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    Rchard Williams


    Super work again.  This Candice Goucher seems quite an expert on the Reeder ‘foundry’.  She is a serious prof at the Washington State University and has written a lot about the issue.  There is a report on line about a preliminary excavation that she made in the 1990s, but I have not yet found a follow up.

    At no point does she make any claims about a rolling mill being present.  She did find what she called iron slag, but that was to be analysed.  It could be waste from a foundry remelting operation, from forging or be blast furnace or bloomery slag.

    She makes no claim about forge hammers and recycling of wrought iron is not mentioned either.  Other reports on the works emphasise that there were other metals besides iron being worked, particularly copper base and lead.  Many seem to claim that it was essentially a remelting foundry.  The Goucher reference to making boilers presumably means they cast large three legged cauldrons and part of one of these was found in the excavations.

    Goucher implies that she has studied the Devon archives, so the extra information that Jenny Bulstrode obtained from those regarding reverberatory furnaces, rolling mill and forges seems to me to be a bit suspicious.  Like the ‘deliberate’ misquote of the Abby non-voyage to Portsmouth.  I think that you may be over generous to the paper in suggesting that it should simply cut out the Cort link, but a definitive view could probably only be obtained by a careful study of her references in the Devon archives.


    P.W. KING

    I  cannot access the Goucher article cited by Ray, but there is another by her: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25130565 in African Arch. Review 1993.  I am hoping to put together a first draft of an article in reply next week.  I will need to pass this around for comment.  Such an article was the solution that emerged from discussions at Coalbrookdale Museum last weekend.

    Ray: can you e-mail me on peterkingiron@blueyonder.co.uk so that I have your contact details.  I will want to make use of what you have found out about the Abby’s voyage, with due acknowledgement to you.

    Peter King

    Rchard Williams

    I have just sat through an hour of blood-boiling lecture by Jenny Bulstrode (Greg Denning Lecture 2021) in which she verbalises the paper.

    The points that stand out as new.

    1.  She says that prior to Cort’s work nobody recycled iron in Britain, it was cheaper to make it from new!!!!!

    2.  She actually showed a contemporary picture of sugar rolls, see attached.  Grooves definitely longitudinal.

    Nobody queried her argument directly, although the chairman asked her about the difference in quality between African and Swedish iron.  She waffled.  Somebody did ask if anybody had challenged her thesis in the time since she wrote the paper, and she said yes, but she did not clarify.  She also said something about a more technical paper being produced since her initial one.  I think that the one we have all been talking about must be the one she means.  Technical indeed!

    You must be logged in to view attached files.
    P.W. KING

    Jenny Bulstrode displays a profound ignorance of British ironmaking.  It is clear that she did not consult any reference works or any articles, relevant to the subject.  It is true that the recent work was in a niche periodical (Historical Metallurgy), but this should have been in her university library.

    Unfortunately, I know nothing of the quality of African iron, so that I cannot comment on issues of quality.  However it is clear that the African buyers, of what was called “voyage iron”, were discerning buyers and able to reject poor quality stuff.  This is reflected in instructions to suppliers.  This contrasts with the trade in guns, where guns for the Guinea market were of the worst quality.  Incidentally, I have seen an allusion to cannon and to muskets in succeeding sentences as if the author did not know how different they are.

    Evidence of recycling iron is scarce, but it exists.  She has clearly not read Angerstein’s travel journal.  Chris Evans talked about it in his article on Bedlington.

    She ought to have known about rolling because it is dealt with in a chapter in Mott’s book on Henry Cort. In the course of his specification, Cort talks about “common rolling mills”.  Cort’s originality was applying them to rolling bars from balls or blooms.  Previously they had been used to reshape or cut bar iron.

    She should have found references to air furnaces, as there have long been works alluding to them, for example Raistrick, Dynasty of Ironfounders, 115; and I talked about them in my 2002 Newcomen article on Sir Clement Clerke.

    Ray Powell

    Jenny Bulstrode asserts that African iron was superior to European. I have found a paper which is helpful in explaining the difference.

    ‘Voyage Iron’: An Atlantic Slave Trade Currency, its European Origins, and West African Impact*
    Chris Evans, Göran Rydén
    Past & Present, Volume 239, Issue 1, May 2018, Pages 41–70,


    Here is an extract which suggests why European iron was thought to be inferior.

    “There is something else that requires further study: the relationship between imported iron and the native product. This remains obscure. That there was an underlying geographical complementarity is plain enough; voyage iron flooded the forest zones whilst indigenous smelting was practised most successfully in the semi-arid interior. In that sense, the role of voyage iron was simply to make good a historic deficit in the tropical forests of West Africa. But European iron and African irons were not exact substitutes. Voyage iron was a malleable material from which every particle of carbon had been expunged. Its malleability meant that voyage iron was not suitable for the manufacture of tools that needed a cutting edge — things that could bite into wood or flesh — for it was too easily deformed. Historically, European manufacturers overcame that difficulty by welding a thin edge of steel onto a body of malleable iron. Such composite tools, combining hard but expensive steel with softer but cheap iron, were standard across Eurasia. In Africa they were unknown, no doubt because West African smiths worked up blooms which, being heavy with carbon, could be made into effective sharp-edged implements without the addition of welded steel. In European iron, therefore, artisans in coastal West Africa encountered a material that was quite unsuited for making bladed tools in the traditional African manner. “

    Rchard Williams

    Thanks once again, Ray, a terrific clarification.  Tall induced-draft furnaces in Africa naturally produced a steel, albeit perhaps one not enormously rich in carbon.  With the import of high quality bar iron from Sweden, the Africans had to learn that softer iron was useful for different purpose I guess, just as steel and bar iron coexisted in Europe.

    Interestingly, the principal use of ‘lesser quality’ iron (ie higher in phosphorus) in Britain was in nail making, which was a very large part of the European iron market.  I wonder what the Africans used for nails?  Perhaps they did not have such a demand for such things.

    Ray Powell

    The paper contains two accounts of what happened to the the equipment in John Reeder’s foundry.

    Firstly the paper says:
    “Reeder’s reverberatory furnaces were ‘demolished’; his ‘works levelled with the ground’; his
    machinery for making ‘barr [sic] iron’ rendered ‘totally useless’179; and anything ‘that might be
    of use to the Enemy . . . carried on board his Majesty’s ships’,180 absorbed into a maritime
    infrastructure that transported unused Naval stores and equipment, from Jamaica to the
    Naval base in Portsmouth,181 where Cort operated.”
    Reference 179 is dated 1782 and 1783

    and later
    “John Reeder’s foundry was dismantled
    and loaded onto ships between 3 March and 3 May 1782”

    There is no reference for this statement. Can this be deduced from the dates of documents?
    It is a pity that none of these documents have been digitised.

    Another summary of what happened is found in:
    Goucher, C. L. 1990. John Reeder’s foundry: a study of eighteenth-century African-Caribbean technology. Jamaica Journal 23,1: page 40

    “The buildings and equipment which had escaped being dismantled or buried during martial law in 1782, were destroyed by hurricanes the following year. All that could be recovered was equipment valued at £500 and this was sold by Reeder to pay debts. Reeder’s ill health and impoverishment were the subject of bitter and complaining correspondence. Finally, he died in England of a seizure some time before February 1806, and thus never obtained the promised pension.”

    There do not appear to be any references to Reeder challenging Cort’s patents in the National Archives catalogue.

    Rchard Williams

    Whilst waiting in the labs at Warwick University to be able to pickle bits of Peter Crew’s and my cast iron cooking pots for carbon and sulphur analysis, I idly put together a tabular refutation of Jenny Bullstrode’s thesis, see attached.

