Butterley Engineering
Type Ltd
Founded 1790
Founder(s) Benjamin Outram
Headquarters Ripley, Derbyshire, England
Industry Engineering Structures, Oil, Nuclear engineering
Products Cranes, specialsit Fabrications,
Parent Former Hanson plc subsidiary
Divisions Cranes, Structures, Fabrication
Website WWW.Butterley Engineering
Founded as Benjamin Outram and Company

Butterley Engineering was an engineering company based in Ripley, Derbyshire, England. The company was formed from the Butterley Company which began as Benjamin Outram and Company in 1790 and existed until 2009. The remants of the crane operations were bought by Clarke Chapman to add to their other industrial crane operations.


This area of Derbyshire had been known for its outcrops of iron ore which had been exploited at least since the Middle Ages. Indeed, after the Norman Conquest, nearby Duffield Frith was the property of the de Ferrers family who were iron masters in Normandy.

In 1793, William Jessop, with the assistance of Benjamin Outram, constructed the Cromford Canal to connect Pinxton and Cromford with the Erewash Canal. In the process of digging the Butterley Tunnel for the Cromford Canal, quantities of coal and iron were discovered. Fortuitously, Butterley Hall fell vacant and, in 1790, Outram, with the financial assistance of Francis Beresford, bought it and its estate.

The following year they were joined by Jessop, and John, the grandson of Ichabod Wright, a wealthy Nottingham banker who was betrothed to Beresford's daughter and who owned the Butterley Park estate.

In 1793 the French Revolutionary Wars broke out and, by 1796, the blast furnace was producing nearly a thousand tons of pig iron a year. By the second decade of the next century the company had expanded with another works at Codnor Park, both works then having two blast furnaces, and output had risen to around 4,500 tons per year.

Early yearsEdit

Butterleyblast furnace 1

Blast furnace from 1790 exposed through building demolition in 1986

Outram died in 1805 and the name changed to the Butterley Company, with one of Jessop's sons, also William, taking over.

In 1814 the company produced the iron work for the Vauxhall Bridge over the River Thames.

They also owned Hilt's Quarry at Crich which supplied limestone for the ironworks, and for the limekilns at Bullbridge providing lime for farmers and for the increasing amount of building work. The steep wagonway to the Cromford Canal at Bullbridge was called the Butterley Gang Road. In 1812, William Brunton, an engineer for the company, produced his remarkable Steam Horse locomotive

In 1817, in the depression following the Napoleonic Wars, the works at Butterley was the scene of the Pentrich Revolution. The intention of the rebels had been to kill the three senior managers and ransack it for weapons. However, when they arrived they were confronted by George Goodwin the factory agent, who, with a few constables, faced them down. There is little to be seen nowadays of the event, but the hexagonal office, where Goodwin stood his ground, still exists as a listed building in the yard of the Butterley Company's works.[1][

Following this, however, the country entered a long period of prosperity, the Butterley Company with it. In 1830 it was considered to be the largest coal owner and the second largest iron producer, in the East Midlands. By this time the company owned a considerable number of quarries for limestone and mines for coal and iron, and installed a third blast furnace at Codnor Park.


1833 Butterley 'A' frame engine at Pinchbeck,
believed to be the oldest 'A' frame engine still in situ

One of the two drainage engines at Pode Hole and the engine still in the Pinchbeck Engine land drainage museum were built by Butterley, as were the Scoop wheel pumps.[2][3]

They produced a vast array of goods, from rails for wagonways to heaters for tea urns. Thomas Telford's Caledonian Canal used lock gates and machinery with castings produced at Butterley, as well as two steam dredgers designed by Jessop. The company also produced steam locomotives, mostly for its own use, but it provided two for the Midland Counties Railway.

They produced all the necessary castings for the new railways and two complete lines, the Croydon, Merstham and Godstone Iron Railway and the Cromford and High Peak Railway. A winding engine for the latter still exists in working order at Middleton Top near Wirksworth.

The company was quick to invest in the new Bessemer process for steel manufacture in 1856, being one of four businesses who took out a license from Sir Henry Bessemer within a month of him announcing his method. The licenses were deliberately spread around the country in order to protect the trading interests of the various licensees.[4]

Butterley co plate

Butterley Company plate in St Pancras station

Notable patents were taken out by Butterley's manager, Sir John Alleyne. Alleyne patented a method in 1861 which allowed hot ingots to be moved around a roller after it had passed by just one person. During the production of steel sections the bar has to be repeatedly put through rollers. Allowing this to happen using just one person was a substantial increase in productivity.[5] By 1863 the company was rolling the largest masses of iron of any foundry in the country. Among its most famous buildings are the Barlow Train Shed at St Pancras station in London which included 240 foot spans.

