View from Port Clarence c1880

This view is taken from the top of the Bell Ironworks blast furnaces in Port Clarence. The two men would have had the job of charging the blast furnaces, dropping iron ore, coke and limestone into what is called the bell. I would guess that the furnace at this time would have been off line.

There is a ferry, halfway across the river, in the middle distance. This would have been at the location where the Transporter Bridge now stands. The Clarence Railway comes in from the Stockton direction, on an embankment (which is still there), and then splits into branches serving the blast furnaces, salt wells and tar distilleries. But it is possible that the turn off to the river is where the original staithes at Port Clarence were built. The buildings near the railway bridge (hard to make out) , which goes over the road leading to the ferries, would have been part of the Port Clarence railway station.

Image and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

14 thoughts on “View from Port Clarence c1880

  1. At the top Right Hand corner of this drawing is a tall building which I believe is the port Clarence side of the Middlesbrough ferry.
    Although there was an established community on the Port Clarence side of the river a large proportion of the workers at the Clarence Iron works (and also at this time the Anderston Foundry) came across the river Tees on a daily basis from Middlesbrough.


      • Hello jmayuk.
        I can’t verify the accuracy of this artists drawing but if you type “The Hugh Bell” into the Picturestockton search box it comes up with a photo of the ferryboat the “Hugh Bell” at Port Clarence. The buildings on the side of the river behind the ferryboat bear a resemblance to the Anderston Foundry. To the right of these buildings nearly out of shot is a tower like building with a pointed roof which resembles the tower I refer to in the artists drawing. I`ll leave it to you to come to your conclusion.
        Thanks for taking an interest in my post. I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for all the knowledge you add to this website, long may it continue.


        • Hi Martin,
          I think we are talking about the same building, which I assume was part of the original main offices for the foundry?
          There are a few photos of this area on the BFA site, you can clearly see the tower on the circa 1950’s images, and can just about make it out on one of the 1930’s.

          This 1949 image is looking in the opposite direction to this sketch, but you can clearly see the tower and the site of the Ironworks beyond:

          Thanks for your comment about my contributions to the PS site, it’s become a lunchtime hobby/obsession 🙂
          I’m always interested in reading your comments, as you always provide so much historical detail. I bet you could write a book about the Port Clarence area 🙂 Keep it up!


  2. On 15 November 1904 there was a terrible accident at the Clarence Iron Works. A group of workmen were engaged in changing the bell at No. 11 furnace. They were detaching the old bell from the lever when the contents of the furnace unexpectedly slipped, a jet of hot gas and flame shot out of the top of the furnace and two men fell in to the fully loaded furnace being killed instantly. The local priest was sent for as it was feared it would not be possible to recover the bodies, although one man offered to be lowered into the furnace for this purpose. Later they recovered the bodies with grappling irons.
    The names of the men were James Gallagher who lived with his mother at 49 New Cottages, Port Clarence and Alexander Scott of 167 Cannon Street, Middlesbrough.


  3. This website contains a number of photos relating to Bell Brothers Clarence Ironworks. I have recently been researching the company and will be posting comments when I have the available time. I hope that Mr Starr will add his Knowledge as Bell Brothers were at the forefront of the chemical industry in this district long before the advent of ICI.
    As part of the manufacturing of iron the Clarence works also had coke ovens and a by-products plant. Coal distillation was one of the processes used to recover what once was a waste product.


  4. When my Mum came to live in the North from Worcester to work as a Nurse at Easton Hospital. It must have been night time on the train passing through all the steelworks to Easton. She thought she had arrived in Hell with all the flames and smoke. She nursed many steelworkers burned in a lot of cases from slag heaps. She never forgot it, but we had a good life living in Norton. Still love it.
    J.Norman Kidd.


    • Norman….did we know one another at Richard Hind?

      In response to your comment, I expect you meant Eston, not Easton.

      When working at Dorman Long I got a splash of molten steel into my shoe. I never felt anything and then went all the way back home, on the train to Thornaby, and then walking from Thornaby Station to Portrack.

      When I got home and took off my shoe, the piece of steel fell out. There was a large charcoal ringed hole where the steel had burnt into the flesh. I covered it up with Elastoplast, went to bed, and then went back to work the following day.

      Somehow, I felt it was all my fault and was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it.


  5. The distillation of crude tar and the separation of other liquids, produced by making coal gas was the only practical way in the 19th Century of making ammonium sulphate and naphthalene for example. Tar itself contained thousands of organic compounds.

    There was an initial distillation stage which separated the tar into light oil, carbolic oil, creosote oil, anthracene oil and pitch. These fractions, as they were called, were treated and redistilled. In this way more or less pure compounds could be produced that were used to make dyestuffs, organic solvents, disinfectants and explosives.

    But those of my age will remember tar being used to fill the gaps between the granite-like “setts” that were used to pave the streets in Stockton. One game we played was to dig out the tar and roll it into little balls. Eventually, of course, the tar would stick to our hands or even our clothes. The arrival at home was not met with love and kisses!


  6. To what end would the tar be distilled and what was the market for such products? It brings to my mind the tar (bitumen) to be controversially pipelined to the coast near Vancouver, B.C.- a most horrible substance as it leaves the ground.


    • Ronald Haslock, The main use of Tar was Tarmac used extensively in GB for roads. In the summer time the danger was the tar melting because of the heat from the sun. Today this dose not happen so much even after a glorious summer like this last year 2018 that is how I remember summers pre 1939. My question to you was were you at Holy Trinity HGS with me in Tom Sowlers class?
      J.Norman Kidd


      • Fred Starr.
        Thank you for all your contributions Fred – I enjoy reading them. No I didn’t go to Richard Hind School. 1939 was my scholarship year when I was at Holy Trinity, because we had no air raid shelters we only went into school for one hour a week to take down homework and submit it the next week so all we got was corrections to homework. Even this was interrupted for me because my Mother and I evacuated to Westgate in Weardale until 1942 when we returned to our home in Norton as a full family as Dad had been discharged as medically unfit. No surprising as he had already been discharged in 1918 again medically unfit having served in Egypt and got a water borne infection which was not curable until we got penicillin. I failed my exams in 1939 which was not too surprising. Thank you for mentioning Eston – my fingers today don’t have a lot of feeling and I can easily hit the wrong key – very often two at a time.
        Regards J. Norman Kidd


  7. A book called ‘AT THE WORKS’ by Florence Bell, the wife of Hugh and step-mother of Gertrude Bell. Tells what life at Port Clarence was like in those days. Very interesting read. Incidentally, 2 men actually fell into the furnace during the charging process.


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