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The History of Industries and Toolmaking in United Kingdom

  A Day at the Butterley Iron Works, Derbyshire - The Penny Magazine, 1844 1 of 8  

Published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge - London, England.

Among the various manufacturing establishments which our country exhibits, there are few so important, so interesting to a stranger and conducted on a scale of such great magnitude, as the more distinguished Iron-Works.

Whether we go into South Wales, Shropshire, or South Staffordshire, into Derbyshire, or the West Riding of Yorkshire, or into the district of Scotland lying eastward of Glasgow, we find these smoking, fiery, ever-active works; where the precious metal iron (more precious by far than gold or silver in relation to the prosperity of a country) is extracted from the crude ore found beneath the soil.

If the geological character of these districts be examined, it will be found that the iron-ore itself, and the coal which is necessary for smelting it, are found lying in beds or seams near each other; and that in some of the British mines not only may coal and iron-ore be dug out of the same pit, but they are actually combined in the same seam or bed.

The establishment, which, by the obliging permission of the proprietors, we are enabled to describe on the present occasion, is one of the most complete of its kind, and is well fitted for illustrating all the various points connected with the iron manufacture. From the mining of the crude iron-ore, extracted from the earth at a depth of five or six hundred feet below the surface, to the production of a highly finished steam engine, every stage of the process is here conducted. Step by step is the value of the metal increased by the labour and skill bestowed upon it; and the means are afforded for seeing it in all its various states.

The Butterley Iron-Works, to which we here allude, are situated in the eastern part of Derbyshire, near the confines of Nottinghamshire, and about four or five miles eastward of the Ambergate station on the North Midland Railway. There are in fact two works, the "Butterley" and the "Codnor Park;" but as they are intimately connected, and owned by the same Company, we here speak of them as one.

On proceeding from the Ambergate station towards the works, we pass through the village of Ripley, inhabited for the most part by persons employed at the Works in various capacities; and immediately on leaving the village the flame and smoke of the blast furnaces point out the locality of the Iron-Works.

This ever-enduring flame is one of the most remarkable features of all such works, and is in Staffordshire especially observable, from the large number of furnaces there congregated. An iron-furnace is a most untiring laboratory: it works night and day, Sunday and week-day, never slopping an instant for months, or perhaps years together; it is always nearly full of fiercely burning materials, and is replenished at the top as fast as the product is drawn out at the bottom; and its top being generally open to the air, a vivid body of flame is almost continuously shooting upwards, visible for many miles in every direction.

When within the gates of the Butterley Works, we find an area of many acres filled with various buildings incidental to the manufacture of iron. Of these the most important are three large blast-furnaces, with all the arrangements for producing either the hot blast or the cold blast. Those who have not seen a smelting furnace (for they are called indifferently 'blast' or 'smelting' furnaces) have but little idea of their appearance. They are huge and clumsy erections, forty or fifty feet in height, and formed so as to possess great strength and great power of resisting heat.

In some instances they are conical, like a glass-house; in others, such as have recently been erected near Glasgow, they are nearly cylindrical. At the Butterley Works they have a square horizontal section, and partake in their general appearance and construction much of the character of Egyptian buildings, especially in the opening which forms the lower mouth of the furnace. The furnaces are about forty-five feet in height: they are built of stone quarried in the neighborhood, and are lined internally with fire-bricks and cement capable of resisting heat.

When we walk round these furnaces, we find that they are all three bounded on the eastern side by an embankment nearly as high as the furnaces themselves; and on ascending this embankment by a flight of steps, the surface of the embankment presents itself as a nearly level road, terminating at the furnaces at one end, and at the mines and collieries at the other.

This arrangement, as we shall hereafter explain, affords great facilities for filling the furnaces. Near this embankment is a lengthened area occupied by an enormous heap of ironstone undergoing the preparatory process of roasting; some thousands of tons being thus strewed over the place.

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