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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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