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There She Blows!

This is a classic shot! It evokes all the memories of what used to make Britain Great.  People who worked in Steel for years and looking at this image can still recall the thrill of tapping time on the furnaces at Skinningrove – once you’ve got Steel in your blood it never leaves you! They can feel the heat from the metal in front of the worker on the right and can still remember how cold their back used to feel, when standing and watching the fettling process as a furnace was tapped. Eric Johnson tells us: “The ‘mud gun’ (used to stop the flow of iron when tapping was finished) can be seen on the left; lit by the light from the molten iron.”  Above that and running like a band across the image is the ”bustle” which carried the blast furnace gas to feed the furnace.  The flag-like objects sticking up in the image were stoppers to stop (or allow) the flow of metal along the runners and into the pots.  One of them will be a skimmer used to divert any slag running on top of the iron into a slag pot.  This was no place for a stranger to the business – hot, gassy and easy to get in the wrong place! Arthur Ormrod advises us: ”A correction to the comments if I may.  The bustle carried the hot blast, preheated air, which was fed into the furnace through the tuyeres, the blast of the blast furnace.   Blast furnace gas, carbon monoxide, is collected from the top of the furnace, cleaned, and then used as a fuel in the works, including being burned to heat the hot blast.”

Many thanks to Eric Johnson and Arthur Ormerod for those updates.

Bessemer Plant, Cleveland Works

This is an image of the Bessemer plant at the Cleveland Works; they were in pairs and one was always producing basic iron and the other ferro-manganese (which was used for alloying the steel at Skinningrove).

Rob Proctor informs us ”The word “Bessemer” could cause some confusion to the uninitiated reader , as it is a steelmaking process whereby air is blown through the liquid iron .The blast of air oxidised the impurities which as they burnt off conveniently raised the temperature of the metal so that the finished steel could be poured out . The vessel resembled a “tulip” sat on a pair of trunnions which could be tilted to the horizontal for the addition of hot metal and then turned into the vertical for the blow. The reason for name “Bessemer” for a blast furnace plant was because either one or two of these units had been sited there in the past”.

Andrew Mains advises: ”I worked on these two furnaces in the 80’s and early 90’s before they were shut down. There were two furnaces going together, but this changed when demand dropped, so it went down to one furnace operation. They were named no 4 and no 5 furnaces and the plant name was changed to Cleveland Iron.”

Arthur Ormrod tells us: ”The survival of the Bessemer blast furnaces was down to their, relatively, small size and their consequent suitability for smelting manganese and ferromanganese. Manganese was a metal of strategic importance, it was vital in both making steel and in hardening steel, armour-plate for example.  Consequently, there was a government supported cartel to secure it’s manufacture within the U.K.  Dorman Long was one of, originally five, later four, iron making companies which kept a small blast furnace available for the smelting of ferromanganese.  It required higher temperatures than iron smelting and consequently the wear on the furnace was greater.  One by one the other plants closed down, Darwin & Mostyn first, then Lancashire Steel and Workington, both by the BSC, leaving the Bessemer blast furnaces as the sole source of manganese smelting in the UK and that is why this relatively elderly plant survived into the 1990′s. Today, manganese is smelted in electric furnaces.”

Many thanks to Rob Proctor, Andrew Mains and Arthur Ormerod for those updates.

Dorman Long Furnaces at Redcar

We believed these were the Clay Lane furnaces at South Bank! However we have been advised by Arthur Ormrod: ”These are not the South Bank furnaces, these are the two Redcar furnaces of Dorman Long, rebuilt in 1953.  The hi line bunkers to the left, under which the scale cars operated, are of the traditional rail served type on which hopper wagons discharged the raw materials into the bunkers.  The structure top left is a vertical wagon hoist, used to raise wagons up to the hi line.  The raised brick structure straddling the lattice-work skip hoist, right centre, housed the skip hoist motors which raised the raw material skips to the furnace charging platform. The Clay Lane bunkers were roofed over and were serviced by conveyor belts and trippers.  The lattice-work skip gantries on the Clay Lane furnaces were at a steeper angle than those shown here and the hoisting mechanisms on these furnaces were housed in an extension of the cast house, directly under the skip hoist.”

Many thanks to Arthur Ormerod for that excellent update.

