South Works, Power Gas Corporation

t14751This image shows the large South Works of the Power-Gas Corporation, which was situated between Bowesfield Lane and Yarm Road. Today this area is Preston Farm Industrial Estate near Makro. It looks like it was built in the 1950’s and survived until after the A66 dual carriageway was built. What a large site to of come and gone with no trace left, apart from an access road off Yarm Road that is now Innovation Ave. This road was truncated by the A66 so an entrance was provided directly off the A66, the remains of which can still be seen next to the east bound carriageway, but there’s no sign of the pedestrian subway that went under the A66. I’m old enough to of been around when it was still standing but too young to notice so this is the first picture I’ve seen.

Details courtesy of Jonathan May.

19 thoughts on “South Works, Power Gas Corporation

  1. A few more memories of South Works.
    We were in the bay nearest the plate dump, also in the bay they were making gas ducts and tanks, one curved plate pre drilled one angle drilled and bent, place hession between angle and plate a few bolts, drift every hole and off to the riveters.
    In the next bay Derek Honeyman was assembling sectional stainless steel dished ends, I knew Derek well and we had the odd argument on how it should be done.
    I also knew the Morgans, brothers I think and quite a few men I had worked with, it always amazed me how there would be a mass movement from Heads to Ashmores then a couple of years later back again, did it depend on contracts or was it money?
    The one thing I did know was to see the crane driver first thing Monday with a small offering that got you first in line for crane lifts, every place of work had its own rules.
    The only way in was up Bowesfield Road past the old works, never came in from Yarm Road, there was a scruffy little pub where a few pints were quaffed after a half shift or to the Bowesfield, a place full of life, but then it was surrounded with housing. Work seemed to be fun back then, young fit and slightly mad probably.

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    • Frank, the main access to South Works was from Bowesfield Lane, and the Teesbridge pub, as you correctly advise. However there was also an entrance from Yarm Road past the ABP Iron & Steel Plant office block which is now a law firms HQ, prior to which it was BarclayCard. The Yarm Road entrance was between that office block and the British Visqueen plant and the way in which large vessels and other fabrications were taken off site as the Bowefield Lane “tunnel” was very small and on a bend. There was also a story, which I can’t substantiate, that fabrications could be loaded out onto river barges across Potato Hall farm, which was adjacent to the site and had a frontage with the Tees.

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      • Dennis you must be correct as some of the huge fabrications I saw would not have gone under that bridge, it took some of the trucks by surprise. Heads and Ashmores had history of floating things down river to Middlesbrough to be loaded on boats, I remember the concrete block houses built on the riverside by Heads then floated away to become part of the Mulberry Harbour off Normandy, we school boys had our own idea of what they were not expecting that they would float. The lock gates also went by river plus at least three vessels I knew of.
        Anon those Swiss Rolls rolled many a section for ICI so I am told before they got their own. A memorable day when a Convertor went down and the spare was still being repaired, I had to get a gang out to roll the thickest plate they had ever rolled, Having watched the Ashmores men at least I had an idea of the process and we managed it in one overnight shift, the one time the Union did not protest at me getting my hands dirty.
        Ben Ashmores and Heads were ahead in exotic metals and the use of them, Ashmores built the Convertors for the 4 Ammonia plants on site and with pre heating annealing and welding under all weather conditions it must have been very difficult. ICI sent me back to college for 26 weeks where I got my certificate to work on exotics
        Memories come flooding back of those times, the fabrications made in the local works by highly skilled craftsmen, they put Stockton on the map and will now be like me long in the tooth and long retired their skills taken over by computer programmes, saying that it still takes skilled people to load the computers just not as many.
        Things change, my Grandfather worked in the Steel Mills all his life forming metal, he went from hand balling everything to press button rolling and often told me which he preferred living to 97 he will be giving some one ear ache about the loss of the steel industries.

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    • I can remember a Derek Honeyman, he used to live over the road from my parents, but later moved to Yarm. We also (briefly) worked in the same office although Derek would have been very close to retirement by then; wonder if it’s the same one (he had a brother called Norman, if I remember correctly, and his wife was called Thelma)

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      • Ian, the same one, I knew Thelma as well. Derek was a first class Boilermaker as were so many at Heads and Ashmores I did not know he ended up in the office though did see a Death notice a good while back, most of those I knew are now gone. The wealth of knowledge those men had now gone. I do remember the hierarchy though. machine men, Assemblers, Markers off, Template Makers always at the top and best paid. Crane men and Labourers often relied on hand outs from the Tradesmen they worked among way back of course an archaic system that needed sorting, a good Labourer could mean making your bonus money or not, it was the same at ICI.
        Long gone now but as long as we remember the Dereks and Danny’s they are immortal.

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        • I briefly worked with Derek in the early 90’s at WS Atkins in Middlesbrough…he was on a short term consultancy contract there, probably not long before he retired I would think. I’d known him for years before that as he lived opposite me and my parents.

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  2. I worked for Ashmores at South Works in the early sixties as a Sales Estimator, when they were one of the World leaders in the developement of fabrication techniques for all the new exotic materials that were now coming on the market such as Titanium. Monel, Inconnel, Hastelloy, and all grades of Stainless steels, and all types of clad steels, also all grades of low temperature steels and heat resistant steels such as Chrome Moly and Carbon Moly steels. Sometimes it was the first time some of these steels had been fabricated so complex welding, Pre heating, and Post heating treatment was required. I always found the technical staff were first class and a great help when you were trying to estimate the fabrication cost of some of these Vessels and Heat Exchangers, and Reactors, manufactured from these exotic materials. The machine shop was also World Standard with up to date Machines and work practices. How all this advanced knowledge can have been let go with not a trace to show any of the History of Ashmore’s is a great shame, and a blot on the people who let it happen . Stockton should still be a leading Town with Companies like Ashmores and Head Wrightsons leading the way.

