Butterley Engineering, Derbyshire, October 2019

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Regular Member
Jan 6, 2013
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People's Republic of South Yorkshire.
1. The History
The Butterley Company was an English manufacturing firm It has a very long, rich and well documented history and the company operated, in part, right up until 2009. It was founded by Benjamin Outram, Francis Beresford, William Jessop and John Wright back in 1790, initially as Outram & Co. Outram and Jessop were engineers, Beresford a lawyer and Wright a wealth banker. When Outram died in 1805, the company’s name was changed to the Butterley Company. In 1814 the company famously produced the iron work for Vauxhall Bridge over the River Thames. It also owned Hilt’s quarry near Crich which supplied limestone for the iron making process. Three years later, when depression followed, the company witnessed the Pentrich Revolution. A group of rebel workers planned to kill the three senior managers and ransack the works for weapons. However, as fortune would have it, the rebels where faced down by members of the local constabulary and the revolution was foiled. James Brandreth, the leader, was later hanged and beheaded.

The rest of the 1800s were relatively prosperous, with the company producing a vast array of goods, from rails for wagonways through to heaters for tea urns. By 1835 the Butterley Works had expanded to cover a 12-acre site. By 1840 the four original founders of the company had all died with the passing of John Wright. But the company continued to prosper and be at the cutting edge of its trade. The company were early investors in the new Bessemer convertor process in 1856. In 1859 the company patented a method of producing a load-bearing iron beam, known as the Butterley Bulb, which was used in many early iron steam ships. Further innovations in the steel-making process meant that by 1863 the company was rolling the largest masses of iron of any foundry in the country. Much of the successes of the company over this period were down to the company's manager, Sir John Alleyne. In 1870 he invented two high reversing steel mills that allowed metal ingots to be repeatedly rolled to get the correct size and section. Four years earlier in 1866, the works famously won the order to supply the ironwork of the roof of St. Pancras station in London (around 9,000 gross tons of rolled and cast iron). In a report from 1886 it was noted that the works were producing pumping engines for waterworks in Shrewsbury, Amsterdam and Oxford and many large Cornish engines. In 1888, Butterley was incorporated as a Limited Company and then latterly, in 1914 a Public Limited Company, through a special Parliamentary Act.

During World War II, in 1915, the Government took-over Butterley Ironworks as part of its munition’s procurement plan. The factory would then step up again several decades later as their Codnor Park site produced manganese steel for track links and spindles and the Victoria Foundry buildings were used as Gun Shop.

Workers roll-call from 1937:

48998363032_9b400edecb_b.jpgButterley personnel-1938 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Old advert:

48992725573_b82ca5ee1f_c.jpg2019-10-31_11-14-07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Aerial picture showing just how vast the site used to be:

48993459487_ded6924394_c.jpg2019-10-31_11-13-06 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Post-war, Butterley continued to prosper and at its peak, in the 1950s, the company employed around 10,000 people. In 1965 Butterley Foundry was modernised with the installation of the Rol-a-Draw moulding plant and the Codnor Park Forge closed down. The company was then acquired by Lord Hanson in 1968 for £4.7 million and it became part of the Wiles Group. Subsequently the company was split up into three separate entities; Butterley Engineering, Butterley Brick and Butterley Aggregates. In 1975 Codnor Park Wagon Works was closed down followed by Butterley Foundry, eleven years later in 1986. This marking the end of two centuries of smelting, melting, forging, rolling and founding at the company. The company still continued to make a mark though via its engineering arm and during the 1990’s the machine shop was incorporated into a very large new fitting shop. Butterley Engineering Ltd produced and erected the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland in 2000 and the iconic Spinnaker Tower at Portsmouth in 2005.

Photo from the 1960s:

48998363112_8ce2146fed_z.jpgButterley 1960s-view by HughieDW, on Flickr

And more recently:

48997612113_0a31a87ae4_b.jpgButterley old pic by HughieDW, on Flickr

Sadly, though, it wasn’t to last and the inevitable happened in March 2009. The company was placed into administration, having suffered at the hands of the economic downturn. Over the next couple of years, a large part of the site was demolished. The machine shop (believed to date back to circa 1850 and previously known as the engine shop) and adjacent heavy machine shop with their hoists and overhead crane tracks (supported on magnificent cast iron columns) were spared the wrecking ball. They still remain, along with two storey stone-built Pattern Shop from 1838 and the Octagonal Gatehouse which is believed to pre-date the 1817 Pentrich Rising. In 2015 the site was put up for sale at and asking price of £1.65m by auction Aquarius Estates. It was bought by a London-based property developer, but since then no development had taken place.

