Stockton Ironworkers – 1905

Does anyone have any information about these photographs, taken about 1905?

I suspect that they were taken at Richmond Ironworks in Bowesfield Lane, Stockton-on-Tees, known locally as “The Bowesfield”, because I have evidence that a man in one of the photographs, James Stirling, was working there in 1908.

I believe the works were on the left-hand side of the lane heading out of town past the Railway Bridge.

Photographs courtesy of Ged Dixon.


16 thoughts on “Stockton Ironworkers – 1905

  1. Further up Bowesfield Lane, my Great Great Grandmother was the licensee of the Tees Bridge Hotel in 1900. I understand that many of of the workers at the Iron Works used to spend some if not a lot of their wages there. Her name was Dorothy Tyson. The hotel, I understand was demolished in the 1930’s to make way for a factory and today I understand it is on the site of an Industrial Estate and the planned extension to the town. Unfortunately I have been unable to track down any surviving pictures of the establishment, if indeed any were ever taken before its demolition.


  2. Ged asks about steam hammers. There is a long article about them in Wikipedia and loads of pictures under the name.

    Pieces of wrought iron scrap were consolidated together by companies like Richmond Ironworks. Indeed by the time this picture was taken, the full process of making wrought iron from pig iron was becoming obsolete. It was slow and requires about four men to produce the balls of crude wrought iron. These were about twice the size of a football.

    But judging from the photograph Richmond Ironworks were still doing the complete job

    As mentioned there is sufficient real wrought iron scrap still around for it to be reworked. This is done by Topps Ltd in North Yorkshire. Most wrought iron that we see is just plain mild steel.

    Mild steel scrap is not and would not have been recycled in this way, although its possible that a small piece might have been mixed in with a collection of wrought iron scrap. The consolidation of wrought iron scrap relies on the massive quantity of relatively low melting point layers of iron silicates, which are mixed in with the metal. When the mass of white hot scrap is pressed under the steam hammer these silicates act like a flux preventing the iron from being oxidised.

    Mild steel doesn’t have these layers. To reuse it has to be completely remelted. Up to the late 1960s this was done in an open hearth furnace.



  3. Photograph of three men crouching and seven men standing:
    Crouching: First left is Shef Raybould of Alice Street, Stockton.
    Standing: First left is Bob Willey of Stafford Street Stockton.
    Second left with hands clasped is James (Jim) Robert Stirling of Sheraton Street, Stockton, born c.1874.
    Second right is Big Riech of Parkfield, Stockton.
    First right is Mr. Morton (with an eye-patch), of Webster Street, Stockton.
    Mr Morton also appears in the background of the other photograph. He is on the right, below the hooks on the horizontal bars, presumably waiting for his turn to step forward with others to have their photograph taken.

    Photograph of all the men standing:
    Second from left behind the chain and weights, Jack Scott of Thornaby, born c.1883.
    Centre, leaning with his right hand on the pile of alternately piled blocks and wearing an apron, William (Bill) Sheldon of Thornaby, born c.1869. His wife Sarah was Jack Scott’s sister.
    Third from right, behind William Sheldon’s left shoulder, is Mr. Foley from Ewbank Street. Stockton.
    Right, below the hooks on the horizontal bars, in the background, Mr. Morton (with an eye-patch), of Webster Street, Stockton, presumably waiting for his turn to step forward with others to have their photograph taken. Mr Morton also appears in the other photograph, so both photographs were taken at the same place at the same session.

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  4. I served my time as a moulder all through the 60s at Downings iron foundry. Even all these years later I can still name all moulders and core makers, fetllers and furnace men – great foundry to work at. Maxine, have been in contact with a relation of yours I think, Sally Roff. You can ask the Picture Stockton Team for my e-mail or get in touch with Sally same way.


  5. Any info regarding the Downing family of Stockton would be greatfully received. From c1840″s – c1890″s my Downing family lived in Stockton & all of the males of the family were listed as “foundryman”, “iron moulder” & “core maker/hewer”. The Downings were a large family – many children had many children!! If anyone has any info or recollections of Downings I would love to hear about them.


