Richard Williams


Abraham Darby I’s coke-fired furnace produced a higher-silicon iron than prior charcoal ones, which was critical for the casting of thin pots in sand. This silicon content has hitherto been attributed to an enforced higher temperature of operation with coke. This paper sets out to show that there were other reasons why coke iron had a higher silicon content than charcoal iron, and that the temperature in his hearth was probably no higher than that in a charcoal furnace. The causes of high silicon content in coke iron were the higher density of coke, leading to a longer dwell time, and the now-appreciated effect of reactive silica in the coke, not present in charcoal. The paper suggests that the breakthrough by Abraham Darby II that led to coke iron being fit for the forges was the removal of sulphur by using higher temperatures in bigger furnaces.


Beever S H 1951, ‘Coke manufacture in Great Britain’, Institute of British Geographers: Transactions and Papers 17, 131–148.
Bell I L 1884, Principles of the manufacture of iron and steel (London).
Birkinbine J 1880, ‘Experiments with charcoal, coke and anthracite in the Pine Grove furnace, PA’, Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers 8, 169–175.
Bodsworth C 1963, The physical chemistry of iron and steel manufacture (London).
Brown I 1990, ‘The ironstone mines of Shropshire’, Proceedings of the Shropshire Geological Society 9, 7–9.
de Saint Ange W 1835–1838, Métallurgie pratique du fer (Paris).
de Vollefosse A M H 1826, Mémoire sur l’état actuel des usines á fer de la France (Paris).
Dudley D 1665, Mettallum martis (London).
Evrard R and Descy A 1948, Histoire de l’usine des Vennes (Liège).
Fairburn W 1861, Iron, its history, properties and processes of manufacture (Edinburgh).
Flachat E, Barrault A and Petiet J 1842, Traité de la fabrication de la fonte et du fer, Part 1 (Paris).
Fournel H 1842, ‘Difference de consommation qui a lieu dans la production de la fonte blanche ou de la fonte grise’, Recueil de brochures 1828–1838 (Paris).
Geerdes M, Chaigneau R, Kuranov I, Lingiardi O and Rickets J 2015, Modern blast furnace iron making (Amsterdam).
Gross J (ed) 2001, The diary of Charles Wood of Cyfarthfa ironworks (Cardiff).
Greenwood W H 1902, Steel and iron (London).
Hassenfratz J H 1812, La sidérotechnie, ou, l’art de traiter les minérais de fer etc, Vol 2 (Paris).
Hiles J and Mott R A 1944, ‘Mode of combustion of coke’, Fuel, 23(6), 154.
Hyde C K 1977, Technological change in the British iron and steel industry, 1700–1870 (Princeton, NJ).
Johnson J E 1918, The principles, operation and products of the blast furnace (New York).
Karsten C J B 1841, Handbuch der Eisenhuttenkunde, 4th edn, Vol 3 (Berlin).
Karsten C J B, Trans Culmann F J 1830, Manuel de la métallurgie du fer, 2nd edn, Vol 2 (Metz).
Kendall J D 1893, The iron ores of Great Britain and Ireland (London).
King P W 2002, ‘Sir Clement Clerke and the adoption of coal in metallurgy’, Transactions of the Newcomen Society 73, 33–35.
King P W 2011, ‘The choice of fuels in the 18th-century iron industry; the Coalbrookdale accounts reconsidered’, Economic History Review 64(1), 132–156.
Moldenke R 1917, The principles of iron founding (New York). Morton G R 1966, ‘The early coke era’, Bulletin of the Historical Metallurgy Group 1(6), 49–60.
Mott R A 1934/5, ‘Dud Dudley and the early coal-iron industry’, Transactions of the Newcomen Society 15, 17–31.
Mott R A 1957, ‘Abraham Darby (I and II) and the coal-iron industry’, Transactions of the Newcomen Society 31(1), 49–93.
Mott R A 1957/60, ‘The Shropshire iron industry’, Transactions of the Shropshire Archeological Society 56, 69–81.
Mushet D 1840, Papers on iron and steel (London).
Niezoldi O 1942, ‘Ein gusseiserner grenzpfahl aus dem mittelalter’, Die Giesserei 29(8), 136–137.
Pavlov M A, trans Dlouglatch L 1924, Calcul du lit de fusion des hauts-fourneaux (Paris).
Pelouze M 1827/8, L’art de maitre de forges ( Paris).
Percy J 1864, Metallurgy, iron and steel (London).
Raistrick A 1970, Dynasty of ironfounders (Newton Abbott).
Rehder J E 1987, ‘The change from charcoal to coke in iron smelting’, Historical Metallurgy 21(1), 37–43.
Rinman S, trans Karsten C J B 1812, Geschicht des Eisens, Vol 2 (Liegnitz).
Scheerer T 1853, Lehrbuch der metallurgie, Vol 2 (Braunschweig).
Swedenborg E 1734, Trans Bouchu M 1780, ‘Manières de fondre la mine et de recuire le fer crud en Angleterre’, in J E Bertrand, Descriptions des Arts et Metiers, Vol 2 (Neuchatel), 403–412.
Thirria E 1840, ‘Mémoire sur les perfectionnements et modifications des procédés employés pour la fabrication du fer obtenu par l’affinage des fontes dans les foyers d’affinerie’, Annales des Mines, 3rd ser, 18, 215–292.
Thirria E 1869, Manuel à l’usage de l’habitant du departement de la Haute Saone (Vesoul).
Thomas E 2001, Coalbrookdale in the 18th century [Ironbridge].
Trinder B 1973, The industrial revolution in Shropshire (London).
Tylecote R F 1991, ‘Iron in the industrial revolution’, in J Day and R F Tylecote (eds), The industrial revolution in metals (London), 200–261.
Wagner D B 2008, Science and civilisation in China, Vol 5, Part 11 (Cambridge).
Walton C F 1958, The gray iron castings handbook (Cleveland, OH).
Ward R G 1965, An introduction to the physical chemistry of iron and steel making (London).
Williams R 2013, ‘A question of grey or white: why Abraham Darby chose to smelt iron with coke’, Historical Metallurgy 47(2), 125–137.
Williams R forthcoming, ‘The performance of Abraham Darby I’s coke furnace revisited, part 2: output and efficiency’, Historical Metallurgy.
Williams R V 1983, Control and analysis in iron and steel making (London).
How to Cite
The performance of Abraham Darby I’s coke furnace revisited, part 1: temperature of operation. (2021). Historical Metallurgy, 51(1), 22-33.