Henry Cort

Last updated

Henry Cort
Henry Cort
BornCirca 1740
DiedFriday 23 May 1800
OccupationInventor, pioneer in the iron industry
Known forInventions relating to puddling and rolling in the manufacture of iron.
ChildrenRichard Cort

Henry Cort (c. 1740 – 23 May 1800) was an English ironmaster. During the Industrial Revolution in England, Cort began refining iron from pig iron to wrought iron (or bar iron) using innovative production systems. In 1784, he patented an improved version of the puddling process for refining cast iron although its commercial viability was only accomplished by innovations introduced by the Merthyr Tydfil ironmasters Crawshay and Homfray.



Little is known of Cort's early life other than that he was possibly born into a family coming from Lancaster, England although his parents are unknown. [1] Although his date of birth is traditionally given as 1740, this can not be confirmed and his early life remains an enigma. [2] By 1765, Cort had become a Royal Navy pay agent, acting on commission collecting half pay and widows' pensions from an office in Crutched Friars near Aldgate in London. At that time, despite Abraham Darby's improvements in the smelting of iron using coke instead of charcoal as blast furnace fuel, the resultant product was still only convertible to bar iron by a laborious process of decarburization in finery forges. As a result, bar iron imported from the Baltic undercut that produced in Britain, (increasingly from Russia) at considerable expense. [3]

In 1768, Cort's second marriage was to Elizabeth Heysham, the daughter of a Romsey solicitor and steward of the Duke of Portland whose estates included Titchfield. [4] whose uncle William Attwick although a successful London attorney had inherited the family ironmongery business in Gosport which supplied the navy with mooring chains, anchors and hundreds of different items of ironmongery. [5]

Partnership with Samuel Jellicoe

In 1780, the Royal Navy's Victualling Commissioners agreed with Cort, who had taken over Attwick's business, to re roll iron hoops for their barrels. This led to Cort investing in a new rolling mill at an existing iron mill in Titchfield which was later used for the production of bar iron. [6] Short of funds, he turned to Adam Jellicoe, at that time chief clerk in the Pay Office of the Royal Navy, who agreed to finance Cort to the amount of nearly £58 000 on seemingly little security beyond the value of the business. It was the accepted practice for clerks in the Pay Office to temporarily use surplus funds for their own benefit. As part of the arrangement, Jellicoe's son Samuel became a partner in the Fontley Works. The deal was later to have unfortunate repercussions for Cort [7]

Rolling mill and puddling furnace

Schematic drawing of a puddling furnace Puddling furnace.jpg
Schematic drawing of a puddling furnace

Cort developed his ideas at the Fontley Works (as he had renamed Titchfield Hammer) resulting in a 1783 patent for a simple reverberatory furnace to refine pig iron followed by d a 1784 patent for his puddling furnace, with grooved rollers which mechanised the formerly laborious process. His work built on the existing ideas of the Cranege brothers and their reverberatory furnace (where heat is applied from above, rather than through the use of forced air from below) and Peter Onions' puddling process where iron is stirred to separate out impurities and extract the higher quality wrought iron. The furnace effectively lowered the carbon content of the cast iron charge through oxidation while the "puddler" extracted a mass of iron from the furnace using an iron "rabbling bar". The extracted ball of metal was then processed into a "shingle" by a shingling hammer, after which it was rolled in the rolling mill. The original process of Cort was ineffectual until significant alterations were made by Richard Crawshay and other Merthyr Tydfil ironmasters as Cort used iron from charcoal furnaces rather than the coke smelted pig iron in general production by then.

