Josiah Timmis Smith (1823-1906)

Josiah Timmis Smith

Written by Les Shore

Occupations: Engineer and Innovator

J. T. Smith’s principal achievement as a materials engineer was to introduce a technological revolution, the making of steel in bulk, into the Furness District of Cumbria. The ‘striking success’ of his lengthy period as the general manager of the Barrow Haematite Steel Company brought about other change in the county. The example set by the Barrow steel works he engineered inspired the later formation of the West Cumberland Iron and Steel Company at Workington. The socio-economic impact of him establishing an iron works, followed by a steel production plant, was the rapid transformation of Barrow-in-Furness, a village of only 3,135 people in 1861, into a town of over 48,000 people in 1881. After removing from the Furness District in 1887, the final chapter of his life involved directorship participation in a range of commercial and industrial businesses in the United Kingdom and USA.

Early years and education

He was born on 19th February, 1823, at Sutton-cum-Duckmanton, which lies immediately east of Chesterfield, Derbyshire, as the eldest child of Benjamin Smith [1797-1886], an ironmaster, and Harriet née Timmis [1801-1838]. The family lived at Duckmanton Moor Top. His siblings were: Maria [1828-1916], who married Sir Joseph Henry Gilbert FRS [1817-1901; ODNB] as his second bride; Fred Vernon [1829-1886]; William H. [1831-1860]; Harriet [1833-1838] and Charles [b.1843]. The name of an ancestor, Henry Smith, was included on the Royal Charter of James I incorporating the Cutler’s Company of Sheffield, and his great grandfather, Joseph Fletcher Smith, was a Master Cutler. His grandfather, John Smith [1728-1784], founded an iron works in the Chesterfield area, possibly in 1800, named in one source as Adelphi and in another as Griffin. The Adelphi Iron Works was put up for sale in 1848 but the owner’s name was not made clear.

J. T. Smith was educated at Mill Hill Grammar School, north-west London. The school was established in 1807 by the Protestant Dissenters’ Grammar School Society with the purpose of providing a ‘more liberal Education of the Children of the Establishment’. Today, the interdenominational Mill Hill School is a member of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ conference. In 1836, possibly Smith’s third year at the school, he was taught at least Greek, Latin, English, French, Mathematics and Geography. His headmaster for some period at the school was the purposeful Thomas Priestly, who retired from the post in 1852. By 1859, the school was known as the Protestant Dissenters’ “Eton”. 

Formation as an engineer (1839-1850)

On leaving school, probably as a 16-year-old, he embarked upon an apprenticeship with John Wilson [1787-1851] the owner of the Dundyvan Iron Works, Coatbridge, east of Glasgow. The choice of a Scottish iron works suggest an appreciation by his father of marked advances being made there in the production of pig iron tapped from blast furnaces. His son’s time learning blast furnace practice at Dundyvan coincided with a period from 1830 to 1847 when Scottish pig iron production increased by nearly 15 times. Hence, ‘cheap Scotch pig iron was underselling the English and even the Welsh production’. Biographical accounts found about his activities after 1844, when he completed his apprenticeship, up until 1859, create a muddled picture especially in terms of chronology. None the less, discrete activities pursued by him can be identified. He rejoined his father to become a partner in Chesterfield ironwork developments, beginning in 1845 with blast furnaces erection to found the Stanton Iron Works. In 1849, a Government commissioner wrote to Messrs B. Smith about ‘neglect’ with regard to the ‘means of carrying out work with safety’ at Stanton Iron Works. However, by 1852 as a business, the Messrs Smith’s Stanton Iron Works was reported as having failed. 

By which time, it seems, J T. Smith had obtained, or was in the process of learning about iron making in France. He ‘removed’ to Paris to study for a period at the Ecole des Mines, which was founded in 1783. As an idea of the comparative neglect in the United Kingdom of technical education, not until 1863 was a similar school opened in the United Kingdom, the Royal School of Mines, London. Smith further spent nearly a year in the department Saône-et-Loire at Messrs Schneider and Company’s Le Creusot iron works. The works were acquired in 1836 by the brothers Schneider, Joseph-Eugène and Adolph. He would not have imagined his career in Cumbria would have an equal impact upon socio-economic life as did the development of Schneiders’ works. The population of Le Creusot grew rapidly from 2,700 in 1836 to nearly 30,000 in 1868. However, the enterprising Schneiders also diversified their Saône-et-Loire business into building warship machinery, rolling armour-plate for battleships, and manufacturing locomotives and guns.


On his return to England, Smith’s activities up until 1858 were centred upon the Midlands of England but only scant details remain. He ‘spent some years’ assisting ironmaster and coalowner Samuel Holden Blackwell [1816-1868], in Dudley, Worcestershire. Blackwell was elected a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1851 only four years after the professional engineering body was formed. During the 1840s, Blackwell grew an iron making business of ‘numerous’ blast furnaces, mills and forges in the Dudley-Bilston area. By 1845, he was the proprietor of Russell’s Hall Iron Works, near Dudley. In 1852, Staffordshire ranked as Great Britain’s leading district for producing pig iron but needed new iron ore sources to sustain such a position. His knowledge of geology, especially of the South Staffordshire Coalfield, enabled him to investigate the unappreciated iron ore resources of Northamptonshire. Consequently, from here he sourced the ore for the manufacture of pig iron at his Midland’s blast furnaces.

By early 1851, the 28-year-old J. T. Smith was employed as agent for ironworks and was living with Hannah Smith at 21, Vauxhall Grove, Aston, near Birmingham. However, he and Hannah Maria Haslam did not register their marriage until 24th September, 1855, at the parish church of St Clement Danes, Middlesex. His residence was given as ‘Arundel Coffee House’ whereas she resided at Wolverhampton, Staffordshire. The marriage record states her father, Anthony Haslam was a ‘farmer’ but in the 1851 census his occupation was given as ‘general labourer’ residing at Wingerworth, Derbyshire, where he was born about 1817. In the 1881 census, registering as the head of the household, Hannah records her birthplace as Wingerworth, which lies south of and adjacent to, Chesterfield, where she was baptised on 6th June, 1823. While living in the Midlands, the Smith’s had three children: Josiah, born 1851; Lucy, born in 1853 at Bilston, who later married Ernest Trubshaw [1846-1910] and resided near Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, Wales; Agnes, born in 1854; and Kate, born in 1856.    

The duties he pursued as an agent for Blackwell’s ironworks are unknown. Probably he designed and commissioned a number of blast furnaces. If Smith carried out experiments with Northamptonshire’s siliceous iron ore for blast furnace production then the experience was useful for advancing his career. By the late 1850s, the technically competent J. T. Smith entered into ‘business on his own account’ in South Staffordshire, probably as a consulting engineer.

Furness District iron master (1858-1863)

How his reputation as a consultant came to the attention of the Ulverston-based Messrs Schneider, Hannay, and Company by the end of the 1850s was not found. The Scheinder-Hannay partnership was formed in 1853 to further develop the mining of haematite ore found in Furness District, then in Lancashire but today Cumbria. The ore lay as deposits and veins in the District’s limestone formation of the Carboniferous system. Before 1855, the district was recognised, with West Cumberland, as Great Britain’s source of ore with the richest iron content. At Dundyvan Iron Works, Smith would have been familiar with a comparatively inferior iron ore, known as ‘blackband’, for smelting pig iron.

Henry William Schneider [1817-1887; ODNB] was born at Beaver Hall, Southgate, into a family who in the mid-1700s migrated from Switzerland to London to establish a successful merchants business with global commercial interests in mining minerals. The British Schneiders and those at Le Creusot shared Swiss family roots. In 1839, a number of years after Henry Schneider joined the family business he may have appraised the area’s mineral prospects on holiday in the Lake District. By 1842, he was conversant with the Furness District’s iron ore trade and that year, he married Augusta Smith, the daughter of Richard Smith, a partner in the Ulverston Mining Co. His subsequent mineral speculation in the district, at Park Mine, situated north of Barrow-in-Furness, proved to be a lengthy and expensive trial until a large deposit of ore was found in 1850.

Robert Hannay [1807-1874], who was born in Kirkcubrightshire, Scotland, inherited a large estate following his father’s death and then invested in industry. His capital investment in the Park Mine was a prelude to entering a partnership with Schneider. Moreover, he removed to live at Ulverston, where he died. H. W. Schneider retained a home in London and although he kept a house in Furness for a number of years, his main home after 1869 became ‘Belsfield’, today a hotel, at Bowness-on-Windermere. By shipping a 200,000 tons share of the 440,000 tons of Furness iron ore shipped from the port of Barrow in 1857, Messrs Schneider, Hannay, and Company was a dominant trading force.    

In 1858 the Scheinder-Hannay partnership contracted the 35-year-old J. T. Smith of ‘South Staffordshire’ to design, erect and commission the first ever Barrow iron works. The chosen site was on Furness Railway Company land, located aside and to the east of the Walney Channel at Hindpool, then an estate, now an administrative ward of Barrow-in-Furness. At the outset, the press sometimes called it the Ulverston Iron Works but the title Barrow Haematite Iron Works eventually won its place in industrial history. 

In October 1859, the Mining Journal reported a gathering of a 1,000 visitors, including iron trade representatives from London, South Wales and Staffordshire, to view operational blast furnaces at Hindpool. The iron works was acclaimed by the journal as ‘most unquestionably as perfect in all their arrangements; if not more so, than any other works in the United Kingdom’. The furnace [air] blowing engines were supplied by Messrs Perry, Highfields Foundry, near Wolverhampton. ‘The furnace architecture is a complete success, …. a model works, replete with all the latest improvements both of Wales and Staffordshire’. The charge for the three furnaces erected was a mix of the ‘celebrated Parks’ deposit of haematite iron ore; coke made from the ‘best steam coal from South Wales’ and coke supplied from the Durham Coalfield; and as a flux, local limestone. The expectation was that the furnaces would yield 900 tons of pig iron a week thus around 45,000 tons a year. As an idea of the scale of the operation, the Dowlais Iron Company, near Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire, who sourced large quantities of iron ore from Furness after the opening of a key section of the Furness Railway in May 1846 and West Cumberland, made 141,232 tons of pig iron in 1860. In 1854, South Wales replaced Staffordshire as the leading pig iron making district in Great Britain by a small margin.  

By 1860, J. T. Smith resided at Tytup Hall, Dalton-in-Furness. During the 18th century, the hall was home to Father Thomas West [c.1720-1779; ODNB], the author of the first guide to the English Lake District. The last two of the Smiths’ children were born at the hall: Arthur Berks, in 1861; and Eleanor, in 1864. 

As the manager of the Hindpool works, he was called an iron master by the local press. By 1861, he had added two further blast furnaces to the works. In 1863, he was a founding patron, with (Sir) John Ramsden [1822-1896] and H. W. Schneider, of the Barrow-in-Furness Yacht Club. By 1865, he and his family were residing in a mansion at ‘Crosslands’, Barrow-in-Furness. He was in the throes of managing a remarkable technological transformation at Hindpool.

Pioneering steelmaker (1864-1887) 

The transformation originated as an idea at the end of 1863 during a discussion between William Cavendish, 7th Duke of Devonshire [1808-1892; ODNB], the chairman, and (later Sir) James Ramsden [1822-1896], the secretary-general manager, of the Furness Railway Company. Then, in February 1864, the ‘Barrow Haematite Steel Company’ was formed with capital of £150,000, which as a rough guide would correspond to £20 million in 2019. The directors of the company were: Lord Frederick Cavendish, as chairman, H. W. Schneider and James Ramsden. Other shareholders were the Dukes of Devonshire and Buccleuch, some of the directors of the Furness Railway, and ‘other influential parties’. The ‘whole of the capital’ had been subscribed. ‘Arrangements’ had been made for Messrs Schneider, Hannay, and Company to supply pig iron for converting into steel. The finished products from the envisaged steel works were rails, tyres [term for wheels], and axles for the railway industry, rolled plate for shipbuilding and ‘other purposes’ like girders.

According to press reports about the formation of the company, steel making plant preparation work had begun. J. T. Smith was assigned to designing, and overseeing plant construction for commissioning steelmaking. In May 1864, he successfully concluded Bessemer process experiments using a small converter. The historical importance of the pilot converter was appreciated before 1955 by Walter Killingbeck, chairman and managing director of Barrow Iron Works Ltd. ‘By clever subterfuge’ he saved the converter from ‘being scrapped’. The Science Museum, London, took Smith’s converter into its keeping in 1959, where it is currently on show at the Making the Modern World gallery. 

The commitment to making steel at Barrow in 1864 was commercially a bold venture. Only eight years had elapsed since August 1856 when (Sir) Henry Bessemer [1813-1898] revealed his invention of a converter for the ‘manufacture of [malleable] iron without fuel’. Unintentionally, this converter made mild steel, which was iron containing between 0.25 and 0.3 per cent of carbon. His eponymous process involved blasting air through molten pig iron. A number of iron work companies experimented with his invention but were discouraged from using it due inferior quality of material being produced. Using pig iron containing phosphorous was one contributory cause of poor quality mild steel. Fortuitously by 1858, Bessemer learned haematite pig iron was phosphorous free. None the less, suspicion about his process persisted and not until a number of years after he commissioned a steelmaking plant in Sheffield in 1858 did his process begin to win favourable interest. Over a century earlier the invention of the Huntsman’s crucible process enabled Sheffield to nurture a world-famous reputation for producing high-class steel in small quantities to make cutlery.

The big market for large amounts of iron in the 1850s was the railway industry. Comparison trials, beginning in the early 1860s by some railway companies, ever keen to operate with low maintenance costs, found although Bessemer steel rail lasted seven years in use and iron rail just five years, the cost per mile per annum was more expensive. From a commercial point of view, until railway companies could be supplied cheaper steel rail, Great Britain’s iron work companies producing rail appeared to hold a strong position. Although it was temptingly easy to increase both the size and number of Bessemer converters for bulk steel production, such an objective needed much capital investment.

In the autumn of 1865, Henry Bessemer recorded there were ‘17 extensive Bessemer steel works in Great Britain’. As a driven promoter of his invention, his reference to ‘extensive’ steel works was used in the context of an industry in its infancy. Materially, though, that year, steel production output at Barrow was set to grow after April with the commissioning of an equipped Bessemer shop. In May, the pouring of the first cast of steel as an ingot marked the start of production. In anticipation of enlarging the workforce for production, the company had reserved 100 new houses near the works for accommodating workers and their families relocating to the district.

The year 1866 then saw a notable amalgamation of companies. Messrs Schneider, Hannay, and Company was wound up and its assets coupled with those of the Barrow Steel Company to found the Barrow Haematite Steel Company. In England, only the capital value of Sheffield-based John Brown and Company, the pioneer ‘organisation in operating the fully developed Bessemer process’, was greater than the Barrow company.

Bessemer, due to being party to agreements for the use of his converter patent, also revealed in 1865 ‘there are at present erected and in course of erection in England no less than 60 converting vessels, each capable of producing from three to 10 tons with a single charge’ of pig iron. Although his invention represented the birth of the Steel Age, the material of first choice for engineering applications remained iron. Nevertheless, even though J. T. Smith was not a lone engineer pioneering industrial-scale use of the Bessemer converter, he was responsible for delivering successfully a truly extensive steel works for the time. 

In late 1867, the Illustrated London News featured an illustration of the operational Barrow steel works. The magazine’s account about the works also sought to convey to the public an idea about its industrial significance. The magazine was in awe of the Barrow Haematite’s works since it claimed it would ‘soon become the largest iron company in the world’. Indeed, the works, of 11 blast furnaces, each producing 500 tons a week, thus an annual output of around 280,000 tons, eclipsed the pig iron output of South Wales’s leading producer, and past World leading producer, the Dowlais Iron Company. However, the Eston Works of Bolckow, Vaughan and Co., Middlesbrough was also equipped with 11 blast furnaces. 

Although the magazine’s article provided an instructive description of the steel making process at Barrow, no opinion was offered about its significance then, or for the future. Related, probably from information authored by Smith, the weekly Bessemer steel production at Barrow, ‘when in full operation’, would be ‘about 1,000 tons’ thus 52,000 tons a year. Plant was also installed at Hindpool to produce rail, tyres for locomotive and railway wagons and carriages, and axles from steel. Notably, these facts reveal the Barrow Haematite Steel Company owned the largest steelworks in Great Britain. Moreover, as early as 1867, Barrow steel won a reputation for its ‘excellent quality’.

Perhaps the only set back occurred in 1869 when trial borings at Hawcoat, just under two miles north-east of Hindpool, failed to find coal. Earlier on, Dent born, Sedbergh School educated, Rev Adam Sedgwick FRS [1781-1873; ODNB], Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Professor of Geology, had strongly advised the company that such a quest would be unsuccessful. The company later took ownership of a number of collieries for the supply of coking coal. One of the collieries, locally called Barrow Colliery, opened in 1873, at Worsborough, South Yorkshire, operated until 1985.

Strategically, at its outset, the company hedged its bets in the steel business by continuing to export pig iron. The hedging was wise since as Smith reckoned, over a decade later, Great Britain produced just over 5 million tons of pig iron in 1869 compared with just 160,000 tons of Bessemer ingots cast. Iron was the material in demand in the world, not steel. 

Nevertheless, the social impact of Barrow iron production and successfully engineering the Bessemer process led to the rapid growth of the town. In 1871, the population of the town had risen to 18,240 and astonishingly three years later it was ‘nearly 40,000’. In 1872, another future big employer of workers, the Barrow Shipbuilding Company, began operating. In 1874, the productive capacity of the steel works, when using 18 Bessemer convertors, was 3,500 tons per week, thus an annual output of 175,000 tons. The weekly production of pig iron was 5,500 to 6,000 tons. The steel work’s main product, at this date, was rail. 

For more than twenty years, J. T. Smith managed Barrow’s iron and steel operation. After 1867, the works was constantly developed to keep pace with competitors entering the expanding steel trade. For example, the company invested in 1880 in the Siemens open hearth method whilst reducing the number of Bessemer converters. An advantage of the Siemens process was that scrap iron-based metal could be recycled. As a local competitor, the West Cumberland Iron and Steel Company was formed with £600,000 capital in 1872 having an ambition to export steel rail to the USA, which Barrow had done. Bessemer steel was produced for the first time also that year at the company’s Workington works but it was closed two decades later due to being uncompetitive in terms of production costs. Barrow’s competitors also included leading iron companies of the 1860s completing their transition into steel. Established iron companies had had to cope with the business risk associated with disinvestment of the iron making puddling process and erecting in its place the Bessemer plant, whilst trying to remain financially solvent. Bolckow, Vaughan’s Eston Works did not produce its first steel rail until 1877, at a rate of 1,000 tons of steel rail per week, but notably was importing its haematite ore from Spain. Two years later, the Middlesbrough steel works’ production-scale pioneering of the Sidney Gilchrist Thomas ‘Basic’ steel making process, which cured the phosphorous problem, further weakened the market position of Furness haematite ore. Nevertheless, under Smith, Barrow also coped with the troughs in trade.

Like his peers in other industrial towns of Victorian times, J. T. Smith, as its leading engineer-industrialist, participated in civic affairs. He became a member of the Barrow Borough council at its inception, 1867, was elected an alderman in 1871 and served as mayor from 1872 to 1874. Carved on stone shields positioned upon the octagonal tower of Barrow town hall are the initials of mayors, with JTS as an example. As a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, he presented a paper, ‘On Bessemer Steel Rails’, to the body in 1875. However, he was more active in his own technical field. He was an original member of the Iron and Steel Institute, founded in 1869, which evolved to become today the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining. From the Institute’s beginning he sat on its members’ Council and served as its president from 1881 to 1883.

In his first presidential address, he confirmed the railway industry was the most ‘considerable’ user of steel. Up to 1879, he reflected, around one-half of the line laid in the United Kingdom was estimated to have been made from steel and he guessed a similar measure was true also for railways elsewhere in the world. Concerning building ships from steel, pioneered earlier in 1881 with the launch of the Cunard liner Servia at the shipyard of James & George Thomson, Clydebank, near Glasgow, he predicted the use of the material in shipbuilding ‘must depend greatly upon the cheapening the cost of manufacturing plate’. The demand for steel plate for shipbuilding became more significant by 1887. The appreciation of his president’s address was delivered by Sir Henry Bessemer, who noted Smith ‘was personally so well known’ throughout the iron and steel trade of the nation, before lauding him as a ‘valuable practical man’.

J. T. Smith was also an original member of the British Iron Trade Association established in 1875. He served as its president from 1883 to 1886. In 1883, a report by the Association revealed for the United Kingdom that 74 per cent of the 1,673,649 tons of Bessemer steel ingots produced were made into rail. ‘The largest quantities of ingots were turned out in South Wales and Sheffield’. The Monmouthshire Merlin, a newspaper whose reportage had for decades covered the significant iron developments of that country, observed in 1882: ‘The iron rail trade had decayed, and steel manufacture has taken its place’.

Investor in American steel and South Wales tinplate

In 1887, the 64-year-old J. T. Smith resigned as general manager of the Barrow Haematite Steel Company and removed to live at ‘Rhine Hill’, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. Set in 103 acres, the house stood on a plateau with commanding views across the Avon Valley. Although he was locally referred to as being a ‘country gentleman’, he remained active in business due to holding, or securing directorships in a number of companies such as the Capital and Counties Bank, and became chairman of both the Midland Railway Company of West Australia, and Otis Steel Company, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. He presided over the steel company from around 1896 until 1905 and made several visits to America. Over this period, Britain’s steelmakers lost ground in the World’s market to those operating in the USA and Germany. 

A number of years before his departure from Barrow, J. T. Smith took an investor’s interest in the South Wales tinplate trade. Together with George Byng Morris and W. H. Forester, in late 1879 he was party to forming the Western Tinplate Company, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, following the closure of Marshfield Ironworks. His son-in-law, Ernest Trubshaw, became manager-partner of the company, which was registered in 1881. The timing of Smith’s interest in tinplate manufacture was adroit. Circa 1880 quality mild steel bar began to challenge best wrought iron bar as the base material for tinplate manufacture. As the 1880s aged ‘the fact that a steelworks produced far more than a single normal sized tinplate works of the time could consume led to a marked change in the organization of the tinplate industry’. Former individual wrought iron-tinplate operations either closed or bought steel bars to feed their mills to make tinplate. Moreover, up until 1891, the British tinplate industry was to enjoy a ‘world monopoly’.

 In 1884, Josiah T. Smith became chairman of tinplate manufacturer Richard Thomas & Company, which was registered that year with £50,000 capital. The company’s managing director was Richard Thomas [1838-1916] and at its outset the assets were tinplate works at Lydbrook and Lydney and Lydbrook Colliery situated in the Forest of Dean. Then in 1888, the company bought the Mellingriffith Tinplate Works, located north of Cardiff. As managing director, the Somerset born Richard Thomas next led the acquisition of a series of South Wales tinplate companies in the 1890s to grow the biggest tinplate manufacturing business in South Wales and the Forest of Dean.

Furthermore, Smith was in a position to offer a ‘guiding hand’ in the ‘erection of the successful Llanelly (sic) Steel Company. The Llanelly Steel Company was registered in 1898 with a capital of £75,000 but had begun producing 1,500 tons of steel bar every week in October in 1897. The Western Tinplate Company, Old Castle Iron Tinplate Company and Briton Ferry Steel Company each held a one third share in the ownership of the Llanelly Steel Company.

Death and memorials

Joseph Timmis Smith died aged 83 at his Stratford-upon-Avon home on 31st March, 1906. The name of his home was later changed to Ryon Hill and subsequently razed. His wife, Hannah, and his two sons and a daughter predeceased him: Kate died in 1877 aged 27; Josiah, an innovative materials engineer, died in 1886 aged 35; Arthur Berks, who practiced as a barrister, who never married, died aged 38 in 1899. He was survived by three daughters: Lucy Trubshaw died aged 80 in 1934 living at Aelybryn, Carmarthenshire (today The Diplomat Hotel, Felinfoel); Agnes, who cared for her father in his later years, remained unmarried until her death in 1836 aged 82; and Eleanor, who married Rev W. Melville in 1888, died in 1954 aged 90 having been awarded the OBE. Also surviving him were Lady Gilbert, his eldest sister and widow of the ‘well-known agricultural chemist, Sir Henry Gilbert, of Rothamsted, a marriage without issue; and his younger brother, Charles.

Smith’s great age placed among ‘the last of that first-generation of captains of industry who had founded and built up the great iron and steel firms’ of Britain.  As early as 1874, his value was acknowledged by a well informed South Wales coal-iron industrialist, Richard Fothergill MP [1822-1903], with regard to operating a iron or steel works: ‘If the [company directors] had not got a good manager, and when he said a good manager, he had no need to say anything stronger, for that meant everything. They might be assured that such a man was hard to find, and it seemed to him that in the three important iron districts in the country, the necessity for good managers had produced them. In South Wales they had Mr Menelaus; in the North East they had Mr Edward Williams; and in Barrow they had Mr Josiah Smith’. William Menelaus [1818-1882], the general manager of the Dowlais Iron Company, was a pivotal figure with regard to the introduction of the three processes, Bessemer’s, Gilchrist Thomas’s and Charles William Siemens’s open hearth method, which shaped the Steel Age. In 1881, he was also a member, with two other prominent men of the British iron and steel industry, of a ‘committee of inquiry into the management’ of the Barrow Haematite Steel Company. An outcome of the inquiry was that J. T. Smith joined the company’s board of directors. Edward Williams [1816-1886], who as a ‘pupil’ of Menelaus participated in the first experiments at Dowlais of the Bessemer’s process leading to the company being the first in the world to enter into a licence to use with the inventor, was general manager of Bolckow, Vaughan and Co. from 1865 to 1875.

J. T. Smith’s obituary in The Engineer recorded: ‘He was a man of iron will, clear insight and sound judgment, and when to this was added his varied experience in both technical and commercial matters, it is not surprising that he always carried great weight, and that his opinion and advice were sought by many people on many subjects. Few have seen greater changes in any industry with which they have been identified than fell to the lot of Josiah T. Smith, as in his lifetime the whole of the blast furnace practice from an engineering, metallurgical, and economic standpoint was revolutionised; our steel industries, in the modern sense, have been entirely created’.

After a funeral service on 4th April, 1906, at St James Church, Alverston, near Stratford-upon-Avon, J. T. Smith was interred at Snitterfield Cemetery. His son-in-law, Rev W. G. Melville, vicar of Wolvery, Warwickshire, was one of the three officiating clergy. It seems the sole representative of Barrow-in-Furness was Frederick James Ramsden [1859-1941], the only child of Sir James Ramsden, who was a director of the Furness Railway Company. Officials and workmen of the Western Tinplate Company and the staff of Richard Thomas & Company attended. Around the period of his death, the financial position of the Barrow Haematite Steel Company was sound but the steel works eventually closed in 1963.

The late resident of Rhine Hill left, as a gross value, £120,728 15s 2d. Probate was granted to Henry Parish, of Birmingham, his son-in-law, Ernest Trubshaw DL, and his daughter, Miss Agnes Smith, of Rhine Hill. His bequests to charity were: £250, British and Foreign Bible Society; £250, Religious Tract Society; £200, Church Missionary Society; £200, Stratford-upon-Avon Hospital; £50, Birmingham General Hospital; and £50, National Blind Relief Society. He held only Western Tinplate Company shares at the time of his death and these were apportioned between his surviving daughters, who also received in trust the residue of his estate, and Ernest Trubshaw. A presentation vase ‘given to him by the townsfolk of Barrow-in-Furness’ was ‘given to his son-in-law, Mr Trubshaw, to devolve as an heirloom’.

Outwith Snitterfield Cemetery, two memorials record his life, one in South Wales and the other in Barrow-in-Furness. In 1907, the Bishop of St David’s unveiled and dedicated at All Saint’s Church, Llanelli, two stained glass windows, one to the memory of Josiah Smith, and the other regarding the late Rev J. L. Meredith, previously vicar of the parish. At present the future of the church, a Grade II listed building, is uncertain. According to the Western Mail, ‘the late Mr Smith was one of the greatest industrial captains of the age. He was practically the creator of modern Barrow, and he was also the leading spirit in several of Llanelly’s (sic) largest industries’. From technological and business viewpoints, the newspaper’s Barrow-in-Furness appraisal was apt, while the Llanelli tinplate industry particularly gained from both his technical and business knowledge. His son-in-law, Ernest Trubshaw, became chairman of ‘The Llanelly Steel Company (1907), Ltd’, with capital valued at £250,000, but he died in 1910 aged 64. Subsequently Major Harold Ernest Trubshaw [1883-1951], his son, became manager and director of the company, whose plant was removed sometime after 1955. Major Trubshaw’s son, Ernest Brian Trubshaw [1924-2001], was the first British pilot to fly Concorde, a British-French supersonic passenger airliner.

At ‘Crosslands’, Barrow-in-Furness, on 20th October, 1998, Dr Bernard Rickinson, chief executive of the then Institute of Materials, unveiled a plaque honouring the career of the president of the Iron and Steel Institute for 1881-1883. In support of the Furness activities organised by a small group of professional engineers, the Institute of Material sponsored the plaque as part of the Engineering Council’s 1997 Year of Engineering Success. ‘Crosslands’ is currently Chetwynde School and permission should be sought before inspecting the plaque with its tribute to Josiah T. Smith: ‘The engineer who technically pioneered successful Bessemer Steelmaking in Barrow-in-Furness in 1864’. As a consequence, under his management of the Barrow Haematite Steel Company, a village grew into a flourishing town, whose existence continues to be determined by the innovative work of engineers employed designing and building nuclear submarines.


  • Obit ‘Josiah Timmis Smith’, Minutes of Proceeding of the Institution of Civil Engineers, vol.168, (1906-7)
  • ‘Obituary’, The Engineer, 6 April 1906
  • ‘President’s Address’, The Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute (1881) 
  • ‘Death and Funeral of Mr J. T. Smith’, The Stratford-Upon-Avon Herald 
  •  J. C. Carr and W. Taplin, History of the British Steel Industry. (Basil Blackwell, 1962)
  • J. D. Marshall, Furness and the Industrial Revolution. (Barrow Libraries, 1958)
  • ‘The Haematite Steel-Works, Hindpool, Barrow-in-Furness’, Illustrated London News, 19 October 1867
  • Ernest Henry Brooke, Chronology of Tinplate Works of Great Britain, (William Lewis Printers, 1944)