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Iron & Steel in Middlesbrough's History

Home > History > Iron & Steel in Middlesbrough's History

In 1850 Iron ore was discovered in the Cleveland Hills near Eston to the south of Middlesbrough and Iron gradually replaced coal as the lifeblood of the town. The ore was discovered by John Vaughan, the principal ironmaster of Middlesbrough who along with his German business partner Henry Bolckow had already established a small iron foundry and rolling mill at Middlesbrough using iron stone from Durham and the Yorkshire coast. The new discovery of iron ore on their doorstep prompted them to build Teesside's first blast furnace in 1851.

Iron was now in big demand in Britain, particularly for the rapid expansion of the railways being built in every part of the country. More and more blast furnaces were opened in the vicinity of Middlesbrough to meet this demand and by the end of the century Teesside was producing about a third of the nation's iron output.

The status of Bolckow and Vaughan reached great heights in Middlesbrough and in 1853 Bolckow became the town's first mayor and fifteen years later became its first M.P. The development of Middlesbrough as an `Iron Town' spurred on its continuous growth and by 1860 its population had increased to an incredible 20,000. Two years later, the town was visited by the Victorian minister Gladstone who remarked;

"This remarkable place, the youngest child of England's enterprise, is an infant, but if an infant, an infant Hercules"

By the 1870s, steel, a much stronger and more resilient metal was in big demand and Middlesbrough had to compete with Sheffield. In 1875 Bolckow and Vaughan opened the first Bessemer Steel plant in Middlesbrough. At first phosphorous ores had to be imported from Spain for the making of the steel, but by 1879 methods were developed which could use local iron ores. The Tees was destined to become 'the Steel River'. In 1881 one commentator described how the ironstone of the Eston Hills processed at Middlesbrough, had been used in the building of structures throughout the world.;

The iron of Eston has diffused itself all over the world. It furnishes the railways of the world; it runs by Neapolitan and papal dungeons; it startles the bandit in his haunt in Cicilia; it crosses over the plains of Africa; it stretches over the plains of India. It has crept out of the Cleveland Hills where it has slept since Roman days, and now like a strong and invincible serpent, coils itself around the world. Sir H.G Reid