Butterley Ironworks

The  Butterley Company ‘Factoids’

What is a Factoid ?

The word ‘factoid’ does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary but has been used to describe small, definitely true but often relatively unknown (and sometimes) surprising facts. Below is an attempt to use factoids to briefly outline some significant facts and events in the history of the Butterley Company.

Did  YOU  know that : —- 

  • Benjamin Outram and Frances Beresford founded ‘Outram and Co’ in 1790, later to be joined by William Jessop and John Wright in 1791.
  • Outram and Jessop were famous for their work in developing Britain’s canal network especially during the ‘Canal Mania Years’ of  1789 to 1796.
  • Butterley Hall, dating back to at least the 1500’s was bought by Frances Beresford in 1790 from the Horne family for Outram & Co.
  • The Company’s main purpose was to mine coal, iron ore and limestone and to set up an iron works to produce pig iron and iron castings (e.g. for pipes and early steam engines)
  • The first blast furnace became operational in 1791 and by 1806 there were three blast furnaces in operation each producing about 25 tons of pig iron per week
  • In 1806, a Butterley blast furnaceman earned 17/6d (87½p) for a 72 hour week (6 x 12hr shifts) and lived in small cottages built around the furnaces.
  • In 1793 Outram began the construction of the Little Eaton to Denby horse drawn gangroad completing it in 1795. It took coal from pits in the Denby area to the Little Eaton canal wharf and operated with horses until 1908.
  • After Outram’s early death in 1805, Outram & Co, in 1807, changed its name to ‘The Butterley Company’.
  • The Company expanded in 1808 beginning to develop a foundry and forge at Codnor Park, these becoming operational in 1818, later to become known as Codnor Park Forge and Wagon Works
  • The Cromford Canal still passes under Butterley Works in a the 2966 yard tunnel (original length), the complete 14 mile long canal being opened in 1793
  • The Canal Tunnel is 9ft wide and lies about 50ft below the road at Butterley Corner but a section under the Works was made double width, becoming known as the Wide Hole where one barge could be moored alongside a small wharf allowing others to pass by.
  • Two vertical shafts ran down from the surface to the Wide Hole wharf to load and unload raw materials and finished goods
  • The tunnel runs from Hammersmith (West Portal) to Golden Valley (East Portal) near the now derelict Newlands Inn, where the surface canal opened up to 14ft wide incorporating a large wharf.
  • Golden Valley became known as such in the early 1800’s  as it developed into a small area of high employment and good wages, being mainly due to canal traffic and mining operations
  • Large structures such as London’s first Vauxhall bridge (1816) were loaded onto canal barges at Golden Valley, taken down the Cromford and Erewash canals to the River Trent then towed up to Gainsborough and transferred to sea going ships for delivery via the River Humber to London or overseas.
  • Butterley Reservoir was built to supply water to the Cromford and Nottingham Canals. Codnor Park reservoir was constructed for similar reasons.
  • A third reservoir (Butterley Park) was built near to Golden Valley but in the 1930’s it was filled in, now being part of the Midland Railway Trust’s site.
  • The road between Derby and Alfreton (now the A61) was known as the ‘Alfreton Turnpike’ and was built in 1807, conveniently passing Butterley Co. at Butterley Corner.
  • The Company owned large amounts of land which it used for farming and mining of iron ore and coal.
  • The Butterley Estate extended from Butterley to Codnor, Langley Mill and Jacksdale with the Cromford Canal forming the eastern boundary.
  • There were nearly 12 miles (19 km) of private road, controlled by toll gates (the gateposts are still visible today).
  • Large individual farms were situated around the estate, e.g. Castle Farm, Kennels Farm, Butterley Park Farm, the main farm being Home Farm located near to Butterley Hall.
  • Always at the forefront of technology, just 10 years after the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, the Company installed a telephone line between Butterley Ironworks and Codnor Park Forge.
  • Between 1808 and 1880, Butterley employed several famous Chief Engineers who created a golden age for the Company – William Brunton, 1807 – 1815, Joseph Miller 1815 – 1825, Joseph Glynn  1825 – 1850, Edward Reynolds 1852 – 1860 and JGN Alleyne 1852 – 1880.
  • The Company’s second cast iron bridge was made in 1811 and is still today a main crossing point over the Maude Foster Drain at Boston, Lincs.
