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British Industrial History

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Mersey Steel and Iron Co

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1810 Company founded by Ralph Clay. The works was known as the Mersey Forge

Also see Mersey Iron Co.

Business continued by Ralph's son William Clay at Mersey Steel and Ironworks

1838 'A Large Paddle Shaft.— An immense piece of round beaten iron, being a steam engine paddleshaft, has been made at the Mersey Works, Liverpool, for Messrs. J. Forrester and Co., engineers. The weight is 6 tons 14 1/2 cwt.; its length 23 feet, the greatest diameter 18 1/2 inches, and it is the largest piece of wrought iron ever made.'[1]

1842 Joseph Thomlinson left the Partnership with Charles Horsfall and Charles Hodgson Horsfall, carrying on the business of Iron and Steel Manufacturers, at Liverpool, in the county of Lancaster, under the firm of the Mersey Steel and Iron Company[2]

1843 SS Great Britain: 'The main wrought-iron shaft (from the Mersey Iron Works), the largest ever yet made, weighs about 18 tons.' [3]

1847 Iron Works belonging to and occupied by "The Mersey Steel and Iron Company," at 69 Sefton-street, on the south side of Egerton-street, in Toxteth-park, Liverpool[4]

1851 Exhibited at the Great Exhibition.

1852 Thomas James left the Partnership with William Joseph Horsfall, Thomas Berry Horsfall, George Henry Horsfall, carrying on business at Liverpool, in the county of Lancaster, as Manufacturers of Steel and Iron, and Iron Merchants, under the firm of the Mersey Steel and Iron Company[5].

1855 Extract from an account of a works visit, reported in The Northern Daily Times [6]:-

'The helve is a gigantic casting set upon two standards, and worked up by a cam, which transmits the motion to the helve through a strong bar of wrought iron. But the greatest curiosity of the premises is the splendid fly-wheel which no doubt is the pride of the establishment, as it is perhaps the largest wheel of its kind in the world. The diameter of the wheel is 35ft and it weighs 60 tons. It is well fixed on the crank shaft of the engine of 80 hp. The rim alone has in cross section 144 sq inches, the bearings 18 inches in diameter and are mounted in friction rollers, according to the plan of Mr William Clay the manager, who is the animating life and soul of the whole concern. So smooth and silently, so quick and gracefully does the wheel make its revolutions, that the unconscious visitor has not the slightest notion the 60 tons of metal are travelling before him at a 4,000 ft per minute. More than one third of the weight is concerned in the rim alone, which, is made to revolve with a velocity of 4,500 ft per minute at about 38 revolutions A short paper on the beautiful and ponderous piece of mechanism was read by the manager Mr Clay before the British Association, last September when they held their sitting in Liverpool.

'About 10 yrs ago in 1845 a great gun of immense calibre was forged here for the United States, Steam Frigate, PRINCETON, the length from breech to muzzle was 12 ft and the diameter 12 inches. The weight of shot 219 lbs.'

1856 'Extensive War Preparations at Liverpool.
What is doing in principal foundries throughout the kingdom may judged from the activity displayed in the, as yet, infant foundries in Liverpool. Mr. Laird has in his yards at Birkenhead and Liverpool, 14 wooden screw gunboats far advanced in construction, of 240 tons and sixty-horse power, each to be armed with two heavy guns. It is said that the Government has now doubled the order. The Mersey Steel and Iron Works Company, besides the "monster" wrought-iron gun intended as a present to the Government, which is to be 15 feet long, 13-inch bore, 25 tons weight, and to throw a ball of 300 lbs. five miles, are making two immense wrought-iron mortars, which will require a charge of nearly 2 cwt. to throw a shell of 36 inches; this size and description will be without parallel. At the Vauxhall foundry (Forrester's) 8000 tons of 8, 10, and 13-inoh shell are making for sea and land service. Messrs. Fawcett are manufacturing 90 of the largest site (18-inch) mortars for land and sea service: although of tbe same bore, the land service will weigh 33 cwt, while the sea service require to be up to the weight of five tons. The Ordnance authorities apply most the scrupulous test to the make.'[7]

