A Visit to the Iron and Brass Foundery, Brighton, Elizabeth Sandham (1824)

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index

This is an "educational" description of a tour of the Regent Foundry written circa 1822/1823 while the Chain Pier was still being built. The account mentions one of the large plates for the pier trestles being cast, and also mentions that at least one of the party had already been on part of the unfinished pier, via some sort of rope bridge arrangement.

The spelling of "foundry" as "foundery" is left as in the original: a few of the other distracting period quirks of spelling and punctuation have been changed.

The description was published in 1824.

A Visit to the Iron and Brass Foundery, Brighton

Mrs. N.
Come, let us take a walk to the Foundery.
William.
The Regent Foundery is in North Lane, is it not Sister? Mrs. N. says we are to go up Portland Street to it, which leads out of North Street, and walk on till we see the Building before us, which has that name on its front.
Ann.
We are not far from it now, but I fear it will be scarcely worth seeing, Miss Lennard told me it was a nasty black place, with nothing but old rusty Iron, and dirty pieces of Wood, and rubbish about it.
Wm.
Ah! but Mrs. N. says otherwise, and that we may learn a great deal there: I am determined to see and know all I can, There it is, I see the Regent Iron and Brass Foundery inscribed upon it.
Ann.
What a dirty road to get to it: and what a black looking place it is! We shall be like Chimney sweepers before we have been there long.
Wm.
Oh never mind the dirt, my cloths can be brushed and cleaned, and yours can be washed; and a plunge into the Sea to-morrow morning will completely purify us from the smoke of the place.
Mrs. N.
You will find no smoke there, nor coal dust. The only injury your clothes will sustain (if you take care not to tear them), will be from the sand and dust of Charcoal, with which it is mixed.
Ann.
How can there be such a large fire as you told us of, without smoke, Mrs. N. ?
Mrs. N.
The fire is made of Coke, and therefore has none.
Wm.
What is Coke?
Mr. N.
Coal reduced to a cinder from which all the sulpherous particles which produce smoke, are burnt out.
Wm.
It is like Charcoal then.
Mrs. N.
No, Charcoal is made from wood burnt to a cinder, Coke is produced from coal burnt a sufficient time: you will see some making at the Foundery.
Wm.
Now we are at the place! Oh sister! It is not so very dirty, See what are they doing there with that Pulley?
Mrs. N.
They are raising that large piece of Iron with it, either to turn it over or weigh it. Now you see the use of the Pulley. It would be quite impossible for those few men to move that Iron without it.
Wm.
Is that cast Iron? What can it be for? There looks like a door-way in it.
Mrs. N.
It is what I saw cast when I was here before, I learnt then it was for the front of a Room to be erected on the Chain-Pier.* But to know what they are going to do with it now, you must ask the Foreman of the works: and he is here very opportunely to answer your question.
  • The Chain-Pier was begun in the year 1822, and extends 1200 feet over the water. The distance from Pile to Pile (of which there are four), being 250, not including the Piles. Three of the stacks of Piles are 36 feet square, the last double that length.
Wm.
Pray Sir, will you be kind enough to inform me why they are raising that piece of Iron?
Foreman.
We raise it thus to clear it from the sand which may adhere to it, and then it will be painted on each side, before it goes on the Pier to prevent its getting rusty from the Salt water.
Mrs. N.
I think Sir, you told me when I was last here, that there would be four such pieces on each of the Piles belonging to the Chain-Pier, to form a Lodge or small apartment.
F.
Yes Madam, two like these for the entrance to the rooms, the sides will be narrower. On these will be placed four smaller pieces perpendicularly with windows, which will form another apartment, of a similar shape, four still smaller over these, and then what is called a Saddle which closes over and secures the work, each Saddle weighs eight hundred and ninety-six pounds, and contains the Grooves which are to hold the Chains that support the Bridges from one cluster of Piles to the other, and the whole will be surmounted by an ornament called a Cap. The weight of one of these largest pieces is thirty four hundred weight.
Wm.
