Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter X

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CHAPTER X. NORTHUMBERLAND AND DURHAM COAL AND ENGINEERING

Introduction

The North-east Coast, where coal and iron mines have called into being vast iron and steel works and shipyards, with a host of co-related industries, is the centre of manufacturing activity which, in normal circumstances, yields in importance and variety to no other district in the world. It would be impossible, within reasonable limits, to enumerate all the firms engaged in coal-mining or manufacturing operations in Durham and Northumberland, or to describe in any detail the nature and extent of their productions. Many of the larger firms are known as well throughout the British Dominions and other parts of the world as at home.

The coalfield is estimated to contain 8,951,940,320 tons of workable coal from a variety of seams which produce annually about 43,000,000 tons. From this output 4,072 coke ovens, including some in the North Riding of Yorkshire, made, in 1924, 4,777,736 tons of coke, with a consumption of 6,853,270 tons of coal. Many of the Northumberland collieries are on the edge of the North Sea, and those in Durham are, if not on the coast, within a short distance of the sea or of the Tyne, Wear and Tees, all of which are navigable rivers. The Newbiggin, Seaton Delaval and Cowpen Coal Companies are working a mile out under the sea, and may go to a limit of 3 miles. In Durham the Whitburn Colliery is nearly, and the Ryhope Dawdon and Monkwearmouth Collieries are quite, 2 miles out. Easington is out 3 miles. The distance is limited by the possibility of ventilation. The miners ride out to the face. As regards export trade, the pits have only light railway charges, and sometimes none, to add to their costs, and are therefore, like the collieries of South Wales, much more favourably situated than the Yorkshire and Derbyshire pits. In normal times they command a large foreign trade, in which gas coal plays a leading part. For centuries coal has been raised from what used to be called the Newcastle district. Some of it found its way to London, in spite of edicts against the smoke-producing "sea cole" as it was called in the sixteenth century.

The Northumberland collieries work the same seams of coal as those in Durham, but the coalfield is less extensive. They produce about 12,000,000 tons annually of gas, steam, house and coking coals. Among the leading firms are:

Ashington Coal Co

The Ashington Coal Co owns four large collieries at Ashington, Linton, Woodhorn and Ellington. A fifth is to be opened at Lynemouth. The present output of this firm is 12,000 tons a day. This coal was originally worked in 1848. In 1867 the first of the present shafts was sunk, and about 1870, Jonathan Priestman (of an old Quaker family related by marriage to the Rt. Hon. John Bright), one of the founders of the present business, became connected with Ashington. William Milburn, the ship owner, afterwards joined the concern. Pits were sunk at various dates after 1873, and by 1900 the output was 5,000 tons daily. In 1909 the Ellington shaft was begun, and the output in 1925 reached 11,000 tons per day. This Company is remarkable as being one of the two firms which are pioneers in the use of pulverised fuel for steam production. The other is the Cadeby Colliery Co in Yorkshire. The private limited company which to-day owns the collieries consists of descendants of Jonathan Priestman and William Milburn, and of the Lees family, who from the first were associated with the undertaking. Francis Priestman, son of Jonathan Priestman, is the present Chairman of the Company.

Lambton Hetton Joicey Collieries

South of the Tyne in the county of Durham the Lambton Hetton Joicey Collieries owns a group of twenty pits which form one of the largest colliery combines in Great Britain, with an aggregate annual output of 5,000,000 tons, and a share and debenture capital of £2,500,000. The history of this firm is the history of modern mining developments in the county, and is interesting as showing — what is rare in the Midlands and in Wales — the association of the royalty owner with the production of his own coal.

James Joicey (uncle of Lord Joicey), after purchasing the South Tanfield Colliery in 1838, acquired the Twizell, Tanfield Lea, East Tanfield, and Tanfield Moor Collieries. He then sank three pits at West Pelton and Handen Hold. His brothers, John Joicey and Edward Joicey, became his partners. The firm was called James Joicey and Co and it was formed into a limited company in 1886. On the death of the three original partners, the business was continued by Sir James Joicey (now Lord Joicey), Major William J. Joicey, Joseph Thompson and John Thompson. In 1896, at a time of depression in the coal trade, Sir James Joicey purchased the Lambton Collieries from the Earl of Durham, himself a large royalty owner, and formed a separate company called The Lambton Collieries. The output of the Lambton pits was 3,000,000 tons per annum.

In 1911, the Lambton Co acquired the pits of the Hetton Coal Co, and the title of the firm was changed to The Lambton and Hetton Collieries. The output of the Hetton group was about 1,000,000 tons per annum. In 1913 the Sherburn and Littletown collieries, part of the Lambton Group, were sold to B. Samuelson and Co, who have since been absorbed in the firm of Dorman, Long and Co; but in 1914 the Lambton Co. bought the North Hetton Colliery, and in 1920 the Silksworth Colliery, forming one of the group owned by the Marquess of Londonderry, himself a large local royalty owner. This colliery then had an output of 700,000 tons per annum. This to-day is increasing. In 1924, James Joicey and Co was wound up voluntarily and the collieries owned by the firm were transferred to the Lambton Co., whose title was again changed to The Lambton Hetton Joicey Collieries. Lord Joicey is Chairman. The magnitude of this firm's output can be estimated from the fact that in the ten years down to 1925 £30,000,000 were paid in miners' wages. The company owns by-product coke works, brick works, gas works, engine works and private railways serving their own staiths on the River Wear.

