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 163,355 pages of information and 245,904 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.

Elswick Ordnance Co

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1881. General Plans.
1897. 110-ton gun.
1897. The Gun Shop.
1898. Wire winding machine.
1899. Fire at Elswick, no. 6 shop.

Ordnance factory, Elswick, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

1859 William Armstrong was appointed government engineer for rifled ordnance and superintendent of the royal gun factory at Woolwich but the factory was unable to produce the Armstrong design of guns so, whilst it was being reconstructed, the Elswick ordnance factory was established alongside the Elswick engine works, exclusively to supply the government with Armstrong guns. The partners were George Cruddas, Richard Lambert, and George Wightwick Rendel who was also appointed manager of the works.

1860 Armstrong persuaded Andrew Noble, an artillery officer who had been secretary to the rifled ordnance committee, to become joint manager of the works.

By 1863 More than 3,000 guns had been supplied to the government.

Public controversy arose over the government monopoly enjoyed by the Elswick ordnance factory, and by rival claims of other inventors and manufacturers, especially Joseph Whitworth.

Soon after the completion of the reconstruction of Woolwich, the government withdrew its unconditional support for the Elswick ordnance factory. Armstrong resigned his government positions in 1863.

c.1863 The Elswick Ordnance Co merged with what was by then Sir W. G. Armstrong and Co, and the focus turned to finding overseas orders.

1866 'Big Will', a 600-pound gun , was supplied to Woolwich by Sir W. G. Armstrong and Co

Between 1863 and 1878 the Elswick factory only received about £65,000 of government orders. Meanwhile, the army decided to abandon the construction of Armstrong-type guns and reverted to muzzle loading with simple three-groove rifling. It took 20 years to persuade the authorities of the merits of the Elswick design.

1876 120-ton sheer legs at Elswick[1] featured a hydraulic ram for lifting the load, worked by water pressure at 900 psi from the works' hydraulic mains. The sheers were used in shipping 100-ton gun barrels to Italy.

1881 Work in progress at the Elswick Works included a 45-ton crane for Valparaiso and a lighthouse for Brazil[2]. Some special machine tools included a Whitworth lathe of 36" centre height and 44 ft 6" between centres, another by Fairbairn, Kennedy and Naylor, modified at Elswick, which could swing work 20 ft dia and 4 ft 6" long or 8 ft dia and 34 ft long

1881 The Institution of Mechanical Engineers visited the Elswick Works and published their description in The Engineer. Read it at the links below;

1882 W. G. Armstrong and Co merged with Charles Mitchell and Co to form Armstrong, Mitchell and Co.

1897 Armstrong Mitchell merged with Whitworths to form Sir W.G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co.

20th century: it became essential, due to the increasing size of ships, to find a yard below the Tyne bridges; as a consequence what is now known as the Armstrong Naval Yard came into being.

1918 Shipbuilding ended at Elswick

1982 The giant Elswick works, now owned by Vickers closed.

1877 Article [3]'In our last issue we completed our account of the proceedings of the Iron and Steel Institute at Newcastle.....
These works were first started as an engineering establishment on a small scale by Messrs. Donkin, Cruddas, Potter, and Lambert, and were carried on by them in a quiet way until about the year 1847, when Sir William Armstrong joined the business, and introduced the manufacture of hydraulic machinery, which at once gave the works a distinctive character and a great impetus, and necessitated considerable enlargements. Each year saw the development of the hydraulic system, and the consequent enlargement of the Elswick Works. In 1858, Sir William - then Mr. Armstrong, having completed his exhaustive course of artillery experiments, and having proved the success of the system of artillery bearing his name, added the ordnance department to the works. It was about that date that Mr. Armstrong was appointed engineer of rifled ordnance to our Government, and had a knighthood and the Order of the Bath conferred upon him. From 1858 to 1863 the ordnance department was practically carried on as a Government establishment. In the latter year, however, the contract with the Government terminated, and since that time the ordnance manufactured at Elswick has chiefly been for foreign powers. From the time of starting the ordnance department down to th e present, about 4000 guns of all descriptions have been turned out at Elswick, from 14-pounders to the Italian 100-ton guns.
The works are situated on the banks of the Tyne just outside Newcastle, and have a river frontage of nearly a mile, but an average width of only about 150 yards. They cover 40 acres of land, and are bounded on the land side by the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway. As a rule they give employment to from 3500 to 4000 hands, whilst fixed engines giving a total of 2000 .horse power, and three small locomotives, are always kept going. The total con- sumption of fuel for all purposes is 300 tons per day. The works are intersected by lines of rail way in all directions, and there are two jetties fitted up with the necessary hydraulic apparatus. At one of these jetties are the hydraulic sheers, which are used for loading heavy ordnance and machinery on to vessels, and which are capable of lifting 150 tons. On entering the ordnance works the visitors were first shown the putting on of one of the outer tubes of a 100-ton gun, the gun being supported breech upwards in a pit in the yard, and the tube-brought from the shops in a heated state on a suitable truck-being raised by a powerful travelling crane, and dropped slowly on the gun, a partial rotary to-and-fro motion being given to it as it was lowered. In this department adjoining the end of the works at which the visitors entered are the finishing rooms for the guns, and stores for the shot and shell which are cast at Elswick, and which are highly chilled. Near the projectile store are two large machine shops fitted with drilling, slotting, planing, and shaping machines, about which, for the most part, there is no novelty. The forge stands opposite to the ma- chine shops, and in it is a fine steam hammer, the anvil of which weighs 120 tons, and the head 30 tons. It has a 3 ft. cylinder and a 12 ft. 6 in. stroke, and uses steam at 50 lb. pressure. This hammer, which the visitors had an opportunity of seeing in operation welding a coil for a 100-ton gun, was made by Messrs. Thwaites and Carbutt, of Bradford, and we propose shortly to publish engravings of it. Besides this large hammer are other smaller ones and a number of reheating furnaces, which, like all those used at Elswick, are constructed upon Siemens' regenerative principle. There are also four hydraulic cranes for lifting the coils from the furnaces to the hammers. In an adjoining shop the visitors were shown the coiling of a bar to form a large gun tube. As at Woolwich the bar to be coiled is heated in a long narrow furnace, and coiled on a mandrel as it issues from this furnace; but at Elswick this mandrel with its turning gear is arranged to traverse laterally in front of the furnace so as to avoid dragging the bar sideways over the floor of the furnace at the point of exit. The carriage department is of considerable extent, and here the visitors saw the four hydraulic gun carriages in course of construction for the 80-ton guns of H.M.S. Inflexible. Other carriages too they saw which were being made for the 100-ton guns. In the finishing shops the principal objects of interest were the heavy tools employed for finishing the 100-ton guns, a very fine rifling machine being especially noticeable. In the foundry are twelve large cupolas furnished with seven hydraulic and two hand cranes which command the casting pits.
There are two blast furnaces at Elswick each 75 ft. high and 21 ft. in diameter in the bosh, and which are capable of turning out about 600 tons of pig iron per week. They are producing a special iron known as "Ridsdale" and "B. Ridsdale," and which is used for special purposes, auch as the manufacture of projectiles. The ore is found in Northumberland over an area of about 15 square miles, which is bounded on the west by the North Tyne and Haresham Burn, and on the south by Heugh Burn. The bed of ironstone shale is about 30 ft. thick and occasionally a few inches of coal are found at its base, while in its upper part a coarse band composed of fossils and called the shell band is found. Throughout this shale and both above and below the shell band are nodules of ironstone varying in size from that of a pea to 6 in. or 8 in. in diameter. The slag from the furnaces is utilised for building and other purposes on the works.
The departments devoted to the construction of civil engineering works are as extensive and as complete in their appointments as those applied to the production of war materiel. In this department the swing bridge over the Tyne was made. In the erecting shop the visitors saw the construction of hydraulic machinery generally, and of one of the engines for revolving the turret of the Duilio in particular. On the jetty connected with this branch of the establishment is a movable hydraulic crane which has an adjusting feed pipe, and can thus be used in various positions. The special feature in this department was a hydraulic squeezer which has been made for treating blooms from the Danks furnaces. It consists principally of a massive frame carrying a horizontal hydraulic cylinder, the ram of which has a stroke of 6ft. 6 in., and is capable of applying a pressure of 750 tons. This ram actuates a sliding head which is opposed to a fixed head on the other side of what we may term the table of the machine, the bloom to be squeezed being placed between these two heads. The bloom is conveyed to what we have called the table of the machine by means of a sliding carriage moved by hydraulic power, and when it has been so deposited the movable head carried by the horizontal ram is immediately thrust forwards, and squeezes the bloom again st the fixed head. At the moment when the bloom is thus held between the two heads a square iron trap in the table underneath the bloom opens downwards and the cinder squeezed out falls into a carrier below. The trap then returns to its place, and at that moment the movable head is withdrawn. Next, by opening this trap upwards, the ball is tilted up and turned over, and the movable head then returns and gives the iron another squeeze, retreating after the operation. The next process is to turn the bloom round. Supported by the massive tie-bars which connect the upper part of the fixed head with the main hydraulic cylinder, is a vertical hydraulic cylinder, the ram of which works out of the lower end and carries a horizontal disc full of holes, in which are loosely fitted a number of stout iron pins, these pins being supported by their heads. To turn the bloom the ram and disc are lowered upon it, and a rotary motion is then imparted to the ram in one direction or the other by means of auxiliary hydraulic cylinders provided for that purpose. The ball being caught by the pins is thus slued round to the required extent, and then the discs and pins ascend to make room for the reciprocating head, which coming forward gives the ball another squeeze. This process is repeated as often as required. We should mention that in order to economise power a small auxiliary cylinder is provided, the ram of which brings the movable head in contact with the bloom, the large ram then applying the squeeze. All the motions of the squeezer, as well as those of the carrier, are worked by hydraulic power, and are under the control of one man. On the occasion of the visit a block of lead, having through it a number of holes filled with clay, took the place of a heat ed bloom, and was operated upon by the squeezer. The appliances for handling the bloom acted perfectly as far as their mechanical movements were concerned, but the whole process of treating the imaginary bloom appeared to us somewhat slow. To some extent this may have been due to the machine having been actuated by water supplied at a lower pressure than that which it is intended to employ when the machine is actually erected, while the man by whom the machine was handled of course has not yet had any great amount of practice. It is, however, certainly a question whether a squeezer of this kind can compete economically,with a powerful steam hammer, and the practical trial of the apparatus we have described will therefore be looked forward to with much interest.
The main engines at the Elswick Works are all of the Corliss type made by Messrs. Hicks, Hargreaves, and Co., and the power from them is transmitted by belting, many of the belts used being of exceptional dimensions. The engines are all supplied with steam by cylindrical multitubular boilers fired underneath, and all fitted with Juckes' grates. We may add that during their visit to the Elswick Works the visitors had an opportunity of examining the working of the Gatling gun, of which the firm have, we understand, now taken up the manufacture in this country.'

See Also


Sources of Information

  • The Engineer 1866/04/06 p248