Thornaby Ironworks c1890s

t14680The view appears to have been from somewhere on the roof of the Cleveland Floor Mill which was erected in the 1880’s. The blocks of houses must have been those between Trafalgar Street and Railway Street on Godfrey’s 1897 ed. OS map of Stockton & Thornaby. In the distance and across the river would appear to be Stockton’s Corporation Quay area, while at about 11 O’clock across the river would be the Malleable Iron Works. The tall chimneys belong to puddling & early blast furnaces;  the smoke just went up the stack untreated. It is no wonder that a major cause of death in the area was chest diseases and infections.

Photograph and details courtesy of Derek Wade

9 thoughts on “Thornaby Ironworks c1890s

  1. Frank, as you have surmised it’s more than likely that this picture was created by marrying two photos together? It makes sense if we assume the top part of the photo was taken using a telephoto lens and the lower part was taken using a wide angle lens maybe like that found on an 1930s Exacta Camera. Looking at this photo we can assume that the railway embankment shown was retained, the lines removed and this embankment used for the Victoria Bridge to Mandale Road extension with the 2 sets of rail lines from Thornaby Station 1882, going under this then new road to the River Tees rail bridge.
    Some dating clues for this area are: William Whitwell and Co, Thornaby Iron Works, 1859 The firm of W. Whitwell and Co was established for the production of malleable iron. Three blast furnaces were erected. 1862 First iron made. Whitwell also owned Thornaby Rolling Mills which started operation 1864. Three new furnaces were built to replace the original ones 1873. Specialities: high-class bar. Employees 750. 1919 Amalgamated Industrials acquired William Whitwell and Co. 1922 Head, Wrightson and Co acquired the interest in the company previously held by Amalgamated Industrials. 1923 Pease and Partners purchased all of the Ordinary shares of the company. The puddling furnaces, forges and rolling mills were closed. 1925 Mills closed.

    (1)Victoria Jubilee Bridge was constructed (1882–1887) by Whitaker Brothers of Leeds (2) The Stockton and Darlington Railway company obtained Parliamentary powers to build a branch line to Middlesbrough in 1828. To enable the railway to cross the River Tees at Thornaby, a railway suspension bridge was built. In 1844, this suspension bridge was replaced by a five span bridge designed by Robert Stephenson. In 1906, the cast iron girders of the Stephenson Bridge were removed and new girders of mild steel were erected in their place. The original masonry piers of the Stephenson Bridge are still in use today. Thornaby Station – was built in 1882 for the North Eastern Railway. (3) Thornaby Town Hall was completed in 1892. (4) The Torch: This was part of the coking plant to produce coke on site for the local Thornaby Steelworks and foundries. Coal with its gases and tars was unsuitable for steel making. Coal is converted to coke in an coke oven. The coking process consists of heating coal in the absence of air to drive off the volatile compounds; the resulting coke is a hard, but porous carbon material that is used for reducing the iron in the blast furnace. Modern coke ovens recover volatile chemicals in coal in the form of coke oven gas, tars, and oils. It appears Thornaby was an hive of activity in those days with Robert Stephenson active in its development and expansion plans.


  2. Some of the railway wagons in the centre of the picture are marked with LMS (London, Midland & Scottish Railway) one of the ‘Big Four’ railway companies which were created on 1st January 1923. So, it must be after that date, probably 1933 as others have said.


  3. The picture was in the Northern Echo archives and was stated as taken in 1933 just before it was demolished. I knew it as Whitwells as Da always called it by that name, it was built in 1859 by the Quaker family Whitwell and the Pease family who would supply the ore. It was mainly profitable until the crash in the late twenties early thirties and as I have written before saw the last stack blown down, when it wobbled a bit could well have been the last thing I ever saw.
    There are lots of accounts and stories of the works, quite a dangerous place to work it would seem although even in my time those works claimed lives.


  4. Apparently Gold Flake wasn’t sold by Wills until 1901. I also wonder if the other advert isn’t for Bisto Gravy or Sunlight Soap


  5. I doubt it’s 1890s, as there appears to be a scrap yard full of cars in the bottom left corner. Also, is that a truck in front of the ‘Gold Flake’ advert at bottom right centre ?


  6. Wonder if the date is correct.? The same picture is published in a book from the Cleveland Industrial History Society, which says it is from 1933.

    Wrought iron manufacture had virtually died out by then. It could only be made in quite small furnaces which required accurate control of the air supply. Hence the chimneys are relatively low and are characterised by having a prominent damper on the top. One of the best pictures showing the form is the picture of the Malleable works of about 1870, that is on the website.

    Blast furnaces from the 1900s were very bad in causing pollution. After the blast furnace gas was burnt in the Cowper Stoves, the flue gas went up the chimney results in whitish low hanging cloud that spread for miles.. The white smoke was caused by particles of potassium carbonate.


  7. Thanks Derek, what a great photo of “Old Stockton and Old Thornaby” I was looking without success for Trafalgar St and Chapel St, I can make out Hanover Street and what looks way into the future the 1935-1972 Cork Insulation & Asbestos Limited offices, to my surprise “The Torch is stood there”, with the future Thornaby railway station either off camera, or not yet been built?. A great photo. Thank you.


    • This picture has me puzzled, it must have been taken with some sort of fish eye lens to get in the torch and the river bank at Stockton. Thornaby iron works was demolished in 1936-7 when as a nipper I saw the last Chimney Stack blown down and Dad moved a lot of those bricks on his truck to Norton and Kendrews Builders for house bases.
      Looking at the old maps the housing blocks are Albert Street Prince Street and Duke Street and between the works and the housing is Railway Street. It also appears to be an early picture of the iron works and makes me wonder if it is a composite picture, those old time Photographers were clever my Uncle Cecil Diddams was one and could make Photo’s tell a story.


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