The history of the site at Bower Spring, containing the remains of two cementation furnaces for converting iron bats into steel, and now ]eased by the Society, is not particularly well documented. Ken Barraclough concluded that the furnaces were built about 1828 by Thomas Turton, and passed about 1860 to Moss & Gamble, who operated them until 1911.
Directories from 1841 to 1852 show Joshua Moss Oater of Moss & Gamble) in the alphabetical list as a "steel manufacturers , but he is not in the classified trades sections, and no business address is given for him. This may mean that he was a partner or a manager in a steel firm. In Kelly's 1854 directory he appears in Russell Street, and White's 1856 directory has an entry in the alphabetical list, "Moss Joshua & Gamble Brothers, merchants and manufacturers of steel, files, saws, tools, &C., Franklin Works, Russell Street; and New York and Boston." The street section gives the firm's address as I Russell Street, which had earlier been Thomas Turton's address, and thus confirms that Moss had taken over the Bower Spring site, probably about 1853.
The traveller and writer Walter White (1811 - 1893), whose "On Foot through Tyrol in the Summer of 1855" we quoted in The Cutting Edge' no.7, also wrote "A Month in Yorkshire" (1858) which includes a description of a Sheffield steel and file works. White began life as a cabinet-maker, joined the staff of the Royal Society's library as an "Attendant" in 1844, and eventually became the Society's Assistant Secretary and Librarian, undertaking the journeys recounted in his books during his holidays.
The steel and file works that he described was that of Moss & Gamble. We have established that the firm was at the Franklin Works in Russell Street by then, so the works included out site at Bower Spring. The full description is too long to quote here, but this is what Walter White said about the cementation furnaces, the remains of which we now care for:
"Swedish iron is choven because it is the best, no iron hitherto discovered equals it for purity and strength and of this the most esteemed is known as "Hoop L", from its brand being an L Within a hoop. "If you want good steel to come our of the Furnace", says the knowing one, "you must put good iron in," and some of them hold that, "when the devil is put into the crucible, nothing but the devil will come out: " hence we may believe their moral code to be sufficient for its purpose. The bars, at a guess, are about eight feet long, three inches broard and one inch thick. To begin the process they are plied in a furnace between alternate layers of charcoal, the surfaces kept carefully from contact and are there subjected to fire for eight or nine days. To enable the workmen to watch the process, small trial pieces are so placed that they can be drawn out for examination through a small hole in the front of the furnace. In large furnaces, twelve tons of iron are converted at once. The long-continued heat, which is kept below the melting point drives off the impurities, the bars, from contact with the charcoal become carbonized and hardened, and when the fiery ordeal is over, they appear thickly bossed with bubbles or blisters in which condition they are described as "blistered steel"."
The account goes on to describe how the blister steel is made into crucible steel, and how the files ate forged, cut, and hardened. It is interesting to see that the steelmaker anticipated the computer expert's maxim "Garbage In, Garbage Out".
I am grateful to Colonel Giles of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monument of England for drawing my attention to this account.
The Cutting Edge - No.8 - 1992
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