Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Batts Foundry

From Graces Guide
1907. James Hutton.
c1914. Robert Hutton Jnr.
Map showing location of the Batts (Hutton) Foundry[1].
2018. The site of The Batts (Hutton) Foundry, September 2017, lying adjacent to the railway line, in the middle-distance. The path of the railway siding from the track can just be discerned to the left of the centre of the photograph. Photo by Peter Kain.
A fragment of the Batts Foundry ruins (rear - north-western - corner) in the undergrowth, Whitby, May 2018.[2].
2017. Lamp column at the foot of the famous 199 steps in Whitby. (Image: Bob Walton).
2017. "R. Hutton and Sons" marking on lamp column, Whitby. (Image: Bob Walton).
2018. "The Fish", the RNLI donation collection sculpture in Robin Hood's Bay, on the site since around 1887. Photo by Peter Kain.

Batts Foundry, Whitby

An Overview of The Batts (Hutton) Foundry, Whitby.[3]

Information on the foundry that operated in “The Batts” area of Whitby (adjoining Ruswarp) between 1858 and 1911.

Foundry name: Batts Foundry. (The foundry was known under a number of other names, including Batts Iron Foundry; Hutton Foundry; Hutton Iron Foundry; Hutton Works; Robert Hutton & Sons)

This is a brief note about the foundry that operated for over 50 years at The Batts, in the Esk Valley on the outskirts of Whitby. Ancillary business and personal material is also presented insofar as it provides background and colour to the decision by part of the Hutton family, who operated the foundry, to remove themselves from the operation and subsequently leave Whitby, migrating to Australia.

The Mill

The foundry used the fabric of former corn-mill buildings.[4] The mill was originally water-powered but, when the Esk River was diverted, the mill switched to (coal) steam power. The course of the Esk was shifted in 1834 when the Whitby and Pickering Railway was constructed through the valley. The new course of the river enabled a straighter railway route, and reduced the railway's need for two additional river crossings. If the railway had followed the original deep u-shaped curve of the river at the western (Ruswarp) end of The Batts then the railway would have had to cross to the east side of the river, to avoid the steep western bank adjoining Prospect Hill. Within a very short distance the railway would then have then had to re-cross the river back to the west bank.

Thus, tightening the curvature of the river eliminated the need for those two railway bridges. (The railway already had nine crossings of the Esk upstream from Ruswarp to Grosmont so a practical scheme to divert the river would have had considerable appeal.[5] A further technical consideration was that if the river navigation was to be retained through to the nearby village of Ruswarp, then any crossings would have had to be swing or draw bridges.

These engineering works on straightening the river course had two effects on the corn mill. First, in practical terms, the river-straightening switched the mill from the eastern bank of the river to the western side. Secondly — and with more practical implications — it seems that the mill would have to be steam-powered, with the mill no longer being able to draw on the Esk's water flow to power the mill.

After the Esk had been realigned, its former course now lay behind the mill site. In the early years following the Esk's diversion, it formed an oxbow lake. Holt[6] reported that following the diversion, the “old course of the river remained as a lake, and was a favourite resort of eel fishers and skaters till it silted up”. To this day the area is damp, including extensive reed beds.

Research undertaken for the Mills Archive has indicated that in the 1841 census the mill was being operated by Francis and Ann Burnand, aged around 70 and 83, respectively.

Establishment of the Foundry

In January 1858 a foundry was established at the 10-acre corn-mill site[7], presumably reusing the fabric of the old mill; the foundry took the name, The Batts, from the name given to the west bank of the river in vicinity. The foundry premises were extensive.

The foundry was established by Robert Hutton. Robert held the Master of Civil Engineering qualification. He had previously worked in foundries on Tees-side (where he was born in 1827), and on Tyneside. Just prior to establishing his own foundry, Robert gained further experience and local prominence through working as foreman at the foundry of Mr John B. Nicholson's Whitby Iron Works. That firm' s premises were at 3 Bridge Street and it produced and sold a wide range of “copper, tin, sheet and cast iron goods”.[8]

During its period of operation, the foundry was known by a range of names. Initial advertising in the Whitby Gazette called it “Batts Iron Foundry” until 1862, following which it was called “Batts Foundry” until the advertising ceased in 1868. In other situations the bracketed “Hutton” name has appeared within the title, including the press referring to it as “Mr. Hutton's foundry” as well as the “Hutton Works”. From 1899 it was known as R. Hutton & Sons.


