This page is part of a website based on the life and achievements of eighteenth-century inventor Henry Cort.  Please email site controller Eric Alexander with any comments or queries.

 

 

THE CROWLEY BUSINESS

 

Sir Ambrose Crowley pioneered the sort of factory that became commonplace during the Industrial Revolution.  In earlier times manufacturing was done in people’s homes.

 

His three vertically integrated factories near Sunderland constituted the largest unit of concentrated industrial production in Britain, with about a thousand workers.

  From account of Sir Ambrose Crowley in François Crouzet, The First Industrialists: the problem of origins (Cambridge University Press 1985).

 

His career starts in the seventeenth century in Stourbridge, where his father, another Ambrose Crowley, has built up a big iron business.

 

After his mother’s death, family circumstances change: his father marries again and becomes a Quaker.

 

The new surroundings do not suit young Ambrose.  He leaves in 1689, taking with him expertise gathered in the iron trade.

 

Starting in London, he gathers capital to invest in the North-East: first in Sunderland, then at Winlaton, on the fast-flowing Derwent (a tributary of the Tyne).

 

During the period 1707-9 his undertakings in Co. Durham contained two slitting mills, two forges, four steel furnaces, many warehouses, and innumerable smithies producing a wide variety of ironmongery.

  From entry for Sir Ambrose Crowley in Oxford DNB.

 

He imports iron from Sweden and converts it to a variety of artefacts that he sends to London, where he has a warehouse at Greenwich and a shop, the “Doublet”, in Thames Street.

 

He soon becomes the biggest ironmonger in the capital, with contracts to supply all the naval dockyards.

 

Knighthood and a career in politics follow: you can explore the details in the New DNB.

 

The firm which Crowley founded was continued by his son John and by his grandsons and lasted well into the reign of Queen Victoria, prospering from all the wars in the century following his death.

  From entry for Sir Ambrose Crowley in Oxford DNB.

 

He dies in 1713.  His son John also inherits grandfather’s interests at Stourbridge.

 

John faces stronger competition than his father, losing the Portsmouth Dockyard contract to John Attwick in 1722.

 

On John’s death his widow Theodosia takes over, helped for a while by Sir Ambrose’s “two grandsons”.  London trade directories show her continuing as an ironmonger at 151 Upper Thames Street, London, and running the Winlaton works, until her death in 1782. 

 

Late in the 1760s she enlists the help of Isaiah Millington (named as "Mr Millington cashier at the Warehouses of business" in her 1781 will).

 

After her death, Millington buys up a chunk of the business from her executors for £7690.9s.5d, and runs it for several years as "Crowley, Millington & Co".  His descendants sell up the Winlaton works around 1845.

 

 

RELATED TOPICS

Iron manufacture

Cort’s patents

Cort’s promotion efforts 1783-6

Smelting of iron

Fining before Cort

London ironmongers

Shropshire and Staffordshire ironmasters

Cumbrian ironmasters: Wilkinson etc

Early works at Merthyr Tydfil

Later Merthyr connections

Scottish iron

Iron hoops

Puddling after Henry Cort

 

 

 

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