  6. Further to the query on the steam hammer, in the forges around the area with huge steam hammers, the drivers were kings of the floor. He operated the hammer with the aid of long handles and could make the machine talk. It was said a good driver could drop the hammer onto an egg without cracking it, his control was so precise. Me being young and bold, thinking I was good, tried it out. Egg on huge iron block, a couple of pulls on the handle to get the feel then go for it. Every one within range got some, with remarks such as;- “these yellow spots on my overalls do not go with the oil and grease”, or, “I asked for jam on my bread not egg”. I was sent off to be tea boy for the day. A salutary lesson that told me a skilled man made the difficult look easy. The shafts for huge sea going liners were made with those hammers and you have to remember the skills of the men around the block moving white hot billets of metal with block and chain levers and power rams. The metal had to be in the right place for each strike of the hammer and the ganger could tell you if it was a thou out of line. Clever men and certainly hard tough men who knew how to work metal. I take my cap off to them.


  7. In response to Ged, wrought iron scrap can easily be “piled” into new pieces by putting them together into a small block and then heating this to about 12-1300 deg C. The separate pieces of scrap then begin to stick together, this being helped by characteristics of the oxide which make up part of the structure of wrought iron (Wrought iron consists of a mass of almost pure iron, through which thousand of strands of oxide run, rather like when fibre glass is mixed with plastic). The white hot mass is then consolidated by forging and/or rolling. This reusing of genuine scrap wrought iron is done at Topps Ironworks at Thirks. As a member of the Newcomen Society, I made a visit to the place last summer.(There is a website about Topps). Wrought iron would be difficult to break at room temperature as it is quite tough. I think any awkwardly shaped bits of scrap would be pressed into shape using a steam hammer or would be cut at high temperature using a cropper. There are loads of pictures of steam hammers on “Google Images”. But the only one on “Picture Stockton” is a steam hammer in the blacksmith”s shop at ICI


    • Fred, thank you for your comment. I wonder if you could give your thoughts on the following. In this type of ironworks, would they also re-use scrap metal? Would they break it up with a steam hammer? Do you know what a steam hammer would be like? Do you know if there are any pictures of one?


  8. Steam Hammers were invented around the mid 1800″s and were worked by a Piston in a Cyminder worked by steam. The steam lifted the piston and hammer block and then the steam was exhausted and the hammer dropped on the forging. With formers on the hammer head and block Iron preheated could be shaped into shafts wheels, almost anything. That type of hammer was called a drop hammer, you could increase the force of the drop by injecting steam above the piston thus driving it down. All such machines were for some reason called steam hammers, even when flywheels were added and they became belt driven. I would doubt they would ever be used for scrap work though, large mechanical shears were used to chop it into bits. In most iron and steel smelting a proportion of scrap is used.


  9. The picture on the right hand side indicates that the site was one where wrought iron was made, it is not a foundry but a genuine ironworks. This is shown by the pile of blooms or billets of crude wrought iron that are waiting to be “piled”. This consists of loading the pile of blooms into a furnace and heating them to about 1200 deg centigrade. The heat causes the blooms to start welding or sticking together. However, the pile is further consolidated by putting the pile under a forging hammer while it is still white hot. Afterwards, this block would have been rolled down into plates, angles or rods.This picture would have been taken in the dying days of the wrought iron industry, which was very manpower intensive, as can be seen from the number of men needed to manhandle quite a small amount of metal


  10. Kevin you could be correct because their was steps on either side of Bowesfild Lane about 20 yards from under the railway tunnel.One set on the left hand side went to the Bowesfield Works that has been mentioned along with the photo.On the other side of the road the steps led to the old brick works and the the path went along into the country and I believe to a farm where if my memory serves me correctly I and a few friends went taty picking during the last war.Was it farmer Smiths?I hope this helps you Kevin because it has helped me with memories dating back about sixty-five years or so.Thanks


  11. Hi ,one of my Ancesters,or I think he was ,Thomas Cann in the 1871 census worked in the ironworks,would it be this one?Living at 6 Compton Street.


  12. Ken – Back in the 80″s, I vaguely remember a set of “steps to nowhere” on Bowesfield Lane, just to the south of the A66 bridge. Do you think these might be the ones to which you refer?


  13. Ged, looking at the photos it could as you say be a foundry but the works on the left hand side known as the Bowesfield was a steelworks not a foundry.My father worked in the Bowesfield when I was about four to five because I remember taking his bait and tea up the steps to the clocking on office for him to pick up later, this was the practice those days for the wives.Their may have been a foundry on the site, I dont know.Being a foundryman myself I would be interested to know if you are right. The only foundry in that area of Bowesfield Lane was the now defunct Parkfield Foundry which was on the left hand side whose bottom gate was at the top of the bank before you go under the railway bridge


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