That is considerably above a Ton, which is twenty hundred weight.
F.
Yes Sir, two ton of Iron were melted for this piece only. We allow the extra weight of six hundred for the runners or cavities into which the metal is poured, and which communicate with the mould to be cast; as well as for that which adheres to the Ladles from which we pour it.
Wm.
How I should have liked to have seen it Cast.
F.
There is another piece to be cast in about an hour, of the same size and mould.
Wm.
Oh! MRS N., how lucky we are! Will not you wait and let us see it.
Mrs. N.
Certainly, and in the mean time you will find enough to engage your attention: but Ann seems tired already.
Ann.
No Mrs. N. I am thinking what a weight of Iron will be on the Chain-Pier when all is finished.
F.
It is supposed there will be three hundred ton weight of Cast and Wrought Iron: but this will be its greatest security, as the weight upon them will drive the Piles more firmly into the sand. The Chains which are to support the Bridges are not Cast, and will be wrought in Wales.
Wm.
I would stay to see these men turn that large piece of Iron, did I not want to see something else, I recollect what I read the other day about the Lever and Pulley, and now see the use of both.
Mr. N.
It is thus that observation, and the knowledge obtained by reading, illustrate each other. Before we go into the Foundery, we will look at the Coke oven; and see the Iron before it is melted.
Wm.
What a large fire! And how hot the poor men must be who attend to it. The mouth of the Oven is nearly closed.
F.
That is to assist the operation of making the Coke. Three quarters of a Chaldron of coal is put into this Oven every day. In twenty-four hours, a Chaldron of Coke is produced from that quantity, when it is drawn out and left to cool and a fresh stock of coal put in, the fire never goes out except when the oven needs repairing.
Wm.
Then you make a Chaldron of Coke every day Sir?
F.
That is not sufficient for our use at present, We have two other Coke Ovens at a little distance from which we are supplied.
Wm.
And this is Coke which I see here; is it not? It looks like large pieces of Cinder, but does not weigh so light: Feel it Ann; do not be afraid take it in your hand.
Ann.
I suppose the weight of it depends upon the time it has been burned; does it not Sir?
F.
Yes Ma'am. That which is made at the Gas Works is too much burned for our purpose, and is much lighter.
Mrs. N.
That is right Ann, I am glad you think of what you are seeing. By so doing though you may not ask so many questions as your brother, you may probably gain more information than he. And now let us look at the Iron.
Wm.
Ah this is heavy indeed! Try this Ann, To look at it in this rough state we should never expect it to form such pretty things as we have seen made with it. Is this its natural state Sir?
F.
This is called Pig-Iron. It has gone through two processes before it appears in this form; before which it is called Lind Iron.
Mrs. N.
I dare say Ann can recollect what these are; as I think she read an account of metals to me the other day, in which Iron was particularly mentioned.
Ann.
Yes, it was considered as more useful than Silver or Gold, as every implement for agriculture is made with it, as well as every instrument used in the working of other metals. Steel is only Iron infused with heat for a certain portion of time and afterwards well refined and polished. Our principal Iron mines are in Wales, but they are more considerable in Norway and Sweden.
Mrs. N.
And do you not remember what is done with it when taken from the mine.
Ann.
It is first calcined in a kiln similar to that used for burning Lime, to separate it from other substances, after which it is put into a large furnace with Coke and Lime stone as a flux, where, when all the rest is consumed the Iron coalesces and hardens as it gets cold. Sometimes long narrow trenches are cut in the earth, into which the melted Iron runs out of the furnace, and forms bars or pieces of different sizes and length, which is called Pig-iron. The Lind Iron is first broken in a Mill and then well washed in water.
Wm.
Is my Sister right Sir?
F.
Yes, Sir, the young Lady's account is very correct: all rough Iron Work, and such as requires only strength and solidity, such as Cannon and Mortar Pieces, and Backs of Grates are also cast from the first furnace.
Wm.
But is it not hammered at all? I have heard people talk of the noise of the Iron-Mills which may be heard at three or four miles distance.