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  3. Ashmore’s or the South Works had it’s official opening ceremony in 1950. Ironically, the ceremony was a bit premature, for it took until mid 1954 to transfer and fit up all the machinery.
    The only access to the works was along Bowesfield Lane, whether the access was from off Yarm Lane or past Parkfield Works. Sorry to disagree with you Jonathan, but Ashmore’s never had an access road from the A66. Work was running out out in the mid 1970’s and the start of redundancies was about July 1978; completion took but a few months I vaguely recall.
    The work on the A66 you refer to, including the widening & dueling occurred after Ashmore’s works had been demolished.
    I’ll post a photo of the official opening which I obtained from my deceased father-in-law, Raymond Jennings. He was at the ceremony, was heavy shop senior foreman, but was made redundant before retirement, like so many who had given years of service.

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  4. Is the access off the A66 the one that used to lead to the old Whessoe works? I can remember that access being built and then barriered off almost immediately as it wasn’t needed by the time the road opened

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  5. This site was Ashmore, Benson, Pease and Co Ltd, South Works. I served my time there, as most of my family had done previously, firstly as an apprentice boilermaker template maker then one year later was taken into the drawing office as an apprentice draughtsman. It was a great place to work, with so many talented people to learn from, but it came to an abrupt end in 1968 when Whessoe of Darlington bought the site. Whessoe was a major competitor of ABP in vessel design and manufacture and bought the site to close it down and eliminate the rivalry. The site went quickly from a caring family business, which looked after it’s employees, to a commercial enterprise poorly managed by accountants. I left Whessoe as soon as I finished my apprenticeship and was employed once again by Ashmore, Benson, Pease and Co Ltd in the iron and steel making division at the Yarm Road offices before moving to the Power Gas offices on Bowesfield Lane.

    The photo is looking North and the Boiler Yard, with offices on the front, is at the south end of the site. Across the roadway is the Fitting and Machine Shop. A steel stockyard runs between both of these fabrication facilities and serviced by a gantry crane running the full length between these shops. There was also a diesel electric shunter to transport steel from the stockyard gantry cranes into the workshops. The building at the bottom of the photo is the Light Fabrication Shop which was also had apprentice training facility managed by a wonderfully eccentric military chap, Captain Morrell.

    Wonderful days, amazing knowledgeable people and was so lucky to have worked there with my father, brother, sister and uncles on both my dad’s and mum’s side s of the family.

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    • Ashmore, Benson, Pease & Co Ltd (ABP) were part of the group which included the Power Gas Corp along with Parkfield Foundries. All well established late 19th century engineering design and manufacturing facilities of great standing.

      South Works was fully commissioned in the early 1960s, there was a commemoration plaque on the wall of the medical centre, also known as the Ambulance Room. The facility was probably the best, not only in the UK or Europe, but possibly the world. Within 20 years of the site being fully opened it was surplus to requirements as the manufacturing capabilities within the UK had declined due to foreign imports. The Froriep 1000 tonne rolls, in the boiler yard, could handle 4 inch thick plate for vessel fabrication, an amazing process to watch. What made ABP a world class fabricator/fabricator was the magnificent and dedicated workforce which was eventually demoralised by the Whessoe takeover.

      Image courtesy of “Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History” (www.gracesguide.co.uk)
      Click Link: http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Ashmore,_Benson,_Pease_and_Co

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    • Anon, do you remember Mr Ludbrook or Ludbroke? When I had a long leave it would be spent working for a small engineers in Stockton. We had a job in South Works fitting out a soaking oven and Mr Ludbrook was round every hour on the hour to inspect it. He called me into his office questioned me then offered me a job, he got very upset when my reply was no. One chap on the same job was Danny Cosavella who had previous with Mr Ludbrook having served his time in the old works, there was obviously no love lost between them. I must admit the offer made me think but on going back off leave found they had promoted me into the Sergeants mess and being engineers good money, end of thoughts of leaving.
      When I did leave it was into ICI and a retirement from green book staff which would not have happened had I gone to Ashmores. Somethings happen for the best.

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      • Jonathan, there was a commonly held story that the Light Fabrication Shop (LFS), shown in your photo attachment before the main site was developed, had a previous life as a Smith’s Clock Factory but whether that was true or myth I am not sure.

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    • Hi Anon
      I cant comment on the history pre Whessoe.I served my apprenticeship as a Fitter/Turner there between 1976 & 1980 when the site eventually closed and we were transferred to Whessoe in Darlington.. I worked with a character called Bob Elliot who was an excellent tradesman. He had more energy than anyone I have ever met and we called him The Roadrunner. He also had more than a passing resemblance to Magnus Pike.I have to say if the object of the exerciser was to close the yard they took a verrrry long time to accomplish it – around 12 years!!!!

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      • Stephen, South Works under Whessoe saw redundancy after redundancy and a workforce dwindle to a skeleton staffing just before closure. The best machines, and equipment, were taken to Darlington until the boiler yard was a shadow of its former self. The loss of the facilities at South Works saw the subsequent loss of the incredibly talented tradesmen who were put on the scrap heap with little prospect of finding similar work. I am not sure what the machine and fitting shop facilities were around the time of closure, I believe the 30 foot diameter lathe built for finishing blast furnace “bells” was poached to Darlington many years before closure. The drawing office had been reduced to a few draughtsmen, estimators and clerical staff. It is fair to say that Whessoe didn’t want South Works to succeed.

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