There is no information about the foundry's facilities. The 1849/1853 Ordnance Survey map labels a mill as well as the adjacent pump and boiler.

Research by the Levisham Station Group, of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway[9], provides some information about the railway facilities. The foundry had a siding that connected to the “down” (that is, the Whitby-bound) track. Train access to the siding was controlled by the adjoining Foundry Sidings Signal Box.

It is unclear at what stage the railway facilities were constructed. The foundry itself will have required the delivery of iron (in the form of ironstone, the Levisham research indicated). From the outset of operations, the foundry could have used rail facilities; the railway had opened in 1836, and upgrading of the line was completed in 1845. Additional material would probably have been railed in: the iron moulding would have required sand, and the ores heated by coal- (or coke) - based furnaces.

Initially the foundry could draw upon nearby resources for its operations. Esk Valley environs were peppered with ironstone quarries and ore-processing facilities (especially around Grosmont/Goathland). Traditionally, coal supplies would be shipped into the Port of Whitby.

A number of ironstone operations commenced around the time of the establishment of the foundry but they declined relatively rapidly over the following three decades; this would have adversely affected the competitiveness of the foundry. In particular, activities commenced at the Whitby Iron Works at Beck Hole (near Grosmont) in 1857 but operations wound down from 1864, with the site being abandoned in 1867.[10] Similarly, from 1862, the Grosmont Ironworks smelted iron with three blast furnaces; operations ceased in 1891. It has been noted that this decline occurred as “more and better iron ore came from mines further north in Cleveland, followed by imported ore from abroad”.[11]

Foundry Output

Between 1858 and 1868 Robert Hutton advertised the foundry's domestic, agricultural and commercial wares regularly — often weekly — in the Saturday issue of the six-day-a-week newspaper, the Whitby Gazette.

The foundry produced home wares such as ovens, boilers, ranges and furnace pans. Farm implements were also produced: turnip cutters and potato mills, as well as the “North Cave Plough”. The latter is a local Yorkshire plough. There was clearly a market at the time for the “implement makers” for the surrounding agricultural lands.[12] By way of further illustration, when the foundry business was being wound down, the firm offered for sale two Cambridge Rollers (which are used to break up clumps of soil).[13]

The foundry also served the local ship-building and - repair industry. For example in 1864 the foundry cast the steam engine and screw propeller of Whitby's first screw steamer — built by John Hodgson in Whitehall, a short distance downstream from the foundry on the eastern river bank.[14] Whitby had had a long history of ship-building as a key activity in the local economy, with direct employment, and supporting the foundry business; by the end of the nineteenth century, however, the only major construction activities were at Turnbull's Whitehall Shipyard. At the turn of the century Turnbull's was Whitby's “principal industry”, and employed an average of 335 persons in 1899. [15]

Another example of the foundry's output was the water wheel for Levisham Mill, cast in 1904.

The foundry also produced street lamp poles, of which one example can be examined to the side of the bottom of the “199 Steps” to Whitby Abbey. The marking of “R. Hutton & Sons” is consistent with the installation of the lamps in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Finally, another illustration of the foundry's casting output was the sculpture known as “The Fish”. It is a hollow 1.2 metre casting of a cod fish, produced for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1887. The sculpture is used as a coin donation box (with an opening in the cod's mouth); it adjoins (to this day) the Institution's premises at the slipway in Robin Hood's Bay.

Initially the foundry worked with iron, casting objects using moulds. The foundry's activities diversified over time, beginning with fashioning other metals, such as brass and, later, in engineering work. The latter involved installation of a lathe and employing an engine fitter, who could “make or repair engines and machinery of every description”.

The foundry activities were based at The Batts. However, in the early years — from around August 1859 through to the end of 1862 — a warehouse and retail frontage were also operating in Steam Mill Yard, on the south side of Baxtergate, west Whitby, where Robert Hutton also had his residence. [16] This area lies at the bridge/inner harbour end of Baxtergate (diagonally across from the swing bridge).

Other Commercial Interests

In 1872 Robert Hutton applied for a patent for the invention of “improvements in the construction of stove pipes for blast and other furnaces”.[17] It is not known if this invention was adopted elsewhere.

Robert Hutton had related interests beyond the foundry; naturally the viability of other Whitby operations had a bearing on his own business. After establishing the foundry business in 1873 he became a director of the newly-formed Whitby Steamboat Company, which purchased the steam-boat Emu in the same year. The presence of Emu in the harbour facilitated in the port's operations, being used as a steam tug. It was also used in the port's role as a port of refuge and shelter, bringing in offshore vessels that were in difficulties. Life-saving equipment was installed. The vessel was also used in tourist excursions along the coast, including day trips to “Scarbro'” (Scarborough) and Saltburn.

The company decided to sell the Emu in 1880; in 1882 Robert Hutton became the sole owner of the vessel; the Steamboat Company was dissolved in 1886. Robert Hutton sold Emu in 1895. In the same period, Robert had owned two vessels, the steam yachts the Hilda and the Ælfleda; he made these available for hire, being marketed for pleasure trips.

In addition, Robert recognised the importance of good harbourage to the vitality of the maritime industries based in Whitby — again, with a bearing on the viability of his own foundry. To that end, for some years he was a member of the Trustees of Whitby Port and Harbour.[18] The Trustees oversaw the port's activities, funded by a levee on vessels using the port. In the early 1900s that overseeing passed to the Whitby Urban District Council; with access to ratepayers' funds, that council was in a better position to fund major outstanding harbour works than the earlier levied harbour dues.

Robert Hutton's principal concern as Trustee seems to have been with the existing shallow harbour, exacerbated by progressive silting of the inner harbour; he was an advocate of “Whitby Harbour Improvements” to overcome increasing deficiencies in the port; these deficiencies were seen as adversely affecting the shipping industry — both for construction and for herring fishing. The shallow flow of the River Esk prevented scouring of the harbour floor that would help to prevent that silting. Thanks in part to Robert Hutton's perseverance, some dredging was undertaken — including in the outer harbour and entrance to that harbour. However, these works were insufficient to deepen the harbour or prevent its silting; this was at a time when the increasing size of vessels required larger draughts and when other ports (with better hinterland access and better natural harbours) were being developed, especially along the River Tees.

Robert Hutton's other public activities included membership of the Iron and Steel Institute (to which he was elected in 1876, on the nomination of (Mr Charles Bagnall MP), of the Liberal Party, and activities within the Catholic Church.

Decline and Closure of the Foundry

As noted, the vitality of the port's activities played important direct and indirect effects on Whitby's complementary trades — including the Batts foundry and its engineering — and on consumers' demand for the foundry output. The decline in the port's maritime and manufacturing activities arose as other, better, comprehensive ironstone trades developed in Cleveland, as ports in the region were developed, and as the Whitby's harbourage deficiencies became increasingly restrictive to operations. The specific deficiencies were the shallow harbour (limiting the maximum draught of vessels) and the narrow channel between the outer and inner harbours (created by the pinching caused by the old, short bridge that linked east and west Whitby, limiting the beam of vessels entering the inner harbour).

Changes were afoot in the foundry's viability almost from the start, with rapid changes in technology and construction. Wind-powered sailing ships gave way to coal-powered iron steam ships. No sooner had steam ships supplanted sailing ships in the early 1870s than — in 1887 — steel-ship construction in Whitby commenced and immediately replaced iron-ship construction [19]. The foundry did not work with steel. In any case, the ironstone mines and iron processing plants up the Esk Valley closed, with superior output being extracted and processed on Tees-side.