The Londonderry Collieries afford another notable instance of an owner of great mineral resources taking on himself the whole risk of their exploitation. It is a private concern. All the shares are held by The Marquess of Londonderry and his family. It owns Seaham Colliery and Dawdon Colliery, and a new pit which is in course of sinking. The Londonderry family have been interested in the coal trade for more than a century, and their coal, known as "Stewart's Wallsend," was popular in the London market in the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria. The family became coal owners through the marriage in 1819 of the third Marquess with Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest, a descendant of the Vanes of Longnewton and the Tempests of Wynyard. The Tempest family owned a number of collieries around the city of Durham. Under the third Marquess and his wife, these collieries were developed. The Seaham estate was purchased in 1821, and the then Lord Londonderry laid down a railway from Rainton to Seaham, with branches to all the collieries in which he was interested, and constructed a dock at Seaham.

Seaham Colliery was commenced in the forties. Seaton Colliery, within a very short distance, had been sunk by other proprietors. But after the Hartley disaster of January 16, 1862, in which large numbers of men perished owing to the impossibility of reaching the workings and rescuing the men by the one existing shaft, every colliery was compelled by statute to have two separate shafts, and Seaton was taken over by Lord Londonderry, with the view of working these two pits as one concern. Another large colliery sunk by the Londonderry family was Silksworth, near Sunderland, in 1874. This pit, after being successfully worked for nearly half a century, was sold a few years ago to the Lambton, Hetton and Joicey Collieries. Seaham Colliery employs some 2,600 men and boys, and has a daily output of about 2,800 tons. It is the main support of the village of New Seaham, which has a population of about 7,000. The late Lord Londonderry also sank Dawdon Colliery, to the south of Seaham Harbour. It has proved a highly successful venture. The present Lord Londonderry is sinking Londonderry Colliery, to the north of Seaham Harbour.

Dawdon Colliery gives employment to 3,700 men and boys. It has brought into being a new colliery village, with a population of 8,000, where, a quarter of a century ago, there was nothing but agricultural land. Owing to the enormous quantity of water met with - 7,000 gallons per minute — sinking was suspended in December 1902, and the freezing process — a long and costly method was resorted to. This process, a German invention, has been used in Yorkshire, notably at Thorne and at Bullcroft. It was not until 1907 that coal was worked at a depth of 5.53 yards. The output is approximately 4,000 tons per day.

The first sod of the new Londonderry Colliery was cut by Viscount Castlereagh on his attaining his majority in 1923. It is a fine example of individual enterprise. The colliery will cost, with miners' houses, nearly a million pounds, will employ 3,000 men for a hundred years to come, and produce 1,000,000 tons a year. In the light of experience gained at Dawdon, this colliery also is being sunk by the freezing process. More than two years were occupied in the preliminary operations, including the freezing of the water-bearing strata.

John Bowes and Partners

The firm of John Bowes and Partners was originally started as the Marley Hill Coal Co. in 1845 by John Bowes, Sir William Butt, Nicholas Wood and Charles Mark Palmer, afterwards created a Baronet. As each partner died, his share was bought up by the survivors, but on John Bowes's death in 1885 his interest was bequeathed to the Earl of Strathmore, whose family are still amongst the largest shareholders. Sir Alfred Palmer, Bart., the son of Sir Charles, and the descendants of Nicholas Wood are the other largest shareholders. The Chairman is the Rt. Hon. H. C. Plunket, K.C.V.O. The firm owns eight collieries in North and West Durham. They are connected with the Company's staiths on the Tyne in Jarrow by means of a private railway, 15 miles in length. The firm's annual output is 1,500,000 tons, and consists of gas, house, coking and bunker coals.

Besides these large undertakings, there are many other collieries owned by the Cleveland Iron and Steel Companies referred to more fully in a subsequent chapter. Their large outputs are used chiefly for the sake of the coke products required for the metallurgical operations of the Cleveland concerns. But there are many other important firms working coal and coke in Durham independently of iron and steel undertakings. Amongst these are the Charlaw and Sacriston Collieries Co, with a capital of £500,000, of which Mr. F. C. Hunter is Chairman; the Easington Coal Co, of which Sir J. S. Barwick, Bart., is Chairman; the Harton Coal Co, with a capital of £1,000,000, of which Mr. Hilton Philipson, whose wife is a well known Member of Parliament, is Chairman; the Holmside and South Moor Collieries, with a capital of £1,650,000, of which Mr. R. W. Cooper is Chairman; the Horden Collieries, with a capital of £1,500,000, of which Sir Hugh Bell, Bart., C.B., Lord Lieutenant of the North Riding of Yorkshire, is Chairman; the Priestman Collieries, of which Mr. Francis Priestman is Chairman; the Ryhope Coal Co, of which Mr. Thos. Taylor is Chairman; Walter Scott, of which Mr. C. T. Scott is Chairman; the South Hetton Coal Co, with a capital of 1,000,000, of which Mr. J. H. B. Forster is Chairman; Strakers and Love, of which Mr. J. C. Straker is Chairman, and the South Pelaw Coal Co, which is owned by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Co.

