Our Gateshead

Sir Ambrose Crowley - Common Blacksmith to Genius

SIR AMBROSE CROWLEY - From Common Blacksmith to Genius

(extract from William Bourn's 'Annals of the Parish of Whickham -  from the 12th to the end of the 19th Century')

John Bailie (1741-1806)  in his "Impartial History of the Town and County of Newcastle, and its vicinity" published in 1801, thus writes of Crowley's famous ironworks:-    This is the greatest (factory) on the whole extent of the Tyne, and is striking proof of what the genius of one man can effect in a free country.   The name of this wonderful character was Ambrose Crowley.   From the condition of a common blacksmith, he, by the vigour of his mind, planned and executed the most surprising inventions of hammering, slitting, and in a word converting iron and steel into all forms, and useful implements, whether for the field or the manufactory.   In Swalwell, Winlaton, and several towns, all reared by Mr Crowley, are made by many hundreds of smith, all the tools for husbandry for our West Indies, mattocks, admirable spades, hoes, etc.   Here, in huge furnaces, are formed anchors of vast size, chains of prodigious magnitude for our ships of war, East Indiamen, and all Europe;  while useful implements of household furniture are here glancing to the astonished sight of the curious stranger, who never fails to visit those vast and surprising works of invention and usefulness.

But the genius of Mr Crowley extended to the knowledge of man as well as to that of metal, and of the mechanic powers to transform the last;  he well knew, that a number of men, working over fierce, huge fires, which naturally inflame their blood, and occasion a kind of impatience, and ferocity of temper, upon little provocation would be inclined to discord and quarrels.    To prevent which, this discerning man himself drew up a code of regulations for the conduct of all his people, planned with such wisdom as would do honour to the most enlightened legislators, and which he rigorously made to be observed.   He new that religion, of all other means, is the best calculated to civilise the mind, and upon the best principles to make men obedient and submissive to their superiors, who wish to promote their best interests.   He therefor built a handsome chapel and gave a clergyman a decent salary for performing the sacred duties of religion among his numerous and ingenious artists.   To these he endowed a free school for the education of their children.   He likewise built an asylum in ther form of a square to serve as a quite retreat for his aged servants, with an allowance to make their lives easy, when not able to ply the thundering hammed, or to turn the hissing brand any more.

These admirable regulations, which still exist, are attended with the most salutory effects.   Every man (or at least many) has a shop and tools allowed his, by himself;  as he works so he gains;  and, as the rules hang over him, if he wilfully transgresses them, everything is conducted with such order and regularity as is seldom to be found among such a vast body of active and vigorous me.   Their earnings are various, but as every man is confined to one branch, they, in general , acquire such a facility and expedition in their departments, that, it is said, they can with ease earn from one to two guineas, and some three a week;  besides which, they all have a convenient house, plenty of fire coal, and a small plot of ground for a garden, which they cultivate with singular neatness." 

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