of gas. We must now pass on to the casting and fitting shops, full particulars of which will be given after another visit. In the meantime we may say that there are two cupolas, and all casting, including that of brass, is done on the premised.
On our way to the works we noticed a curious old relic of a past generation, in the shape of an ancient and very rusty locomotive, which we were afterwards informed was probably built “when Adam was young”. This statement was, however, indigestible since although it was a very antiquated piece of mechanism, it was evidently not so ancient as “old George’s” first attempt, since the cylinders were placed in the position adopted at the present day, namely, under the smoke box.
Still it looked a queer old thing and proved how little at first the principle now so well understood, that to gain power and speed was once appreciated.
Everything about the engine appeared to have been constructed with a view to lightness. It ran on four wheels, the leaders being about three feet in diameter, and the trailing wheels, which were of course the drivers, some five feet; in fact it was altogether a most unlikely looking affair to its duty at the head of the “Flying Dutchman” or the”Irish mail”. Wonderful as the performances of the “Rocket” or even the “Sanspareil” were to the good folks at the early part f the century, the days of even this improved locomotive have passed away, and its contemporaries have given place to magnificent new engines capable of taking a hundred an fifty tons at the rate of sixty miles an hour. Meanwhile the old machine forms a rusting laughing stock.
(to be continued)
Our Local Industries
A visit to the Milton and Elsecar Ironworks.
We follow the truck and its glowing load held in position by another swarthy workman with a long pair of tongs to witness the next process, namely, that of hammering. This is done by means of huge steam hammers which can be so delicately manipulated that as some one has put it they will “crack a nut or crush an elephant”. These hammers, which if we remember rightly, are five in number, and supplied with steam from the vertical furnace boilers we have already mentioned, consist of an ordinary inverted steam engine cylinder, the valves however being worked by hand in order that the force and time of the blow may be regulated as occasion requires. At the extremity of the piston rod is a large, square solid head to strike the newly puddled metal with exactly the force required. The white hot mass which we have been following, is placed on the iron slab beneath the hammer, the manipulator moves a handle and the heavy head descends with a thud not unlike the sound of a loving father dropping his weary head on the pillow during the time the “latest addition” is cutting its teeth A blow or two and another truck load of metal comes up which is deposited on top of the first now beaten into a flat cake. Down comes the hammer again and again until the two are welded into one. At the time, it struck us that the amalgamation could scarcely be perfect under such circumstances, but we were assured that this was a mistaken idea, the two masses were thoroughly united, and in fact the next process proved the truth of this. When the two masses have been welded together and are still in a plastic state the iron truck is again called into requisition, and the red hot cake is hurried off to the rolls. These are large cylinders f solid iron arranged something after the fashion of a wringing machine so that the distance between the rollers can be altered at will. Into the rolls the mass of hot iron next goes, the machinery revolves in one direction, and the cake is considerably enlarged and thinned. As it gets to the end the motion is reversed and the rollers screwed closer together, the process being repeated until what at first was a slab of hot metal, is rolled out to a plate some twelve or fourteen feet long and three wide. During this process the plates are scaled that is, all roughness and foreign matter is removed from the outside. After the operation of rolling they are laid in a heap, and while they are cooling are carefully examined in order that any flaws or cracks may be detected. Should anything detrimental to the plate be found in any part which will render it weak, t is condemned to be re-melted, but if it is found to be sound, it is passed to the shears to be trimmed and cut into marketable shape. These shears we may describe as huge pairs of scissors, and they are driven by an engine of 20 horse power. The rolled plate of metal, say five-eighths of an inch thick, is placed upon another truck, the size to which it is to be cut measured out and marked off with a chalk line, and it is run up to the shears. The end is placed between the cutting tools which are then set in motion, and without any perceptible decrease of speed the knife goes through the iron plate cutting off a strip with as much apparent ease as we cut a strip of paper. A portion having been cut off, the truck is moved further along and another piece taken off, this being repeated until one edge of the plate is cut straight. The other edge is then operated upon in a similar manner, the ends are sheared off at right angles, and the plate is ready for delivery to the purchaser. The portions cut off are of course used up, for, as we have already observed, there is no waste. They, however, do not go to the “cupola”, but are packed together in the form of a slab and welded into a solid mass in a furnace, when they come out ready to form a new plate.
Passing further on we come to a lathe for turning the rolls in, and next to a ponderous machine for bending the plates into the form of rails or angle irons as may be required. All these machines together with the rolls are driven by three engine, each of about 60-horse power, which work away incessantly with a roar and racket almost deafening. On the opposite side of the works is a smaller pair of shears for cutting bars of iron, the process being the same as that already described, and near this is a mill somewhat resembling a mortar mill in which the slag or cinder from the puddling furnaces is pulverised, to be afterwards used for the purpose of lining them. In addition to the furnaces already mentioned, there are at the Elsecar works ten of Siemans gas furnaces, but these from some cause are not at present in use.
We have now described briefly the main feature of the Elsecar works, and we prepare to quit them, thanking our kind conductor for the trouble he has taken in explaining the various processes. In doing this, by the way, we have to keep a sharp eye on the erratic movements of a small but very energetic locomotive which rushes about in a most threatening manner.
