«1894 1895 1896 »

Deeside site for a new works

With no room at Stalybridge for further expansion, the Summers brothers start their search for a site for a second works. Harry, who has business contacts in Liverpool and family connections at Birkenhead, looks at six possible locations in that area, They include an area of barren marshland on the north side of the River Dee, opposite the villages of Shotton and Connah’s Quay and alongside the Wrexham to Liverpool railway line which crosses the river on a bridge completed in 1889.

Harry and brother, James, take a closer look at the Deeside area and they hire Bill Butler, an employee at a Connah’s Quay boat yard, to row them across the river, under the rail bridge and eastwards towards Chester. The young boatman is told by the visitors that they will “see him right” and he is rewarded with half a crown!

Bill Butler is, of course, totally unaware of his role in a decision-making process which will prove to be of great significance to Deeside. In time large areas of barren marshland would become the site for one of the country’s major iron and steelworks. It was a development that would transform villages on the south side of the Dee such as Shotton, Connah’s Quay and Queensferry from hamlets into towns,

Henry and James report back to their other brothers at Stalybridge that though desolate and low-lying the Dee Marshes is the most attractive of the locations looked at. The reclaimed marshland available for immediate industrial use is cheap – a reported 2s 6d an acre - water is plentiful, rail communications good and the ports of Liverpool and Birkenhead are within easy reach – a particularly important factor since 90 per cent of galvanised sheets produced in the UK at that time is exported. On the Welsh side of the river are colleries, brickworks and quarries.

The minutes of a meeting on 1st November 1895 of the board of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln Railway Company record that “Summers and Sons of Stalybridge contemplate new iron works at Hawarden Bridge and have acquired some 40 acres by the Dee and Birkenhead railway and the River Dee, also an option on 50 further acres. They have asked for a siding connexion to be laid at an estimated cost of £610.” Summers are understood to have paid £5.00 for the first parcel of land. Two weeks later, machinery starts to arrive on site and building material is delivered. Building of the new factory is soon under way.

By the time of the railway company’s next meeting, on 13th December that year, Summers and Sons has acquired an area of grass-covered sand flats which were being used as links by Chester Golf Club. The only building on the course is a distinctive black-and-white clubhouse built in 1895 which doubles as the golf professional’s home (see Appendix). Although several new links are created in the direction of Shotwick, the golf club closes soon after.

Two engineering projects, completed in the 18th and 19th centuries, were key to the Summers’ family’s decision to choose the banks of the Dee for a new works. The first was the construction by Dutch engineers of a five-mile long artificial channel on the North East Wales side of the estuary between 1732 and 1736 which meant that large parts of the Dee estuary were no longer submerged by daily tides and so suitable for reclamation. The second was the construction of a rail bridge across the River Dee in 1890 connecting North Wales to the ports of Birkenhead and Liverpool. Built by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company, the rail bridge spanned the river at what became known as Hawarden Bridge, the name first adopted for Summers’ new works.