F.
You are right Sir, after the long bars are formed as your Sister has described, they are run hack on rollers to the mouth of the Furnace, where the excessive heat gradually melts them, then they are puddled till they become malleable: From these are taken pieces of about sixty pounds weight, which are hammered and cooled by degrees till they again acquire hardness. The oftener this is done, the more the Iron is refined and separated from dross and other metals which may yet adhere to it. One of these hammers is worked by water, and has more strength than fifty men. The largest of these Iron Works is on a small river in Scotland, called Carron, whence we have our patterns, which is the reason you see Carron inscribed on them. By and bye we shall have time to make our own. The Pig-Iron which we use comes from Wales.
Ann.
It is a great way to have to send into Scotland for patterns.
Mrs. N.
This is nothing to the distance from Norway and Sweden; whence Iron is sent to be cast in England, and returned back to them, there not being workmen sufficiently clever to undertake it in those countries.
F.
Pig-iron is also sent into France From England, as though they have both Iron and Coal Mines on the Continent, they are at such a distance from each other as to make it more expensive to convey the materials from one to the other than to purchase the Iron in England.
Wm.
What is that man doing Sir? It seems very hard work.
F.
He is breaking the large pieces of Pig-iron into smaller ones fit for the furnace: This is done by lifting it above his head, and letting it fall heavily upon the anvil which lies at his feet.
Ann.
Oh! What a dangerous employment! I should fear it would fall upon my head or my toes. And what a weight! He seems scarcely able to lift it.
F.
It is only by swinging it above his head that he can do it, and being used to the business he never fails to let it fall on the right place. It is all hard work in this concern, if you except making the moulds, and these require great attention. The men who attend to the Coke Ovens, and draw it out once a day, find it very laborious as well as hot work: but, it is still more laborious for those employed at the furnaces.
Wm.
Pray Sir what is this building for?
F.
In this shop we polish our smaller Iron Work. What is done for the Chain Pier is too large to be brought into it. We are but in our Infancy at present, therefore our scale is small, but if we continue to be as much employed as we have hitherto been, we may hope to shew you larger buildings a few years hence.
Wm.
Ah; when I am twenty years old, and come and see you, I shall not know it for the same place, nor will you recollect the troublesome boy who now pesters you with so many questions.
F.
I shall be happy to shew you our improvements, Sir. We must recollect that Rome was not built in a day, and that, often the greatest works arise from small beginnings. At present we do not employ more than fifty men.
Mrs. N.
I have heard, that Industry and Perseverance will perform great things: I hope we shall see the observation verified here.
F.
Thank you Madam. We will now, if you please go and look at the Furnaces: I should think the Iron for the casting must be nearly melted. We have only two furnaces heated at present, not having room for another pair of bellows to work behind the third.
Ann.
What a heat! And the brightness of the fire almost puts my eyes out.
F.
It takes one Chaldron of Coke to melt two tons of Iron, which is about four hours in melting, but we have a larger quantity melted to day as we have other moulds to fill besides the one like that you saw in the yard. If you look in at the holes at the back of the Furnace where the mouth of the bellows are placed, you may see the melted metal dropping down.
Ann.
Yes I do see it Sir; but what immense Bellows these are! The leather pipes through which the air passes into the furnace, put me in mind of the Elephant's trunk. What hard work it is to blow them! Poor men, how hot they must be standing so near those large Fires!
F.
They turn a wheel to blow them; and there are six men whose business it is to attend to them. Only four men work at a time, two to each bellows; the men are changed every two hours, but their labour will soon be diminished, as we have it in contemplation to erect a Steam Engine, by which the bellows will be worked. There are holes at different heights of the Furnaces, into which the ends of the leather Pipes are put according to the height of the fluid metal within. The Pipes are capped with Copper to prevent their burning.