A major trigger in the decline of manufacturing in Whitby arose when the Whitehall Shipyard owned by Thomas Turnbull and Son ceased all activity in 1902, when there were no further orders for new ships. The shipyard, in the inner harbour at Whitehall, was across the river and a short distance downstream from Batts Foundry. On the face of it, tonnage built through to 1901 seemed to be healthy and growing. However, that growth collapsed in 1902, when only one vessel was built. In any case, the decline in the shipyard's fortunes had been masked in that Turnbull itself had bought all but one of its new ships between 1895 and 1902.[20] Turnbull was inevitably encouraged to divest itself of the building activities in the late 1890s, with the evaporation of ship-building orders, a glut of ships on the market at the turn of the century, and protracted industrial disputes at the shipyard. The family-run firm then concentrated on its other activity—ship-owning, a business that it continued until the company was sold in 1991.

The ending of ship-building in Whitby was a serious predicament for the economy of the town: this single shipbuilding firm had been described as the “principal business” in Whitby and in 1899 it employed an average of 335 men. In its published review of the year's activities, the Whitby Gazette of 26 December 1902 noted that “there was very little prospect of the iron or shipbuilding trades brightening before the spring of the new year”. However, the shipyard never re-opened and its closure inevitably affected the general prosperity of the town and it seems reasonable to assume that it would have had a major adverse effect on the foundry's viability.

The first decade of the new century therefore evolved into a sombre period for Whitby. By 1904 the Whitby Gazette was noting glumly that other towns had prospered in recent decades but that “Whitby had not been standing still, but worse than that—and stagnation was bad enough—they had not only failed to progress but had gone backward at a very rapid rate, until to-day, they had touched the low-water mark of industrial stagnation”. [21]

Against this background the foundry business limped through until 1911, when advertisements were placed in the Whitby Gazette in July 1911 in which the company cited “declining business” and requested that customers should collect any “patterns” [moulds] held at the premises. It would seem that operations ceased around that time.

The foundry stock and plant was offered for sale in April 1912 [22], to be disposed by auction on 7th May 1912. The site, with 10 acres of land, was subsequently advertised for sale in the Whitby Gazette on 21 June 1912. It was sold to Lieut. Col. R. D. Turton, the owner of the Larpool Estate (including Larpool Hall).[23] The buyer appears not to have used the site, so expectations were raised by the re-sale of the site in 1918. However, the foundry remained closed. It is not known when the site was cleared of buildings.

Management and Ownership of the Foundry

It would seem that Robert Hutton (senior) remained in control of the foundry business for over forty years, until his death, aged about 73 years, in 1899. (The Whitby Gazette wrote a modest obituary when it reported his death.) At that time it would seem that his substantial house at 3 Esk Terrace passed to his daughter, Jane (known as Jenny). Robert's sons James and Robert took over the foundry business, which was renamed Robert Hutton & Sons.[24] The firm's administration was located at James's considerably more modest house at 5 George Street, Whitby.

While their father's activities with his marine craft suggest that the foundry must have been earning a reasonable return, the prospects and financial performance of the business were less robust by the time that the sons inherited the business. James's and Robert's housing reflected much about the challenging finances of the foundry. The housing James lived in was metres away from their father's former house, but it was a very modest terrace house at 5 George Street; the abode housed James and Esther and their soon-to-be three children — Agnes, Bob and Winifred. It would have been a small house for the family size even at that time.

For Robert (junior) the housing reflected even more straitened times. The 1901 Census indicates that Robert and his wife, Catherine, were (what is presently, [2013]) a three-bedroom terrace house at 5 Scoresby Terrace, with 7 children, as well as Catherine's sister, Margaret. In 1911, the year that the foundry closed, the Census recorded that Robert and Catherine and 12 children were living in another terrace house at 20 Elgin Street; in 2016 the property was described as having four bedrooms. In other words, fourteen persons were lodged in a very modestly-sized dwelling.

