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British Industrial History

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 Born 15th February the son of Thomas Bell (2) of Losh, Wilson and 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.

In 1844 Lowthian Bell and his brothers Thomas and John 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.

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


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 Slayer 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.


1905 Obituary [2]



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Sources of Information

  1. 1904 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  2. 1905 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries