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Subject:

Steelmaking at Wortley Top Forge

From:

"Dr. Chris Morley" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Wed, 17 Jul 2002 04:33:47 EDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (139 lines)

Paul Bedford queried the possibility of steel making at Wortley. I put
forward my findings upon the subject, and confirm that I think that the
remains are of a reverboratory furnace, possibly for the purpose of melting
pig iron. But, there again, it may have been one of the several puddling
furnaces erected by James Cockshutt following his return from South Wales -
possibly his first experimental furnace?

At the Top Forge site it is possible that a small Foundry had been
established, possibly for cast iron products and spare parts such as gear
wheels for the Iron Works.

In 1977, excavations at the south-west end of the Top Forge site revealed the
foundations of what has been variously interpreted as being a steel
cementation furnace, or an iron-melting reverberatory furnace. If the
remains are of the former then this would bear out the claim of Schubert that
John Cockshutt, either I or II, which one we are not quite sure, produced
shear steel at Wortley in the middle of the 18th. century. The Cockshutt’s
certainly used ‘German’ steel - otherwise known as Shear Steel - for the
manufacture of drawing plates for their wire works on account of its hardness
for drawing Steel wire. The remains, however, clearly show an end flue
consistent with the arrangement of a reverberatory furnace and not a
cementation furnace, and they are at the outer end of a building which has
traditionally been known as ‘the Foundry’. Cockshutt could have obtained
sufficient supplies of blister steel for his needs from the Grenoside
cementation furnace that the Walkers had built during the period
1749-1750. His supply from Nether Bank and Bretton Furnaces would also ensure
a ready amount of pig iron to remelt for cast iron production and other cast
iron machinery products to be made ‘on site’. His Millwrights, David
Burkinshaw and, later, Joel Jagger, were skilled moulding pattern makers, and
indeed a ‘pattern maker’ was employed at the Top Forge site up until it
closed down in 1908.
    However, the late Dr. Ken Barraclough, Secretary, and later President, of
the Sheffield Trades Historical Society, wrote the following to members of
the Council of Management of the South Yorkshire Trades Historical Trust in
November 1976 upon the subject:

    'The excavations at the end of the ‘Foundry’ building at Wortley Top
Forge have revealed a structure plan which, merely judging by the fire
attack on the walls adjacent, must have been a furnace. This furnace itself
seems to be surrounded by walls which are not keyed into the adjoining
building, which itself has been variously dated but in any case would seem
not to be earlier than the Forge extensions themselves in 1713, and which may
well be later.
    The inner furnace wall, as it may now be called since there would appear
to be an outer retaining wall not yet excavated, shows a chute entry on the
end nearest the road, this chute being blocked off at its end and at this
stage by a stone built infilling in the wall below. Of the two long walls,
the one nearer the river is intact but fire attacked; the opposite wall,
however, has a large patch midway along it's length filled in with brick;
this brick seems to be a similar type to that in the arch in the Foundry
building end and could possibly be of late 18th. century date from it's
appearance. The floor surrounded by these walls is generally of brick, which
appears to be of a similar type to the above. There are, however, two rows
of three stone blocks set symmetrically along the length; five of these carry
two square holes each whilst the six has only one.
    Examination of the debris in the lower layers and in the channels between
the stone blocks has provided charcoal, coal, a red powder high in iron
oxide, fire-reddened pieces of sandstone, and a light slag, which seems to be
partially fused brick.
    It has always been inferred that, in the period when the forge at Wortley
was in the hands of the Cockshutts, considerable experimentation was carried
out there and there are certainly references to steelmaking carried out by
them (the Cockshutts), although it is not certain that this was at Wortley,
although Schubert implies that this was so. Certainly the remains we have
recently uncovered rather encourage the idea that we may well here have the
evidence of such operations, particularly as the plan so revealed is
strikingly similar to those on the attached illustration, which comes from
‘Siderotechnie’, a comprehensive treatise in French on iron and steel
manufacture, published in Paris in 1812. This shows a number of cementation
furnaces, among others those at Swalwell (Figure A, B, C, and D.) and a
single chest furnace operating in Sheffield in 1767 (K. and I.). Those of
paramount interest in this context are the two examples G/H and L/M, both of
which show a chute at the end and built up piers of masonry. Such a furnace
with a modified chimney structure, bringing the exit to the end of the
structure so as to give the chimney ghost outline on the Foundry wall, would
account for most of the features seen at Wortley.'

    Barraclough wrote an article published in the Journal of The Historical
Metallurgy Society, vol. 11, No. 2, 1977, p. 88: Wortley Top Forge, the
possibility of early steel production, in which he clearly states his opinion
of the furnace remains. Illustrations of a possible design of the furnace
were included.

    The reference in the above to Schubert is from page 329 (History of the
British Iron and Steel Industry) where he, Schubert, writes:

     'In the eighteenth century the principal production of shear steel was
near to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, at Ambrose Crowley’s steelworks. Another centre
was at Wortley in Yorkshire, where John Cockshutt took up the manufacture in
the middle of the century, but the steel he made was not of such a high
repute as Crowley’s. English shear steel, in particular Crowley’s, proved to
be superior to contemporary German steel produced in Styria and the Tyrol and
up to then imported in large quantities into England. English cutlers who had
formerly employed it in the manufacture of knife blades found it to be
‘harder’, ‘rawer’, and ‘less manageable’ than English shear steel. Only
Cockshutt at Wortley employed imported German steel on account of its
hardness for the manufacture of drawing-plates used for drawing steel wire.'

Lewis wrote:

 'Double Spur (steel) - the hardest of all double spur and star; this is used
 chiefly for gravers; razors also are made of it and fine scissors. These
steels are made chiefly near Newcastle; Mr Cockshutt makes them of late, but
his are not in such repute; uncertain whether from their being really
inferior, or from their character not being yet established.'
    
    To my mind Lewis is describing a method, adopted by Cockshutt, of using
Swedish iron and not English iron for the steel from which he made wire
draw-plates. Cockshutt’s connections with the Fell ‘Steele Trade’ surely
would have provided him with a ready supply of the type of steel that he had
found most suitable for his purposes?
    There is also the possibility that the excavated structure was the
foundation of a steam boiler, erected by a later operator of the Iron Works,
Vincent Corbett, to drive his steam hammer lifting gear that he experimented
with in 1840. It was reported that this contrivance was hidden behind a high
brick wall, but was destroyed by Corbett’s workmen who did not like the
‘new-fangled’ invention.
    Lewis also described the method Cockshutt adopted for the manufacture of
wire-drawing plates. Cockshutt took a plate of wrought iron and formed it
into a sort of cricket bat shape but flat on both sides. He folded it over,
at the ‘bat’ end to form a narrow ‘U’ section and scratched or filed
grooves across the two inner faces. He then filled the cavity with ‘melted
wild steel’. He used ‘wild German steel’, from Tyrol or Styria. The
filled end was then heated and forged so forming a composite section of iron,
steel, iron, the grooves previously cut across the inner faces served to
grip the steel interior. The holes through which the wire was drawn were then
punched through, three holes being placed across the width in several rows
along its length. To reclaim old worn-out plates they were heated and the
steel centre was removed by knocking it out. Lewis wrote that this German
wild steel could be filed after forging it and that it would bear holes to be
‘knocked through’.

Just another question regarding the history of the Wortley Iron Works that
may never be satisfactorily answered.

Regards,

Chris Morley

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