    You must be logged in to view attached files.
    Ray Powell

    Richard Williams says in his tabular refutation:
    “There is no evidence presented otherwise that suggests that the two Corts were related or even knew each other.”

    Other sources indicate that Cort was part of wider family with Lancaster connections.
    Details of Henry Cort’s early life seem obscure but a legacy of £100 was left to Henry Cort in the will of Jane Cort, who lived in Lancaster.

    Will of Jane Cort, Spinster of Lancaster , Lancashire
    PROB 11/1317/3
    Henry Cort – the great finer, page 16

    Lancaster was the home port of the Abby.

    However there is no suggestion in the paper that information about John Reeder was passed on via Lancaster.

    Rchard Williams

    I have to agree that there is nothing to prove that John Cort did not know Henry Cort, nor ever will be, but her statements do not constitute proof of a connection between John and Henry.  But Cort is quite a rare name, so they could well have been closely related.  It is not a particularly germane to the argument however and there is a wider context here that nobody (including Bullstrode) seems have not considered.

    It must actually have been pretty common knowledge amongst the iron industry in Britain what was going on at the Reeder ‘foundry’.  Knowledgable white artificers were coming and going, Reeder and his workers would have sent and received letters, reports would have got back via the navy about the repairs they could now get in Jamaica and the iron works that provided them.  The knowledge would have been disseminated around the industry and any new technique would have been widely discussed.  Why keep it secret?  There was no competition in Jamaica.

    Furthermore John Reeder does not seem to have tried to interest iron masters here about any new technology after he was forced to destroy the works in Jamaica.

    Peter Crew

    Having been alerted by Richard Williams about this discussion (which is fascinating and important) I am rather puzzled at not having received any notifications about the topic. Something for Paul to sort out?

    Peter Crew

    Rchard Williams

    And another thing!!

    John Reeder filed a patent in 1786 for improvements in sugar processing, see attached.

    I wonder why he did not patent any improvement in iron processing that his workers invented?


    You must be logged in to view attached files.
    P.W. KING

    Cort is an unusual name, but it is a homonym of Court, which is likely to be much more common.  It is quite credible that Henry and John were related, but Bulstrode’s case depends on:

    • John Cort having met John Reeder and seen his works or such like
    • His Abby going to Portsmouth (which it did not)
    • The vessel carrying Reeder’s useful equipment back to England going to Portsmouth.  We have no evidence (yet) of its destination or even precisely what was shipped.  It was to be shipped in one of HM Ships, but I would be surprised if it was a naval ship (which would not normally carry cargo).  The use of a hired transport is much more likely, but if there was a ship coming home from Jamaica, it would probably come laden with sugar, if such a cargo was available.

    On a different point, there is the question of what Reeder was using his rolling mill for.  Any suggestions?  Mine is that he was rolling hoops for barrels, such as the hogsheads used to ship sugar or molasses.

    I have started drafting an article in reply to Bulstrode’s.  I had a good day writing on Saturday, but need one or two more before I have a complete first (rough) draft.

    Peter King

    Ray Powell

    I have included an extract from the Journals of the House of Commons concerning John Reeder’s petition.
    The petition was presented in 1789. By this time Cort’s processes were in use at Cyfarthfa. Reeder was in need of income yet he did not revise his partition to claim that Cort had made use of knowledge obtained from his foundry in Jamaica.
    Surely he would have done so if he believed that Cort had stolen ideas as that would have improved his case for a pension.

