The Wellman Smith Owen Engineering Corporation Limited
The business was founded in 1919 to acquire a major share of the American company, Wellman-Seaver and Head, steel works engineers and contractors; and also James Smith Hoisting Machinery Company Limited, specialists in dockside cranes and hoisting machinery.

The new corporation also took over the engineering department of Rubery Owen. Mr A. E. Owen was chairman.

It became a public company in 1924, and had a number of factories in the UK, including the one at Darlaston. At this time the company introduced a range of coke oven machinery including a coke charging car, and a combined coke pusher, coal leveller, and door extracting machine, the first of its kind in the country.

During the Second World War the company manufactured shell forging machines, bridge laying equipment, cranes, and shot furnaces.

The firm's shell forging machines were used in Australia, Canada, India, and the USA. The machines could produce in excess of 350 anti-aircraft, 3.7 inch shell forgings an hour, and produced around 80 million shell forgings during the war, using over two million tons of steel.

Other war work included the production of machinery for the Mulberry harbours, and the Pluto pipeline, and a large number of steel smelting furnaces, and gas producers.

An advert from 1946.

A highlight for the staff was the annual Whitsun works outing, which began in 1947. Several hundred people consisting of staff and family members would board a special train at James Bridge Station for the journey to seaside resorts such as Blackpool, and a four-day stay at a holiday camp. A minimum of three hundred people was needed in order to book the special train.

On one occasion 550 people went on an outing to Middleton Towers holiday camp, and greatly enjoyed their holiday. The outing was organised by the Fitting Shop, and linked to the Darlaston shilling-a-week football sweep. Funds from the sweep were shared out before the outing. Fitting Shop foreman Mr. Ernie Ramsbottom ran the fund for many years.

In December 1955 the Falls Foundry Engineering Works in Belfast was acquired by the Wellman Smith Owen Engineering Corporation, Limited. The factory consisted of machine shops, erecting shops, a foundry, and administrative buildings. The business was acquired to provide increased manufacturing capacity, and to take advantage of the plentiful supply of labour in Belfast, and the financial assistance provided by the Government.

The completely new range of heavy and medium engineering products that the factory was called upon to produce involved a considerable amount of retraining of the existing labour force, which proved adaptable and co-operative.

A Wellman 2 ton mobile, bar-turn, furnace box-charging machine.

An advert from the mid 1950s. Courtesy of Christine and John Ashmore.

To provide for the training of future personnel, an apprenticeship scheme was established, and in order to provide increased efficiency, and to deal with the expanding demands on the Belfast establishment, the engineering shops were modernised and almost completely re-equipped with modern machine tools.

The factory concentrated on the production of the lighter products in the Wellman range, such as mechanical handling and processing units for the production of steel strip, mobile charging and handling machines, air control valves and component parts for the heavy steel works equipment produced at the main works in England. Typical of this equipment is the 2-ton mobile bar-turn furnace box-charging machine shown above, which was supplied to the Steel Company of Wales. This machine is driven by a diesel engine and all of its motions are hydraulically operated.

In August 1965 the firm's name was changed to the Wellman Engineering Corporation, which consisted of five main subsidiaries, including Wellman Machines Limited, and the Wellman Incandescent Furnace Company, both based at Darlaston. The Darlaston factory closed in the 1980s and was acquired by Wilkins and Mitchell.

Wellmans had a London office in Victoria Station House, Victoria Street, SW1, and offices in Australia, France, Holland, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, and Turkey.

Some of the Company's Products

Docks and harbours

The Wellman patent level luffing jib cranes were the first British post-war dockyard cranes to be supplied to the French Government for re-equipping ports devastated during the war. They were supplied to the ports of Brest, Bizerta, Cherbourg, Dakar, Le Havre, Lorient, Marseilles, Oran, Rouen, and Toulon, and were also supplied to other countries including Russia.

One of the cranes in action.

A wellman crane in use at Le Havre.

Three of the cranes working at Le Havre.

The roller path and centre pin.

A Wellman Smith Owen level-luffing jib crane.


The level luffing crane opposite uses the company's patented  gear which ensures that the hook remains at the same level whilst moving the jib up and down. This crane was designed for the handling of coal or iron ore, and could deal with loads of up to 15 tons.