1907 was a pivotal year in the foundry's business, with James and Robert agreeing to dissolve the partnership, with Robert taking over full control of the business. Sadly, two months later the foundry's viability was further undermined by a major robbery of leather used in the foundry; the foundry operations had to cease and workers were laid off until the parts could be replaced. [25]

As indicated in a Whitby Gazette article (31 May 1907), James Hutton, then aged 55, left the business to seek to establish himself in Canada. The article notes that it was understood that a son of Mr M. H. Weighill was to accompany James on his visit to Canada. That gentleman was a grandson of Thomas Turnbull, the shipbuilder; that association reflects the ongoing shared interests of the shipbuilder family and the foundry family, seeking alternative employment.

The postcards that James sent back to Whitby during June 1907 provide some insight into his travels. His quest to “try his fortune” (as phrased by the Whitby Gazette) ranged from visiting Ontario (Cookstown and Toronto), Manitoba and Quebec. As his sister, Jenny, later noted, James sought to migrate so as to improve the prospects for his son, Bob. It would seem, however, that James did not find sufficiently-positive prospects to trigger the family's migration to Canada. Having already removed himself from the foundry operations, it is unclear what work James undertook in the succeeding five years until the family migrated to Australia in June 1912. Bob had completed three years of a six-year apprenticeship in iron moulding in Whitby when the foundry closed. When they settled in Adelaide, Bob recommenced his apprenticeship, following in the footsteps of his father, uncle and grandfather. Bob completed the second three-year apprenticeship at the foundry works of the Adelaide firm of A. Simpson & Son prior to enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in 1916; he was killed in the Battle of the Somme at Flers on 5th November 1916.

It is not known what work Robert undertook following the closure and sale of the foundry.

A Foundry Legacy

Given the diverse and durable nature of foundry output, it would seem reasonable to assume that products from The Batts (Hutton) Foundry should still be evident today, albeit not recognised. Door hinges and door knockers, for instance, may still adorn entrances to houses. Until recent times it was possible to see the foundry name on manhole covers in the lanes of Whitby; as noted above, the name still appears on at least one cast-iron lamp post. The mill at Levisham appears now to have lost its foundry wheel.

Perhaps the most famous recognised output that is attributed to the foundry today is the Grade II listed giant fish at the high-tide point in the village of Robin Hood's Bay.[26] “The Fish” is a receptacle for donations to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution; the open mouth of the fish accepts coin donations. It has been situated at the slipway in the centre of the village since it was presented by Captain Isaac Mills “and his wife” (Alice Russell) in 1887.

Nature has reclaimed the site of the foundry; the area is a combination of thick woodland and reed beds. Some walls from the foundry remain standing — see the photo captioned "A fragment of the Batts Foundry ruins"— while a few scraps of slag and sheet metal hint at the previous use of the land.


The predominant source of material used here is from the Whitby Gazette (henceforth “WG”). Additional material has come from access to Census material plus personal Hutton family correspondence. A range of items of secondary resource material was also seen at the Whitby Museum Library, with staff providing additional local insights.

The following broad topics are cited as follows:

Batts Foundry activities: WG 30 January 1858 (announcement of commencement of foundry operations); WG 12 July 1862 (announcement of production of improved “furnace pan”); WG 7 May 1864 (report of foundry work undertaken on the port's first screw steamer); WG 1 April 1865 (expansion of services offered – screw-cutting side-lathe purchased and engine-fitter employed to “make or repair engines”).

Batts Foundry advertisements: These appeared in the Whitby Gazette on numerous Saturday issues over the period between 1858 and 1868.

Robert Hutton: WG 27 January 1899 (obituary notice, following his death on 25 January 1899).

Robert Hutton & Sons: WG 5 May 1899 (formation of partnership of James and Robert Hutton [jnr], after the death of their father, Robert); WG 31 May 1907 (dissolution of partnership); WG 19 July 1907 (robbery); WG 14 July 1911 (announcement of “declining business”—impending closure of the foundry); WG 27 April 1912 (sale of remaining stock and plant at auction on 7 May 1912); WG 12 July 1912 (offer for sale of the foundry and land); WG 11 January 1918 (re-sale of the site, and that of Turnbull's Whitehall Shipyard).

