Copper Works

An undated sketch of the Leeds Copper Works.

The Yorkshire Copper Works was a local industrial landmark for over a century. Although it was not in Oulton-with-Woodlesford township it deserves to be recorded here as it provided employment for many men, and women, from the area throughout its existence.

Originally established at the end of the 1880s, the works were built on the Haigh Park estate between Stourton and the River Aire. The land was formerly part of Rothwell Haigh in Rothwell parish and had a history as a royal hunting park going back to medieval times. It had also been the site of a racecourse, with grandstands and paddocks, patronised by the nobility and commoners alike for a brief period between 1824 and 1832. 

The site was chosen for a copper works by William Elmore and his two sons, Frank and Stanley, to exploit an electrolytic process they had invented and patented to separate copper from the worthless material surrounding it after it had been mined from the ground. The copper was then extruded into tubes of varying thickness.

After the establishment of the original works another one was built next door to make copper wire which was sold to telegraph and telephone companies, and to the newly established electricity generating industry. One of the reasons for using the site near Leeds was because of the plentiful supply of cheap coal which could be used to fire boilers producing steam to generate the large amounts of electricity used in the process.

In 1881 the Elmores were living on The Strand in London but by 1891 they were at Spring Grove, a substantial house with gardens, next to the tram depot at Thwaite Gate. William had been born in London in 1840 and was described as a victualler or an agent when his sons were baptised in Liverpool in the 1860s. By 1891 he was listed as an electrical engineer with Frank and Stanley as electrolytic engineers. An elder son, John Oliver Surtees Elmore, was an engineer and architect living in the Punjab in India and he also registered patents for depositing copper using electricity. William seems to have been the “money man” raising capital and bringing in substantial investors with his sons acting as works managers.

After about ten years the Elmores relinquished their direct involvement with the company although they appear to have continued as shareholders. In 1901 William, Frank and Stanley were living in Lewisham in south London. They experimented with extracting gold from sea water but concluded that as the concentration was so low it wasn’t economically feasible. However their patents and shares in the copper process made them rich men. Frank was described as a metallurgist when he died at Boxmoor in Hertfordshire in 1932 leaving over two and half million pounds at today’s values. Some of it was used to establish a scholarship for medical post-graduates. His younger brother was worth three and a half million when he passed away in 1944. Their elder brother, John, who had become the private secretary to the Raja of Kapurthala, returned to England in 1913 and died in Jersey in 1924 leaving just short of a million pounds.

After a reorganisation in the early 1900s the company was renamed the Leeds Copper Works and then in 1909 it became the Yorkshire Copper Works. At its height there were 5000 employees with 24 hour production. In “The Basic Industries of Great Britain,” published by Lord Aberconway in 1927, there were said to be 20 acres of buildings on the 100 acre site at Stourton. Copper tubes ranging in size from 0.005 inches to 24 inches diameter were made supplying a wide range of industries including shipbuilding, printing and textile machinery makers, and the aviation and car industries. Dr. Mike from the US University solved the problem with finding propecia. You can now find propecia in one of the online pharmacies. In these pharmacies, you can buy Propecia without a prescription. Most of the boilers of the steam locomotives built in nearby Hunslet for home and abroad had tubes supplied by the copper works.

In 1958 the copper works merged with the metals division of Imperial Chemical Industries and traded as Yorkshire Imperial Metals. After a series of reorganisations it eventually closed in 1997. 

See below for a more detailed history of the copper works adapted from the script of an illustrated presentation written circa 1970. There is also a description of Elmore’s works published in the Rothwell Times in 1891.

Women worked on the shell production line at the copper works.

In 1888 Elmore’s Patent Copper Depositing Company was registered by William Elmore, Frances Edward Elmore, and Alexander Stanley Elmore of Middlesex. They had patented a method of depositing copper on mandrils which gave them a very lightly polished appearance. After considering establishing a works at Sheffield they finally decided to erect a works at Stourton and leased land in 1889. The attraction was the availability of cheap coal required for the generation of electricity used in the depositing process.

On March 15th 1890 another company was registered as Elmore’s Wire Manufacturing Company. These two companies built adjacent works on the site. The two works had the same board of directors and the same management. In William Elmore’s first report to the board he stated that the cost of manufacturing tubes under his patent method was estimated at 1/2d. per lb.

During the 1890s both companies had a somewhat chequered career with substantial losses then in May 1899 the English Electro-Metallurgical Company was registered as an amalgamation of the two companies. Two of the directors were directly connected with a works in France which was a commercial success. It was therefore decided to reorganise the Leeds works on the same basis, the first step being the construction of a new factory in 1900. Two years later the name was was changed to the Leeds Copper Works.

Things didn’t go too well for the new company in the next few years and inspite of several improvements being made the directors’ report for 1907 stated that there was no course open but to liquidate the company. Then the chartered accountant George Pepler Norton arrived on the scene and his suggestions were so successful that the Yorkshire Copper Works was registered as a company in October 1909.

