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Isaac Lowthian Bell

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1904. I. L. Bell.

Isaac Lowthian Bell, 1st Baronet FRS (1816-1904), of Bell Brothers, was a Victorian ironmaster and Liberal Party politician from Washington, Co. Durham.

1816 February 15th. Born the son of Thomas Bell and his wife Katherine Lowthian.

Attended the Academy run by John Bruce in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Edinburgh University and the Sorbonne.

Practical experience in alkali manufacture at Marseilles.

1835 Joined the Walker Ironworks; studied the the operation of the blast furnaces and rolling mills.

A desire to master thoroughly the technology of any manufacturing process was to be one of the hallmarks of Bell's career.

1842 Married Margaret Elizabeth Pattinson

In 1844 Lowthian Bell and his brothers Thomas Bell and John Bell formed a new company, Bell Brothers, to operate the Wylam ironworks. These works, based at Port Clarence on the Tees, began pig-iron production with three blast furnaces in 1854 and became one of the leading plants in the north-east iron industry. The firm's output had reached 200,000 tons by 1878 and the firm employed about 6,000 men.

1850 Bell started his own chemical factory at Washington in Gateshead, established a process for the manufacture of an oxychloride of lead, and operated the new French Deville patent, used in the manufacture of aluminium. Bell expanded these chemical interests in the mid-1860s, when he developed with his brother John a large salt working near the ironworks.

In 1854 he built Washington Hall, now called Dame Margaret's Hall.

He was twice Lord Mayor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Member of Parliament for North Durham from February to June 1874, and for Hartlepool from 1875 to 1880.

1884 President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers

In 1895 he was awarded the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of Arts, 'in recognition of the services he has rendered to Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, by his metallurgical researches and the resulting development of the iron and steel industries'.

A founder of the Iron and Steel Institute, he was its president from 1873 to 1875, and in 1874 became the first recipient of the gold medal instituted by Sir Henry Bessemer. He was president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1884.

1842 He married Margaret Pattison. Their children were Mary Katherine Bell, who married Edward Stanley, 4th Baron Stanley of Alderley and Sir Thomas Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet.

1904 December 20th. Lowthian Bell died at his home, Rounton Grange, Rounton, Northallerton, North Riding of Yorkshire

1904 Obituary [1]

Sir ISAAC LOWTHIAN BELL, Bart., was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne on 15th February 1816, being the son of Mr. Thomas Bell, an alderman of the town, and partner in the firm of Messrs. Losh, Wilson and Bell, of Walker Iron Works, near Newcastle; his mother was the daughter of Mr. Isaac Lowthian, of Newbiggin, Northumberland.

After studying at Edinburgh University, he went to the Sorbonne, Paris, and there laid the foundation of the chemical and metallurgical knowledge which he applied so extensively in later years.

He travelled extensively, and in the years 1839-40 he covered a distance of over 12,000 miles, examining the most important seats of iron manufacture on the Continent. He studied practical iron-making at his father's works, where lie remained until 1850, when he joined in establishing chemical works at Washington, eight miles from Newcastle. Here it was also that his subsequent firm of Messrs. Bell Brothers started the first works in England for the manufacture of aluminium.

In 1852, in conjunction with his brothers Thomas and John, he founded the Clarence Iron Works, near the mouth of the Tees, opposite Middlesbrough. The three blast-furnaces erected there in 1853 were at that time the largest in the kingdom, each being 47.5 feet high, with a capacity of 6,012 cubic feet; the escaping gases were utilized for heating the blast. In 1873 the capacity of these furnaces was much increased.

In the next year the firm sank a bore-hole to the rock salt, which had been discovered some years earlier by Messrs. Bolckow, Vaughan and Co. in boring for water. The discovery remained in abeyance till 1882, when they began making salt, being the pioneers of the salt industry in that district. They were also among the largest colliery proprietors in South Durham, and owned extensive ironstone mines in Cleveland, and limestone quarries in Weardale.

