Browns Foundry, Portrack Lane

t12959I walked past this place many a time; G.Brown & Bros, Iron and Brass Founders on Portrack Lane, which was originally called Portrack Lane Ironworks. The firm claimed to have constructed the first Steam Engine…

Image and details courtesy of Derek Buttle.

27 thoughts on “Browns Foundry, Portrack Lane

  1. I used to watch them do big castings sometimes. I think two of the fettlers were the Bell brothers from Portrack, one was called Bob, I think. I can’t remember the first name of the other one, they lived just down the road from me…

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  2. I have found a reference on the website of the CIAS (Cleveland Industrial Archaeology Society) http://www.teesarchaeology.com in an excerpt of a Paper by D.Whitfield, to a steam-driven overhead crane built by Booth of Leeds about 1900, “used by Brown’s Foundry (Portrack Ironwoks) at Stockton-On-Tees”. He also refers to a 12ft diameter face-plate lathe which ‘appears to be specially made by its users for their heavy engineering products’, and dating from about the same year.

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  3. Browns Foundry –
    Manager Jimmy Dole
    Wages Clerk Ian Ferguson
    Pattern Maker – Alan Macnally/apprentices – Ian? Michael?
    Foundry Moulders Gordon Macgreggor, Wilf Hunter, Didler Morgan, Dave Taylor, Young Wilf Hunter, Dennis Ketley, apprentices Paul Osmond,John Dowd.(me), Gary ?
    Labourer Wilf Taylor+furnessman, Talai Taylor ,Ronnie luke
    Crane driver John Taylor, little Barney the midget,
    Fettlers – Brian Butler, Harry Walsh – (there were 2 more whose names I can’t remember)
    We also had welder/plater+handy man George Wilkinson
    Fitting Shop gaffer Benny Luke, Manchinists Donald ?,Vernon ? ,some one called dodger ?
    + Benny had a brother working in the fitting shop but I cant rember his name
    We also had a cleaner called Alfie ?
    This is all I can remember…

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  4. I remember your granddad, Wilf Hunter. My name is John Dowd better (know as ‘Podger’ to the lads
    in the foundry). I was an apprentice core maker/moulder – your granddad kept me right at work, especially when I turned 18, that’s when you were classed as a man. Your granddad always used to ask me ‘do you want to work half a lap on Saturday’ and sometimes on Sunday..
    He was a great help to me as a young man….
    Many thanks
    John

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  5. My Grandad – Wilf Hunter – worked at Browns until it closed in 1978. I actually have the original key to the Foundry! He always spoke of Browns with fond memories of the people he worked with – Diddler in particular was a great friend. Would be great to hear from anyone that remembers my Grandad.

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  6. A lot of the machines have been left to rust away at the back of Preston Hall museum. I think the saw is in use in the forge and I know the outside lathe is just outside the gates of the period street.
    I wonder where all those lads are now Vern? Mostly deceased I’d imagine, although I was talking to Dodgers wife in Debenhams a few years ago.

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    • Hi Ian are you related to William Henry Peacock 1892 who worked for Browns Bros in 1910? we are tracing our family tree and are keen to get in contact with Peacock relations. My Great grandfather was Robert Clarnece Peacock.

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      • Kim Leggett, I’ve been researching all side’s of my Casey and Tippey families,
        from mams side the McIntosh’s I found J W Mcintosh married to Emily Milly Peacock, any relation by any chance? The wedding was just before great war, I would love to hear from you if any connection.

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  7. As a Council Member of the Newcomen Society for the history of engieering and technology, I can confrim that the first commercial steam engine was developed by Thomas Newcomen of Devon. Newcomen’s first succesful engine ran in 1712 at Dursley in the West Midlands. (The membership of the Newcomen Society is open to anyone who is interested in industrial history. We have a branch in Newcastle).

    Industrial development in Portrack and Tilery could not begin until 1833, when the North Shore Branch Line was built as a branch off the Clarence Railway at Norton. The Clarence Railway was set up in competition to the Stockton and Darlington Railway, with the intention of carrying coal down to ships on the river. There used to be a Clarence Street in Portrack close to the North Shore Branch,

    But for a long time after it was constructed, because of the action of the owners of the Stockton to Darlingtion railway, who owned the tracks which fed the Clarence railway, transport costs on the North Shore Branch were excessive and the line was unprofitable. I would guess that it was only when the S&D took over the Clarence Railway, around the middle of the 19th Century, that industry began to take off.

    The first industrial developments seem to have been an “ironworks” in the vicinity of Browns Foundry and a brickfield near by. There was also another brickfield and pottery, served by a branch line, off the North Shore Branch, south east of the Malleable and close to the river. I think that, until the mid 1960’s, the remains of the brickfield could be distingushed as a deslightful small valley surrounded by small trees and bushes. .

    However, it does seem possble that Browns Foundry may have supplied castings for the Hackworth engine combine on Norton Road as this was just a mile up the North Shore Branch.

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    • Clarence Street is on the opposite side of Norton Road to Station Street, originally it only ran parallel to Norton Road but was re-aligned when the roundabout was built. There is also a Clarence Row further down the branch, beyond Portrack Lane.

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    • The Portrack Iron Works were commenced in 1806 by Messrs. Andrew brown & Goundry.The business was later run by Mr Brown`s sons.By 1865 the company went under the name of G. Brown & Brothers.They were Ironfounders,Malleable Engineers and Forgemen, employing 150 men.

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      • I’ve been tracing family back to Andrew Brown and thank you for supplying a date when he’d arrived in England from Scotland. Am trying to locate photo of son William who died 1887 as Councillor in SOT.

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  8. I’m intrigued by the unfinished introduction about them claiming to have constructed the first steam engine. As a retired Mech Eng. born in Portrack, I have not heard that one before — more please!

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    • The information I put in the post was with the photograph I have. I have not heard of this either but I might do some research. Derek could this be a steam engine before Stephensons?

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      • I suspect it was an employee telling a tale after a good lunch in The Cricketers. I reality the works must have come to life about 1870 ish -St James Parish Church was opened a few years later. The first working steam engine beat that by just a short head. Newcomen’s vacuum engine came into being in 1712 and working examples can still be found in some museums. Stephenson only managed a steam powered passenger loco; loco’s in industrial use (some of stouter design) were in use in mining areas for a good few years prior to Locomotion No.1 and Rocket.

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      • Vernon, am I right in thinking that the real story here was that Browns had the last working steam crane?
        You took me up on it!

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      • Yes Ian, it was the last working steam crane. Did a lot of maintenance on it, keeping it running. On closure of the foundry I believe the crane went to a museum. Not sure which one.

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    • My Dad Michael Robinson (Mick) worked their from 1961 – 1965, with Eddie Morgan (diddler), Wilf Hunter, Gordan Macgreggor may not be right spelling of name, Ernest Borkham (unsure of spelling), John Andrews, Tot Newby, Bob Butler, Brian Butler, Wilf Taylor, Davey Taylor

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      • Is this the John Andrew (Andrews) that played football for Richard Hind and the Town team in 1952 and 53? I know eventually had his own engineering factory at Portrack.

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