1856 Boring of a monster gun at the Mersey Steel and Iron Company's forge[8]

1857 'Accident at the Mersey Steel and Iron Works. — At the upper works of the Mersey Steel and Iron Company, Liverpool, on Thursday night, the rim of a flywheel thirty or forty tons in weight, and running at the rate of one hundred revolutions per minute, was suddenly broken, and the heavy portions flew about in all directions. At the time of the accident between one and two hundred men were at work, and it appears marvellous that not more than two or three persons were injured, and those not fatally.' [9]

1858 Puddled Steel plates supplied to John Laird of Birkenhead for the steamer Rainbow, built for McGregor Laird for his Niger exhibition. Tests showed extremely high tensile strength in comparison with the best wrought iron plates. Laird's subsequently built the screw steam yacht Deerhoun for the Duke of Leeds using puddled steel.[10]

The progressive steps in the march of science ..... Most of our readers, and all the scientific world, are aware that within a few brief months past, Mr. Wm. Clay, scientific manager of the Mersey Steel and Ironworks, invented a process for a more speedy and cheap means of converting iron into steel than could be achieved by the old methods in use. Such were the advantages at once attained by Mr. Clay's invention, that steel could be obtained in almost any quantity, and at a price sufficiently low to admit of its being used in the construction of the largest fabrics. Among the benefits which Mr. Clay has thus conferred upon the public must be ranked in a foremost degree the fact that the same amount of strength may be attained with little, if at all, more than half the weight of metal required in the former modes of construction. This may be familiarly illustrated by stating that, in the manufacture of boiler-plates, half the thickness of metal prepared by Mr. Clay's process of steel-making gives greater strength and durability to the boiler than could be attained by the best rolled plates of iron prepared in the ordinary way. This, be it remembered, is only one — although it is admittedly an important one — of the numerous advantages resulting from the ingenious invention of Mr. Clay. Those even least acquainted with the details of such subjects, cannot fail to perceive at a glance the benefit to be derived from the use of material which, with half the bulk, and little more than half the weight, confers equal amount of strength upon the article fabricated from as compared with that from which it ordinarily made. This is not all, however. From the superior and more perfect mode of manufacture adopted in the formation of the new metal, it is more homogenous, and consequently more durable than the metal produced by the old processes. This superiority of manufacture, which, in some measure, at least, depends on the more perfect hammering of what, in the ordinary processes of iron-manufacture, would be denominated the "puddle blooms," brings us directly to a consideration of the gigantic implement, of which we are now about to give a brief description. So rapidly did steel made by the new process recommend itself to general approval, that the ordinary, although vast appliances, of the Mersey Steel and Iron Works were totally inadequate for its sufficiently rapid production, and accordingly Messrs. Horsfall resolved to supply themselves with a steam-hammer of such gigantic proportions and stupendous power as would enable them to execute fn a satisfactory manner the numerous orders they were daily receiving for vast quantities of the "new process" steel.
Having perfected the system, and fully proved the correctness of the principles on which the new process of manufacture was based, Mr. Clay next applied his inventive faculties to perfecting the instruments by which it was to be carried out practically on a grand scale. He therefore set to work in calculating the form, size, and power of a steam-hammer which would be on the whole most economical and effective. Having well considered all these points, it was resolved have the hammer — originally invented by Nasmyth, of Patricoft, near Manchester— made, or at all events partly made, by Messrs. Morrison and Co., of Newcastle-on-Tyne — the portion of the work executed by those gentlemen consisting of the arms or supports, and the steam cylinder, but not the piston which constitutes the greater portion of the hammer. The steam cylinder possesses some peculiarities of construction, invented by Messrs. Morrison and Co., and for which they have a patent. The anvil block, which consists of one enormous mass of iron, was cast by Messrs Fawcett, Preston and Co., of Liverpool; all the other portions, including the piston, hammer, and anvil, were made at the Mersey Steel and Ironworks, the three last named portions being all formed of steel made by Clay's process.
The size of this gigantic implement of labour is so great as to almost raise the conjecture that a statement of its dimensions must some measure prove an invasion of the regions of romance. The width between the upright supports is 14 feet 6 inches, the weight of the piston and hammer is fully 8 tons, and this enormous mass when employed in working, has a fall of 6 feet. The piston and projection rod, which are in reality one, and of one piece is 15 inches in diameter, by about 7 feet in length; it is, as already stated, one admirably forged piece of steel, made by Clay's process, and manufactured at the Mersey Works under that gentleman's own superintendence. Its weight is 7 tons, probably one of the largest masses of steel in existence. The anvil block of which mention has been already made, is bedded deep in the solid sandstone rock. This is an enormous mass of cast-iron of great solidity and perfect soundness. Its base is a square measuring 9 feet on each side. From the base it is contracted upwards in the form of substantial buttresses, till the height of 6 feet, it terminates in a kind of truncated pyramid, about 3 feet square on the upper surface. This stupendous mass of cast-iron weighs not less than 32 tons 15 cwt. It was most successfully run at one casting, and the very efficient manner in which important a work was executed reflects very high credit on the resources of Messrs. Fawcett, Preston, and Co.'s establishment. The total height of the hammer is about 23 feet, and the absolute weight of the metal in the apparatus, including bedplates, framing, and anvil-block, is fully 70 tons.