His literary career may be said to have begun in 1863, when, during his second mayoralty, the British Association visited Newcastle, on which occasion he presented a report on the manufacture of iron in connection with the Northumberland and Durham coal-fields. At the same visit he read two papers on " The Manufacture of Aluminium," and on "Thallium." The majority of his Papers were read before the Iron and Steel Institute, of which Society he was one of the founders; and several were translated into French and German.

On the occasion of the first Meeting of this Institution at Middlesbrough in 1871, he read a Paper on Blast-Furnace Materials, and also one on the "Tyne as Connected with the History of Engineering," at the Newcastle Meeting in 1881. For his Presidential Address delivered at the Cardiff Meeting in 1884, he dealt with the subject of "Iron."

He joined this Institution in 1858, and was elected a Member of Council in 1870. In 1872 he became a Vice-President, and retained that position until his election as President in 1884. Although the Papers he contributed were not numerous, he frequently took part in the discussions on Papers connected with the Iron Industry and kindred subjects.

He was a member of a number of other learned societies — The Royal Society, The Institution of Civil Engineers, the Iron and Steel Institute, of which he was President from 1873 to 1875, the Society of Chemical Industry, the Royal Society of Sweden, and the Institution of Mining Engineers, of which he was elected President in 1904.

He had also received honorary degrees from the University of Edinburgh, the Durham College of Science, and the University of Leeds. In 1885 a baronetcy was conferred upon him in recognition of his distinguished services to science and industry. In 1876 he served as a Commissioner to tile International Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, where he occupied the position of president of the metallurgical judges, and presented to the Government in 1877 a report upon the iron manufacture of the United States. In 1878 he undertook similar duties at the Paris Exhibition.

He was Mayor of Newcastle in 1854-55, and again in 1862-3. In 1874 he was elected Member of Parliament for Durham, but was unseated; he sat for the Hartlepools from 1875 to 1880, and then retired from parliamentary life. For the County of Durham he was a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant, and High Sheriff in 1884. For many years he was a director of the North Eastern Railway, and Chairman of the Locomotive Committee.

His death took place at his residence, Rounton Grange, Northallerton, on 20th December 1904, in his eighty-ninth year.

1904 Obituary [2]

SIR LOWTHIAN BELL, Bart., Past-President, died on December 21, 1904, at his residence, Rounton Grange, Northallerton, in his eighty-ninth year. In his person the Iron and Steel Institute has to deplore the loss of its most distinguished and most valuable member. From the time when the Institute was founded as the outcome of an informal meeting at his house, until his death, he was a most active member, and regularly attended the general meetings, the meetings of Council, and the meetings of the various committees on which he served.

Sir Lowthian Bell was the son of Mr. Thomas Bell (of Messrs. Losh, Wilson, & Bell, iron manufacturers, Walker-on-Tyne), and of Catherine, daughter of Mr. Isaac Lowthian, of Newbiggin, near Carlisle. He was born in Newcastle on February 15, 1816, and educated, first at Bruce's Academy, in Newcastle, and afterwards in Germany, in Denmark, at Edinburgh University, and at the Sorbonne, Paris. His mother's family had been tenants of a well-known Cumberland family, the Loshes of Woodside, near Carlisle, one of whom, in association with Lord Dundonald, was one of the first persons in this country to engage in the manufacture of soda by the Leblanc process. In this business Sir Lowthian's father became a partner on Tyneside. Mr. Bell had the insight to perceive that physical science, and especially chemistry, was bound to play a great part in the future of industry, and this lesson• he impressed upon his ions. The consequence was that they devoted their time largely to chemical studies.

