A Brief History of Bolckow

Henry Bolckow is often cited as one of the founding fathers of the iron and steel works in Middlesbrough. His early life and the effects he had on the region are fascinating topics to delve into…


Henry Bolckow

It is interesting to note that, while he firmly cemented himself in Middlesbrough’s history, Bolckow’s life did not begin in England. Bolckow was born Heinrich Ferdinand Bolckow in 1806 in Mecklenburg, which is in present day Northern Germany. He enters business at the age of fifteen, working in a merchant’s office in Rostock. It is here where Bolckow’s English adventure begins, as at the age of twenty-one he is invited by a colleague to Newcastle to work in the corn trade. The decision to emigrate is a smart one, as Bolckow makes his initial fortune in this trade. Bolckow enjoys life in England and, fourteen years after moving over, becomes a naturalised citizen and changes his name from Heinrich to Henry.

In 1839 Bolckow enters into a partnership that would kick-start the iron and steel trade in Middlesbrough. Bolckow’s wealth and business skills pair up perfectly with John Vaughan’s knowledge of the iron works and so their company, Bolckow and Vaughan, is born. They specialise in blast furnaces, using their own bricks to construct the furnaces. These bricks were also used in the construction of the Central Lodgewhich you can read about in Francine’s blog post.

Brick Bolckow Vaughan Teesside Ironworks Furnace Architecture Stewart Park Marton Hall Central Lodge Middlesbrough

An original Bolckow and Vaughan brick

 In 1850 Vaughan discovers iron ore in the Cleveland Hills at Eston, which revolutionises Bolckow and Vaughan’s company, the iron industry and the town of Middlesbrough itself. In the next two years Bolckow and Vaughan build more blast furnaces at Eston and Middlesbrough, as well as brickyards and coalfields. In the seven years following this other local companies rush to build their own blast furnaces, hoping to enjoy the same success as Bolckow and Vaughan, taking the total number of blast furnaces across Middlesbrough to thirty. The latter company’s success is evident in 1864 when it becomes a limited liability company with a capital of £2,500,500 – the largest company of this type in the world at the time. Learn more about Bolckow’s short reign as an industrial king in Vincent’s blog post.

The effects of this local industrial revolution cannot be understated; by 1875 Cleveland is producing two million tonnes of iron per year. In 1829 the population was as low as forty – by the time the first iron works opened in 1841, this number rocketed to five thousand. This grew almost eight-fold in 1871 to thirty-nine thousand. More than half of the population’s workforce was employed by the iron industry at this time and it could be argued that without Bolckow and Vaughan and the discovery of iron ore this rapid increase in population would not have occurred.


The Iron and Steel Works in Middlesbrough

Bolckow had well and truly proved himself as a successful businessman, however his role in the political sphere is just as impressive. In 1853 Middlesbrough is officially recognised as a town and now has its own council. Bolckow is elected unopposed as the town’s first mayor, an extraordinary feat for a man who had not even been born in the country, never mind the region. The lack of opposition proves his popularity in the town, and this is cemented further in 1868 when he is again elected unopposed as Middlesbrough’s first Member of Parliament.

Bolckow’s success in business and politics, his love for England and his transition to a naturalised citizen can all be counted as factors which led his purchase of three hundred acres of land in Marton in 1853, the same year he becomes mayor. He constructs Marton Hall and the Central Lodge, a smaller building which houses a coach house and stables, a laundry and drying room, a dairy room and lodgings for those who worked in said areas. The ideas behind the buildings are truly fascinating as they can give such a clear insight into Bolckow’s mind. Where typical Victorian estates spanned fifty acres, Bolckow’s surpasses this significantly; here his competitive nature, wealth and extravagance is perfectly captured. His desire to impress can be seen in many ways, for instance through the elaborate corbels which decorated the ceiling of his visitor’s first port of call – the coach house.

Victorian-Plaster Corbels Decorative Coach House

An original corbel found in the coach house

Innovative features highlight his progressive way of thinking: coach doors that save space by opening sideways instead of inwards, gas fittings and a retort which is believed to have been large enough to light both buildings and much of the grounds, and dumbwaiters installed only five years after the first dumbwaiters are utilised in Alnwick Castle.


The estate’s gas retort


A dumbwaiter found in the Central Lodge

However, although in many ways Bolckow used the most current technologies of the time, there were instances where he preferred to fit with English tradition. Although he most certainly had the knowledge, wealth and access to resources to be able to install central heating into his buildings, Bolckow made the decision to keep with the theme of other English stately homes and stayed with fireplaces instead. His desire to be considered an English gentleman despite his Germanic roots is very evident here.


One of the many fireplaces found in the Central Lodge

In 1864, conscious of the health and mental effects of life and work in and industrial town, Bolckow buys land near Linthorpe Road in Middlesbrough with a vision of creating a “People’s Park” for the people of Middlesbrough to enjoy freely. The park was named after the late Prince Albert and was opened in 1868 by Albert’s son Arthur. Bolckow’s need to impress is even clearer at this time, as Marton Hall was renovated drastically in preparation for Prince Arthur’s visit. A third storey was added to the hall and Arthur’s sleeping apartment and dressing room were magnificently furnished, using blue silk and velvet.


Albert Park, Middlesbrough


Marton Hall after the renovation in preparation for Prince Arthur’s visit. Image supplied by Teesside Archives.  

In 1877 Bolckow becomes ill, suffering from kidney disease. He dies in 1878 at the Granville Hotel, Ramsgate, aged 71. He has no children and so the estate is passed onto his nephew, Carl Bolckow. Unfortunately Carl does not have the business skills his uncle possessed and the estate begins to slip. Bolckow and Vaughan’s company survives until 1929, when it is purchased by Dorman Long. The Marton estate is passed onto Carl’s son Henry but is eventually sold to Middlesbrough Council in 1923, with the help of local councillor and shop chain owner Thomas Dormand Stewart.

There can be no denying the effect that Henry Bolckow had on the town of Middlesbrough, and it is interesting to wonder what would have happened had he not moved over from Germany and met John Vaughan; almost certainly the iron ore would still have been discovered, and perhaps another company would be responsible for the creation of the iron and steel industry in Middlesbrough. However the creation of Marton Hall and the Central Lodge would not have been possible without Bolckow and his particular style of thinking.

Did you learn something knew about the history of Bolckow and the iron and steel industry? Do you have a favourite fact about the region’s history? We’d love to know in the comments!

Related posts: A Tale of Two DwellingsAnother Brick in the WallThe Short Reign of an Industrial King


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