3.  An account of Alfred Hickman Ltd. in 1898

We now take information from an article in Wolverhampton and South Staffordshire Illustrated.  It was published in about 1898 and provides much useful information.  However, it as an advertising or PR publication, and it was designed to say the best possible things about each of the companies mentioned – all of whom had paid for inclusion in the publication, either directly or by buying copies for distribution.  So the reporter is never short of flowery language and high praise.

The article mentions two works belonging to Alfred Hickman Ltd. : the Staffordshire Steel and Ingot Works and the Spring Vale Works.  But then their description of the company carries on as if there was only one site. This is because originally there had been two firms on the site, the Springvale Furnaces Ltd and the Staffordshire Steel and Iron Ingot Co..  They amalgamated in 1897 to become Alfred Hickman Ltd.. The article also says that the site includes “adjacent collieries and brickworks”

The site is described as being of about 200 acres; connected by sidings to the main line of the London and North Western Railway and of the Great Western Railway; and having extensive wharfage on the Birmingham Canal.  The site is also “traversed by about ten miles of railway and tram lines, on which the firm’s own locomotives are employed for haulage purposes”.

The works provided employment for about 1,500 people.  The writer comments that the works present “a scene of busy activity by night and day”.  In the nature of the industry, 24 hour working usually took place.  One hopes it was assisted by the electric lights.

At the entrance to the works are “handsomely furnished suites of private offices and general offices” and two “fully equipped chemical and metallurgical laboratories, where analytical and experimental work and research are carried out”.  Then the writer gets to the technical stuff, which he may or may not understand:

He says that “the iron ore is obtained partly from the Astrop mines in Northamptonshire, and a large bulk is received in a calcined state, conveyed in railway trucks of special design”.  Where the rest of the ore comes from, he does not say.  “The ore is discharged into the hoppers by the side of the line, from whence it is transferred to barrows for transport to the blast furnaces”.

There were six blast furnaces, each 60 feet in height, and eleven large stoves, connected with which are five blowing engines from l00 to 400 horse‑power. Three furnaces were worked for making Basic pig, and three kilns were used for calcining the ore.

In another part of the works the writer found “a complete plant of ballast moulding machines, on Moore’s patent principle, for the manufacture of ballast used in railway construction and maintenance”.

The output of pig iron averaged 2,000 tons per week, some of which was used by Hickmans, and the rest sold to other manufacturers in the district. “The Bessemer process plant comprises three 12‑ton converters, with an out‑turn capacity of 1,500 tons of steel ingots per week. The converters are supplied with blast by two powerful blowing engines, and connected therewith are large cranes worked by hydraulic pressure.”

“In the mill department the outfit includes four reheating furnaces in a new type of Siemen’s regenerating apparatus, and the cogging mills are fitted with hydraulic gear, worked with patent tilting attachment driven by an engine.”

At this point I have to admit that I do not what he is talking about.  I sometimes have my doubts as to whether or not he does. He is probably dealing with the area f the works where iron or steel was reheated so that it could go through the cogging mills, which were rollers which rolled the steel into flat plates.  

The writer continues:  “Other noteworthy features of the plant are the ponderous horizontal hot shears, which operate on the metal in manner similar to ordinary scissors on cardboard;  and a 24in. bar mill, rolling large sections in bar, up to 16in. in flats, 8in. in rounds, and 8in. by 8in. in angles.

“The plate rolling mills are furnished with plant producing plates of the largest size for engineering and constructive works, some of these measuring 6ft. in width and weighing up to three tons. These mills are driven by three pairs of engines of 2,600 horse‑power combined.

“The 15in. bar mills are worked for rolling small sections, and, with the 24in. mills, are driven by engines of 690 horse‑power combined; the plate mills by engines of 600 horse‑power, driven by independent engines; cogging mills, 560 horse‑power; blowing engines, 500 horse‑power; and hot shears, 150 horse‑power. Steam for the engines is generated by two batteries of 17 large boilers, 30ft. long by 8 ½ ft. diameter, fired partly by means of the waste gas from the furnaces.

“The works are lighted throughout by an electric installation, the dynamos being driven by a splendid compound condensing engine of 350 horse‑power, laid down by the Lilleshall Engineering Company, Salop.”  Presumably this condensing engine provided power for the generating equipment provided by the ECC.

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