Cast in Chertsey

Chertsey has a long tradition of metal founding.  The supply of sand from St Ann’s Hill, used for making moulds, made the town a convenient centre for the industry.  From around 1619 there was a well-known bell foundry here owned by the Eldridge family.  The exact location of this is not known, but it was probably close to the site of the later Gogmore Lane foundry, since the family home was at the corner of Gogmore Lane and Windsor Street.  The house was built there around 1716 when the family moved away is still known locally as Eldridges.

The Gogmore Lane Foundry

The iron foundry of Herring & Son developed from a small ironmongers and brasiers around 1820, and soon established itself as an important local industry.  The foundry gradually expanded to fill the southern and parts of the western arms of Gogmore Lane, where cottages with gardens and stables had once stood.

In the 20th century the foundry changed hands several times, continuing production first as “Long Humphreys & Co”, then as “Harven Form”, and finally as “Gane Iron Foundry”.  The final casting on the site was made in 1982, when the Gane firm moved to a smaller, refurbished foundry in Harefield, Middlesex.  The Gogmore Lane site has since been redeveloped.

The Herring Family Business

William Anthony Herring

William Anthony Herring and his wife outside Burley Orchard

The iron foundry owed its origins and development to three generations of the Herring family.

Anthony Herring (d.1827)

In the local directory for 1794, Anthony Herring is listed as a saddler.  Later, in 1814, he is escribed as an “ironmonger and brasier”.  Quite possibly, the ironmongery business grew directly from the metalwork required for the horse harnesses and other tackle.  Anthony Herring’s shop was on the east side of Guildford Street, at number 110.

William Herring (d.1877)

After Anthony Herring’s death in 1827, his son William Herring took out a lease on 119 Guildford Street.  The shop was transferred from the former cramped premises, and business flourished.  In the 1860’s William Herring took over the former town police station in Gogmore Lane, to the rear of the new shop, for use as a foundry.

William Anthony Herring (d.19011)

William Anthony Herring was taken into formal partnership with his father in 1867, although the business of “Herring & Son” had been carried on for some time without a formal deed.  This was the heyday of the Herring’s business, and by 1871 the firm employed a workforce of over 130 men.

In 1886, No. 117 Guildford Street was acquired as an additional showroom.  The property behind this comprised the foundry, a drawing office, pattern shop and machine room.  In 1892 these premises were described as a “large Smith’s shop, comprising tin, lock and gunsmith’s shops”.  On the other side of Gogmore Lane, the firm had a 3-storey warehouse with a “rough storeroom”, a “spacious stove store-room”, and a “nail and gutter store”.  This “iron built warehouse” is probably the black, iron-framed building still standing in Gogmore Lane.

The firm evidently thrived under William Anthony Herring’s leadership.  An able manager, he also seems to have had a genuine concern for his workforce, and generously reduced their hours of work.  He was a prominent and philanthropic member of Chertsey society, and his name is associated with many public-spirited causes of the day.  He gave liberally to the All Saints Church building fund, and provided St Peters Church with heating and with its tower clock.  He also served as chairman of the Chertsey Diamond Jubilee Celebration committee marking 60 years of Victoria’s reign.  An interesting insight into his character is provided by letters addressed to his manager which he wrote while travelling abroad, and which he later published.  The excerpt below describes his impressions of the 1889 Paris Exhibition, in particular his view of the Exhibition’s centre-piece, the Eiffel Tower.

“Paris seems more beautiful than ever.  We had a good day at the Exhibition, and ascended the Eiffel tower, by lift to the first stage.  The crowds at the Exhibition are quite beyond counting; the Eiffel tower is thronged; it is a strange piece of work, but much too light in iron and workmanship for my approval; simply open angle iron girders ¼ in. by 2 in, riveted to make out about 18in square frames, and of those a multitude all in tension; it has strong foundations, which cover four acres.  It looks well, and if it were twice as heavy would do for a permanence.  But to keep painting such a structure will be a tax.”