It worked by steam, furnished from the general steam supply of the works, and was first put in motion on Thursday, the 30th of June last.
In practical operation it was found to work remarkably well and smoothly. The whole fabric is firmly fixed, and carefully bedded in the solid sandstone rock, and its motion was such to indicate most satisfactorily that every care and attention which science could dictate or experience suggest, have been bestowed its design and construction. ...... No sooner was this gigantic apparatus called into play — indeed before it had been brought into operation — than another and equally important use was discovered for the application of its incredible powers. This is its adaptation to the general purposes of the forge — as forging is carried on at this mammoth establishment To fit it for this purpose, however, new combinations and additional agencies had to be called in to its aid.
Conspicuous among those additional agencies is an enormous crane, worked also by steam, and in its great magnitude and vast power fitted, in all respects, to take its place beside the stupendous hammer, of which, under certain circumstances and applications, it may almost be said to constitute a part. It is erected in close contiguity to the hammer, and its extreme altitude is 24 feet above the ground, but being sunk 12 feet into the solid rock, the extreme height of its upright shaft is 36 feet; its cross arm or horizontal beam is 24 feet in length. This cross arm or heading is strengthened by a diagonal stretching almost from its extreme point to the upright nearly at the point where the latter emerges from the deep pit in which it works. The crane is simple in form, and may be briefly described consisting of two rectangular tubes, one vertical, the other at its upper end horizontal, connected with each other at their point of junction, and by the diagonal already mentioned. Of these rectangular tubes there are two sets which are erected parallel with, and strongly fastened to, each other. These are composed of steel plates, each entire side of the crane-formed tube being of one piece, and all of these extraordinary plates — extraordinary both for size and form — were rolled at the Mersey Steel and Iron Works. On the upper side of the horizontal arm there are two travelling carriages for the purpose of giving a backward or forward motion to the mass of metal suspended by the crane. This vast piece of mechanism, which is worked by a patent engine invented and made by Mr. Jones, of William street, in Liverpool, has three distinct motions — viz., a rotatory motion of the whole fabric for swinging its head between the hammer and the forge, a winding motion for lifting the mass to be submitted to the action of the hammer, and the backward and forward motion on the horizontal arm already mentioned. By tbe combination of these three perfectly distinct motions, the largest masses can be lifted, poised or laid down with the nicest accuracy. The whole weight of this stupendous crane is upwards of 50 tons, and it is considered capable of lifting 150 tons.
It is much to the credit of Liverpool mechanical engineers to state that it was wholly got up and constructed in Liverpool, the engine which works it, as already stated, having been invented and constructed by Mr. Jones, of William-street, and the crane having been made from Mr. Clay's designs by Mr. Jack, of the North-end Engine Works.
Considerable difficulty was at first experienced in fixing on a method of introducing steam as a motive power in such a manner to suit for the different and occasionally contradicting motions of this great implement of power, as the rotatory or swing motion of the crane interfered seriously with the possibility of obtaining a fixed point for the introduction of the steam. After due consideration, however, this last difficulty was overcome by Mr. Clay introducing the steampipe under the centre pin or pivot, on which the crane rotates. Here was at once a solution of the great difficulty, and the successful working of the great and wonderous machine was fully secured.
At about the same distance from the crane, as the latter is from the hammer, the forging furnace has been constructed. Like the other matters connected with this gigantic series mechanical apparatus, the furnace is also on a scale of vast magnitude. It is 17 feet, or, including the furnace neck, 24 feet in length by 8 feet wide, and furnished with a draft-flue, by means of a tall chimney 86 feet in length. This furnace, it is said, would suffice to raise a forge heat, and sustain it to that temperature, a mass of iron three times as large as that employed in the manufacture of the monster wrought-iron gun, for the successful construction of which the Mersey Steel and Iron Works, a year or two ago obtained a deservedly world-wide reputation.
The whole of the fittings and furnishings connected with the vast series of fabricating apparatus are not as yet quite complete; but they are very nearly so. The whole of the area on which they stand is to be covered in by a roof of 64 feet span, supported by cast-iron girders, resting on four upright steel columns. The latter to be made at the Mersey Steel and Iron Works, the former to be manufactured by Messrs. Fawcett, Preston and Co. .....' [11]

