Wortley Top Forge is an historic former ironworks originally dating back to the seventeenth century, although evidence suggests iron working took place in the vicinity as early as the fourteenth century. It is situated in the metropolitan borough of Barnsley, in South Yorkshire, England, on a loop of the River Don near to the village of Wortley.
'Top Forge' was always closely related to Wortley Low Forge, a short distance downstream. A forge (or both of them was probably built about 1639 and certainly existed by 1641. Cannon balls are said to have been made here during the English Civil War. After that the finery forges usually belonged to a network of ironmasters led by members of the Spencer family of Cannon Hall, Cawthorne, but not between 1676 and 1690, when they were rented by other ironmasters. The two forges were always leased together with a blast furnace, Nether Bank Furnace until the latter's closure probably about 1780, all of them being rented from the Wortley family.
In 1744, the forge was let to John Cockshutt (died 1774), who ran it with a partner. He also had a 'tinmill' tinplate works. He was followed by his son, another John, who was succeeded by his brother James about 1800. James had worked at Merthyr Tydfil as a partner of William Crawshay in the Cyfarthfa Ironworks and when he returned to Wortley in 1791 after the dissolution of their partnership, he introduced puddling to Wortley, the tinmill probably being altered to roll blooms into bars of iron. After James' death in 1820, the works passed to relatives and then through various hands, coming into the hands of Thomas Andrews in 1849. On his death in 1871 he was followed by his son another Thomas Andrews, who died in 1907.
One of the buildings at Top Forge includes as date stone for 1713. However, the current layout of the building dates from the 1850s when the forge was turned over to the production of shafts and axles mainly for use on railway wagons. Some of the earliest metallurgical experiments in the world were conducted at the site by the engineer and metallurgist Thomas Andrews. Railway axles of the highest quality were manufactured at the site in the nineteenth century and exported all over the world.
Production ceased around 1912, but parts of the site remained in use until 1929. The methods used to produce axles by forging was outdated following the creation of alloy steels in the late 19th century. One of the 'Top Forge' hammers was run as a demonstration in 1933 or 1934.
In 1955, the dream of C. R. Andrews (the son of the second Thomas) was fulfilled, the forge being reopened as an Industrial Museum by Sheffield Trades Historical Society (now South Yorkshire Industrial History Society).
Also of particular interest is that the site only ever used waterwheels to power the machinery. All three waterwheels have been restored to working order.
The old cottages has been restored and fitted out with period furniture and objects, along with a restored Earth closet.
The museum also houses a collection of industrial related artefacts with local connections.
- A large steam powered vertical mill engine
- Steam engines - from various local works including examples built by Marshall, Sons & Co. and formerly used for teaching at Rotherham Technical college,
- Industrial pumps
- machine tools - An extensive collection of working mainly line shaft powered machine tools set up in a workshop and used to maintain the exhibits.
- Drop and steam forges, built by Davey & co. and others.
- Blacksmiths shop - used to recreate authentic parts for the restoration and demonstrate blacksmithing at some events.
- The buildings housing the Workshop was rebuilt in part using a reclaimed Cast Iron roof frame/truss system saved from another building.
- A early hand operated jib crane is set up in the grounds and several smaller ones are in the buildings and used to manoeuvre machinery and materials as was done in the past.
The sire is also home to a model railway club and they have a 1/4 mile track of multiple gauges and run trains on some open days during the year.
The grounds around the site are set out with a nature trail and is used by local schools for field trips.
References / sources
Created from a wikipedia article, initially.
- C. R. Andrews, The story of Wortley Ironworks (1956).
- R. A. Mott, 'The early history of Wortley Forges' Bull. Hist. Metall. Group 5 (1971) 63-70.
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