Newton, Chambers & Company
It was in 1789 that George Newton and Thomas Chambers entered into a partnership that would result in the founding of one of England's largest industrial companies of that era, Newton, Chambers & Co.
George Newton and Thomas Chamber were partners in the Phoenix foundry at Snow Hill, Sheffield and along with Henry Longden they signed a lease to extract coal and ironstone from the Thorncliffe valley. The 21-year lease was signed in December 1793 and it gave them mining rights to the Thorncliffe valley from the Earl Fitzwilliam and set up their works on the Thorncliffe site near Chapeltown, to the north of Sheffield. The company built The Thorncliffe Ironworks beside the Blackburn Brook above the wooded valley slopes where the mining was to be carried out.
The first blast furnace was completed in April 1795 and the second in 1796. The first had a capacity of 15 tons of metal a week, while the second could produce 20 tons. The two furnaces were in operation for 78 years before being replaced in the 1870s.
In 1815 the partners met with William Murdoch, the inventor of coal-gas lighting, this being seen as providing a growth in work for their foundry. Coal, from the company’s mines, was provided as charge for beehive coke ovens which were built on the site.
By the end of the nineteenth century the company were not only mining coal and ironstone but building blast furnaces, coke ovens and chemical plant. Heavy section iron, cast in the foundry was used in two iconic structures: Tower Bridge, crossing the river Thames in London, and the Eddystone Lighthouse.
During the 1890s, the company introduced its Izal disinfectant made from distilled coal tar.
World War II
In 1939 the Thorncliffe works came under the control of the Admiralty. A new workshop was constructed at Warren Lane, a short distance away from the Thorncliffe works, which was used to build army vehicles and became the largest manufacturer of Churchill tanks for the war effort. One of the tanks used to stand at the side of the road near the factory till recently.
The infamous traitor, William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw), in one of his radio broadcasts threatened to "dot the I" on the Izal name with a bomb. It was intended to destroy the source of the Churchill tanks. A near miss ensued, but the works remained intact.
The nationalization of the coalmining and steel industries in 1948 saw the group forced to sell off its interests in these fields. However the company remained heavily involved in iron and steel founding and the production of chemicals from tar distillates, the basis of many products manufactured by its Izal subsidiary. The engineering part of the group designed and supplied all manner of process plant and equipment for the coal-gas, chemical and steel industries.
Before World War II they had started building excavators under license from the American manufacturer Koehring and sold them under the NCK brand name. In 1958, the company acquired Ransomes & Rapier to become a major producer of excavators, draglines and other construction equipment. A new subsidiary company NCK-Rapier was formed, with production moving to Ipswich.
The group also set up Redfyre as a marketing company for coal-burning grates which were made in its foundry. Changes, in particular the Clean Air Act saw the company move into light fabrications and oil-fired central heating equipment, however, the oil-fired boiler market collapsed in autumn 1973 with the increase in prices.
In 1972 the group was taken over by industrial holding company Central & Sheerwood.
- Official Company handbook and catalogue.
- "Turnaround – Managerial recipes for strategic success". (The fall and rise of the Newton Chambers group) by Peter H.Grinyer and J-C Spender. Published by Associated Business Press (1979). ISSN 0 85227 232 4