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CHAPTER IV. ROTHERHAM AND LINCOLNSHIRE STEEL
Rotherham historians date the connection of Rotherham with the manufacture of iron as contemporary with the beginning of the iron trade of Sheffield. Indeed, the first recorded instance of iron-making in Rotherham is similar to the case of Sheffield, viz., the permission given by Lord de Busili as Lord of the Manor of Kimberworth to the Monks of Kirkstead in Lincolnshire in 1161 to erect four forges at Kimberworth. Kimberworth lies between Sheffield and Rotherham. Evidences exist of the continuous working of ironstone in the parish of Kimberworth from the earliest times. No doubt this ore found its way to Sheffield for smelting. This inference is supported by the entry in the Sheffield Register under date 1650, referred to in a previous chapter, that in this century steel was made at Rotherham and brought to Sheffield. This steel was that made prior to the advent of the Huntsman process.
The great event, however, in the iron industry of Rotherham was the appearance on the scene of the Walker family. About 1748 Samuel Walker, the village schoolmaster at Grenoside, near Sheffield, erected a small foundry attached to the farm in which he lived, which turned out annually about 5 tons of castings. Two years later he set up furnaces at the Holmes, with a larger output. Ultimately the firm developed its plant to such an extent that it was employed by the Government to make guns. About the year 1813 it turned out annually some 3,000 tons weight of these. The activities of the Walker family encouraged the establishment of foundries at small collieries in the adjacent villages, but after the Treaty of Vienna, when the demand for guns fell off, Rotherham turned to heavy castings and bridge work. The firm built bridges at Sunderland and at Southwark. But, for some reason, after that date the business declined. In 1821 the firm ceased operations and the capital, valued in 1797 at £214,000, was distributed. Since then the different members of the firm have carried on the iron business; one continued the blast furnaces, another took over the rolling-mills, a third set up a steel plant at Parkgate, whilst the general foundry work was relegated to a fourth. This laid the foundation of the cast-iron trade of Rotherham, which is now largely confined to stove grates. So important is this business that the headquarters of the National Union of Stove Grate-makers have been established at Rotherham. Much puddled bar, however, is turned out in the district, together with large quantities of pig iron, the latter principally by the Parkgate Iron and Steel Co. The chief firms in the stove-grate trade are:
With the exception of pig iron, the minor trades of Rotherham show little progress. But the district is now attaining a position in the front rank of steel-making. Oxleys of Parkgate, and Stubbs of the Holmes, are still working the process of cementation.
Newton, Chambers and Co own blast furnaces, as well as their famous collieries. They have designed cottages built of cast-iron plates which compete with the steel houses associated with the name of Lord Weir.
The works of Steel, Peech and Tozer are amalgamated with the United Steel Companies referred to in a previous chapter; and, more important still, the Parkgate Iron and Steel Co has established a plant of the very first order, with a share capital of £2,000,000, some of which represents capitalised profit. This firm deals with the industry from the ore to the finished plate or bar, and uses the Siemens process in the manufacture from pig iron to steel plates or billets. The firm was founded by Samuel Sanderson and a friend named Watson, in 1823, in order to make use of the colliery then being sunk by Earl Fitzwilliam.
The present Company in 1864 purchased the works which at one time produced thin plates. It then turned to iron rails, and it rolled also the plates for the steamship Great Eastern.
In 1856 it made for the Government ordinary iron armour plates up to 4.5 in. thick, but it subsequently abandoned this manufacture. This trade was afterwards taken up and developed by the larger firms of John Brown and Co and Charles Cammell and Co with their iron plates up to 18 in. thick, and their patent compound iron and steel plates. Improvements in guns and in shells had called for heavier armour, which was made by machine tools of such an elaborate character that a long purse alone could meet the capital expenditure. The first Bessemer ingots made in Sheffield were sent to Parkgate to be rolled.
Earl Fitzwilliam's fine new coke works, known as the South Yorkshire Chemical Works, with 85 "Otto" waste-heat ovens and 60 "Semet Solvay" regenerative ovens with recovering plants, as well as the Aldwarke Main Colliery ovens, have been erected in contiguity to the Parkgate Works, and the three will have every opportunity of helping each other's trade. The Parkgate Company owns large ore properties in the Midland counties. Its pig iron output is 3,200 tons a week. The weekly output of steel is 5,000 tons of ingots and 3,600 tons of plates, sheets and bars.
It may be noted that Isaac Dodds, a pupil of George Stephenson, and in business at Rotherham, built the first locomotive for the Sheffield and Rotherham Railway. He exploded the idea that locomotives could only run on level tracks, and he originated the type of the modern heavy locomotive, the latest development of which is the "King George V," lately built by the Great Western Railway Co. at Swindon. This engine is capable of hauling almost any load at 100 miles an hour on the steepest ordinary gradient. It was designed to surpass the "Lord Nelson," built by the Southern Railway Co., which draws a train of 520 tons at a speed of more than eighty-five miles an hour. Dodds also introduced wrought-iron girders for railway bridge work instead of the cast iron formerly used. The manufacture of railway wheels, which originated at the workshop of Owen Dyson, is still a good trade in Rotherham, and numerous railway wagon- and carriage-builders have been attracted to the district, perhaps on that account.
The Frodingham Ironfield in Lincolnshire is connected with Rotherham by the River Don Navigation. It is interesting both as a source of supply of iron and ore and as a producer of steel in competition with Cleveland. It takes a large share in the iron trade of the Rotherham area in supplying ore and pig iron for foundry work, and also cheaper qualities of steel for structural purposes in the district. The iron ore deposits are said to be the most extensive in the kingdom. Ironstone is believed to exist from the Humber in the north to Gainsborough in the south, with a varying width of deposit oft to 3 miles. But all the area has not yet been proved. The stone is argillaceous, and the percentage of iron as worked at present is between 20 and 40 per cent. As a manufacturing district it is of more recent origin than that occupied by the metallurgical firms referred to in previous pages.
The district as an ore-producing area was discovered in the late fifties of last century by G. H. Dawes of Elsecar, founder of the Trent Iron Co, and an ironmaster named Cliff, founder of the Frodingham Iron and Steel Co. The Elsecar Iron Works at that period were the most famous in South Yorkshire, but they have long since ceased operations, and are now dismantled. About the year 1860 Lincolnshire ore began to find its way to Rotherham, and was carried by canal to the blast furnaces, which (as is the case with the present Parkgate Works at Rotherham) had coal at the door. The bad economy of carrying 4 tons of ore to the coal to be smelted into iron, instead of taking 2 tons of coal from the pit to the iron mines, was not then apparent, but possibly the conditions of labour and the market for finished material may have made this difficulty less vital in the trade. In 1862 Dawes constructed the Trent Ironworks. The first furnace was lighted in January 1864. The railway connection was completed in the same year, and communication with South Yorkshire established. In 1907 these works were acquired by John Brown and Co of Sheffield.
The Frodingham district developed rapidly. The population in 1881 was 113, in 1901 over 10,000. At the present time the population is about 32,000, comprised within the urban district of Scunthorpe. The weight of ore raised in this area in 1925 was 2,904,000 tons, of which a great proportion was sent away to furnaces outside the district. The local landowners, Lord St. Oswald, Earl Beauchamp and Sir Berkeley Sheffield, have given every assistance to the metallurgical trade. The ironstone mines, from which ore suitable for basic steel is extracted, are worked by the following firms, all of which are limited companies, viz.
The number of limited companies owning and working blast furnaces or steel works in North Lincolnshire is seven namely,-
There is a large capital engaged. The iron produced is known as Basic, Forge and Foundry, and much leaves the district for use in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Staffordshire and Scotland.
The Frodingham Co, with its important steel works, competes keenly with Cleveland for girders, angles and tees, where it has the advantage of lower railway carriage to Midland centres. This Company was created late in 1865. At the present time it has four blast furnaces, with a total weekly potential output of 4,500 tons. It commenced the steel works in 1890, from which there is now a possible output of 4,000 tons per week, consisting of merchant bars and sections for constructional steelwork. In 1912 the firm absorbed the Appleby Iron Co, which had been formed in 1874. It was not, however, until 1877 that the first furnace was blown in. The plant now consists of four pre-war furnaces, with a total output of 3,000 tons of iron per week. Two new furnaces are being constructed from which it is expected to obtain another 2,800 tons of week. Since the outbreak of the Great War large extensions of the steel works have been erected by the firm, with a capacity of 4,000 tons of rolled plates per week. In 1917 the Company became a component of the United Steel Companies of Sheffield.
Started by a number of Lancashire capitalists, the North Lincolnshire Iron Co was registered in October 1872. The plant consists of three furnaces, and has a total capacity of 3,400 tons per week. These works are now owned by the Scottish firm of Stewarts and Lloyds.
The firm of John Lysaght was established in 1912. It was bought by the Berry group in 1919, and became absorbed by the great firm of Guest, Keen Nettlefolds about the end of 1920. The original works consisted of the following plant: ironstone mines, 96 Semet Solvay coke ovens, with an output capacity of 3,000 tons of coke per week, two blast furnaces of 700 tons per week capacity, four forty-five-ton basic open-hearth steel furnaces, and a 400-ton metal mixer, with steel rolling mills. The growing activity of the district is such that in 1913 a third blast furnace of similar capacity was put into operation. In 1917 a fourth furnace of 1,000 tons per week capacity was put into blast, and in 1922 a fifth furnace of 1,200 tons per week capacity. The steel plant can produce up to 5,000 tons of finished steel per week. The output is made up of sheet bars in all qualities of steel, billets, slabs, etc., for automobile and other high-class work, special carbon and alloy steel, tube steel, low-conductivity steel and tin-plate bars, much of which goes to the plate mills of South Wales.
The works of the firm of Richard Thomas were established as the Redbourn Hill Iron and Coal Co in 1872 by a group of Birmingham investors. At the present time there are four furnaces, of a total capacity of 3,500 tons per week. Steel works were erected during the latter part of the war, with a production capacity of about 3,500 tons per week of merchant bars and sheet bars. In 1925 the Company was absorbed entirely by Richard Thomas and Co. of South Wales, and is now known under that name. This firm is at the head of the tin-plate industry, and is more fully referred to in Chapter XIX.