A patent application from 1891.

Norton subsequently became chairman. He said that the venture could become successful if certain technical and organisational alterations were made, along with the addition of more capital. At that time the factory employed about 100 people.

The next few years before the First World War were a period of steady expansion. Buildings were added for the administration and operation of the company, and for the first time a small laboratory was set up to exercise metallurgical control of its products. At that time the laboratory occupied three rooms totalling 400 sq. ft. in a fairly small building. By the 1970s, with its numerous departments and varied and expensive equipment, it occupied over 20,000 sq. ft.

The First World War was a period of great activity and expansion, female labour being employed extensively for making shell bands and condenser tubes. A new laboratory was built in 1917, and in the same year a piercing mill started production to meet the ever increasing demand for pierced copper shells.

In 1924 the first attempt was made to make seamless tubes larger than 14 inches in diameter, and tubes of 15, 20, and 24 inches in diameter were made for the Wembley Exhibition. The tubes took 6 months to complete but this was the beginning of the demand for large tubes which became an  important part of the output of the works.

The development of the steam turbine in marine engineering brought with it the problem of condensers caused by rapid corrosion of the “condenseritis”, leaking condensers caused by the  rapid corrosion of the condenser tubes due to the action of seawater. This had caused considerable problems in the First World War and the Yorkshire Copper Works became licensees of a patent filed in 1927 for the use of aluminium brass as an alloy resistant to corrosion and suitable for the manufacture of condenser tubes.  The Yorkshire Copper Works tubes, marketed under the title name “Yorcalbro,” were unique in that they contained arsenic, and their development proved a milestone in the company’s history. The first order for Yorcalbro tubes for a ship was received for  the P & O liner “Malura” in October 1928.

A year or two before this the company’s first extrusion press of 1000 tons capacity had been installed to keep abreast of modern developments in the production of alloy tubes. The works continued to expand with the addition of the first electric low frequency induction furnaces in 1930 and a second extrusion press in 1931. The “Yorkshire” capillary fitting was first put on the market in 1934. This was a fitting employing an entirely new principle for joining copper tubes together.

A copper works advert from 1921.

Unrest in Europe and the Munich Crisis in 1938 were followed by the decision to change over part of the company’s production to light alloy tubing for the aircraft industry. The war years that followed were a period of intense activity.

Altogether the works produced 85 million feet of light alloy tubing for use in aircraft construction, together with almost 90 million feet of copper brass and alloy tubing for the same purpose. The total length of tubing produced for the war effort was almost enough to stretch right around the world. In addition condenser tubes were made for the navy. Copper driving bands, estimated to be sufficient for 65 million shells, along with many millions of shell fuse bodies, trench mortars, smoke bomb adaptors and the like were manufactured.

Cold drawing of tubes in 1931.

The war-time period again saw women take take over many of the production jobs in the works which had always been regarded as essentially jobs for men. At the outbreak of war there were 300 to 400 women workers on the site, but this increased to  over 1500 during the war years.

It was in 1938 that the new Barrhead factory started production and the first tubes from Barrhead in sizes from 1/2″ to 8″ diameter were displayed at the Glasgow Exhibition of that year.

Following the war, the expansion of the petrochemical industry throughout the world prompted the management to re-equip completely part of the works which had made aluminium and aluminium alloy tubes during the war for large scale production of copper and other copper-alloy tubing.

The beginning of 1958 saw the formation of Yorkshire Imperial Metals Ltd. by the merging of the interests of the Yorkshire Copper Works Ltd. with the copper and copper-alloy tube, plate, and fittings section of Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. Metals Division. This enabled the new company to use the manufacturing potential of the two former companies to much greater effect.

Engineer Jack Carrington, in the jacket and cap, worked at the copper works after he left Water Haigh colliery. This photo was taken at his leaving party circa 1982.

THE ELMORE COPPER WORKS. Rothwell Times, Friday 30 January 1891.

People who are accustomed to travel from Rothwell to Leeds by way of the Pontefract Road, will be aware that the view from the lane close to Nichols’ farm, in the direction of the river and the racecourse, is not what it was a few years ago.  Beyond the Midland Railway, and almost close to the canal, may be seen some very extensive buildings, and two tall soot-vomiting chimneys, where but lately were open fields.

To most of us in Rothwell, “The Copper Works,” or “Elmore’s” have for some time past, been a familiar name. But this was all that could be said. The name was familiar, but everything else connected with the establishment, was unfamiliar, very unfamiliar indeed.  To such an extent was this the case, that an air of mystery had begun to gather round the place, and the newly-erected pile was quickly growing to be regarded as a sort of magician’s palace, which might at any time turn to diamonds or – smoke.

