May 31, 2015|Reports
“Who was Henry Cort?” – Harvey Griffiths
Harvey Grifiiths presented a fascinating talk on Henry Cort (1740-1800) of Fontley lronworks. Did you know the metal sculptures in West Street Fareham celebrate his achievements? Yet although Henry Cort created new iron finishing processes that helped quadruple the production of iron in Britain, he was disgraced and bankrupted by the Government and when he died was still heavily in debt. 50 years later the Times called him ‘The father of the Iron Trade‘.
Little new remains of Fontley lronworks, which he took over in the late 1770’s – the millponds, leats and works have largely disappeared, The two homes owned by Henry Cort and his partner Sam Jellicoe remain, together with a commemorative plaque (in the private gardens of what is now Fontley House Farm).
Henry’s achievement was to develop a new process that removed the impurities in pig iron through his ‘puddling furnace’ on a much larger scale. At Fontley Mill he installed furnaces and a water powered 9 cwt tilt hammer to create industrial scale finishing and rolling processes. I-le undercut the prices of the London merchants, who imported iron from Sweden, and he played a crucial roll in enabling the Navy to increase its supply of barrel hoops. cannon balls, chains, etc..
His downfall came in 1789 when Adam Jellicoe (father of Sam his partner) died. It emerged that the £27,000 Adam had invested in Henry‘s company was actually government money, not his own. Henry and Sam were bankrupted, but while Sam, perhaps because of his family connections through the navy and with the Mayor of Portsmouth, had bounced back by 1792, Henry remained impoverished. He was awarded a small pension in 1794 but died still owing £20,000 in 1800. The Fontley Ironworks continued in business until 1847..
History now recognises that Henry Cort’s new processes made possible the enormous expansion of British wrought iron production in the period between 1790 and 1820, helping to win the continental wars and give Britain a dominant position in iron manufacture. Sadly too late for him and his family of fifteen.