Shipbuilding: WG 30 December 1898 (statistics on Whitehall Shipyard tonnage built in previous years); WG 2 February 1900 (employment at shipyard); WG 26 December 1902 (decline of shipyard and mothballing of operations); WG 13 November 1903 (whether a new bridge would encourage re-opening of the shipyard); WG 17 June 1904 (discussion of plight of shipyard and whether a new bridge would enable larger vessels to be built and so improve viability of shipyard); WG 27 January 1905 (unsuitability of Whitby for modern shipbuilding).

Steam-boat Emu: WG 28 Jun 1873 (purchase of vessel by Whitby Steamboat Company); WG 31 July 1880 (sale of vessel); WG 6 June 1885 (call for vessel to be exempt from harbour dues); WG 13 October 1888 (Robert Hutton's boat at risk of being wrecked after being driven onshore); WG 15 April 1895 (the vessel is offered for sale); WG 26 October 1895 (announcement of the sale of the vessel). The photograph presented in this note comes from the book by D G Sythes 1997, “Images of England. Around Whitby”, The History Press, Stroud.

Steam Yachts Hilda and Ælfleda: WG 23 August 1879 (offer to sell or hire out the yachts).

Whitby Harbour Trustees: WG 25 October 1879 (dredging proposal); WG 7 July 1883 (Robert Hutton advocating dredging of the harbour); WG 10 August 1888 (Robert Hutton announced retirement from the Board, leaving with another plea for harbour dredging).

Whitby Steamboat Company: WG 28 June 1873 (formation of company); WG 17 July 1880 (first announcement of intention to wind up the company); WG 30 September 1882 (subsequent request for final financial claims); WG 16 January 1886 (final call for claims on the firm).

The discussion on the shipbuilding relies upon material in the 1982 thesis by Stephanie Karen Jones for her PhD at University College London: “A maritime history of the port of Whitby, 1700–1914”.

A general source of information on the agricultural usage of foundry output is Hartley, M and Ingilby, J 1990, “Life and tradition in the moorlands of north-east Yorkshire”, Smith Settle, Otley.

Sythes 1997, Images of England. Around Whitby. The History Press, Stroud.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Map kindly produced by Peter Kain
  2. Photo by Peter Kain
  3. This information was compiled by Peter Kain with some assistance and resources of the Whitby Library & Archive. Peter Kain - With his kind permission his written work is now published on Grace's Guide (January 2018)
  4. The Ordnance Survey map of 1853 labelled the mill as a steam-powered corn mill. It has been suggested that the mill had previously been a saw- and bone-mill but there is no evidence of this, although it is possible that it fulfilled that function after corn milling ceased.
  5. Tomlinson 1915, p. 269
  6. 1894, p. 23
  7. Whitby Gazette, 12 July 1912.
  8. Whitby Gazette, 3 October 1857
  9. North Yorkshire Moors Railway 2013, “Goods on the Whitby to Pickering line”; 2011, “Whitby to Grosmont. A brief history”.
  10. Levisham Station Group 2013, p. 22
  11. Levisham Station Group 2013, p. 19
  12. Harley and Ingilby 1990, p. 30
  13. Whitby Gazette, 7 April 1911
  14. Whitby Gazette, 7 May 1864
  15. Whitby Gazette, 2 February 1900
  16. Whitby Gazette, 30 July 1859
  17. The London Gazette, 9 August 1872, and 22 October 1872, No. 2275.
  18. Also known as the Whitby Piers and Harbour Trustees.
  19. Jones 1982, p. 157
  20. Whitby-resident ownership of Whitby-built ships had been very high (relative to other ports) but the rising size and, thus, cost of ships — the more expensive iron, then steel, ships — reduced this ownership pattern (apart from the Turnbull family itself, which further developed ship ownership.
  21. Whitby Gazette 17 June 1904
  22. Yorkshire Post, 27 April 1912
  23. Whitby Gazette, 11 January 1918
  24. The ampersand was not used in the initial publicity.
  25. Whitby Gazette, 12 July 1907
  26. List Entry Number 1391560, of 10th April 2006.
  • A full document with images is available to read on request (SMCL)