Portrack Ironworks

Here’s a photo of men at the ironworks in Portrack.

My grandad 3rd row from front, 2nd right. His name was Robert Bryant and he lived in Portrack all his life. I believe they loaded scrap metal into the furnace. I never understood why they wore white scarfs in what must have been a dirty environment.

Photo and details courtesy of Mike Ranson

20 thoughts on “Portrack Ironworks

  1. The sweat scarf had a safety function not yet mentioned. I you were in the vicinity of iron being poured or somehow oxygenated then the air would carry a lot of tiny burning iron particles. The glasses would save your eyes but if something got under your shirt?


  2. My 2x great grandfather left scotland 1862 to come to stockton to work in iron works
    (Portrack) he to was a pudler, a term long gone when I started my apprentership as iron moulder
    at J Downings railway street, often wondered how these folks got to know about places of work when they lived often hundreds of miles away, some one must have been able to write and people at other end some one would be able to read letters, I’m saying this because my 2x great grandfather could not read jor write, like a lot of folks in those days, one thing I did learn about my casey ancestors was up until 1900 where my casey’s were so were irish family comaskey, they were in stockton first and my casey ancestors followed, they were conected to caseys through marriage in ireland.
    All the best.


    • No doubt The St Anns, Portrack Casey are in you tree somewhere? The Census’s give give some answers to Portrack human diversity. They came from across the UK, some from Sweden , Germany a lot from Ireland (the canals) etc. I used to ponder the information question until I realised that the area was a popular recrutment base for ‘service ‘ girls. They were recruited usually by newspaper. The reverse applied. Newspapers were available across the country, and although expensive could usually be viewed. Those that could afford them often passed them on, made them available or the rumour mill crept to area of unemployment. Subeject to date, railways certainly might have helped N-S


      • Hi, portrack casey’ namely jimmy james’s casey were always supposed to be related to our lot but!! no family conection ever found, I found it very interesting when you mentioned news paper adverts for work, yes this would work very well with folks who could not read nor write, folks who could read would get the message out, how these folks then got from a to b with hardly any money to live on is a mystery. My 2x great graddad was a pudler a term long gone when I started to serve my time as an iron moulder 1963 at j downings iron foundry,
        strange thing was although a pudler one cencus from yorkshire area after he left stockton before returning showed him as a moulder also.
        All the best.


        • Hi Derek,
          I suspect that the transport problem was simply resolved. The employer would post a rail ticket or similar. I understanstand that’s how my aunt made it to Nottingham. Not sure how she got from Nottingham to a farm on the outlying village of Pixton in about 1946


  3. Hi, It used to be common for workers in dirty environments to wear scarves made from a length of butter muslin. It was primartily to keep the muck from getting onto the body. Muslin was very cheap and usually disgarded at the end of a shift. My experience comes from working at the ICI Wilton coal fired power station as an apprentice electrician around 1961.


  4. This is really interesting – what year is the photo please? I have just found out ancestors from my grandmother’s family seem to have moved from Staffordshire to Stockton around the mid 19th century and lived in the Portrack area. Some of the men worked in the ironworks but I haven’t yet found out which one. Does anyone know about workers moving to Stockton to work in the ironworks in the 19th century? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My family moved from Worcestershire to work In the iron works but I don’t know which one. They must have moved here between 1881 and 1891. I’d like to know the date of the photo, one of them may be on it.


    • Jane ,My Great Grandmother, Anne, moved to Stockton with her parents,William and Mary Lee and siblings about 1870.
      They moved from Brockmoor Staffordshire to live at Crofton Street,Portrack Lane,
      ( 1871 Census)
      Williams parents Samuel and Eliza Lee, moved to Stockton about the same time, living at nearby Edwards Row nr Baltic Street (1871 Census).
      The male members of both families are listed as Iron Puddlers and Iron workers,
      almost certainly employed at Portrack Iron Works ( The Malleable ).
      Large families were common in those days and many generations of the Lee family still live in and around the Stockton area.
      Maurice Healey.


    • Hi Hane,
      The census date is a good start:they give name versus residence and date of birth every 10 years for each Parish. Accessible in Stockton Library. The also have a lot of Trade directories which can be helpful.


  5. Notice that many of the workers are wearing furnace type glasses. These would have protected the eyes during casting of cast iron. It always produces a lot of sparks, consisting of tiny particles of molten iron. The high level of carbon in the molten iron seems to react with the air, causing the surface layers to boil and splash.

    The glasses, if they were the type used on steel furnaces, were blue coloured. They let through red and blue light and allowed a furnaceman to judge how hot the metal was. At higher temperatures the image was more blue coloured.


  6. Did anyone know John Bowman from portrack
    I remember passing the iron works as a kid and the fumes nearly knocked you on your back . Terrible conditions these guys worked in .


  7. Mike, they were sweat rags as we called them, I wore them during my time with the industrial Blacksmith while serving my time. Any job with a furnace was hot work and material at that time was not dye secure. To avoid going to the dance with a ring of colour round your neck we wore un-dyed cloth to stop the sweat running down your neck from your head and face
    I have taken mine off after what we called a hot bar pull and wrung it out, our tea cans were replenished often to make up for what we lost.


  8. My father worked for the Bowesfield Steel works as a Roll Turner from 1928 -until it closed down. The white “scarf” he wore round his neck was in fact a
    Sweat Towel – much needed when working at the furnace.
    Gwyneth (nee Jones) Father Cyril James Jones


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.