4.  An important by-product:  basic slag fertiliser

 The article now turns to something else: a recent development by which Hickman’s have become large scale manufacturers of fertiliser.  But to describe this our writer simply reproduces “some notes on ‘Basic Slag’” by Mr. W. Hyde Barnett, “the firm’s representative in this department”.  I will follow the same example (but I have divided it up into paragraphs):

"Since the commencement of the manufacture of steel by the ‘Thomas Gilchrist’ process, the ‘Bilston’ Basic Phosphate has achieved a wide reputation for its uniform quality and extreme richness in phosphoric acid, as well as for its high degree of fine meal. Year by year it has forged itself ahead on its own merits, and to‑day it commands the highest price ever yet obtained for Basic Slag.

"Owing to the largely increased demand, the producers have been encouraged to spend some thousands of pounds in extending their grinding works, and have now more than doubled their former output. Notwithstanding the increased facilities thus provided, the demand continues to be greater each season than is within the capacity of the works to supply.

"Although it is the custom of the trade to give a guarantee of from 38 to 45 per cent. of phosphates, the ‘Bilston’ Basic Phosphate far exceeds this proportion, reaching, in fact, as high as 46 to 48 per cent., and averaging as much as 44 per cent. of this fertilising.

"Another most important feature of the ‘Bilston’ Basic Phosphate is the degree of fineness to which it has been reduced. To effect this process the latest improved machinery has been introduced by its manufacturers, and by this means the slag has been ground to the consistency of fine grade flours, and in consequence the phosphoric acid is more readily rendered available as plant food. As the activity of the phosphate is quickened when the slag is ground to this fine state of division, it is most essential always to procure a finely pulverised slag if the user wishes to secure an ample supply of phosphoric acid for the first crop. The proprietors of the ‘Bilston’ Basic Phosphate guarantee their slag to contain from 85 to 90 per cent. of fine meal, i.e., to pass through a sieve of  10,000 holes to the square inch ; an average always exceeded, it practically amounting to 94 per cent. fine meal.

"Having thus demonstrated that the ‘Bilston’ Basic Phosphate stands unrivalled in the market for richness of phosphates and fineness of meal, we next direct attention to its uses. Owing to the system of experimental farming pursued throughout the different States of the Continent, Basic Slag was held in general favour there long before it took root in this country. Experiments were instituted in England as far back as 1885, with great success, especially on grass lands. Nevertheless, the British farmer, with the inherent conservatism of his race, was very slow to take it up.

"The more enlightened agriculturalists, however, began experiments on a small scale, and in their turn made the results known with such satisfactory effect that to‑day Basic Slag occupies the premier position among fertilisers for grass lands. It sweetens the grass, quickens the growth of clover, and improves the herbage generally; as the cattle prefer to graze upon land dressed with this fertiliser. Moreover, its lasting properties in the soil have been known to extend over a period of three years, so that it is also the cheapest form of phosphate yet introduced to agriculturalists.

"Having satisfied the agricultural world as to its power on grass land beyond all expectation, attention was directed by enterprising farmers, agricultural societies, and county councils to its application to arable land, and their experiments have been recorded in the leading journals devoted to such subjects from time to time, the general results of these tests proving eminently satisfactory.

"To‑day the producers have to face the fact, as far as the ‘Bilston’ Phosphate is concerned, that with all their facilities of output, they cannot manufacture the fertiliser fast enough to keep pace with the requirements of demand at home and abroad; and this notwithstanding a capacity for producing 800 tons per week, the export to Germany alone last season amounting to 6,000 tons."

This business of producing fertilizer from the slag seems to have been run, originally, as part of Sir Alfred Hickman’s main business but later to have been hived off as a separate enterprise.  This will have to be researched and recorded elsewhere.  Suffice it to note here that Hickmans found another use for slag – making road stone which, when mixed with tar became tarmac.  Between them these two uses of slag pretty soon called for more slag than could possibly come from the Bilston furnaces and it was bought in from elsewhere, making it even more important to run the businesses separately. 

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