Butterley’s 19th Century Chief Engineers

Of the original four founders, only Outram and Jessop were engineers, Beresford being a land owning lawyer and Wright, a wealthy banker.

Following the death of Outram in 1805, he having been the de facto Chief Engineer since 1790, the remaining partners realised that new engineering talent was necessary to ensure the continued management and technical development of the Company. This became even more important after Jessop’s death in 1814. From 1805 and throughout the next 73 years, five eminent engineers took up the position of Chief Engineer, each being highly qualified to ensure the growth of the Company.

William Brunton 1807 – 1815   (b. 1777- d. 1851)

William Brunton was born in Dalkeith, Scotland in 1777 and began work at Butterley in 1808. After a simple education he started work in the New Lanark Mills eventually moving south to become a workman in the Soho Foundry, Birmingham run by the famous engineers Boulton and Watt. He rose to the position of superintendent of the engine manufactory before leaving to join Butterley. In his obituary (Graces Guide 1852), it states that he erected fitting shops and established the manufacture of engines at Butterley. In fact one of his first tasks in 1808 was to establish a foundry and build a blast furnace at the Company’s Codnor Park site, some three miles east of the Butterley works, (later to become the Forge and Rolling mills in 1819).

Whilst representing the Company on several occasions, he became acquainted with other renowned engineers such as John Rennie and Thomas Telford, amongst many others with whom he did business. He designed marine steam engines which were used on the Trent and Humber, also powering the first Liverpool ferries in 1814. He was also known for designing and building the Mechanical Traveller locomotive, which although it worked in practice, was short lived following a fatal accident involving the second to be built. (For details of the locomotive, see ‘Engineering achievements – engines’ in this section of the website).

As there was a great demand for iron pipes, he attempted to patent a process for centrifugally spinning them using a fast rotating mould. Unfortunately the patent was turned down as a similar process for terracotta casting had been earlier patented, which also stated that it could be applied to metals. However, it is hard to understand why, as he had tried to patent his idea and presumably had had some success with it, he did he not modify it to get around the patent. Centrifugal spinning has  since become the standard international method for producing both iron and concrete pipes.

Another aspect of his work as a mechanical engineer at Butterley involved, was ‘the adaptation of original and ingenious modes of reducing and manufacturing metals and the improvement of the machinery connected therewith.’ (Graces Guide 1852). Presumably this could have involved improving the performance of the blast furnace equipment such as the blowing engines and the mechanical charging systems.

He left Butterley in 1815 to become a London based consultant and managed a South Wales copper works. Brunton died at the residence of his son William Brunton at Camborne, Cornwall on October 5th 1851.

Joseph Miller 1817 – 1825   (1797 – 1860)

After Brunton left Butterley, a young engineer named Joseph Miller was hired by Jessop Junior in 1817 to manage what was described as the ‘mechanical portion’ (machine shop?) of the Butterley Ironworks. Miller was born in Carlisle in 1797. At a very early age he became interested in machinery construction, particularly in the mechanism and theory of two Boulton and Watt steam engines at that time working in Carlisle. He eventually became articled to Boulton and Watt’s Soho Foundry where he developed his knowledge about engine manufacture.

Upon taking up his position at Butterley, he had ample scope to use his talent for designing steam engines. He was particularly interested in using steam at higher pressures, using expansive gearing and economising fuel use. His ideas were applied to marine engines produced by Butterley, for example, for the ‘Lord Melville’ and ‘Royal Sovereign’ vessels.  He left Butterley in 1825 to set up an engine manufactory in London with his Soho friend John Barnes who had married his wife’s sister and who was a godson of Mr Watt. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (MICE) before his death in 1860.

Joseph Glynn 1825 – 1850  (1799 – 1863)

The next engineer to arrive at Butterley in 1825 was Joseph Glynn who remained in the post until 1850. Glynn was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, the son of James Glynn of the Ouseburn Iron Foundry where he began work as his father’s assistant. During this time, he designed street lighting systems for Berwick on Tweed and Aberdeen before moving to Butterley.

Glynn carried on the work of his predecessor Joseph Miller, finishing the marine engines for the ‘Lord Melville’ and following on with many more for such as the ‘Royal Sovereign’ and ‘The City of London’ all of which had Butterley engines built to Glynn and Millers’s designs. He was also often called upon to repair and reconstruct engines in steam vessels built elsewhere. A typical example was the ‘Victoria’ whose boilers had exploded twice, the first time killing nine men, followed by six fatalities when the second explosion occurred. Butterley supplied the replacements and spares, all of which originated from castings made in the foundry.

