The Darlington Forge Company Limited was established on Albert Hill in 1854 by Cowans, Sheldon & Co of Carlisle. Together with other manufacturers, including the Whessoe Foundry Company Limited, the Darlington Forge went on to help the town to develop a world-class reputation for heavy engineering.

History of the Darlington Forge

Below are a selection of photographs which were used to promote some of the engineering achievements of the Darlington Forge Company. They included for the Olympic, Britannic and Titanic liners. Click on an image to see information it:

In one of the images in the gallery above, a company poster showing two people on a marking table with a large stern frame, Tony Wright has identified himself as the man furthest from the camera. He started his apprenticeship in 1954 in the Machine Shops. A research paper written by Tony entitled ‘Notes on and Recollections of The Darlington Forge’ is available from the Centre for Local Studies at Darlington library (ref. E800008645 U4181DAR).

Mammoth Cunarder Castings

Among other achievements the Darlington Forge Company were responsible for casting mammoth parts for the most famous ships in the Cunard fleet. Information provided by Russ Swift, whose great-grandfather, grandfather and father worked there, provides an insight into this work. Russ’s great grandfather and grandfather were foundry managers. His grandfather, Frank Swift, was awarded an MBE for his work. Frank gave a number of lectures about his experiences. The newspaper extract reproduced below makes fascinating reading. It details one of the lectures given in around 1935:

There was a crowded attendance in the lecture theatre of the West Hartlepool Technical College last night, when Mr Swift of the Darlington Forge Company describe some of the thrills and anxieties which attended the casting of the rudder frame and other castings for the giant Cunarder at Clydebank…….That night they were fortunate in having Mr F. Swift as a lecturer, who had been responsible for the moulding and casting of the world’s largest rudder frame, that of the “Queen Mary”.

Mr Swift in a brief introduction mentioned some of the important castings which his firm had made. In particular he spoke of the four sets of bearings for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, each of which when completed were approximately 300 tons.

After speaking of the difficulties of casting some of the large turbine rotors, the lecturer gave a brief review of the stern frames made since 1897. In that year the stern frame for the Oceanic, which was made in one piece, which weighed 32 tons: this was a great advance on the ordinary ones in those days, which weighed only eight to 12 tons.

Then came the stern frame for the Mauritania in 1905, which was in three pieces, and altogether weighed 54 tons: while in 1908 that for the Olympic was cast in two pieces and weighed 70 tons. The great progress which has been made in steel casting since 1908 could be judged from the fact that the weight of the stern frame for the Cunarder 534 [later the “Queen Mary”] was approximately 100 tons. Then of course there was the outer shaft brackets, with connecting pieces, which weighed 150 tons: the inner shaft brackets, 120 tons, and the lower main rudder base and upper stock, 130 tons.

An idea of the size of the patterns could be gathered from the fact that if the timber used were cut into boards 9 inches x 1 ½ inches and these boards laid to end the, total length would be about 13 miles. In making these patterns nearly 1 1/2 tons of screws and nails were used and just under half a ton of glue. Needless to say, before beginning to make the castings, a great deal of thought and scheming was necessary.

With the aid of excellent and well-chosen slides Mr Swift explain the making of the castings from the pattern shop, through the various processes, to the machine shops. He emphasised the fact that the success of the work was not due to any one man – “there was absolute co-operation from all the staff from start to finish and all shared in a fine achievement. “

Then came the anxiously awaited day for casting. It was quite exciting, said Mr Swift, who gave a vivid description of leaving the Forge at 11 pm after all had been prepared for the casting on the following morning. Then at 3 am his telephone call him out of bed: they were ready to pour the metal. The testing time of the months of work on the mould had arrived.

No wonder it was an anxious time, for it meant that the firm would make a sound job and a little profit, or lose thousands of pounds. But all went well and it is greatly to the credit of all concerned that not a single mishap occurred throughout the shops or on the special train from Darlington to Haverton Hill and by sea to Clydebank.

The lecture was followed by a splendid film on “the construction and launching of the Queen Mary “, lent by the Cunard-White Star Company. An interesting feature of the film was the fact that three views of the actual launch were given.

Thank you to Russ Swift for providing this information and many of the images in the gallery above.

Darlington Forge Seimens Department

Book coverMalcolm Mowbray started work in the Siemens department of the Darlington Forge in 1960 at the age of 15. His first job was as a steel smelter on the furnaces. During the next 6 years he worked in the whole of the department covering the smelting process, ladles, casting pits, troughs, head and top plate moulding.

Malcolm has produced a book of his memoirs of steel making at The Darlington Forge. His new book, Kid Glove Smelter, is brought to life with his fabulous sketches, illustrating the machinery and processes used in the Siemens department of the Forge, some of which are included below. A short extract from the book is available to download here – HEAT by Malcolm Mowbray.

Copies of the full Kid Glove Smelter book are available from Lulu.com at a cost of £10.50. It is also available as an eBook from Lulu.com, Apple store, Barnes and Noble and Kobo at £4.50 / 5 Euros.

Plan of the Siemens Department, The Darlington Forge,1960

Floor plan of the Darlington Forge

A – Gas producing plant F – Top casting pit at 25′ depth K – Drying oven
B – Scrap yard G – Middle casting pit at 20′ depth L – Top plate & head moulding
C – Raised staging H – Two uphill casting pits at 8′ depth M – Mould storage sreas
D- Three furnaces I – Sand beds for ingot cooling  
E – Ladle pits J – Trough preparation

no images were found

The notes produced by Malcolm Mowbray on the processes used in the Siemens department of the Darlington Forge can be downloaded from the links below:

The scrap yard
Open hearth furnace
Tapping the open hearth furnace
Sample of molten steel
The charger
Ingot casting
Drop forge & other aspects of the forge

Malcolm is keen to hear from his former colleagues. If you would like to contact him please send an email to history@aboutdarlington.co.uk.

Despite busy periods around both world wars the fortunes of the Darlington forge were greatly influenced by changes in the global economy. After the second world war orders began to decline and in January 1967 the closure of the Darlington Forge was announced, with the eventual closure of the site in 1970.

If you have anything that you would like to share with others with a similar interest in this section please contact history@aboutdarlington.co.uk. Equally, if you have found the photographs interesting or have any information that could be added, your comments would be very welcome.


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