Mrs. N.
How would you describe the furnaces William, if you were asked for a description of them?
Wm.
I think I should say they are like large Iron Butts, with their tops taken off; and of different sizes.
F.
You may also add, Sir, that they are lined with a composition of earth sand taken from the Roads of sufficient thickness to prevent the melting of the outward Iron. We are obliged to extinguish the fire once a week to repair this lining, which is rammed in and beaten together with a heavy piece of wood or Iron with great force and labour. This is called Raking the Furnaces. We shall soon begin to cast now, as there is but little Iron to put in of the quantity we intend to melt to day. Perhaps you will like to examine the moulds which are in the Foundery at the front of the Furnaces.
Ann.
If you please Sir: all these rough pieces of Iron which we see laying about here can be melted again and put to use, can they not Sir?
F.
Oh yes, but the oftener it is melted the harder it becomes and of inferior quality, the same as in a blacksmith's shop, the oftener the Iron is heated and put immediately into cold water, it loses its strength and becomes brittle.
Wm.
Now then we are come to the moulding work! I see Sir, this piece of wood is exactly the shape of the Iron we first saw.
F.
It is the pattern of it, and of that which we are now going to cast. You see this large wooden frame laying on the ground? Within this we put a large quantity of sand mixed with water, to a proper consistency, on which was laid this wooden pattern, and closely pressed on the sand, all the vacant places within the outward frame were then filled up with more sand closely pressed till it reached the top of it. After this the wooden pattern is carefully taken off, which leaves a vacancy in the sand of exactly the same shape, to be filled up by the melted metal. A flat piece of Iron is then laid over all, at each side of which are left holes into which the metal is poured.
Wm.
Thank you, Sir, I think I understand you, but here are several other smaller moulds.
F.
Yes we fill up all our spare room with moulds and melt enough metal to fill them all.
Ann.
What a variety of things will be made this afternoon, if all these moulds are filled! Here are the sides of a handsome fire grate entirely in Sand.
F.
The pattern of that is in Iron, It is only of very large things that we have them of wood as they are not so durable. This has been formed in the same way as the larger work, the pattern on which the flowers are raised or embossed is pressed on the sand and leaves the impression of flowers and fruits to be filled up by the melted metal and the vacant edges are filled up with sand to the height of the outward frame.
Ann.
I observe they take great pains to press the sand down on each side before they take out the pattern and put on the outward cover. And how careful they are to see the pattern is exactly formed in the sand, before they fill up the frame!
P.
The neatness of the work depends on this: and, in patterns where the work is raised, like this, the covering frame, instead of being flat, has the same pattern in a hollow form, which meeting with the other impression, forms the ornamental work on the sides of grates, otherwise a flat surface is sufficient to lay over it. Here is a piece of Iron arched in the casting, intended for the lining of a subterranean passage in the Palace ; and another pattern for a bowed Balcony, which is pressed into the sand and the vacancies left accordingly.
Wm.
I cannot find out what this is for which is formed in so deep a mould.
F.
It is what Ave call a shoe for one of the Timbers which form the piles or stacks of the Chain Pier: This Iron Work is fitted to the bottom of it, nearly pointed at the end and fastens it deeper in the sand. The other high mould is for one of the Saddles which I told you of; and this is the Cap to cover the whole.
Ann.
We may now say, we have seen the casting of the Iron on the top, the middle and bottom of the Chain Pier. I shall look at the Workmen with greater interest now I know something of what they are doing, but here is a flat mould without any cover. What is this for Sir?
F.
It is part of a trough for Hog's meat, and as it does not require great smoothness, a cover is not necessary.
