Francis shares his story from the William Lane Foundry

Our member Francis Annett MBE visited the William Lane Foundry this year and wanted to tell members all about it.

The Magic of Metal Casting

A visit to the William Lane Foundry in Middlesbrough, arranged as part of the Middlesbrough Local History Month May 2018, thanks to Middlesbrough Council and Ageing Better Middlesbrough.

‘No hard hats today, but watch where you put your feet.  Molten metal takes no prisoners.’

We stood at the entrance to the William Lane Foundry, where Director Stuart Duffy introduced us to the business.

We learned that, set back from the banks of the Tees and surrounded by brick walls, the William Lane Foundry has operated there since 1895, after first opening in Stockton in 1862.

The last remaining member of the Lane family, Roy, left the business in 1984.  Since then the foundry has become the last operational business, in an area that once boasted over 140 separate foundries.

Middlesbrough Council and Ageing Better Middlesbrough have organised a series of events as part of the Local History Month of May this year. A small group of us were lucky to find a place on this tour, which filled our minds with facts, fired our imaginations and cast up many questions.  You may find the answers as you read on (but you can also see them at the end, where you may be able to add to or put right anything you’ve read).

‘Why the name – Forty Foot Road?’

‘What’s the temperature in the electric furnace?’

‘How many different metals do you use for casting?’

‘How long have you worked here?’

‘Where do your orders come from?’

Half a dozen men daily perform the mysteries of metal casting. Stuart, Dave, Steve, Ellis and Sam were there and answered our questions as well as casting metal as we watched.

Originally set up in Stockton by the three Lane brothers, the firm opened a timber-framed building in Middlesbrough on Forty Foot Road in 1895.  Nobody knows how this name came about, but some think it’s because it was built wider than normal to accommodate heavy traffic.

In 1939 the business expanded with a new building, housing seven more coke furnaces.

Dave tells us:

‘Youngest lad would get down in the furnaces early morning, stack them with wood and coke, and fire them up.’

‘What down in that hole?  It’s so small!’

‘And there are seven of these – every day – cleaning out, filling and firing up?’

‘Woe betide you if the fire went out.’

These furnaces were used until 2001.

Inside the main building we saw the different areas used nowadays for the castings.

We didn’t see the furnace at first. It’s pretty small. It also heats more quickly and to a higher temperature. High as in about 1300 degrees C.

‘How do you tell the temperature?’

Steve pushed back the visor on his helmet,

‘Nowadays I do it mostly by looking.

You get to the point where you just know.’

When you put the two halves of a cast together you have to make sure they fit exactly. Get down and have a close look.

Molten metal pours like water. Then it sets as a solid and versatile material. That’s Magic.

Steam whistle – one of 18 – made for the Great Exhibition in Newcastle this summer. Getting the pitch of the sound was crucial. Especially when it can be heard up to five miles away.

Is something broken? We can replace it.

James Bond’s Lotus – the original – needed new aluminium wheels. Result.

In earlier days you clocked on – even one minute late and you lost 15 minutes’ pay.

This time clock is an antique in itself.  It used to be set at 7 minutes before the hour.  So at the end of the day you could beat the rush to the bus.

Your very first job would be to make your own tools – and the box to keep them in. This one belonged to Harry Stoddart, who taught many generations at Longlands College. Including Stuart and Dave.

Many thanks to everyone at William Lane Foundry who showed us round, as they have done many other groups previously. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their knowledge extensive.

I think their courage in taking on a new challenge in running the business themselves is another fine example of the Middlesbrough spirit.

Stuart Duffy: Director

Joining the business in 1977 as a 15-year old apprentice, Stuart has 40 years’ experience in all elements of foundry work. A passionate local historian, Stuart oversaw the “excavation” of our original 1895 foundry and loves working on heritage and restoration projects.

Dave Stuart: Director

Joining as a 16-year old, but practically a newcomer having only started in 1979, Dave oversees all elements of production alongside fellow stalwart, Stuart. An expert in moulding, pattern design and all ferrous and non-ferrous metals, if it can be cast, Dave can cast it.

And thanks also for a great afternoon to Steve, Sam and Ellis.#

Thanks to the Directors of William Lane Foundry for the use of material from their web-site.  Other photographs taken by the author.

At the start of this article there were a few questions.  You may have worked out the answers already.  It would be really helpful if you have additional information, or can put anything right. If you visit the website of My Town My Future, you can post any comments there:

http://www.mytownmyfuture.co.uk/

‘Why the name – Forty Foot Road?’

No clear answer, but one theory is that the road was built wider than normal to allow the heavy traffic to pass through.

‘What’s the temperature in the electric furnace?’

1300C

 ‘How many different metals do you use for casting?’

Iron, steel, bronze, aluminium –

many ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

 ‘How long have you worked here?’

The business opened in 1862.  Moved to present site in 1895.  Stuart has worked there since 1977.

 ‘Where do your orders come from?’

They specialise in four different areas: Engineering; Restoration and heritage; Railway and Automotive; Plaques and Signs.  You can see examples of these on their website –

https://www.williamlanefoundry.uk/

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