Archaeological Investigations at Swalwell Ironworks, Tyne and Wear

The steel-melting furnace © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022
Cross-section through the base of a used steel-making crucible recovered from the crucible furnace ash-pit deposit © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022
Eastern end of Grand Warehouse wharf © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022

Archaeological Research Services Ltd conducted a programme of archaeological investigations at Sands Road, Swalwell, in advance of redevelopment of the site by Lidl UK during the summer of 2016. The results have just been published in the Industrial Archaeology Review. The investigations, situated immediately west of a previous excavation undertaken by Pre-Construct Archaeology in 2005, explored part of the Swalwell Ironworks site established by Sir Ambrose Crowley (1658 – 1713) in 1707. Structural remains associated with the earliest 18th century occupation of the site including the western portion of Ambrose Crowley’s Grand Warehouse, an anchor shop, a series of ancillary workshops and a curving waterchannel. The Grand Warehouse was the best-preserved structure comprising the relict remnants of a basement wharf with openings for keel barge access and a mid-19th century crucible furnace for steel production. Immediately beyond the Warehouse was a similar pattern of prolonged structural re-use and modification associated with iron and steel manufacture, which spanned both the 18th and 19th centuries.

Establishment of the Swalwell Ironworks

Sir Ambrose Crowley was a prominent early 18th century ironmaster and steelmaker. By 1680 he had established himself as a London-based iron merchant. In 1682 Crowley set up an ironworks in Sunderland, obtaining iron on the London market from British, Swedish and Russian sources which was transported as ballast on collier ships returning to North East England. He gained contracts for supplying anchors, nails, tools and fittings to the Royal Navy. In 1711 he transferred overall management of his northern works to Swalwell.

Crucible steel production in Britain

The excavations provided information relating to the production of crucible steel at Swalwell during the mid-19th century. Crucible furnaces were integral to the development and growth of steel production in Britain during the 19th century. The crucible process was created in Sheffield and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of crucible furnaces revealed during archaeological excavations are located in South Yorkshire, notably at Hoole Street and Furnace Hill in Sheffield. Consequently, the identification of a crucible furnace at Swalwell, including a slag-filled crucible from the ash pits of the furnace, provides additional information regarding the development and spread of crucible steel technology in Britain during the 19th century.

For further information about this fascinating site, head to the IAR website to find the article in Volume 44, Issue 1 (2022).

Archaeological Research Services Ltd