On the completion of his studies, Lowthian Bell joined his father at the Walker Iron Works. Mr. John Vaughan, who was with the firm, left about the year 1840, and in conjunction with Mr. Bolckow began their great iron manufacturing enterprise at Middlesbrough. Mr. Bell then became manager at Walker, and blast-furnaces were erected under his direction. He became greatly interested in the ironstone district of Cleveland, and as early as 1843 made experiments with the ironstone. He met with discouragements at first, but was rewarded with success later, and to Messrs. Bell Brothers largely belongs the credit of developing the ironstone field of Cleveland. Mr. Bell's father died in 1845, and the son became managing partner. In 1852, two years after the discovery of the Cleveland ironstone, the firm acquired ironstone royalties first at Normanby and then at Skelton in Cleveland, and started the Clarence Iron Works, opposite Middlesbrough. The three blast-furnaces here erected in 1853 were at that time the largest in the kingdom, each being 47.5 feet high, with a capacity of 6012 cubic feet. Later furnaces were successively increased up to a height of. 80 feet in 1873, with 17 feet to 25 feet in diameter at the bosh, 8 feet at the hearth, and about 25,500 cubic feet capacity. On the discovery of a bed of rock salt at 1127 feet depth at Middlesbrough, the method of salt manufacture in vogue in Germany was introduced at the instance of Mr. Thomas Bell, and the firm of Bell Brothers had thus the distinction of being pioneers in this important industry in the district. They were also among the largest colliery proprietors in South Durham, and owned likewise extensive ironstone mines in Cleveland, and limestone quarries in Weardale. At the same time Mr. Bell was connected with the Washington Aluminium Works, the Wear blast-furnaces, and the Felling blast-furnaces.

Although Sir Lowthian Bell was an earnest municipal reformer and member of Parliament, he will best be remembered as a man of science. He was mayor of Newcastle in 1863, when the British Association visited that town, and the success of the gathering was largely due to his arrangements. As one of the vice-presidents of the chemical section, he contributed papers upon thallium and the manufacture of aluminium; and, jointly with the late Lord Armstrong, edited the souvenir volume entitled " The Industrial Resources of the Tyne, Wear, and Tees." In 1873, when the Iron and Steel Institute visited Belgium, Mr. Bell presided, and delivered in French an address on the relative industrial conditions of Great Britain and Belgium. Presiding at the Institute's meeting in Vienna in 1882, he delivered his address partly in English and partly in German, and expressed the hope that the ties between England and Austria should be drawn more closely.

On taking up his residence permanently at Rounton Grange, near Northallerton, Sir Lowthian made a present to the city council, on which he had formerly served for so many years, of Washington Hall and grounds, and the place is now used as a home for the waifs and strays of the city. It is known as Dame Margaret's Home, in memory of Lady Bell, who died in 1886. This lady, to whom he was married in 1842, was a daughter of Mr. Hugh Lee Pattinson, F.R.S., the eminent chemist and metallurgist.

Sir Lowthian earned great repute as an author. He was a prolific writer on both technical and commercial questions relating to the iron and steel industries. His first important book was published in 1872, and was entitled " Chemical Phenomena of Iron Smelting : An Experimental :and Practical Examination of the Circumstances which Determine the Capacity of the Blast-Furnace, the Temperature of the Air, and the Proper Condition of the Materials to be Operated upon." This book, which contained nearly 500 pages, with many diagrams, was the direct outcome of a controversy with the late Mr. Charles Cochrane, and gave details of nearly 900 experiments carried out over a series of years with a view to finding out the laws which regulate the process of iron smelting, and the nature of the reactions which take place among the substances dealt with in the manufacture of pig iron. The behaviour of furnaces under varying conditions was detailed. The book was a monument of patient research, which all practical men could appreciate. His other large work—covering 750 pages—was entitled " The Principles of the Manufacture of Iron and Steel." It was issued in 1884, and in it the author compared the resources existing in different localities in Europe and America as iron-making centres. His further investigations into the manufacture of pig iron were detailed, as well as those relating to the manufacture of finished iron and steel.

In 1886, at the instance of the British Iron Trade Association, of which he was then President, he prepared and published a book entitled " The Iron Trade of the United Kingdom compared with other Chief Ironmaking Nations." Besides these books and numerous papers contributed to scientific societies, Sir Lowthian wrote more than one pamphlet relating to the history and development of the industries of Cleveland.