    Journals of the House of Commons, Volume 44, page 500
    26 June 1789
    A Petition of Jchn Reeder was presented to the House, and read; Setting forth,
    That the Petitioner completed an Iron Foundry, at the Expence of £.22,000 Sterling, in the Island of Jamaica where it was found highly
    necessary for Sugar Plantations, His Majesty’s Ships of War, and for the Commerce of the Island, as will appear by the Certificates of
    Admirals Sir Peter Parker and Sir Joshua Rowley, the Annual Emolument of which, in 1781, was £. 4,000; and that in the fucceeding Year 1782,
    when the Island was threatened with an Invasion, by the combined Force of France and Spain, Sir Archibald Campbell, being apprehensive that
    the Enemy might possess themselves of the Petitioner’s Foundry, from the Advantage of the Situation and Consequence, ordered it to be
    dismantled, which was done; and the Legislature of Jamaica gave to the Petitioner £. 3,000 Currency, in Consideration of his Loss, and
    recommended his Case to Government; and that the Petitioner did intend to apply to the House for Relief, but could not obtain His Majesty’s
    Recommendation within the Time limited by the House for receiving Petitions for private Bills: And therefore praying. That he may be at
    Liberty to present his Petition for Relief, not-withstanding the Time limited for receiving Petitions for private Bills is elapsed.

    Ordered, That, in Consideration of the particular Circumdances set forth in the said Petition, Leave be given to present a Petition, as desired by the said Jchn Reeder.

    Then a Petition of John Reeder One of His Majesty’s Justices of the Island of Jamaica; together with Copies ot Two Certificates thereunto annexed, being offered to be presented to the House;
    Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, by His Majesty’s Command, acquainted the House, That His Majesty, having been informed of the Contents of the said Petition, recommends it to the Consideration of the House.
    Then the said Petition was brought up, and read; Containing the same Allegations as the preceding Petition; and further Setting forth, That at the Time the Petitioner’s Foundry was dismanted for His Majesty’s Service, and the Preservation of Jamaica, his Situation, in Point of Fortune, was such as to render an Application to Government unneccessary: But His Situation, from this Event, and other Causes consequent thereupon, being now materially altered, therefore praying, That, agreeable to the Request of the Legislature of that Island, which has been transmitted to the Lords of the Treasury in due Form, the House will grant him such Relief as to them may seem meet.
    Ordered, That the said Petition be referred to the Consideration of a Committee: And that they do examine the Matter thereof; and report the same, as it shall appear to them, to the House:
    And it is referred to Sir Peter Parker, Sir James Johnstone, &c.: And they are to meet upon Monday Morning next, at Nine of the Clock, in the Speakers Chamber.

    Ray Powell

    I have been looking at the indexes to the Journals of the Assembly of Jamaica
    I have found entries for John Reeder regarding his petitions. (The actual contents of the Journals do not seem to be openly available but the indexes give enough information regarding the content)

    Like his petitions in England, there is no reference to any inventions regarding the processing of iron. This implies that he did not think anything new had been done.
    Journals of the Assembly of Jamaica:
    Vol VII
    From 21st October 1777 to 23rd December 1783

    Reeder, John—
    Petition respecting his bond to the public, referred to a committee, 513;
    report made, and referred to committee on state of the island, 540 ; resolution, 564.

    Journals of the Assembly of Jamaica:
    Vol VIII
    From October the 19th 1784 to March the 5th, 1791

    Reeder, John (10 Sess. A. 1785.) — Petition respecting his improvements in making sugar, referred, 102, (v. Murray).
    — — — ibid.)—Petition respecting the dismantling of his foundery, referred to committee of accounts, 131;
    report made, and referred to committee on stare of the island, I44;
    resolution, 145, (v. Receiver-general).
    (1 Sess. A. 1787.)—Message from the lieutenant-governor, in regard tn Mr. Reeder’s memorial to the lords or the treasury, on the same subject,
    referred to committee on state of the island, 343;
    resolution for a message to his honour in answer thereto, 344; message sent. 345.
    (1 Sess. A. 1790.)—Petition for a bill to secure to him the benefit to arise from his discovery and invention of a varnish for copper,
    and of jointing the seams of copper .without solder,
    referred to a committee, 566 ; report made, and bill ordered , presented second reading appointed, committed, 569;
    considered; reported, ibid..; passed, and sent to the council, 570; a (assented to, 571.

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