  • In the Spring of 1813, the Company produced a locomotive designed by William and Edward Chapman which hauled itself along a large chain laid in the centre of the track but it was not a success and the idea was abandoned.
  • In September 1813, Brunton became known for designing and building a locomotive which was pushed along by its mechanical legs at 2½ mph. It worked in the Company’s Crich Warner limestone quarry (Butterley Gangroad), but a second one blew up at a North East colliery killing thirteen people.
  • In June 1817, upon arriving at Butterley Works Gatehouse, Jeremiah Brandreth’s Pentrich Rising revolutionaries met with stiff opposition in the form of the Company’s General Manager, George Goodwin, which partially led to the Rising’s subsequent failure.
  • The six huge colonnades which stand in front of London’s Haymarket theatre were made by the Company in 1820.
  • Between 1825 and 1843, Joseph Glynn designed and built seventeen large steam engines and scoop wheels which drained over 90,000 acres of the Fens. The Stretham engine near Ely is still open as a visitor attraction.
  • One of the most iconic structures built by the Company under supervision of Sir John Alleyne is St Pancras Station opened in 1867 for the Midland Railway Company, eventually becoming, after modernisation in the 1980’s and 90’s, the Eurostar Terminal.
  • St Pancras Station was built with nearly 7,000 tons of wrought and cast iron, produced at Codnor Park Forge and Butterley Foundry.
  • The original St Pancras Station was 240 ft wide and 689 ft long and 100 ft high from the rail platform to its apex.
  • Over 6,000 men, 1,000 horses and 100 steam cranes and engines were required to erect the station.  Two rail mounted wooden scaffolds each of three individual sections and each weighing over 650 tons were used to erect the main arches.
  • The platforms were supported by 720 cast iron columns, the area underneath forming the ‘Undercroft’.
  • The Undercroft was originally used to store Burton beer, Burton’s breweries supplying London with its beer at that time, the distance between each column being the same as that of three Burton beer barrels laid end to end.
  • The Undercroft is now a shopping Mall for Eurostar and East Midland train passengers.
  • The Company supplied special ‘Butterley Bulb’ iron deck beams for several ironclad warships such as HMS Warrior (on display next to Nelson’s HMS Victory in Portsmouth).
  • Ironwork was also supplied for Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s ‘SS Great Britain’ now on display in Bristol Docks.
  • In 1883, the Wright family achieved 100% control of the Company by buying the last 20% of the shares from William Jessop III (Jessop the Younger’s nephew).
  • In the 1880’s over £100,000 (= £10 million today) was spent building a new steelworks at Codnor Park. Because of high running costs and being unable to compete with Sheffield steel producers because of lack of further investment, it closed in 1907.
  • By 1886, the Company had a total of 22 locomotives, 1,500 wagons and 60 miles of track covering its collieries, ironworks and brickworks.
  • In 1888, Butterley was incorporated as a Private Limited Company with Francis Beresford Wright as Chairman and Fitzherbert Wright as Managing Director.
  • In 1894 Butterley supplied a new windshaft, gears and a six-arm cross for the repair of Heage windmill after it was destroyed in a huge storm.
  • Fitzherbert Wright resigned in 1902 as Managing Director and Leslie Wright took over.
  • Leslie Wright was an autocratic gentleman who believed that a workman should consider it a privilege to work for such a great Company, although he also considered a workman’s contract with the Company as inviolable. He became known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Butterley’.
  • In 1805, Eustace Mitton was employed as the Company’s mining engineer. He had earlier taken part in the Yukon – Klondike Gold Rush and had a reputation for believing that no task was impossible.
  • Mitton modernised the coal mines, reducing  nineteen coal winding shafts producing just over one million tons per year to twelve shafts producing two million seven hundred and eighty thousand tons
  • In 1913, he also closed the loss making Codnor Park brickworks, transferring production to the newly modernised Waingroves works.
  • Butterley became a Public Limited Company in 1914
  • In 1915, the Government took control of the Company for the production of WWI armaments.
  • During the General Strike of 1926, Codnor Park Forge was closed for 22 weeks, requiring soup kitchens to be set up in Ironville’s King William Street.
  • Following the Great Depression of 1929 – 31, the     Company began to recover and in 1936 the Wagon Works produced over 1,000 wagons with orders taken for 330 patented ‘all – steel’ wagons and 200 new goods wagons
