Butterley Company

William Jessop and Benjamin Outram constructed the Cromford Canal and during the excavation to build the Butterley tunnel at Ripley significant deposits of coal and iron were discovered. In 1790 Benjamin Outram, and his wealthy patron Francis Beresford, jointly purchased the Butterley Hall estate and began to exploit it under the name of Benjamin Outram and Company. William Jessop and John Wright, a wealthy Nottingham banker and about to to marry the daughter of Beresford,  joined the company and in the articles of partnership, dated 1792, they described themselves as traders together in getting and smelting ironstone, casting and manufacturing iron and burning limestone and getting coal and slack at Butterley and Crich.

The first furnace was established at Butterley at the same time and soon after they were paying miners to sink pits to obtain coal and ironstone on the estate but limestone was also required to produce iron. Beresford purchased and leased land at Crich for limestone extraction and the Crich limestone was transported to Ripley to be used as the flux in the production process. By 1796 the annual production of pig iron was just under one thousand tons.

The company started with a nominal capital of £6,000 and by 1796 this had increased to £32,000 with John Wright owning the largest share (£14,000) and Outram and Jessop being required to pay Wright £3,000 each to become equal partners. Outram died in 1805 and his outstanding liabilities had to be settled in the courts and in 1807 the company became the Butterley Company.

The creation of the Cromford Canal in the 1790s can be seen as the catalyst for the development of the Butterley Company and the type of products it sold. The canal ran through the area where the company eventually developed its own manufacturing and mining activities and Outram recognised this potential early on. He played an important part in the development of early railways in this area and throughout the country. He was one of the first people to realise the potential of railways to create a nation-wide transport system and to advocate common standards to facilitate interoperability.

The early furnace ledgers of the Butterley Company, deposited at the Derbyshire Record Office at Matlock, detail the extent of the products being produced by the company and the supply of these products to projects throughout the country.  Such projects included being one of the major suppliers for the construction of the Cromford and High Peak Railway and supplying the ironwork for Vauxhall Bridge in London. By the 1830s the company was considered to be the largest coal owner and one of the largest iron producers in the East Midlands.

Butterley - Derelict works
Remains of furnaces at derelicy Butterley works

Butterley continued to grow throughout the nineteenth century and in 1868 the company supplied and built the ironwork for the arched roof of St Pancras station in London. At its peak in the 1950s, 10,000 people were employed in its collieries, ironworks and engineering works. In 1968 the company was sold to Lord Hanson and was restructured into separate operating divisions. Butterley Hall, the home of Benjamin Outram was acquired by the Derbyshire Constabulary to be used as their headquarters.

Two of the last projects undertaken by the Butterley Company were the construction and assembly of the Falkirk Wheel to re-establish the link between the Forth and Clyde and Union canals and the construction of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth.

The Butterley Company ceased trading in 2009.

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