Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dudley, Dud

1171753Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 16 — Dudley, Dud1888Robert Hunt

DUDLEY, DUD (1599–1684), ironmaster, born in 1599, was the fourth natural son of Edward Sutton, fifth baron Dudley, by Elizabeth, daughter of William Tomlinson of Dudley. He was summoned from Balliol College, Oxford, to superintend his father's ironworks at Pensnet in Worcestershire in 1619. These ironworks consisted of one furnace only and two forges, all of them being worked with charcoal. In his ‘Metallum Martis’ Dudley informs us that ‘wood and charcole growing then scant and pit-coles in great quantities abounding near the furnace, did induce me to alter my furnace, and to attempt, by my new invention, the making of iron with pit-cole.’ Dudley found the quality of his iron ‘to be good and profitable, but the quantity did not exceed three tuns per week.’ In 1607 there were a hundred and forty hammers and furnaces for making iron in this country, which, Norden tells us, ‘spent each of them, in every twenty-four hours, two, three, or four lodes of charcoal, which in a year amounteth to an infinite quantity.’ In the reign of Elizabeth an act was passed for the preservation of timber in Sussex, Surrey, and Kent. The destruction of timber went on, and between 1720 and 1730 the above furnaces, and those of the Forest of Dean (without the Tintern Abbey works), consumed annually 17,350 tons, or a little more than five tons a week for each furnace.

The rapid destruction of our forests led to experiments on the smelting of iron with pit coal. Coal, however, was dug and used for fuel as early as 853. In 1239 a charter was granted to the townsmen of Newcastle-on-Tyne to dig for coal. Simon Sturtevant in 1612 first obtained a patent for the term of thirty-one years for the use of ‘sea-coale or pit-coale’ for various metallurgical operations. John Rovenson in 1613 was said to have satisfactorily effected what Sturtevant failed to perform, and on 15 May he obtained a patent which secured to him the ‘sole priviledge to make iron and all other metals with sea-cole, pit-cole, earth-cole, &c.’ Simon Sturtevant failed entirely, and John Rovenson having succeeded only in inventing ‘reverberatory furnaces with a milne [windmill] to make them blow,’ the matter was taken up by Mr. Gombleton of Lambeth and Dr. Jordan of Bath, who were not more favoured by success than the others.

Dudley, stimulated by these results, commenced his experiments with coal, and they appear to have been at once fairly successful. He found at Pensnet in Worcestershire one blast furnace and two forges all working with charcoal. He altered this furnace, and his ‘first experiment was so successful that he made iron to profit.’ In 1665 Dudley published his ‘Metallum Martis, or Iron made with Pit-Coale, Sea-Coale, &c., and with the same fuell to melt and fine imperfect Metals, and refine perfect Metals.’ In this work he carefully refrained from disclosing his method. ‘The quality of the metal,’ he says, ‘was found to be good and profitable, but the quantity did not exceed above three tuns per week.’ On 22 Feb. 1621(–2) Dudley's father obtained for him a patent from the king for fourteen years. In the following year a disastrous flood (known as the ‘Mayday flood’) not only ‘ruinated the Authour's Ironworks and inventions but also many other men's Ironworks.’ This destruction of Dudley's furnaces was received with joy by his rival ironmasters, who also complained to the king that Dudley's iron was not merchantable. The king then ordered Dudley to send samples of his bar-iron to the Tower of London to be duly tested by competent persons. The result was favourable to Dudley, and he with his father, Lord Dudley, obtained a special exemption of his patent from the statute of monopolies. He continued to produce annually a large quantity of good merchantable iron, which he sold at 12l. per ton. Dudley's opponents succeeded in wrongfully depriving him of his works and inventions. He afterwards erected a furnace at Himley in Staffordshire, but not having a forge he was obliged to sell his iron to charcoal ironmasters, who injured him by disparaging the metal. Eventually he was compelled to rent the Himley furnace to a charcoal ironmaster. He now constructed a larger furnace at Askew Bridge (or Hasco Bridge), in the parish of Sedgley, Staffordshire, in which, by using larger bellows than ordinary, he produced what was then the British record of seven tons of pig-iron weekly. Dudley was again molested, a riot occurred, and his bellows were cut to pieces. He was also greatly harassed by lawsuits and imprisoned in the Compter in London for a debt of several thousand pounds, until the expiration of his patent. On 2 May 1638 Dudley, together with Sir George Horsey, David Ramsay, and Roger Foulke, in the face of much opposition, obtained the grant of a new patent for 21 years ‘for the sole making of iron into any sort of cast-works with sea or pit coals, peat, or turf, and with the same to make the said iron into plateworks or bars and likewise to refine all sorts of metals.’ On the strength of his new patent he entered into partnership with two persons at Bristol, and began to erect a new furnace near that city in 1651. But this involved him in litigation. Of this affair Dudley writes: ‘They did unjustly enter Staple Actions in Bristow because I was of the king's party; unto the great prejudice of my inventions and proceedings, my patent being then almost extinct, for which and my stock am I forced to sue them in chancery.’

He relates that Cromwell granted several patents and an act for making iron with pit coal in the Forest of Dean, where furnaces were erected at great cost. Dudley was invited to visit Dean Forest, and to inspect the proposed methods, which he condemned. These works failed, as did also attempts made to conduct operations at Bristol. Dudley petitioned Charles II, on the day of his landing, for a renewal of his patent, but meeting with a refusal, he ceased from further prosecuting his inventions.

He does not in ‘Metallum Martis’ (1665) give any hint of his process, but the probability is that he used coke instead of raw coal. He was clearly the first person who ceased to use charcoal for smelting iron ore, and who employed with any degree of success pit coal for this purpose. It was not, however, until about 1738 that the process of smelting iron ore in the blast-furnace with coal was perfected by Abraham Darby [q. v.] at the Coalbrookdale Ironworks.

Dudley was colonel in the army of Charles I and general of the ordnance to Prince Maurice. It is recorded that he was captured in 1648, condemned, but not beheaded. He married (12 Oct. 1626) Elinor, daughter of Francis Heaton of Groveley Hall, but he left no issue. He died and was buried in St. Helen's Church, Worcester, 25 Oct. 1684.

[Dudley's Metallum Martis, or Iron made with Pit-Coale, Sea-Coale, &c., 1665; Rovenson's Treatise of Metallica, 1613; Sturtevant's Metallica, or the Treatise of Metallica, 1612; Percy's Metallurgy, Iron and Steel, 1864; Herald's Visitation of the County of Stafford, made in the year 1608; Nash's Worcestershire, vol. ii. app. 149; Norden's Surveyors' Dialogue (1607), p. 212; Mushet's Papers on Iron and Steel, 1840; Holinshed's Chronicle, 1577; Plot's History of Staffordshire (1686), p. 128; William Salt, Archæolog. Soc. Coll. ii. pt. ii. 36–8, v. pt. ii. 114–17.]

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