(to be continued)
Our Local Industries.
A visit to the Milton and Elsecar Ironworks.
No.4 The Milton Works.
When we left the Elsecar Works it was with a feeling of relief, believing as we did that the heaviest portion of our task was done. But there is a saying “Blessed are they who expect nothing – for they are sure to get it”. In our case the saying proved untrue – one of the exceptions perhaps which make the rule the more valid. It was in fact “out of the frying pan into the fire”, and both are very large. There is one thing which has puzzled us greatly, more and more in fact as we progressed with our task. This is, how on earth amid such a multitude of machinery, Mr Dawes does not get confused. There are mills, forges, hammers, and an endless variety of ferocious looking articles banging, smashing, and grinding away in a manner calculated to produce epilectic fits even in the Daily Telegraph accountant, in fact the assortment of machinery here is much more extensive than at the Elsecar works. Here too, an additional process is carried on, namely the burning of the stone brought from Tankersley Park. This is performed in five huge kilns, each capable of containing about 150 tons. The stone is mixed with coal and coke, the kiln lighted at the bottom, and the whole mass kept at a very moderate heat, the stone thus prepared being taken out at the bottom while the kiln is continually replenished at the top. At these works there are two blast furnaces for producing iron, but these we need not describe as they are of the same construction and act in the same way as those at Elsecar. The air blast here is worked on the same system as that at Elsecar, but instead of an horizontal, the air is supplied by a large beam engine of eighty-horse power. Shortly before our visit this engine had met with a misfortune, the crank having been broken, but this had been repaired and we were just in time to witness the first trial of the new one. The conducting pipe was not in communication with the receiver, and the noise of the escaping air was almost deafening. This engine maintains a rather higher pressure in the receiver than that at Elsecar, the average being about three and a quarter pounds but this may probably be accounted for from the fact that it has only half the number of furnaces to supply. We next proceeded to the forge and mill, and although we have described the nature of these departments in the case of Elsecar, we feel sure those at Milton equally deserve description without there being any fear of wearying the reader cine the class of work there is totally different, being more minute and delicate in characters. In the forge there are twenty six puddling furnaces, all of which are worked by hand. As we have before observed puddling is a very hot job, and at Milton we received the additional information that a puddler required a quart of beer between each “heat” or charge, For that statement he must be responsible, for there was a twinkle about his eye which seemed to say that he had just got to the interval. There are also two steam hammers of about twenty horse power each, for forming the molten metal into slabs ready for rolling. There are many more varieties of this last names process at Milton than at Elsecar, and the iron manufactured is generally of a higher quality. The metal as we have said is first hammered into blocks. It is there cut up into small bars, heated again and then rolled. The first set of rolls whose acquaintance we made were three in number and devoted to the manufacture of hoop iron. In attendance on these stood two men and two boys, the latter looking as though nothing too mischievous to suit them had yet been discovered. Red hot bars such as we have already described were sent skimming along the iron floor from the furnace, a man seized one with a pair of tongs, put it into the grip of the first series of rolls and it passed out considerably elongated. Another man on the opposite side then seized it with another pair of tongs, placed it between two rolls revolving in the opposite direction, and it was passed back again, in this process becoming still more elongated. The strip of iron was then handed over to the lads who ran it backwards ad forwards between their rolls until the required degree of fineness was reached. At the conclusion of this process, what was at first a bar some 10 or 12 inches in length had been rolled out to a thin strip almost as many yards long, but still it had to be finished. This operation is performed by passing the still red hot iron between a pair of chilled rolls, over which a stream of water is constantly running. This gives the iron, which, by the way, for this purpose must be of the toughest and most ductile character, a fine gloss and finish. It is then cut off in lengths as required, either in one of the many steam shears, or in a pair worked by hand, made up into bundles, and is then ready for the market. This description of iron is usually sold to wholesale merchants, so that its final destination is not exactly known, but it is probable that a large proportion finds its way to America, to be used for hooping cotton bales, for which purpose many tons are annually required – in fact, we have heard that in Liverpool there are people who make a good living by straightening old hoops. But it is not only for hoop ion that the little bars we have mentioned are used, for between a different arrangement of grooved rolls they are formed into thin bars from an eighth of an inch in thickness upwards for the use of wire makers These rolls and the other machinery are driven, we may observe, by five large steam engines, of from 0 to 60 horse power each, which are like those at Elsecar supplied with steam from a number of vertical boilers heated by the surplus heat from the puddling furnaces. Next we came to a set of seven inch rolls and then to one of nine inch which is used for the manufacture of all kinds of convex and concave iron, T iron, angle iron, and all sorts of fancy bars. Next was a fourteen inch mill, where strips for gas tubing and other purposes are got up, and larger description of angle iron, railway, and T bars. In this mill is a large circular saw made of steel, which cuts off neatly the ends of the red hot iron bars as fast as they can be produced, and at night the sight is very pretty, the showers of iron “sawdust” making quite a brilliant display like an exhibition of fireworks.
(To be continued)
Articles from Sheffield Daily Telegraph, undated, c.1870s