  • In the early 20th century, Butterley Co. had its own fire station, being located on Butterley Corner. At one time Ripley was entirely dependant upon it.
  • A pub, ‘The Puddlers Arms’ was located in the houses next to the Fire Station on Butterley Corner.
  • The present garage and car sales site on Butterley Corner was originally the site of the Company Gasworks, dated around 1880
  • In the early 20th century, it became the site for the pipe dipping shop where pipes made in the Foundry were dipped in hot liquid pitch or tar to preserve them when placed underground. It eventually became the Company Garage servicing Company vehicles.
  • Mothers took their sick children to Butterley Corner to breathe in the pitch fumes to help cure coughs, colds and other respiratory ailments.
  • In 1939, the Company designed its ‘Standard Unit Bridge’, an easily assembled structure for the emergency replacement of bridges destroyed by natural or military causes. A prototype was erected over the Cromford Canal alongside Codnor Park Forge.
  • On the breakout of WWII, workshop buildings at Butterley were painted with brown and green camouflage paint, still visible today at Butterley Corner.
  • Butterley reservoir was known as the ‘cracked mirror’ by German bomber pilots, as on a moonlit night its reflection provided an excellent navigational landmark. The railway line across it gave the impression of a crack.
  • An idea to camouflage it by covering it with floating wooden pit props taken from Government stocks was rejected by the District Pitwood Controller.
  • During WWII, the Constructional Department produced amongst many other items, 51 frigate keels for the Royal Navy, nearly 5,000 Bofors (40mm) travelling gun platforms, 20mm anti aircraft gun platforms and 50 x 150 ft long bridges for the allies Rhine river crossings.
  • Both Codnor Park and Butterley fabricated large pontoons for use on the Normandy beaches after D-Day to support the bridges connecting the Mulberry Harbours with the shore on Omaha and Gold beaches (the Omaha harbour was destroyed in a storm soon after D-Day).
  • The Company collieries were transferred to the Government as part of the 1947 nationalisation of the country’s coal industry. Compensation amounted to £4 million (£100 million at today’s prices)’
  • In 1947, before nationalisation, the collieries represented approximately 30% of the Company’s assets but generated nearly 80% of its profits.
  • The Company suffered further blows with the closure of the Forge in 1965, closure of the Wagon Works in 1975 and the Foundry in 1986.
  • Further expansion using the Nationalisation money, took place in (amongst others) the sand and gravel industry, brickworks, light engineering, farm equipment and oxygen plant production.
  • During the mid 1960’s a major Boardroom dispute led to a take-over by the Wiles Group, with further take-overs over the next 40 years eventually resulting in the closure of the Company in 2009.
  • Between 1960 and closure, many other iconic structures were made.
  • The Butterley Simm -Wulpa vertical car park was first made in 1962. In principle the idea was brilliant but unfortunately was ‘before its time’ with only a few being sold. A prototype was erected at the entrance to Butterley Works, being dismantled in 1967. The design has since been widely adopted in South Korea and Japan where parking space is at a premium.
  • In 2000, the Company manufactured and erected the highly successful Falkirk Wheel which is now one of Scotland’s prime tourist attractions. It eliminates the need for locks between junction of the Union and the Forth and Clyde canals
  • In 2005, the Spinnaker Tower was completed in Portsmouth, a massive tower structure with an elevated restaurant overlooking the Dockyard and HMS Victory and HMS Warrior.
  • Butterley’s final contract completed in 2009 was for a large arched bridge spanning the railway lines near to the entrance of London’s 2012 Olympic Park.
  • After closure in 2009 the site at Butterley was demolished with the exception of certain listed buildings including the octagonal gate house and an adjacent small building, formerly works offices. The Pattern Shop and Machine Shop also remain standing, being classified as curtilage to listed buildings.
  • The 450 ft long wall which housed the early blast furnaces and the Wide Hole  section of the Cromford Canal lying 40 ft beneath, was designated by English Heritage (now renamed Historic England) as a Scheduled Ancient Monument’ in 2013.
  • The site was auctioned in October 2015 (£1.3 million approx.) and is now owned by a London based property company whose intentions are as yet unknown.