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.

3 thoughts on “View from Port Clarence c1880

  1. 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!


  2. 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.


  3. 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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