1861 'PRINCE ALFRED IN LIVERPOOL. …a landing was made opposite the Mersey Steel and Iron Works. At these extensive premises, the Prince was shown the new monster (600-pounder) breech loading rifled gun, constructed on Clay's patent principle. He also saw an immense piece of wrought iron, part of the cranks for the engines of the iron-clad vessel of war Achilles (now being constructed at Chatham dockyard), taken from the furnace while hot and put under the operation of the powerful steam hammer.'[12]

1862 Moved to works near the Harrington and Toxteth Docks - see Mersey Steel and Ironworks

1862 The Mersey Steel and Iron Co. exhibited at the 1862 Exhibition

1864 The company officially became 'The Mersey Steel and Iron Co. Ltd'. Prior to this name change, the forge occupied land on either side of Sefton Street, but after incorporation it moved its position to allow for the construction of the Garston Railway line, which cut through the premises. The Forge now straddled the south end of Grafton Street, separated by Sefton Street and Horsfall Street. Spread over three sites, interconnected by tunnels. [13]

17th November 1864: General Todleben, the eminent Russian engineer officer, accompanied by Admiral Boutakoff, visited visited the Mersey Forge of the Mersey Steel and Iron Co, and there met Colonel Clay prior to witnessing trials of James Mackay's 12-pounder 'windage adaptation gun'. The barrel had been forged by Firth of Sheffield and turned and bored by the Mersey Steel and Iron Co. The General also witnessed an armour plate being rolled at the works. [14][15]

1866 Forged the crankshaft for the Hercules, constructed by John Penn and Sons. It weighed 34.5 tons in the rough. Transported from Liverpool to Camden on a special railway wagon, then conveyed to Greenwich via Regent Street and Waterloo bridge, hauled by 30 horses.[16]

1866 Mersey Steel and Iron Co. (Limited), Caryl-street, Toxteth Park, Liverpool. were awarded space at the 1867 Paris Exhibition for displaying bars and forging[17]

1869 Having built and demonstrated the Mackay Gun, made of wrought iron, it was sold to John H. Wilson and Co (see advert)

1881 on the petition of John Fowler, iron founder of Sheffield, the company was wound up[18]

1881 Communications to 313 Grafton Street, Liverpool[19]

1882 The company was bankrupt and the assets taken over by the Mersey Forge

1884 Court case Mersey Steel and Iron Co vs. Naylor Benson and Co Respondents sold 5,000 tons of steel to plaintiff, to be delivered at the rate of 1,000 tons monthly. Deliveries started but the respondents got into difficulties and were going to be wound up. On receipt of this information the buyers decided to suspend payment. Respondents treated this failure as discharging them from all further obligations. They were sued. Held: This was not repudiation because they thought that they were acting lawfully.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 26 May 1838
  2. London Gazette 19 Aug 1842
  3. Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser, 8 August 1843
  4. London Gazette 27 Nov 1847
  5. London Gazette 6 July 1852
  6. [1]Old Mersey Times website
  7. Stamford Mercury, 18 January 1856
  8. The Engineer 1856/03/14
  9. Westmorland Gazette, 19th December 1857
  10. The Practical Mechanic's Journal, August 1858
  11. Derby Mercury - Wednesday 20 July 1859
  12. Blackburn Standard, 25th September 1861
  13. [2]Liverpool University: History Characterisation Project
  14. [3] Shoeburyness and the Guns: a Philosophical Discourse, by Patrick Barry, 2005
  15. The Engineer 1864/04/22
  16. [4] Engineering, 7 Sept 1866, p.174
  17. London Gazette 6 Nov 1866
  18. London Gazette 18 February 1881
  19. Rylands Directory of Bessemer and Siemens Steel works