In 1876 Sir Lowthian was appointed a Royal Commissioner to the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, and wrote the official report relating to the iron and steel industries. -This was issued in the form of a bulky Blue-book.

As a director of the North-Eastern Railway Company Si Lowthian prepared an important volume of statistics for the use of his colleagues, and conducted exhaustive investigations into the life of a steel rail.

The majority of his papers were read before the Iron and Steel Institute, but of those contributed to other societies the following may be mentioned :— Report and two papers to the second Newcastle meeting of the British Association in 1863, already mentioned. " Notes on the Manufacture of Iron in the Austrian Empire," 1865. " Present State of the Manufacture of Iron in Great Britain," 1867. " Method of Recovering Sulphur and Oxide of Manganese, as Practised at Dieuze, near Nancy," 1867. " Our Foreign Competitors in the Iron Trade," 1868; this was promptly translated into French by Mr. G. Rocour, and published in Liege. " Chemistry of the Blast-Furnace," 1869. " Preliminary Treatment of the Materials Used in the Manufacture of Pig Iron in the Cleveland District" (Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1871). " Conditions which Favour, and those which Limit, the Economy of Fuel in the Blast-Furnace for Smelting Iron " (Institution of Civil Engineers, 1872). "Some supposed Changes Basaltic Veins have Suffered during their Passage through and Contact with Stratified Rocks, and the Manner in which these Rocks have been Affected by the Heated Basalt " : a communication to the Royal Society on May 27, 1875. " Report to Government on the Iron Manufacture of the United States of America, and a Comparison of it with that of Great Britain," 1877. "British Industrial Supremacy," 1878. " Notes on the Progress of the Iron Trade of Cleveland," 1878. " Expansion of Iron," 1880. " The Tyne as connected with the History of Engineering " (Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1881). " Occlusion of Gaseous Matter by Fused Silicates and its possible connection with Volcanic Agency : " a paper to the third York meeting of the British Association, in, 1881, but printed in the Journal of the Iron and Steel• Institute. Presidential Address on Iron (Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1884). " Principles of the Manufacture of Iron and Steel, with Notes on the Economic Conditions of their Production," 1884. " Iron Trade of the United Kingdom," 1886. " Manufacture of Salt near Middlesbrough" (Institution of Civil Engineers, 1887). " Smelting of Iron Ores Chemically Considered," 1890. " Development of the Manufacture and Use of Rails in Great Britain " (Institution of Civil Engineers, 1900). Presidential Address to the Institution of Junior Engineers, 1900.

To him came in due course honours of all kinds. When the Bessemer Gold Medal was instituted in 1874, Sir Lowthian was the first recipient. In 1895 he received at the hands of the King, then. Prince of Wales, the Albert Medal of the Society of Arts, in recognition of the services he had rendered to arts, manufactures, and commerce by his metallurgical researches. From the French government he received the cross of the Legion of Honour. From the Institution of Civil Engineers he received the George Stephenson Medal, in 1900, and, in 1891, the Howard Quinquennial Prize which is awarded periodically to the author of a treatise on Iron.

For his scientific work Sir Lowthian was honoured by many of the learned societies of Europe and America. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1875. He was an Hon. D.C.L. of Durham University; an LL.D. of the Universities of Edinburgh and Dublin; and a D.Sc. of Leeds University. He was one of the most active promoters of the Durham College of Science by speech as well as by purse; his last contribution was made only a short time ago, and was £3000, for the purpose of building a tower. He had. held the presidency of the North of England Institution of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, and was the first president of the Newcastle Chemical Society.