Durham Coal is almost entirely free from sulphur and phosphorus, ingredients not tolerated in the finer class of steel such as is produced and used in the Sheffield works. Consequently the products of the Durham coke ovens command without serious competition the market of the hematite blast furnaces of Cumberland and the North-west Coast, which produce special and high-class pig iron for steel. Much coke is shipped also for foreign consumption. Beehive ovens are still used to a small extent, as well as the by-product ovens of many of the twelve types known in this country, of which eight are of foreign origin.

The proximity of first-class and easily worked coal and ironstone and of some navigable estuaries has encouraged engineering work of every kind in what may be called the Newcastle-on-Tyne area. The shipyards which have created a huge industry in the two counties are suitably placed on the river banks, and undoubtedly owe their origin to the demand for tonnage for the export of coal. There are few metallurgical industries not represented in this busy and wealthy region, peopled by the intellectual and energetic race dwelling between the Clyde and the Humber, to whom British material progress owes an incalculable debt. The names of most of the leading engineering firms are familiar not only to Englishmen, but to traders of all countries having business relations with Great Britain.

The firm of Robert Stephenson and Co, which continues to make railway locomotives at Darlington, preserves in active commerce the name of the engineer who constructed the Stockton and Darlington Railway and led the world in early steam locomotion. The Darlington Forge, part-owner with John Brown and Co of Sheffield of the Carnforth blast furnaces, rivals Sheffield in forged shafting and in castings. The Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Co, makers of steel bridges, steel buildings, steel masts and piers; the Whessoe Foundry and Engineering Co, manufacturers of gas and oil plants, steel structural work and castings; the Darlington Rolling Mills Co, makers of steel sections and rails; the Blake Boiler, Wagon and Engineering Co — all these are Darlington firms. Richardson, Westgarth and Co, established at Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, produces marine engines and condensers. Ashmore, Benson, Pease and Co, of Stockton, makes blast furnace and gas plants. Head, Wrightson and Co, also of Stockton, is distinguished for bridge-building. The Central Marine Engine Works Co, at West Hartlepool, is known for its marine engines, condensers and steel stampings.

Nearer Newcastle and on the Tyne, Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Co, with five blast furnaces, mixer and bar mills, can turn out steel sections, with three furnaces in blast, at the rate of 3,500 tons a week. Clarke, Chapman and Co, of Gateshead, makes boilers, winches, ships' instruments and electrical apparatus. The firms of Emerson Walker and Thompson Brothers are noted for steam windlasses; whilst at Blaydon, further up the Tyne, are firms making ships' deck machinery and railway castings. Smith Patterson and Co was the pioneer in providing cast-iron segments for the London Tube Railways, employing for years a steamer of its own for transporting these to the metropolis. At Hebburn, further down the Tyne, is the firm of Reyrolle and Co, with a high reputation here and abroad for electrical switchgear.

On the north bank of the Tyne are situated the engineering works of C. A. Parsons and Co (referred to in another chapter), of steam turbine fame, also making electrical alternators and other propelling machinery; Donkin Co with steering gear and capstans; Henry Watson and Co with bronze propellers, pumps, evaporators, etc.; R. and W. Hawthorn, Leslie and Co, builders, on a large scale at their Forth Banks Works, of railway locomotives. On the north side as well are the works of Cookson and Co, refiners of lead and antimony, and the establishment of the British Oxygen Co (formerly known as Brin's Oxygen Co.), which makes and supplies oxygen used in large quantities by the important industries settled in the district.

The Sunderland Forge and Engineering Co on the neighbouring river, the Wear, manufactures electric motors, winches and ships' forgings. The South Durham Steel and Iron Co, the Cargo Fleet Iron Co, W. Whitwell and Co, of Thornaby, the Seaton Carew Iron Co and the Consett Iron Co, firms of very high importance, are referred to more fully in subsequent pages. Other undertakings contributing largely to the industrial life on the engineering side of the two counties are: R. Hood, Haggie and Co, at Newcastle; Haggie Brothers and Peter Haggie and Co makers of steel wire ropes for colliery winding engines at Gateshead, the Bede Metal and Chemical Co, and the Tharsis Sulphur and Copper Co, old firms of copper smelters at Hebburn, where are also the lead works of Foster, Blackett and Wilson, and the foundries of the Birsley Iron Co. In addition to these firms, which by the scale of their operations and length of tenure are among the most noteworthy on the North-east Coast, there are large numbers of others, such as iron and steel founders, and forgers, producers of steel structural works, boilers and tanks, locomotives, railway wagons, electrical goods, brass and aluminium castings, cables, hemp and wire rope, ships' steering gears, winches, deck machinery, boats, propellers, pumps, steam packings, wire, paints, anti-fouling compositions, and galvanisers, all of which are essential to the activities of the North-east Coast shipyards.

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