Another of his projects was to design and build ‘side lever’ paddle wheel marine engines which were supplied to the Russian navy. He was also a designer of iron roofs, heavy machinery and mills, made by Butterley and sent far and wide to such places as the East and West Indies, America, Europe and the Colonies. However, he is especially remembered for his part in draining the Fens around Cambridge, Spalding and Ely, a total of approximately 90,000 acres. Much of his success was due to the use of large steam driven scoop wheels with engines up to 80 HP for which Butterley developed a monopoly. The first was built in 1824 at Deeping Fen (Pode Hole) near Stamford, just before Glynn’s appointment’ but by 1847 a further sixteen engines had been designed and built by him. The most famous was the Stretham 60 HP engine located near Ely, built in 1831, which is now preserved as a popular tourist attraction.

He also took a very keen interest in the development of the railways, especially the Midland Counties Railway in which the Company Directors, Jessop the Younger and Francis Wright also had both financial and technical interests.

On the 16th November, 1836, he was elected a Member of the Society of Arts, and on the 8th February, 1838, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He died in London in 1863 and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Edward Reynolds  1852 -1860  (1825 – 1895)

Unfortunately there is very little information regarding Reynolds’ short Butterley career other than he was a designer of engines and locomotives and worked alongside Sir John Alleyne. It is recorded  that he remodelled the ‘Butterley factory’ (presumably the workshop known as the ‘engine manufactory’ later to be known as the engine shop and even later the Machine Shop).

Sir John Alleyne  1852 – 1880   (1820 – 1912)

John Alleyne was born on September 8th 1820 at Alleynedale Hall in Barbados, the son of Sir Reynold Abel Alleyne, 2nd Baronet, and his wife Rebecca.  He was educated at Harrow School and Bonn University. He began work on his father’s sugar plantation, then becoming warden of Dulwich College between 1845 and 1851. In 1851 he married Francis Wright’s sister-in-law Augusta Isabella Fitzherbert. Upon his father’s death in 1870, he became Sir John, the 3rd Baronet.   He took up his position as Butterley’s Works Engineer and Manager in 1852 when the Company employed around 7,000 men in the collieries and ironworks. His predecessors, Brunton and Glynn, whilst being fully trained engineers who drove the Company forward, appeared to have concentrated to some degree on steam engine design and development, albeit for a wide range of applications, although they must have also taken a wide interest in the overall operation of the Company. Alleyne, however, was somewhat different as he had received no formal engineering education or training whatsoever, most of his talent being put down to him being a ‘natural engineering genius’.

His interests covered the whole spectrum of operations both internally at Butterley and Codnor Park and externally at home and abroad. There is also considerable evidence that he was particularly interested in wrought iron puddling, rolling and forging operations at Codnor Park Forge. His particular interest in those activities can to some extent be seen in his patented processes as applied to the puddling and rolling operations for beams and girders, these being listed in the following table.

Date Description
1858 “Butterley Bulb” process for the manufacture of wrought iron beams and girders
1859 Manufacture of wrought iron beams
1861 Iron manufacture (reversing mill for moving hot ingots)
1862 Improvements to 1861 patent
1862 Manufacture of flanged WI and steel plates & WI beams and frames of trough shaped sections (WI = wrought iron)
1865 Improvements in Puddling furnaces
1867 Puddling furnace (reversing steel mill)
1874 Puddling iron
1874 Puddling furnaces and Rabbles


Amongst his many great achievements whilst at Butterley was the development of special ‘Butterley Bulb’ deck beams for warships, and deep section joists used in fireproof concrete floors in cotton mills. His Butterley Bulb beam design was eventually copied by many other manufacturers in steel as well as iron. In 1867, he produced and erected the ironwork for St Pancras Station in London, shortly followed by a very large twin track railway bridge over the River Maas at Dordretch Holland. He also designed and built a special ‘reversing’ rolling mill for rolling large sections at Codnor Park Forge. More information on these achievements can be found under the heading ‘Engineering Achievements’ elsewhere in the Butterley section of the website.

Deck beams ready for delivery

His hobbies included astronomy (having a large well-appointed observatory at his home at Chevin House near Belper), and spectroscopy as he was particularly interested in determining the quantity of phosphorus in iron, this element arising from the local iron ores causing many problems with the mechanical properties of the  iron. He also designed and built two steam yachts and a church clock as well as sitting on the local magistrate’s bench. He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and a founder member of the Iron and Steel Institute.

He retired in 1880 at the age of 60, but spent the next 32 years in active retirement eventually dying in his 92nd year on February 20th 1912 at his residence in Falmouth.