Warrenby Blast Furnace

The Archive had a series of photographs which were definitely not of Skinningrove Iron and Steel Works; we needed help in identifying them. We are now told: ”This image was taken looking through numbers 3 and 5 Bessemer Plant Blast Furnaces with the Cleveland South Plant (Redcar) Melting Shop chimneys in the background. There was a North and South plant but when the North plant was demolished they installed two electric arc furnaces.”

Image courtesy of the Pem Holliday Collection; with thanks Robert Doe, Eric Johnson, Simon Chapman and particularly Iain Hunt for correcting our details.

The Steel Works, c. 1967

A view of the steel works from High Street, Skinningrove.

Image courtesy of Pat Sparkes.

The Steel Works, Skinnningrove

Another view of Skinningrove Iron and Steel Works from a nearer vantage point, clearly showing the slag processing plant; also visible are three blast furnaces.

Skinningrove Iron and Steel Works

Taken from Brotton road on an autumn day with Skinningrove works in full production; dating from about early 1960’s.

Spa Wood Blacksmiths

A quirky image by modern standards, but typical of the type of narrative image that occurred in early photography.  Alfred Wither (left) blacksmith for Spawood and South Skelton Mines with his striker (right) and stable-hands, an indispensable part of the iron mining industry, they made and maintained just about every tool in use in the mine.  Just who the well-dressed little boy is in the middle I do not know – can anyone tell me please?

Image courtesy of Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum.

Skinningrove Iron and Steel Works Sinter Plant

Taken in the late 1950’s this photograph shows none of that characteristic staining from the sinter dust. Commissioned in 1957, built by Head Wrightson and the Sinter Plant stood on the site of the old coke works and blast furnace range.


Here is another first, we had previously no other photographs of the foundry at Loftus. Do you have any to loan us please?

Eric Johnson comments: ”An interesting view of the cupola melting furnace at the foundry, apparently being demolished. Three men are on the charging platform, the charging door on the cupola is open where the charge of pig iron/coke/limestone was introduced. To the right is a hoist on a large beam (above the standing men), used to raise the charges to the platform. At the base of the cupola the air chest for the blast around the cupola can be seen, with air pipe disconnected. Standing on 4 legs, the cupola probably had a drop bottom for emptying slag etc after the days run. The foundry originally owned by Robinson Brothers who produced farm implements, ploughs, etc. They also cast drain covers and gulleys, many of which can still be seen on the streets of East Cleveland. I have seen one at Piercebridge, Co. Durham. A speciality (unique?) were the cast iron gravestones, seen in the old cemetery. Robinson Bros were regular exhibitors at the Wool Fairs in the Market Place, Loftus. Old images show many of their products and warehouse next to the present day Post Office. I believe the foundry was taken over by Tinsley & Co. and is now used by Steve Whitlock.”

Bill Tinsley tells us: ”Zetland foundry was owned by my grandfather until his death in the late 1930s. My father was a mining engineer with Richard Sutcliff in Horbury near Wakefield who sold a half-share to a manager who continued to run the foundry until around 1950. I spent a lot of time there as a child with my grandfather watching and getting in the way but even as a 7 or 8 year old I learned quite a lot about casting and machining methods There was a small machine shop at the far end of the buildings.” Bill also tells us: ”The cast iron railings round Saltburn Bandstand were made by grandfather at Zetland Foundry in the mid thirties but unfortunately removed early in Second World War and melted down for the war effort. Incidentally Thomas Tinsley was apprenticed to John Wood and Co (Steam engine and winch manufacturers in Lancashire) in July 1881.The papers which I still have includes phrases “Shall not wast the goods of his masters,Shall not frequent taverns or playhouses,or contract matrimony”.The apprentiship was for “Engine Fitting”. He later went on to be chief engineer at Nostel mine nr. Wakefield before buying Zetland Foundry. I have 3 photographs taken in 1970 when I last went there,one showing a similar view with the cupula removed, but just possible to see part of the words Zetland Foundry on the hoist beam. Another showing the brass name plate (Thos Tinsley & Son) on the old office door and the third showing his house in Saltburn.”

Photograph courtesy of Keith Bowers and thanks to Eric and Bill Tinsley for the updates.