Wm.
Pray Sir, for what are these little pieces of sand rolled in the form of Pegs, put along the sides of it at certain distances?
F.
When we wish to leave holes for Iron screws or pegs to go in, by which it is to be fastened to something else, we lay these false pegs where the holes are to be, which prevents the metal filling them up. When it is cold they are taken out, and thus the holes are made.
Wm.
That is a very good contrivance, so there is no boring of holes or noise of hammers beating on the Anvil here.
F.
No Sir, The only noise we have here is sometimes to flatten the edges of the Iron, if they are uneven, or extend too far; and this sometimes is enough to deafen those not used to it. But now I believe the metal is ready for casting, as they are raising the Crane. An Iron Trough, or Gutter, is laid from the bottom of the furnace, to the large Caldron which you see sunk in the ground at a few yards distance: This is filled with liquid metal which runs into it through the trough. The men stand round it with large Ladles and fill smaller Caldrons which are carried between Iron Poles, by two or four men, according to their size, and poured in at the holes at each side of the large mould which we first examined: All pour in at the same time, and thus the hollow part is filled up. The rest of the melted metal will be carried round to the different moulds that you must be careful to stand out of the way, lest any of it should fall upon you.
Ann.
Thank you Sir, we will be careful; but first tell me, if you please, the use of that Crane, and why that chain is fixed to the large Caldron since it is not to be moved.
F.
You will presently see the use of both Ma'am, as when they have taken out as much as they can in ladles, the Caldron is raised out of the ground by the chain, and the crane swings it round to the place where, what remains in it of the melted metal is wanted; so that none is left at the bottom: If there were it would adhere to the Caldron, and prevent its holding so much the next time. For the same reason the men continue to blow the bellows while the furnace is raked, after the melted metal has run out of it; that nothing may remain of it there. After it has been scraped out quite clean, fresh coke is put in, which lies and heats till the next morning, when the bellows are again set to work and the metal put in with more coke upon that—Now I must leave you and attend to the operation.
Ann.
Thank you Sir. Oh I see the fire running into the trough and thence to the Caldron.
Mrs. N.
It looks like liquid fire indeed, but it is the metal which you see, red hot and in a liquid state. When cold it will be black and hard as other Iron.
Wm.
How beautifully bright it looks as it runs along ! And what pretty sparkles it makes as it falls into the Caldron.
Mrs. N.
We should call those spatters if it were water which we saw poured quickly and in a large quantity from one vessel to another.
Ann.
They are like falling stars but the men do not seem to mind their falling on them. Does it not burn them?
Mrs. N.
They cannot get out of the way of them, and, I suppose are too much used to them to be afraid as we should be. Besides they are soon extinguished, and their clothes are better fitted to the work than ours, which would probably catch fire,
Ann.
But still, Mrs. N. it is a dangerous employment. Only think if one of these Caldrons should sway on one side the metal must kill the men on whom it falls.
Mrs.N.
But do you not observe the Poles by which they carry it are of such a length that should they happen to throw some over, it would fall on the ground, and not on them: And they carry it so steadily that they are not likely to let any of it fall.
Wm.
How curious it is to see them pouring in at all four sides together, methinks I should like to peep, and see the metal running over the sand. But how do they know when they have poured in enough?
Mrs. N.
I suppose when it runs over at the holes, in the same way that we know a vessel is full when it will hold no more. But here are some men coming to fill up some of these other moulds. Let us get out of their way.
Wm.
Oh! Mrs. N. they are going to put it into this which has no cover! Now my curiosity will be satisfied. See it looks like a plain of Iron heated red hot. I wonder how long it will keep that colour. A man is shaking a black bag over it, I must ask him what that is for.