Death of Adam Jellicoe

When Adam Jellicoe died suddenly on 30 August 1789, it became apparent that the £58 000 lent to Cort could not be repaid. As a result, the Crown seized all the Property of Adam Jellicoe as well as that of the partnership of Cort and Samuel Jellicoe. Cort was held responsible for Jellicoe's debt and declared bankrupt. [6] The Crown later gave Samuel Jellicoe possession of the works at Fontley where he " remained ... undisturbed for long years afterward" and made no attempt to realize patent dues from ironmasters, as the system did not work with the grey iron produced in the Midlands and South Wales. [8]

Patents and royalties

The importance of Cort's improvements to the process of iron making were recognised as early as 1786 by Lord Sheffield who regarded them (undeservedly) along with James Watt's work on the steam engine as more important than the loss of America. [9] In 1787, Cort came to an agreement with South Wales ironmaster Richard Crawshay whereby all iron manufactured according to the former's patents would result in a royalty of 10  shillings per ton. [10] Cort seems to have alienated most of those with whom he came in contact.

Personal life

Cort's marriage to Elizabeth Heysham produced 13 children. [11] His business ventures did not bring him wealth, even though vast numbers of the puddling furnaces that he developed were eventually used (reportedly 8,200 by 1820), they used a modified version of his process and thus avoided payment of royalties. He was later awarded a government pension, but died a ruined man, and was buried in the churchyard of St John-at-Hampstead, London.


Fifty years after Cort's death, The Times of London lauded him as "the father of the iron trade". [12] His son, Richard Cort, became a cashier for the British Iron Company in 1825 – 6 and subsequently wrote several pamphlets severely critical of the management of the company. He also attacked a number of early railway companies.

The Henry Cort Community College bears his name and is located in the town of Fareham, in the south of Hampshire, England. The busway between Fareham and Bridgemary, built on the trackbed of the old Gosport to Fareham railway line, is entitled Henry Cort Way on maps.


  1. Mott, R. A. (ed. P. Singer), Henry Cort: the Great Finer, The Metals Society, London 1983
  2. Evans, Chris (2006). "Cort, Henry (1741?–1800)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 5 August 2010.
  3. Evans, C., Jackson, O., and Ryden, G. ‘Baltic iron and the British iron industry in the eighteenth century’. Econ. Hist. Rev. (2nd ser.), 55, 642–665. 2002: King, P. ‘The production and consumption of bar iron in early modern England and Wales’ Econ. Hist. Rev. (2nd ser.), 58, 1-33. 2005:
  4. Espinasse (1877), p. 225
  5. Pam Moore. "History of Henry Cort". Fareham Borough Council. Archived from the original on 19 March 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  6. 1 2 Philip Eley. "The Gosport Iron Foundry and Henry Cort". Hampshire County Council. Archived from the original on 10 February 2012. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  7. Espinasse (1877), p. 229.
  8. Espinasse (1877), p 234
  9. Matschoss, Conrad (June 1970). Great Engineers. Books for Libraries; Reprint edition. p. 110. ISBN   978-0836918373.
  10. Espinasse (1877), p. 233
  11. Espinasse (1877), p.225
  12. The Times, editorial, 29 July 1856, cited from Rosen (2010), p. 328

Related Research Articles

Bessemer process Steel production method

The Bessemer process was the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass production of steel from molten pig iron before the development of the open hearth furnace. The key principle is removal of impurities from the iron by oxidation with air being blown through the molten iron. The oxidation also raises the temperature of the iron mass and keeps it molten.

Wrought iron Iron alloy with a very low carbon content

Wrought iron is an iron alloy with a very low carbon content in contrast to that of cast iron. It is a semi-fused mass of iron with fibrous slag inclusions, which gives it a "grain" resembling wood that is visible when it is etched or bent to the point of failure. Wrought iron is tough, malleable, ductile, corrosion resistant, and easily welded.

Fareham Market town on Portsmouth Harbour, England

Fareham is a market town at the north-west tip of Portsmouth Harbour, between the cities of Portsmouth and Southampton in south east Hampshire, England. It gives its name to the Borough of Fareham. It was historically an important manufacturer of bricks, used to build the Royal Albert Hall, and grower of strawberries and other seasonal fruits. Current employers include Fareham Shopping Centre, small-scale manufacturers, HMS Collingwood and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

Dudd (Dud) Dudley (1600–1684) was an English metallurgist, who fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War as a soldier, military engineer, and supplier of munitions. He was one of the first Englishmen to smelt iron ore using coke.