After the Herring Family

After William Anthony Herring’s death in 1901, the foundry continued under the management of executors. In 1929 the business was sold to another family concern, members of which had worked at the foundry for the Herrings.  As Long Humphries & Co. the foundry continued to expand, and the cottages which had been along the western arm of Gogmore Lane were demolished.

Long Humphries & Co, continued founding until 1968, when the site was leased out to Harven Form.  Finally, Gane Iron Foundry took over in 1970.  As well as iron, the foundry increased production of aluminium, brass and bronze castings in its later years.

Foundry Life

A remarkable feature of this Chertsey foundry was that it operated within only 50 yards of the town’s centre, close to shops and private homes. In the foundry’s heyday, castings were done every afternoon, though latterly this was reduced to two afternoons a week.  Before the new cupola furnace with its dust arrestor was installed in 1964, each firing of the furnace resulted in soot as well as thick, acrid smoke billowing from the foundry chimney.  Housewives made a habit of rushing to close windows as the furnace started up.  Complaints were often made, but the townsfolk recognised the foundry as an important local employer. At the height of production, 150 men were employed, and during the World Wars women, too, worked there.

Training for foundry work was traditionally by apprenticeship.  Boys started work on leaving school at the age of about 14.  At first their tasks would be to help with unskilled jobs and clearing up.  Skilled processes were learned gradually, and mould-makers, for example, were not considered qualified until they were in their twenties.

Working in the foundry cannot have been altogether pleasant.  The atmosphere was filled with dust and smoke, pungent smells a deafening noise.  The work was also dangerous, and injuries were common, especially in the early days.  Latterly, steel-capped boots, helmets and goggles were worn to protect against splashing molten metal.

The Bridge Foundry

Chertsey’s other main foundry was the Bridge Foundry.  This was established by W. Lees & Son around the turn of the 20th Century close to Chertsey Bridge.  The Lees originated from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, and they maintained their links with the area, importing sand from Mansfield when supplies from St Ann’s Hill ran low.

In 1928, Mr Lees died.  His son had been killed in World War I, and the two daughters were married to farmers in Thorpe.  Mr Albert Hutt, who had joined the firm in around 1910, took over the management of the foundry on their behalf.

The foundry was smaller than that in Gogmore Lane with a workforce probably never larger than 50.  Latterly, as skilled moulders retired with no-one to take their places, this shrank to 20 or under.  While the Gogmore Lane Foundry produced much municipal metalwork, Bridge Foundry concentrated on small, individual and specialised items.  Parts were made for Goblin Cleaners and the Amalgamated Dental Co. at Walton.  The patterns were made by a firm in Hampton Wick.

During World War II the foundry amalgamated with Long, Humphries & Co of Gogmore Lane, in accordance to Government policy.  No women worked here during the war as Mr Hutt disapproved.  During the war years, work started at 4 am instead of the usual hours of 6 am to 6 pm

After the war the foundry was rebuilt, and continued in production until shortly after Mr Hutt’s retirement in 1955.  The buildings were converted into an agricultural machinery factory.

The Process

Moulding floor, Gogmore Lane Foundry

Moulding floor, Gogmore Lane

Foundry work involves several trades, each with specialised skills.  A single casting – however large or small – undergoes three stages of production:

A pattern is made from a detailed drawing
A mould of wet sand is formed from the pattern
Molten metal is poured into the mould.

Pattern-making

A pattern-maker has to be a highly skilled wood-worker, able to interpret the draughtsman’s drawings correctly.  He must also have a good understanding of the moulder’s and founder’s trades in order to make a successful pattern.

The pattern-maker must ensure that the pattern will give a clear impression in the sand mould.  He uses hardwood or even metal if many castings are to be made from one pattern, a cheaper softwood if fewer castings are likely.  The pattern-maker must also allow for metal shrinking and distorting as it cools.  Iron contracts 1/10 inch per foot as it solidifies, so patterns are duly made larger.  If a casting is expected to distort into a concave shape on cooling the patter is made convex to ensure a level casting is produced.

Patters are colour-coded to indicate to the mould-maker how each section of the casting is to be treated.  Black indicates solid metal that will remain untouched.  Red indicates parts of the casting that will be hollow.  Yellow shows areas which will be machined later.  These have to be of high quality iron and mould-makers would ensure these were at the bottom of the mould as the impurities in the iron float.

Mould-making

The mould-maker’s art is at the hub of all good foundry work.  His skills, and many of his tools, are unique to foundry work.

To make a simple 2-piece mould for a solid iron cylinder:

Select a box (“flask”) which is slightly larger than the pattern.  Older flasks are wooden with strengthening metal bands, more recent ones are of cast iron.  They are made in two halves with no base or lid.
Place the top part of the box (the “cope”) upside-down on the floor.  Fill with wet sand, ram down and level off.
Press the patter half way into the sand to form the temporary “oddside” of the mould.
Place the bottom part of the box (the “drag”) on the cope and fill with sand.  Special “facing sand” goes next to the surface of the pattern to ensure a good impression.
Turn the complete box over.  Empty and remove the oddside.  Smooth and level the surface of the remaining drag, and dust with “parting powder”.  This will help the two halves of the mould to separate.
Replace the cope, fill with sand and ram down.  Push a rapping bar into the sand and tap with a mallet to loosen the pattern.  Make vents with a “vent sire” to allow gasses to escape during casting.
Remove the cope and take out the pattern.
Enlarge the hole made by the rapping bar.  The hole is called a “spruce” and is where the metal will be poured in.  Cut a second hole, called a “riser”.  This will provide a reservoir of metal to fill up space left as the metal shrinks on cooling.
Replace the cope and weigh it down.  The mould is now ready.

Founding

The melting and pouring of metal requires great skill and careful judgement.  The foundryman determines the quality of cast iron produced by the mixture of materials put into the furnace.  Experience tells him when to start drawing off the molten metal.  He needs great concentration to pour it from a steady height into the moulds.

The Furnace

There were originally two furnaces in the Gogmore Lane foundry.  These had to be charged (filled|) from the top by hand.  In1960 a “cupola” furnace was installed which could be charged mechanically.  This was cylindrical in shape and made of steel plates lined with fire bricks.

To prepare the furnace for firing took between 1 to 2 days.

Clean out the furnace and reline with fire bricks.  Line the floor (“bed”) with sand to protect it and provide a slope down to the hole through which the molten metal will be drawn.  This work is done through a small hole which will later be sealed with fire clay.
Pour coke into the charging door at the top to an exact height.  Light it and blow air in at the bottom to boost the first.
Fill the cupola with alternate layers of coke, iron and limestone.  The limestone acts as a “flux” which helps to liquefy the impurities in the iron, called “slag”.  This floats on the molten iron and can be drawn off separately.
The molten metal trickles down through the hot coke.  Draw it off through the “tap hole” and plug this again with clay applied on the end of a metal rod.  Collect the metal in ladles which have been coated with sand and fireclay and brushed before use with liquid “blacking” as protection against the intense heat.  The ladles may be small and fitted with handles for carrying, or large and attached to overhead hoists.

Grades of Iron

The furnace could produce different grades of iron depending on the mixture of metal put into it.  This might include pig iron (direct from the blast furnaces), scrap iron, steel and rejected castings from the foundry.

The choice of grade depended on the intended use for the casting.  Grade 10 was suitable only for such items as the weights of clocks, being impossible to fine down with a machine.  Grade 12 was much used by the Gogmore Lane foundry for manhole covers etc.  Grades 14-18 were for high quality metalwork.

The Products

Display of iron items

Display of iron items

From the 1860’s the Gogmore Lane foundry was producing a wide variety of products.  Patents were taken out for heating and cooking apparatus, pumps and engines, and these won several major awards.

Always keen to keep ahead of up-to-date technology, the foundry was a dealer an repairer of motor cars by 1903, five years before the first Model T Ford appeared.

Some of the foundry’s ironwork can still be seen locally, such as the railings by the library and street-name post by St Peter’s Church.  Products were also exported far afield, for example the clock face on a fire station in Toronto, Canada.  Latterly the foundry mainly produced functional objects for municipal authorities, such as manhole covers and road signs.