Sir Lowthian was a director of the North-Eastern Railway Company since 1865. For a number of years he was vice-chairman, and at the time of his death was the oldest railway director in the kingdom. In 1874 he was elected M.P. for the Borough of the Hartlepools, and continued to represent the borough till 1880. In 1885, on the advice of Mr. Gladstone, a baronetcy was conferred upon him in recognition of his great services to the State. Among other labours he served on the Royal Commission on the Depression of Trade, and formed one of the Commission which proceeded to Vienna to negotiate Free Trade in Austria-Hungary in 1866. For the County of Durham he was a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant, and High Sheriff in 1884. He was also a Justice of the Peace for the North Riding of Yorkshire and for the city of Newcastle. He served as Royal Commissioner at the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876, and at the Paris Exhibition of 1878. He also served as Juror at the Inventions Exhibition in London, in 1885, and at several other great British and foreign Exhibitions.

Of the Society of Arts he was a member from 1859. He joined the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1867, and the Chemical Society in 1863. He was a past-president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and of the Society of Chemical Industry; and at the date of his death he was president of the Institution of Mining Engineers. He was an honorary member of the American Philosophical Institution, of the Liege Association of Engineers, and of other foreign societies. In 1882 he was made an honorary member of the Leoben School of Mines.

In the Iron and Steel Institute he took special interest. One of its original founders in 1869, he filled the office of president from 1873 to 1875, and was, as already noted, the first recipient of the gold medal instituted by Sir Henry Bessemer. He contributed the following papers to the Journal of the Institute in addition to Presidential Addresses in 1873 and 1874: (1) " The Development of Heat, and its Appropriation in Blast-furnaces of Different Dimensions" (1869). (2) " Chemical Phenomena of Iron Smelting : an experimental and practical examination of the circumstances which determine the capacity of the blast-furnace, the temperature of the air, and the proper conditions of the materials to be operated upon " (No. I. 1871; No. II. 1871; No. I. 1872). (3) " Ferrie's Covered Self-coking Furnace" (1871). (4) "Notes on a Visit to Coal and Iron Mines and Ironworks in the United States " (1875). (5) " Price's Patent Retort Furnace " (1875). (6) " The Sum of Heat utilised in Smelting Cleveland Ironstone" (1875). (7) "The Use of Caustic Lime in the Blast-furnace" (1875). (8) "The Separation of Carbon, Silicon, Sulphur, and Phosphorus in the Refining and Puddling Furnace, and in the Bessemer Converter " (1877). (9) " The Separation of Carbon, Silicon, Sulphur, and Phosphorus in the Refining and Puddling Furnaces, in the Bessemer Converter, with some Remarks on the Manufacture and Durability of Railway Bars" (Part II. 1877). (10) " The Separation of Phosphorus from Pig Iron" (1878). (11) " The Occlusion or Absorption of Gaseous Matter by fused Silicates at High Temperatures, and its possible Connection with Volcanic Agency" (1881). (12) " On Comparative Blast-furnace Practice" (1882). (13) "On the Value of Successive Additions to the Temperature of the Air used in Smelting Iron " (1883). (14) "On the Use of Raw Coal in the Blast-furnace" (1884). (15) "On the Blast-furnace value of Coke, from which the Products of Distillation from the Coal, used in its Manufacture, have been Collected" (1885). (16) "Notes on the Reduction of Iron Ore in the Blast-furnace" (1887). (17) "On Gaseous Fuel" (1889). (18) " On. the Probable Future of the Manufacture of Iron " (Pittsburg International Meeting, 1890). (19) " On the American Iron Trade and its Progress during Sixteen Years" (Special American Volume, 1890). (20) " On the Manufacture of Iron in its Relations with Agriculture " (1892). (21) " On the Waste of Heat, Past, Present, and Future, in Smelting Ores of Iron " (1893). (22) " On the Use of Caustic Lime in the Blast-furnace" (1894).

Sir Lowthian Bell took part in the first meeting of the Institute in 1869, and was present at nearly all the meetings up to May last, when he took part in the discussion on pyrometers, and on the synthesis of Bessemer steel. The state of his health would not, however, permit him to attend the American meeting, and he wrote to Sir James Kitson, Bart., Past-President, a letter expressing his regret. The letter, which was read at the dinner given by Mr. Burden to the Council in New York, was as follows :— ROUNTON GRANGE, NORTHALLERTON, 12th October 1904.