Copper extraction

Copper extraction refers to the methods used to obtain copper from its ores. The conversion of copper consists of a series of physical and electrochemical processes. Methods have evolved and vary with country depending on the ore source, local environmental regulations, and other factors.

Reverberatory furnace metallurgical furnace

A reverberatory furnace is a metallurgical or process furnace that isolates the material being processed from contact with the fuel, but not from contact with combustion gases. The term reverberation is used here in a generic sense of rebounding or reflecting, not in the acoustic sense of echoing.

Cyfarthfa Ironworks

The Cyfarthfa Ironworks was a major 18th- and 19th-century ironworks in Cyfarthfa, on the north-western edge of Merthyr Tydfil, in South West Wales.

Puddling (metallurgy)

Puddling is a step in the manufacture of high-grade iron in a crucible or furnace. It was invented in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution. The molten pig iron was stirred in a reverberatory furnace, in an oxidizing environment, resulting in wrought iron. It was one of the most important processes of making the first appreciable volumes of valuable and useful bar iron without the use of charcoal. Eventually, the furnace would be used to make small quantities of specialty steels.

Funtley Human settlement in England

Funtley – from the Anglo-Saxon, "Funtaleg", "spring field (clearing)", is a hamlet or exurb north of Fareham, Hampshire, England. It forms a projection towards the South Downs National Park and is generally included within Fareham's population as it is within its built-up area.


An ironmaster is the manager, and usually owner, of a forge or blast furnace for the processing of iron. It is a term mainly associated with the period of the Industrial Revolution, especially in Great Britain.

Finery forge

A finery forge is a forge used to produce wrought iron from pig iron by decarburization in a process called "fining" which involved liquifying cast iron in a fining hearth and removing carbon from the molten cast iron through oxidation. Finery forges were used as early as the 3rd century BC in China. The finery forge process was replaced by the puddling process and the roller mill, both developed by Henry Cort in 1783–4, but not becoming widespread until after 1800.

Joseph Hall (1789–1862), the inventor of 'Wet Puddling', was born in 1789 and apprenticed in 1806 as a puddler to use Henry Cort's puddling process. He tried adding old iron to the charge of the puddling furnace and later puddler's bosh cinder to the charge. This caused the charge to boil violently. When this subsided he gathered the iron into a puddle ball in the usual way, and this proved to be good iron.

In metallurgy, refining consists of purifying an impure metal. It is to be distinguished from other processes such as smelting and calcining in that those two involve a chemical change to the raw material, whereas in refining, the final material is usually identical chemically to the original one, only it is purer. The processes used are of many types, including pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical techniques.

An iron puddler is an occupation in iron manufacturing. The process of puddling was the occupation's chief responsibility. Puddling was an improved process to convert pig iron into wrought iron with the use of a reverberatory furnace.

Richard Crawshay

Richard Crawshay was a London iron merchant and then South Wales ironmaster; he was one of ten known British millionaires in 1799.

Robert Thompson Crawshay

Robert Thompson Crawshay was a British ironmaster.

Potting and stamping is a modern name for one of the 18th century processes for refining pig iron without the use of charcoal.

Losh, Wilson and Bell

Losh, Wilson and Bell, later Bells, Goodman, then Bells, Lightfoot and finally Bell Brothers, was a leading Northeast England manufacturing company, founded in 1809 by the partners William Losh, Thomas Wilson, and Thomas Bell.

Peter Onions was an English ironmaster and the inventor of an early puddling process used for the refining of pig iron into wrought iron.

Richard Reynolds (ironmaster)

Richard Reynolds was an ironmaster, a partner in the ironworks in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, at a significant time in the history of iron production. He was a Quaker and philanthropist.


Further reading