2. The Explore
Second time lucky with this place. The first time I rocked up-mid-afternoon on my tod on a lovely sunny day. Got out the car and spec-ed the palisaded side and just got back to the car to put my boots on and two coppers turned up. “Afternoon officers. Not going to give me a parking ticket, are you?” I joked. “We’re not here for that” came the reply. Sooo…thought I’d go for a walk and come back hopefully by which time they’d have moved on. So off I trotted for fifteen minutes. On my return they were still hanging around. So changed out my boots, got back in the car and bailed. A month later arrange to meet up with Bikin' Glyn and have another crack. This time the weather was atrocious. But after a bit of fence-hopping we were into the main building. Was in the dry it was a really relaxed explore. There may not be much left inside the factory itself but the actually building is a real joy: the wrought-iron pillars, the massive crane and that staircase. Overall a really enjoyable hour or so in this former engineering works.

3. The Pictures

Very few externals (OK, just one!) due to the weather being terrible as you can see from this picture:

48963353088_211e8610cc_b.jpgButterley 28 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And we’re in:

48964082232_9d0bbc1dfa_b.jpgButterley 27 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Black and white without needing to make it black and white:

48964089277_50d8ba7972_b.jpgButterley 08 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Some reasonable graff:

48963914207_4f1cc5b401_b.jpgimg3794 by HughieDW, on Flickr

That staircase:

48963908926_9f227f7acd_b.jpgButterley 15 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48963910327_b3943733f6_b.jpgimg3801 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Main room:

48963358538_cbcaf9a0f3_b.jpgButterley 13 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48964088507_65dff012af_b.jpgButterley 10 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48963916922_4f86d55918_b.jpgimg3791 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Loving the pipework:

48964088992_44e4e4461e_b.jpgButterley 09 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And the natural decay:

48963912001_be31f79fc3_b.jpgButterley 07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48963358123_7947e2a417_b.jpgButterley 14 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And the pillar-work:

48963188098_4e0f53b729_b.jpgimg3790 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Crane up-shot:

48963362853_e0be82e155_b.jpgButterley 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48963363268_6a30221a9b_b.jpgButterley 02 by HughieDW, on Flickr

View from the control room:

48963356748_28c5e6e748_b.jpgButterley 18 by HughieDW, on Flickr

On to the mezzanine floor:

48963907486_6481276bac_b.jpgButterley 19 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And on to the crane:

48963355873_80abc8b8ea_b.jpgButterley 20 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48963905757_2eeea861a8_b.jpgimg3808 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48963906231_a472ed79a6_b.jpgButterley 22 by HughieDW, on Flickr

48963906561_d86bfd3449_b.jpgButterley 21 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Crane electrics:

48963905676_1fe83812ae_b.jpgButterley 24 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Into the cab:

48963170573_567521440a_b.jpgimg3820 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Cab close-up:

48963353668_29487d2d4e_b.jpgButterley 26 by HughieDW, on Flickr

S’all folks…

48963932017_a7ce57916c_b.jpgimg3776 by HughieDW, on Flickr


Veteran Member
Apr 3, 2008
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Fascinating report.
My Dad helped into his retirement at a small local engineering works here (made stainless steel staircases) and that closed at around the same time - I well remember it was like a 'wave' of closures which ran through the UK in that sector.

The older building sections are almost identical to some of the stronger structures which stood at the now demolished Ashington Colliery in Northumberland - winder houses and the likes. Thick brick walls incorporating arched sections and including thick walled pipework. Was a massive flash back that!

I see metal wombles have already been in. Looks like they rushed things or were caught too. Some obviously collectible stuff still remains but they're too blind to see it.

Love the first crane cab photo. Quite special that.
Mega effots involved with this and determination won in the end. Thanks for sharing.


Regular Member
Jan 17, 2008
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Good to see it's still accessible - took me a while to get there, too, but really enjoyed having a poke around and reading up on the history. You've got to be impressed by an engineering company that made its own cranes…

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