MY DEAR SIR JAMES KITSON,-Four days ago I was under the knife of an occulist for the removal of a cataract on my right eye. Of course, at my advanced age, in deference to the convenience of others, as well as my own, I never entertained a hope of being able to accompany the members of the Iron and Steel Institute in their approaching visit to the United States.

You who knew the regard, indeed, I may, without any exaggeration, say the affection I entertain for my friends on the other side of the Atlantic, will fully appreciate the nature of my regrets in being compelled to abstain from enjoying an opportunity of once more greeting them.

Their number, alas, has been sadly curtailed since I first met them about thirty years ago, but this curtailment has only rendered me the more anxious again to press the hands of the few who still remain.

Reference to the records of the Iron and Steel Institute will show that I was one of its earliest promoters, and in that capacity I was anxious to extend its labours, and consequently its usefulness, to every part of the world where iron was made or even used; with this view, the Council of that body have always taken care to have members on the Board of Management from other nations, whenever they could secure their services. Necessarily the claims upon the time of the gentlemen filling the office of President are too urgent to hope of its being filled by any one not a resident in the United Kingdom. Fortunately, we have a gentleman, himself a born subject of the United Kingdom, who spends enough of his time in the land of his birth to undertake the duties of the position of Chief Officer of the Institute.

It is quite unnecessary for me to dwell at any length upon the admirable way in which Mr. Andrew Carnegie has up to this time discharged the duties of his office, and I think I may take upon me to declare in the name of the Institute that the prosperity of the body runs no chance of suffering by his tenure of the Office of President.— Yours faithfully, (Signed) LOWTHIAN BELL.

The funeral of Sir Lowthian Bell took place on December 23, at Rounton, in the presence of the members of his family, and of Sir James Kitson, Bart., M.P., past-president, and Sir David Dale, Bart., past-president. A memorial service was held simultaneously at the Parish Church, Middlesbrough, and was attended by large numbers from the North of England. A dense fog prevailed, but this did not prevent all classes from being represented. The Iron and Steel Institute was represented by Mr. W. Whitwell, past-president, Mr. J Riley, vice-president, Mr. A. Cooper and Mr. Illtyd Williams, members of council, Mr. H. Bauerman, hon. member, and the Secretary. The Dean of Durham delivered an address, in which he said that Sir Lowthian's life had been one of the strenuous exertion of great powers, full of bright activity, and he enjoyed such blessings as go with faithful, loyal work and intelligent grappling with difficult problems. From his birth at Newcastle, in 1816, to the present day, the world of labour, industry, and mechanical skill had been in constant flow and change. Never before had there been such a marvellous succession of advances, and in keeping pace with these changes Sir Lowthian might be described as the best scientific ironmaster in the world. He gave a lifelong denial to the statement that Englishmen can always " muddle through," for he based all his action and success on clearly ascertained knowledge.

The King conveyed to the family of the late Sir Lowthian Bell the expression of his sincere sympathy on the great loss which they have sustained. His Majesty was pleased to say that he had a great respect for Sir Lowthian Bell, and always looked upon him as a very distinguished man.

Immediately before the funeral an extraordinary meeting of council was held at the offices of Bell Brothers, Limited, Middlesbrough, when the following resolution was unanimously adopted :— " The council of the Iron and Steel Institute desire to place on record their appreciation of the loss which the Institute has sustained by the death of Sir Lowthian Bell, Bart., a past-president and one of the founders of the Institute. The council feel that it would be difficult to overrate the services that Sir Lowthian rendered to the Institute in the promotion of the objects for which it was formed, and his constant readiness to devote his time and energies to the advancement of these objects. His colleagues on the council also desire to assure his family of their most sincere sympathy in the loss that has befallen them."

1905 Obituary [3]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1904 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  2. 1904 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries
  3. 1905 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries