John Vaughan (1799-1868) of Bolckow, Vaughan and Co
1852 Elected Associate of the Inst of Civil Engineers
1869 Obituary 
John Vaughan was born of Welsh parents, at Worcester, on St. Thomas' Day, 1799.
His father was an ironworker, and was employed at Sir John Guest's works, Dowlais. At an early age young Vaughan was set to work in a scrap mill, and after a few years had elapsed, he became a puddler and then a mill furnace-man. Being a shrewd, practical man, clever and thoroughly acquainted with the whole of the processes involved in the manufacture of iron, he was speedily appointed foreman.
Leaving Dowlais, he wrought for some time in large works in Staffordshire, after which he went to Carlisle, where he undertook the management of a small factory.
He was now married and had one child, his son Thomas. Meeting with a better appointment, however, he left Carlisle, and was intrusted with the entire control of the extensive works of Losh, Wilson and Bell, at Walker, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In the course of business transactions on Newcastle Quay, he became acquainted with Mr. Bolckow, M.P., (Assoc. Inst. C.E.) at that time a partner with Mr. Allhusen, as a corn-merchant. Mr. Bolckow had accumulated some capital, which he wished to embark in the iron trade. Mr. Vaughan and he had frequent conversations on the subject, and ultimately it was arranged that they should enter into partnership, and begin operations at Stockton, a place where, it was thought, they would be likely to obtain land cheaper than on the banks of the Tyne, coupled with good shipping facilities. Mr. Bolckow went to Stockton in the latter part of 1839, but after making diligent inquiry, he failed to procure a suitable site for the new undertaking.
The Stockton and Darlington railway had nine years previously, viz., in 1830, been extended to Middlesbrough, 3 miles further down the river, where previous to the latter date there was but a solitary farm-house. The village was at this time simply a shipping place, doing a large coasting and continental trade in the coal and coke brought down from the pits in the Auckland district. Here Mr. Bolckow, disappointed at Stockton, chose a, piece of land near the staithes, the greater portion of which was covered at high tide, and here Messrs. Bolckow and Vaughan erected their mills and puddling furnaces in 1840.
For a few years their operations were restricted to the manufacture of finished iron. At that period the supply of ironstone was obtained from the nodules of iron existing in the coal measures, and a small quantity of hematite, which was imported; and Messrs. Bolckow and Vaughan, seeing the advantages which would accrue from having blast furnaces of their own, resolved to become pig-iron makers.
Just about the time when their Middlesbrough works were begun, the Stockton and Darlington Railway was being extended through the Shildon Tunnel past Bishop Auckland and Witton Park to Crook and Stanhope; and during the next few years the Messrs. Pease were busily engaged in opening out new collieries at Roddymoor, Grahamsley, and the whole of the Crook Valley.
Messrs. Bolckow and Vaughan, therefore, were, on the face of things, quite safe in fixing on the south bank of the Wear, close to the Witton Park Viaduct, a spot where the coke of Crook and the limestone of Stanhope converged, for the erection of blast furnaces which were completed in 1846, and both there and at Middlesborough business was carried on with characteristic spirit.
The iron ore was naturally expected from the coal measures, but unfortunately it did not turn out in quantities sufficient, and for four years the carrying on of the furnaces proved a serious difficulty to the partners, which was not lessened by the commercial panic of 1847, that swept over Middlesborough in common with the rest of the mercantile world.
It was this difficulty, however, which, by compelling Messrs. Bolckow and Vaughan to cast about for a remedy, was the direct cause of the success they ultimately achieved. Mr. Vaughan, who all this time had taken a practical part in the operations of the firm, mixing on the most familiar terms with the workmen, yet respected by all, knew of the existence of iron ore in Cleveland, and set himself to test its real value, and the result of his researches was the identification of his name with the actual rise of the Cleveland iron trade.
Ages ago the upper seams in the dales were worked by the monks, if not by still more remote predecessors, as is proved by the heaps of scoriae which are occasionally met with; but up to the early part of the present century, nobody seemed to have dreamt of Cleveland competing with more favoured Staffordshire.
In 1811, Mr. William Ward Jackson, of Normsnby Hall, sent a couple of wagon loads of ironstone, obtained from his estate, to be tested at Lemington, and had the mortification to be told that it was good for nothing. In the same year, Mr. Jackson, of Lackenby, sent ironstone from the banks of Lackenby, now part of the Eston Ironstone Mines, but it appears to have led to little, if any result.
Fifteen years later (1828) the coast from the Tees to Flamborough was examined, at the instance of the Birtley Iron Company, who were surprised at the slight traffic in iron ore carried on with the Tyne, by means of fishing cobles and small coasters. In the same year, Mr. Bewicke, of Sunderland, discovered the main seam; a circumstance which Professor Phillips acknowledged in the following year. In this year (1829) also, Mr. Charles Attwood, of Towlaw Ironworks, met with good specimens of ore in the Hanibleton Hills, and predicted that 'Cleveland would become a great iron district when the railway system came be developed.'
In 1832, W. A. Brooks, (M. Inst. C.E.,) and Mr. T. Y. Hall, of Newcastle, testified that the adjacent rocks of Redcar contained large quantities of iron.
In 1833, the Whitby and Pickering railway being in operation, ironstone was again sought for, and 55 tons were sent from Grosmont to the Birtley Company’s Works, where Cleveland ironstone was fist used.
The next year (1834) Lord Ward‘s agent, from Dudley, examined the Rosedale ore, and pronounced it to be limestone, not ironstone.
In 1837, some more stone was sent to the Tyne Iron Company, who refused it, saying, 'they were ashamed to see it lying on their quay.'
However, in 1839, the Birtley Company again tried the ore, reported favourably of it, and entered into a contract with the Whitby Ironstone Company for as much as 30,000 tons of one lot, at 10s. per ton of 22.5 cwt.., and a second lot at 9s., which was delivered at the Pelaw staithes. After this time various firms appear to have used Cleveland iron, but its reputation made little way, and the trade was quite divided as to its merits.
All this was. however, but preparatory, and it was not until Mr. Vaughan, impelled by the necessities of the four furnaces at Witton Park, began his researches, that the real capabilities of the Cleveland iron deposits were even dreamt of. The circumstances of the actual discovery have been thus related by Mr. Holyoake in his sketches of Middlesborough:- 'In June, 1850, Mr. Vaughan, taking with him Mr. Marley (M. Inst. C.E.), a man possessing great powers of discovery himself, they ascended the hill in Mr. Dryden’s grounds, and they picked up pieces of ironstone, which led them to continue their ascent until they came to a quarry-hole, whence this ironstone had been taken for roads; and on entering Sir J. H. Lowther’s grounds on the west, a solid rock of ironstone was lying bare, 16 feet thick. In twelve weeks after this discovery, Messrs. Bolckow and Vaughan had completed arrangements for working the mine, and had delivered 7 tons at their Witton Park Iron Works, and before six months were over 4,000 tons were sent out by them.'
After this the works of Messrs. Bolckow and Vaughan rapidly extended. Mines were taken at Eston, the furnaces at Middlesborough were increased, and the Witton Park branch was enlarged. The Cleveland iron was now loudly praised throughout the kingdom, and was soon universally appreciated.
The trade once fairly set on a firm footing by this fortunate discovery, for such it practically was, the indefatigable energy and remarkable skill of Mr. Vaughan were thenceforth devoted to its development. He suggested the increased height of furnaces, the marked success of which change has gradually led to the structures now seen.
The manufacture of plates from Cleveland iron was another subject in which Mr. Vaughan took deep interest.
It may be mentioned also, that for a number of years the firm did all its engineering under his superintendence. Into every department of the works he threw the greatest possible energy; and there can be no doubt, that he paid the penalty, in a lingering sickness, for years of harassing over-work. Mr. Vaughan was accustomed to make a point of personally inspecting every part of the increasing, and latterly, enormous, works of the firm, every day, travelling backward and forward between Eston, Witton Park, and Middlesborough, and taking the most minute interest in all that was going on.
There was indeed something remarkable in the thorough division of labour in the management of the affairs of the firm. While possessing the most unbounded confidence in each other, the two partners never interfered in the slightest degree with each other's work. Mr. Bolckow had the entire management of the financial department, while Mr. Vaughan as worthily controlled the practical work of the establishment. The constant and close intercourse which existed between Mr. Vaughan and his workmen, and the kindly yet firm bearing he always showed towards them, endeared him to them, and none more sincerely mourned his loss.
Under the management of Messrs. Bolckow and Vaughan, their works gradually assumed gigantic proportions. Besides the furnaces at Witton Park and Eston they erected two additional furnaces at Middlesborough, where their works, including blast furnaces, puddling furnaces, rolling mills, foundries, and wharves, occupied a space of twenty-one acres. Their mining operations at Eston extended so prodigiously, that before many years were over, they sent out in prosperous times 2,000 tons of ironstone daily (the quantity in 1868 being nearly 3,000 tons); and they added coal mining to their other ventures, taking in hand several collieries in the Auckland district. Some idea of the magnitude of the works will be formed, when it is stated, that at one time when trade was good-about five thousand men were in the employ of Messrs. Bolckow and Vaughan.
This amazing increase from the small beginnings of 1840 does not, however, represent the whole of the results of Messrs. Bolckow and Vaughan's enterprise. Their successful essay was the precursor of all the numerous works which have sprung up in the district at the bidding of other capitalists from all parts of the country, and which raised the annual production of pig iron from 100,000 tons in 1853 to 1,250,000 tons in 1868, and made Middlesbrough a town of nearly forty thousand inhabitants, while Stockton and villages down the river and nearer the ironstone mines increased as if by magic. The operations at length became too huge for a private firm to cope with. The labours of years, while bringing its well-won successes, told at the same time on the partners, and they desired to retire from active business. The Limited Liability Act offered the most natural means of effecting this change, and, accordingly, in 1864, a Company was formed under the title of Messrs. Bolckow, Vaughan, and Co., Limited, with a capital of &2,500,000, to take over the whole of the works. After the change in the management, Mr. Vaughan did not take a very active part in the concerns of the Company, and, indeed, for eighteen months previous to his decease, he was totally incapacitated by sickness.
Mr. Vaughan was a member of the Town Council from the first incorporation of Middlesborough in 1853, and was third Mayor in 1855, Mr. Bolckow and Mr. Isaac Wilson being his predecessors. He was not, however, prominent as a public man, being more of a worker than a speaker, though he accepted office as a Borough Magistrate and as a member of the Tees Conservancy Board. His first wife dying, Mr. Vaughan, before he removed to Middlesborough, married a daughter of Mrs. Poole, of Newcastle, and sister of Mr. Bolckow’s first wife. Of a genial disposition, and ever ready to help the deserving and the needy, he was generally beloved and esteemed, and by none more than by those who had known him longest.
Whenever any project affecting the welfare of the public was set on foot, he unhesitatingly lent his aid to the scheme. For two years previous to his decease, Mr. Vaughan had been unable to take any part in public affairs, owing to rapidly declining health; and paralysis setting in, he expired, after a lingering illness, on the 16th of September, 1868, in the sixty-ninth year of his age.
Mr. John Vaughan joined The Institution of Civil Engineers as an Associate on the 2nd of March, 1854, and when his avocations brought him to London, was an occasional attendant at the meetings.
Sources of Information
- Civil Engineer Records
- 1869 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries