Local history: Yorkshire Copper Works

The Elmore Copper Works, or as it was known locally, Elmore’s, was originally established at the end of the 1880s with the works being built on the Haigh Park Estate between Stourton and the River Aire.

This land was formerly part of Rothwell Haigh in the Parish of Rothwell and has a history as a Royal Hunting Park going back to medieval times. It has also been the site chosen for the Leeds Race Course that was completed with a Grandstand and Paddocks. This was patronised by the nobility and commoners alike for a brief period between 1824 and 1832; the road to this eventually becoming the A639.

In 1888 William Elmore and his two sons, Francis Edward, and Alexander Stanley Elmore, living in Middlesex registered Elmore’s Patent Copper Depositing Company after they had patented a method of depositing copper on mandrills which gave them a very lightly polished appearance.

This process separated copper from the material that surrounded it after it had been mined; the copper was then extruded into tubes of varying thickness. After considering establishing a works in Sheffield they finally decided on building at Stourton and leased the land in 1889.

The reasons for choosing this site was the transport links via the Aire & Calder Navigation, the Midland Railway, and the plentiful supply of cheap coal; this was used to fire the boilers producing the steam to generate the large amounts of electricity used in making the product.

After the original works were opened and established on the site another works was built next door to it which made copper wire which was then sold on to telegraph and telephone companies as well as the newly established electricity generating companies. The new works was used to form a new Company, Elmore’s Wire Manufacturing Company, on 15 March 1890 with the same Board of Directors and Management.

In 1881 the family were living on the Strand in London but by 1891 they were residing at Spring Grove, a substantial house with gardens, next to the tram depot at Thwaite Gate.

William was born in London in 1840 and was described as a Victualler or 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. William also had an elder son, John Oliver Surtees Elmore, who was also an Engineer and an 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 leaving his sons acting as Works Managers.

After about 10 years the Elmore’s relinquished their direct involvement with the Company although they stil appeared as shareholders.

In 1901 William, Stanley, and Frank were living in Lewisham, South London. Their Patents and Shares in copper had made them rich men, Frank died at Boxmoor, Hertfordshire in 1932 leaving in today’s value £2½ million some of which was used to establish a Scholarship for Medical Post-Graduates. His younger brother died in 1944 leaving £3½ million while the elder brother John, who had been the Private Secretary to the Rajah of Kapurthala, India, returned to England in 1913. He died in Jersey in 1924 left just short of £1 million.

During the 1890s both of these companies seem to have had a somewhat chequered career with substantial losses. In May 1899 The English Electro-Metallurgical Company was formed by amalgamating the two companies, two of the Directors were connected to a French works that was a commercial success and it was decided to reorganise the Leeds works on the same lines. The first step in this was to build a new factory in 1900 and in 1902 the name was changed to the Leeds Copper Works.

For the next few years things did not go too well for the new Company in spite of several improvements being made and the Directors Report for 1907 stated that there was no course open but to liquidate the Company. The Chartered Accountant, George Pepler Norton arrived on the scene and his suggestions were so successful that in October 1909 the Company was registered as the Yorkshire Copper Works.

Norton became Chairman of the Company and to make it successful he came up with certain organisational and technical changes along with additional capital, the factory at this time employed 100 people.

The next few years before the First World War saw 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 check the metallurgical control of the Company products. This laboratory occupied three rooms of about 400 sq ft in a fairly small building.

The First World War was a time of great activity and expansion. Women were employed for making shell bands and condenser tubes, while in 1917 a new laboratory was built and in the same year a piercing mill started production to meet the increased demand for pierced copper shells.

In 1924 the first attempt to make seamless tubes larger than 14 inch in diameter took place and this led to tubes of 15, 20, and 24 inches in diameter being made for the Wembley Exhibition. They took six months to make but this saw the beginning for large tubes and these were to become an important part of the works’ output.

With the development of the steam turbine a problem was encountered with condensers leaking, this was caused by rapid corrosion of the condenser tubes by the action of sea water, a problem carried over from the war. Yorkshire Copper Works became licensees of a Patent file in 1927 for the use of aluminium brass as an alloy resistant to corrosion and suitable for condenser tube manufacture. This material was marketed under the name “Yorcalbro” the first order for which was for the P&O liner ‘Malura’ in October 1928.

In 1938 the new Barrhead factory in Scotland started production of its first tubes ranging in size from ½ inch to 8 inch in diameter; these were displayed that year in the Glasgow Exhibition. After the Munich Crisis in 1938 the Company partly changed to producing light alloy tubing for the aircraft industry and the War years that followed was a period of intense activity.

Altogether the works were to produce 85 million feet of light alloy tubing for aircraft production together with about 90 million feet of copper, brass, and alloy tubing. Apart from condenser tubing for the Royal Navy, copper driving bands estimated for 65 million shells, as well as millions of shell fuse bodies, trench mortars, smoke bomb adaptors, and the like were also produced.

Once again women were employed to do men’s work. At the outbreak of war there were between 300 and 400 women workers but this later increased to over 1,500 during hostilities.

After the war there was an expansion of the petrochemical industry throughout the world, this led to re-equipping part of the works that had been making aluminium and aluminium alloy tubes during the war for large scale production of copper and copper-alloy tubing.

The start of 1958 saw the forming of Yorkshire Imperial Metals Limited by the merging of Yorkshire Copper Works Limited with the copper and copper-alloy tube plate and fittings section of Imperial Chemical Industries Limited, Metal Division. By the 1970s and with its numerous departments and expensive equipment, the laboratory now occupied some 20,000 sq ft. After the amalgamation and the reorganisations from this the complex lasted only until 1997 when it closed down.

The Copper Works at its height employed 5,000 people on 24 hour production on a site, it is said, of 20 acres of buildings on the 100 acre site producing metal tubes in sizes ranging from 0.005 inches to 24 inches in diameter supplying industries ranging from shipbuilding, printing, textile machinery makers, as well as the aviation and car industries.

Most of the boilers of the steam locomotives built in Hunslet for home and overseas markets had tubes supplied by the Copper Works. But unfortunately we now find another industry gone from the area.


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6 Replies to “Local history: Yorkshire Copper Works”

    1. My Grandad also worked at Copper Works for years until he retired in about 1972/3
      His name was Cliff Mann and he was a Charge Hand for the cleaners. Lived up in Middleton.

  1. Very interesting article this past history about the copper works, thank you to Ken Burton for writing this

  2. I served my apprenticeship at the Copper Works and work there in total for ten years. At ten years you were still considered to be a new lad. A lot of the guys had worked there longer than I had been alive so that says something about the sort of place it was. It was an unbelievable large site and the ques were massive at the pay booths on pay day. After you pickyup your money it was straight in to the canteen bar for a couple of cheep pints. I can’t imagine any company allowing that now. I have very fond memories. Such a shame it has all gone.

  3. Very Interesting reading for me. I started work there in January 1961 in the General Office. It employed people from all the surrounding towns and in those days had it’s own mini Bus Station Also Rugby Pitch, Cricket Pitch, Netball Pitch and Brass Band.

  4. I too did my apprenticeship at the Yorkshire Copper Works starting in 1988. I was there for about 12 years before travelling to Australia. I have some fond memories of my time there. It was a shame to see that it had closed down, never thought I’d see the day.

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