The strict exclusion of the public from the premises, and the comparative secrecy in which all the Elmore Company’s operations had been conducted, have naturally given rise to endless questions and speculations, as to the precise nature of products which were to be manufactured, and of the processes of which they were to be the result.

All curiosity on these points is at length to be satisfied; the doors have been opened, and the world at large has been taken into confidence. On Tuesday afternoon last, about fifty representatives of the London, provincial and local press, and of the scientific journals, were invited to view the works, and were conducted through them by Messrs Stanley and Frank Elmore, and other officials of the company.

The company at present manufacture nothing but straight copper tubes, mostly of large diameter, and this is accomplished by a method so simple, and so beautiful, that it is not too much to say that it is unequalled in modern metallurgy.

The crude commercial copper, with all the impurities it contains in the merchant bars, grows at one single noiseless operation requiring no attention, and wholly performed by automatic machinery, into a beautiful tube, perfect in strength, purity, and symmetry.

A connection to the Midland Railway at Stourton was put in shortly after the works opened. This plan is from 1907 when the points were altered.

The various stages may be summarised as follows. First, the rough bars or blocks of copper, as they reach this country from Chile, weighing about a quarter of a ton, are melted, and the liquid metal is poured in a thin stream into cold water. The explosive steam blows the metal into small fragments, something like the shells found on the sea-shore.  This is the only visible change the metal undergoes, before it constitutes the finished tube.

This granulated copper is thrown by hand into wooden water-tight tanks, about two feet longer and two feet broader, than the required tube. These tanks are almost filled with an aqueous solution of copper sulphate, and below the surface of the liquid, a long round bar of cast iron revolves, upon which the copper deposits itself, and which consequently becomes the core of the tube. The deposit is caused by a current of electricity, which passes through the apparatus, and acts in exactly the same way as the electric current employed to produce ordinary electro-plated spoons and forks. 

The particles of copper, as they attach themselves to the core or mandrel, are pressed by a ‘burnisher’ which constantly traverses the tube form end to end. The burnisher consists of a piece of wood about an inch square and a foot long, carrying at the end which dips into the liquid, a piece of polished agate. The metal is probably deposited in a crystalline or granular form, and possesses little tensile strength. The burnisher destroys the crystalline structure, and causes the metal to cohere very strongly, and acquire a laminated or fibrous character. The thickness of the tube produced depends upon the time the action is allowed to go on: a tube one-eighth of an inch requires a week.  No attention is necessary, as the whole machinery is self-acting, and runs night and day continuously, and the power required for revolving the cores and traversing the burnishers is merely nominal.

When the tube has acquired sufficient thickness, the core with the tube upon it, is removed from the tank, and the tube is drawn off the core.  This may be done in either of two ways: – first, by simply applying heat to the tube, which expands the copper temporarily more than the iron, and this releases the tube; or, secondly, by revolving the core with the tube pressing on it, between three rollers pressing against each other, which exercises the same effect permanently.  By either method, the tube is easily and quickly detached, and the separation is so satisfactorily effected that, as one of the visitors on Tuesday said, “It could not have been done better in the Divorce Court.” All that now remains is to cut off the rough ends of the tube, and it is ready for sale.

The most extraordinary property possessed by the Elmore tubes is the tensile strength of the metal, both in the direction of the axis and the circumference; the latter is slightly the greater.  A strip cut from one was tested on Tuesday in the presence of the visitors.  The tests were verified by Mr. Perry Nursey, ex-president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, who was present as correspondent of the London Time, and Mr. Stoker, General Manager for Messrs. Easton and Anderson, the great marine engineers of Erith, near London. The strip was rather more than an inch and a half broad (1.564), and rather less than one fifth of an inch thick (0.191).  This required a force of over six tons (6.15) to break it.  This gives a tensile strength for Elmore copper of more than 20m tons (20.8) per square inch.

Many remarks have been made in Rothwell, about the gigantic shed which the Elmore Wire Company are now erecting. This shed encloses within its walls a space of more than eight acres and it is to contain 720 tanks, and to be supplied with engines of 2600 horse power. The wire is produced by cutting the tubes into spirals, and drawing down the square tape thus obtained. The wire manufactured by the Elmore Company far surpasses anything that has been hitherto produced by other manufacturers, and the demands (for electrical purposes chiefly) is inexhaustible.

The whole details of the Elmore manufacture were thoroughly explained to the party, as they passed through the works, and all questions most fully and courteously answered. Nearly three hours were spent passing through the various departments, and witnessing the progress of the tubes. The ingenious contrivances of the self-acting mechanism, and the simplicity of the methods employed, called forth frequent expressions of admiration from the visitors, whose tour of inspection passed off most satisfactorily.

Elmore’s Patent Copper Depositing Company Prospects 1889

Elmore’s Wire Manufacturing Company Prospectus 1890

An extract from the Ordnance Survey published in 1908.
An aerial view of the copper works site looking from north to south.