Wortley Top Forge



Iron Making at Wortley

Important Dates

The following are dates that we think are important in understanding the development of Top Forge.

1160 - Monks at Kirkstead Abbey (6½ miles away) given charters to:- Dig Ore; Collect Wood &; Erect 4 Forges

1379 - Wortley Records list 4 'Smyths' and a 'Master'. This is take to indicate that there was a bloomery in the area.

1576 - Records show - 'a Furnace in Thurgoland'

1620s - Wortley Family Records 2 water wheels - going concern Possible references to 5 wheels. Ore from Thurgoland, Dodworth & Silkstone

1621 - 'Wortley Ironworks' (Bloomery at Top Forge Site ?)

1642 to 48 - English Civil War, including a battle at Wortley Hall. Cannon Balls area later found at Low Forge. No record of whether these were produced here, fired here or brought as scrap iron.

1657 / 58 - First reference to Top Forge Site Lease Exists - 'Forge in Hunshelf' 10 Smiths 17 Forges Complaints about High Price of Iron

1658 to 1750 - Spencer Partnership - Spencer Family owned Cannon Hall Owned many forges in the area - 8 Blast Furnaces & 11 Iron Forges in South Yorkshire area also Kirkstall Forge (Leeds). No real competition so sites can specialise - Not typical at this time, other Sites had to be more flexible. Plenty of Capital was available through the partnership.

1695 to 1702 Pig Iron from blast furnaces at Barnby, Bank, Rockley & Chapletown. Finery at Top Forge and Chafery at Low Forge. Finished Bars sent upstream to the 'Tilt Mill'

1713 - Extensive alterations made at both Wortley sites. Both date stones survive.

1787 - Puddling Process developed. Puddling Furnaces built at Low Forge c1800 - Producing 300 to 400 Tons of Wrought Iron per Annum.

1819 - John Cockshutt Jnr dies and it is assumed that Vincent Corbett takes over. Corbett is described as a manufacturer of scrap and charcoal bars, rods, hoops and sheet iron, etc.

c1840 - An experimental steam hammer is built at Low Forge. It did not last long, employees claim they destroyed it.

1850 - Andrews, Burrows & Co. take over the business. This was a partnership of Thomas Andrews senior with his half brothers Samuel Burrows, John Burrows. Works Enlarged and Modernised. Axle Production starts at Top Forge It is said that no Wortley Axle failed in service.

1868 - Company Opens a new Ironworks in Sheffield.

1871 - Thomas Andrews Senior dies. Burrows Bros. take over Sheffield Works while Thomas Andrews junior retains the Wortley Forges.

1888 - Thomas Andrews Jnr becomes a Fellow of the Royal Society.

c1906 - Thos Andrews & Co. Ltd. registered to take over Steel making at Royds Works in Sheffield

1907 - Thomas Andrews Jnr Dies, Wortley Iron Company Ltd. (J & B Birdsell) take over.

1908 to 1912 Production ceases at Top Forge, it may have slowed down rather than the works shutting over night. Top Forge Workshops still in use for maintenance work at Low Forge.

1929 (November 29th) - Last Rolling at Low Forge

1939 to 1945? - Blower Wheel used to power a generator. Power taken to an engineering works across the river.

1944/45 - Scrap is collected from the Forge, but the hammers and wheels are left and the war time scrap drive stops before they can be cut up.

1952 - Forge Hammers, and building become a Scheduled Ancient Monument

1953 - Majority of Forge Site is bought by the Society from the Hanwell Family of Stocksbridge.

1955 (July 9th) - Top Forge Opened as a Museum

1968/70 - Cottages on Forge Site cease to be residences

19?? - First Water Wheel restored to Working Order

1981 - First 'Steam Weekend'

A detailed history of the Forge is given in the 1983 Guide Book that is featured within this site. The Forge History section is duplicated below.

History of Wortley Top Forge

The Wortley Ironworks, probably the oldest of its type in Yorkshire, originally comprised the Low Forge, lower down the river and now derelict, and the Top Forge, now in the care of the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society and currently being restored so that something will remain on this historic site for future generations.

Top Forge building itself is largely eighteenth century in date. Records of iron making in this area go back to 1621 when a bloomery is mentioned; it could well be, however, that the Cistercian monks worked iron in this part of the Don Valley three or four hundred years earlier. Certainly there were four "smyths" and a "master" in Wortley in 1379. The first evidence of the present Forge seems to date from the 1620's. By 1695 we have firm records of the production of wrought iron at Wortley and account books for the next seven years can be consulted in the Local History Section of the Sheffield City Libraries. Wortley Forge at this time was administered by the Spencer partnership, which operated a group of eight blast furnaces and eleven iron forges in South Yorkshire.

Extensive alterations are known to have been made to both Wortley Forges in 1713; there is still a stone with this date at Top Forge and the more elaborate date stone from Low Forge, with the date 1713 and a carving of a typical water powered hammer. The stone at Top Forge also carries the initials 'M.W.', likely to be for Matthew Wilson who was manager at that time. He died in 1739 and his place was taken by his nephew, John Cockshutt, to be followed in due course by his two sons, John II and James. John Cockshutt II was a great innovator; in 1771 he took out a patent for making iron direct from ore. This seems to be based on experiments carried out at Top Forge using a furnace and water powered blowing engine. It seems quite likely that he also made steel at Wortley; in any case, he worked steel to produce drawing plates for the making of wire from his iron at the Wire Mill further up the valley.

James Cockshutt inaugurated a new era at Wortley, since he introduced the process for refining cast iron to wrought iron. This had been patented by Henry Cort in 1784 and, possible, as early as 1787 the necessary furnaces were erected at Wortley, together with a bar rolling mill, the first with grooved rolls to be installed in Yorkshire. An old mill, of later date but similar type, was rescued from Low Forge and can now be inspected at Top Forge. During the Napoleonic Wars, Wortley under James Cockshutt was producing between 300 and 400 tons of wrought iron per annum, this being at least double the output of one hundred years earlier. The last of the Cockshutt's died in 1819 and it is possible that operations reached a low ebb shortly afterwards since the Earl of Wharncliffe confessed he was worried about the Ironworks in 1826 and put in Vincent Corbett, his agent, as Manager.

In 1850 Thomas Andrews, Senior, took over the works, in conjunction with his half-brothers, Samuel and John Burrows, under the title Andrews, Burrows and Co. The works were enlarged and modernised, a beam type steam engine being installed at Low Forge to assist the waterwheels. Top Forge, however, still remained solely water-powered but was converted to produce railway axles and later Wortley became famous for them. Thomas Andrews, junior, succeeded his father in 1871. He was to gain international repute as a scientist and metallurgist and under him Wortley became renowned for the quality of its products. Along with railway axles large quantities of high-quality bar-iron were made for use in engineering.

This was the peak of the Forge's long history. When Thomas Andrews died in 1907 the works was taken over by the Wortley Iron Company under J. and B. Birdsell. Within five years, however, Top Forge had closed down; Low Forge continued to produce wrought iron until 1929. Since then, this part of the valley has been silent and nature has virtually taken over again at Low Forge. Top Forge, with its water wheels and its old forging equipment, is being preserved as a memorial to the ancient ways of making iron and to the generations of honest workmen of Wortley who strove after quality and integrity in their craft, now part of history.

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