It was electrically operated and ran on 10.5 metre-wide track. With ballast it weighed around 240 tons, had a hoisting speed of 35 metres per minute, and could travel on the track at a speed of 35 metres per minute. There were two 75 BHP. Metrovick motors, each of which drove a winch. One of the winches raised and lowered the grab, the other opened and closed it.

The superstructure of the crane.
The crane legs and the self-reeling drum for the power cable.
The crane was operated from a 3-phase 380 volt, 50 hertz supply, to which it was connected via a 60 metre length of trailing C.T.S. flexible cable. The cable was automatically payed-out and taken-up as the crane ran along the track, by means of a weight-operated self-reeling drum.

Five 1kW heaters were fitted so that the cranes could work in low temperatures. Three were in the machinery house, and two in the operator's cabin.

The operator's cabin.

Special Purpose Cranes:
One of the two 122 ton capacity Wellman creeper cranes that were used in the construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge.   One of the two Wellman crane assemblies used in the construction of the Howrah Bridge at Calcutta. Each crane had a capacity of 60 tons.
Overhead Cranes:

A 3 ton Wellman electric overhead travelling crane with a 91 ft. span.

A 5 ton Wellman underslung overhead travelling crane.

A standard Wellman 10 ton overhead travelling crane.

Charging and discharging machines for steelworks:

An overhead revolving charging machine for open hearth furnaces.

A low ground charging machine with a capacity of 5 tons.

A mobile floor charging machine for electric furnaces.

A mobile charger for handling tyre cheeses, blooms, and billets.

An ingot discharging machine.

An overhead billet and slab discharger.

A Wellman 85 ton scrap charger in use at Richard Thomas & Baldwins Limited, Spencer Works, Llanwern, near Newport, South Wales. The 2 charging boxes are being lowered onto the scrap charger.
The company's many products included an 85 ton scrap charger.

This was ideally suited for use with LD convertors, a German designed refinement of the Bessemer convertor, that blows pure oxygen instead of air through the molten metal..

One charging box is in the tilted position to charge an LD convertor.

After charging, the box will be lowered, and the electrically powered scrap charger, which runs on rails, will be moved forward to position the second charging box over the mouth of the convertor.

A final view of the scrap charger, showing an empty charging box returning to the horizontal position.
More machines for use in steelworks:
Ingot stripping machines and vertical charging machines serving a large battery of soaking pits.
The Wellman patent ingot stripping and mould handling machine to strip hot top ingots, and to handle ingot moulds.

After an ingot has been stripped, the apparatus retained the mould to prevent it falling back onto the casting car. The operation of the mould tongs was independent of the movement of the stripping tongs.

A stationary ingot stripper with an operational pressure of 100 tons.

Three 60 ton ladle cranes.

A 50 ton ladle crane.

The main and auxiliary trolleys on an overhead crane.

A continuous reheating furnace, fired from town gas.

A battery of annealing furnaces for brass and copper sheets.

A Wellman rotary hearth furnace, fired with coke oven gas.

A continuous slab heating furnace.

An aluminium melting furnace with a chain grate stoker.

A complete heat treatment plant.

The charging side of a Wellman 'Venturi' open hearth furnace.

A 400 ton Wellman inactive metal mixer that is fired with blast furnace gas through three special burners.

It electrically tilts and rests on a roller track between the rockers and the bearer girders.

A 300 ton tilting open hearth furnace.

It is electrically tilted, water cooled, and has an electrical door lifting mechanism.

A Wellman 1,000 ton metal mixer designed for use in a confined space.

The firm made metal mixers with capacities of 150 to 1,000 tons.

General lifting and handling equipment:

A combined coke pushing, coal levelling, and door extracting machine.


A 1,500 ton piercing press.


A complete Wellman seamless tube plant.

A 40 ton variable speed cold draw bench for tubes.

Wellman-Galusha gas producers:

A Wellman-Galusha gas producing plant with producers and a cleaning plant.


A Wellman-Galusha gas producing plant.


A single unit for the production of hot gas.

Two Wellman-Galusha gas producers with auxiliary equipment.

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