Alleynes next invention was the two high reversing steel mill patented in 1870, which used two steam engines to allow metal ingots to be repeatedly rolled in order to get the correct size and section.[5] With this technique the steel did not have to be moved to re-enter the rolling process but merely had to be moved back into the rolling machine once it had passed through.

There was also an extensive brickworks not only for the railways, but for thousands of factories and domestic dwellings.

By 1874 company workers were starting to fight for better conditions. The company sacked eleven miners "without a charge" on May 5, 1874.

20th centuryEdit

Crane manufactured by Butterley Engineering being loaded for road transport

Crane being prepared for road transport in 1988

At its peak in the 1950s the company employed around 10,000 people.

In 1957, a partnership with Air Products of the USA helped establish that company in the United Kingdom.[6]

In the early 1960s the company acquired locomotive manufacturer F. C. Hibberd & Co Ltd.

The Codnor Park works closed in 1965.

The company was acquired by Lord Hanson in the 1968 for £4.7 million.[7] The company was subsequently split up into Butterley Engineering, Butterley Brick and Butterley Aggregates. Butterley Hall, Outram's home and later the companies offices, was sold off to become the headquarters of Derbyshire Constabulary. In the mid 1980s the foundry closed down and when the surplus buildings were demolished, the original blast furnace of 1790 was exposed.

In the 1970/80 they built giant coal handling units for the national Coal Boards super pit at Selby for stockpiling and lifting the coal for loading onto trains.

Twenty-first centuryEdit

FalkirkWheelSide 2004 SeanMcClean

The Falkirk Wheel

The company entered the 21st century with a well established reputation for constructing bridges, overhead cranes and structural steelwork.

One of the company's prestige projects was the construction of the innovative Falkirk Wheel[8][9] a spectacular Boatlift at Falkirk, Scotland to rejoin the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Union Canal in place of a derelict flight of 11 locks.[10] Designed by RMJM architects, it was funded by the Millennium Commission.

The company also constructed the Spinnaker Tower [8][11] in Portsmouth.

On 5 March 2009 Butterley Engineering was placed into administration, the administrator stating "This is a highly specialist business that has proven vulnerable to the economic downturn".

Demolition of part of the works was undertaken in November and December 2009. It is not clear how much of the original buildings will remain after demolition. A photographic record of the demolition and the works in general is available at the Aditnow site.[12]

There is a stated intention of the developers to bury the blast furnace, to remove any future liability, however, a group of enthusiasts is fighting the developers' plans to bury this unique asset.[citation (source) needed]

The FutureEdit

Some assets of the company were bought by the Langley Holdings engineering company to add to other former great names they own; such as Clarke Chapman (Cowans Sheldon, RB Canes and Stothert & Pitt)


  1. Though it may well have disappeared when the demolition planned for 2009/10 has taken place
  2. 'Machines, Mills & Uncountable costly necessities', R L Hill, Goose & Son, 1967
  3. * (1905) An Autobiography. London: Engineering, 167-168. 
  4. 5.0 5.1 Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology, Lance Day, Ian McNeil, p.14, ISBN 0415193990, accessed 1 September 2008
  5. "Company history".
  6. "Hanson plc Company History".
  7. 8.0 8.1 Butterley Engineering web site
  8. Equipment supplier web site
  9. The Falkirk Wheel Feature Page on Undiscovered Scotland
  11. Butterley Ironworks Smelt Mill Information and Photographs
  • Christian, R. (1990) Butterley brick: 200 years in the making, London : Henry Melland, ISBN 0-907929-19-2
  • Cooper, B. (1991) Transformation of a valley: the Derbyshire Derwent, Cromford : Scarthin, ISBN 0-907758-17-7
  • Lowe, J.W. (1975) British steam locomotive builders, Cambridge : Goose, ISBN 0-900404-21-3, republished 1989 by Guild
  • Riden, P. (1990) The Butterley Company 1790-1830, Derbyshire Records Society, ISBN 0-9463241-2-3
  • Schofield, R.B. (2000) Benjamin Outram 1764-1805 : an engineering biography, Cardiff : Merton Priory, ISBN 1-898937-42-7


External linksEdit

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