Bells Iron Works c1920

t4094Two photographs of Bells Iron Works in Port Clarence. c1920

In 1830 a man named Isaac Lowthian Bell started the iron works with his brothers, Thomas and John after vast amounts of ironstone was discovered. These iron works were later named ‘Bell Brothers’.

8 thoughts on “Bells Iron Works c1920

  1. In 1859 Isaac Lowthian Bell opened the first factory in Britain to manufacture aluminium. It is astonishing to realise in our era of mass produced aluminium drinks cans that aluminium , due to the difficulty of reducing it from an oxide, was once as costly as gold. The main use at this period was in ornaments, jewellery and scientific instruments.
    In 1862 it was still classed as a precious metal when Messrs Bell displayed a sculpture of an almost full size falcon at the International Exhibition at South Kensington.


  2. Due to their purchases and leases of other businesses Bell Brothers Clarence Iron Works was self sufficient in the materials needed to manufacture iron.
    Their coal properties consisted of the South Brancepeth, Browney and Tursdale collieries in the southern part of Durham. Ironstone was mined at Skelton, Skelton Park, Lumpsey, Huntcliff and Carlin How mines in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire. Limestone came from the Parson Byers quarry at Stanhope.
    The coal & limestone came in by railway, but the ironstone was loaded onto barges at Normanby Wharf and pulled across the River Tees to Port Clarence by steam tugs.


  3. When they became a public company in 1899 Bell Brothers listed the business as ironmasters; coal owners; coke manufacturers; ironstone owners; firebrick manufacturers and limestone owners. An impression of the scale of the Bell Brothers company is given by their average annual output for the 3 years prior to 1899.
    Pig iron 305,000 tons; coal 715,000 tons; coke 305,000 tons; ironstone 1,165,000 tons; limestone 206,000 tons.


    • In 1899 Bell Brothers Limited had the following collieries in the southern part of County Durham: South Brancepeth; Browney; Tursdale. They leased ironstone mines in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire at: Skelton; Skelton Park; Lumpsey; Huntcliffe; Carlin How. Their limestone quarry was at Parson Byers near Stanhope.
      Having these other businesses meant Bell Brothers were self sufficient in the minerals needed to manufacture iron. The coal and limestone were delivered to the Clarence Iron Works by railway. Whilst the ironstone left the mines in Cleveland by railway before being transferred to barges at Normanby Wharf. These were then towed across the river Tees by steam tugs to the wharf at Port Clarence.


  4. The company of Bell Brothers began in 1844 when Isaac Lowthian Bell and his brothers Thomas Bell & John Bell leased an iron furnace at Wylam. At the beginning of the 1850’s viable iron deposits were discovered in the Cleveland Hills. In 1852 Bell Brothers secured a lease on iron ore deposits at Normanby, near Middlesbrough. The River Tees and the local railway network provided an ideal location to manufacture iron. The land at Normanby was the property of the Ward-Jackson family. As part of the lease Bell Brothers were required to build their iron works somewhere on the West Hartlepool Railway (in which the Ward-Jacksons had a major interest ). Production at what became the Clarence Iron Works, Port Clarence commenced in 1854.
    In 1908 the Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough gave a description of the Clarence Iron Works. “The works are situated on the North banks of the river (Tees), and comprise of 12 blast furnaces, seven of which are in blast, and a steel works, which is leased to Messrs. Dorman, Long & Co., Ltd, and which absorbs a substantial proportion of an output which annually totals to something like 350,000 tons of mostly foundry iron. The firm have splendid resources, owning their own ironstone mines and limestone quarries. The Clarence Works also has 60 Huessener coke ovens, which produce 2,200 tons of coke per week (with a plant for the recovery of by-products). A tar distillation plant has been put to work within the past two months, the following by-products being recovered; Creosote oil, naphthalene, anthracene oil, dehydrated tar & pitch. The iron for the steel works is brought direct from the blast furnace in the molten state and poured into a gas fired mixer of 400 tons capacity, whence it is taken to the Siemens-Martin furnaces, of which there are eight, each having a capacity of 45 tons. The ladle containing 25 tons of molten metal from the mixer, on arriving in front of the steel furnaces, is lifted up on hydraulic tables and poured into the furnaces by hydraulic cylinders.”


    • Up until the latter part of the 19th century only pig iron was manufactured at the Clarence Iron Works. Then in 1889 Bell Brothers started manufacturing steel from Cleveland pig iron in two open hearth furnaces that were constructed adjoining the iron works. A drop in steel prices forced them to discontinue steel production as it wasn’t profitable on a small scale. At later date Dorman, Long & Co. of Middlesbrough used the furnaces at the Clarence Works for their experiments in the manufacture of steel.
      In 1899 Bell Brothers & Dorman, Long agreed a joint venture to make steel from Cleveland pig iron. In the same year Bell Brothers became a public company in order to raise funds for the building the new steel works adjoining the Clarence iron Works. As part of the deal Dorman, Long would own half the shares of the public company. In 1902 Dorman, Long purchased the other half of the shares.
      The Clarence Iron & Steel Works continued in production until 1930, when Dorman, Long decided to close it due to a depression in the trade. 2,000 men lost their jobs. Dorman, Long continued operations at the coke ovens and the by-product plant.


  5. Sir Lowthian Bell should be regarded as Teesside’s equivalent of Sir Henry Bessemer, since like him he was a born inventor, but specialising in innovative processes to produce chemicals and metals such as iron and steel and aluminium. He was the first to produce a large amount of thallium.

    He established blast furnaces and coke ovens at Port Clarence, bringing in raw materials over the Clarence Railway. He was zealous in using science to explain how the blast furnace operated. In 1962 when I was at Dorman Long I was told that if I wanted to understand the blast furnace I should read the tome he produced on the subject.

    He formed the Iron and Steel Institute, becoming one of its first Presidents. The organisation still exists in the form of the Institute of Materials Minerals and Mining.


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