Man. It is powdered Charcoal, Sir, and we shake it lightly over, as the heat slackens, to give the Iron its proper colour and assist the polishing of it.

Wm.
Thank you. How long will it remain red?
Man.
Not. many minutes Sir, and in a few hours it will be cold enough to take out with the hands.
Ann.
Here is a piece of ornamental Iron work, something like a fleur de lys, which I noticed the man making the mould for. See it is cast: he has taken off the outward cover already, and is taking it out with a pair of pincers, while it is red hot. I should not wonder if he was going to put it into cold water, to harden it still more. Ah! They are moving the large Caldron out of the ground: what a weight it appears to be! Now they are pouring the liquid from it into smaller vessels which the men can carry. How pretty the sparkles are! It is like Fire works, and now the last mould is filled, and the metal is all used. It began to look much paler than it did at first; I suppose that was because it got cooler.
F.
Yes Ma'am, if there had been more of it, in a very short time, it would have ceased to run, and we must have laid it by to melt again another time.
Ann.
It seemed a very great weight, Sir, for the men to carry about.
F.
Yes, it loses very little weight in melting.

Ann. And what time will this large piece be cool, Sir?

F.
Not till to-morrow morning; but we shall take off the outward cover to night. The smaller pieces will be sooner cool, so that tomorrow morning the place will be clear, and ready for new moulds, which will be forming while more Iron is melting to fill them.
Ann.
The same moulds never do again, do they Sir?
F.
No: we use the same patterns for a great while, but the moulds being of Sand, require to be made every time. The same Sand can be often re-moulded, and the outward frames are used again.
Ann.
Thank you Sir, we are very much obliged to you for the information you have given us. And so I am to Mrs. N. for bringing me here, I did not expect to find so much amusement.
Wm.
I am glad you like it better than you thought you should, Ann. We wish you good afternoon, Sir, and beg you to distribute these few Shillings among the men on our account, I shall not forget my promise of visiting you again at a future time, when I shall expect to see still greater things.
F.
Thank you Sir, I hope you will not be disappointed, and am glad that what you have now seen answers your expectation.
Ann.
Mrs. N. I will never judge from outward appearances again: nor think that something may not be learnt from every thing we see, if we have but an intelligent person to explain to us what we do not understand.
Mrs. N.
We have been fortunate in meeting with such a one to day, who has answered all your enquiries readily and willingly, I hope you will endeavour to remember what he has told you. Our next visit must be to the Gas Works, where I hope you will be equally well received and entertained.
Ann.
But Mrs. N. you and William have been on the Chain-Pier; and on the first Pile, one of these Houses are already erected, are they not very small?
Mrs. N.
Not near so small as they appear to be from the shore. Had you had the courage to accompany us you would not have found them so despicable! And the view from them will be delightful. At the base they are 12 feet in length and 8 feet in breadth, the space between each room is twelve feet, so that there will be room for carriages to pass through, I could not reach to the outward Stack, which is large enough for a Carriage to turn on it, but remember it is not intended for a Promenade for Carriages, only as a passage for them from the Packets.
Ann.
I was afraid to see you go so far as you did. Those temporary Bridges are so slight, and appeared to swing so much as you walked across them, that I shall be content to wait till the work be finished; I shall be very willing to go then.
Mrs. N.
I did not endeavour to persuade you to accompany us; for in such a case there is no reason you should do what is disagreeable to yourself; except that it may be necessary to accustom ourselves to what at some future period may be necessary. With this view I have sometimes encountered difficulties which I might have avoided: but you may be sure I should not have allowed your Brother to go, or have gone myself, had I not seen several females venture before me and been well assured there was no danger. Narrow as the bridges are, the Gentleman who went with us was well convinced of their safety, or he would not have taken us.
Ann.
Ah! He is an experienced Sailor, and has been so used to the rocking of a Ship in a storm, that he did not mind the swinging of the bridges; but I wondered how you could bear it.
Mrs. N.
I endeavoured not to think of it; and the ropes which are fixt on each side as a stay to the bridges, helped in some measure to steady them. Where these were wanting I did not venture, lest my head should have been giddy with the motion; though I should have liked to have gone to the end, had there been the same security. There a lamp is fixt which burns all night to prevent Vessels from coming unawares upon the Pier, and in hazy weather, when a light cannot be seen at a distance, a bell is tolled for the same purpose.
Wm.
The two smaller Piles also, which are placed at a little distance westward of the Pier are intended as a farther security to vessels. A chain will be extended from one of these piles to the other, to prevent their being dashed against the pier in a storm.
Ann.
I shall have many wonders to see when I venture on it; but as I said before, I will wait till it is finished. Do they not say it will be ready in November?
Mrs. N.
Yes; but many doubt whether it can be accomplished in that time. It will be a great proof of the skill and ingenuity of the Inventor and Architect, Capt. Brown.


— , Elizabeth Sandham, , A Visit to the Iron and Brass Foundery, Brighton, , 1824