Teesside iron foundry still casting after 150 years

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Media captionThe William Lane foundry was founded in 1862

An iron foundry is celebrating its 150th year - while recording a huge growth in business.

The William Lane iron foundry is the last remaining works of its kind on the south bank of River Tees.

But while other foundries have fallen by the wayside, William Lane is seeing yearly growth.

Edward Bilcliffe, managing director of the firm, said: "When the Corus steel plant closed, it was a bitter blow to us. We lost around 25% of our iron business turnover.

"But we've found new business out there and resurrected old business and now find that we are 20% up year on year to June 2012.

Image caption Lane's ironworks are extremely varied

"We supply to the likes of SSI and Tata, right down to some hand railings that had been run into by a BMW. They arrived in a box saying: 'Can you re-make these for us?'"

Following the building of blast furnaces in County Durham in the 1840s, there became a need for an increased supply for the burgeoning iron market.

Iron foundries flourished in the Middlesbrough area throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s.

But, the steel industry was becoming a competitive market in the 1870s and Teesside was having to work hard to compete with Sheffield's industrial might.

Nonetheless, the River Tees was still the "Steel River".

"Heavy industry has steadily declined over the years," said Mr Bilcliffe, "and when Smith's Dock closed in 1987, the requirement for volume castings fell away.

"The 1980s saw the industry really suffer here and it was only 12 years ago that our last competitor closed its doors for good and we became the sole survivor on the south banks of the Tees."

'Original niche'

The iron making process has remained the same over the years.

But technical innovations have meant that William Lane have kept a competitive edge.

They have installed two new electric induction furnaces and bought new cranes, shot-blasting and sand mixing equipment.

It was in 2007 that William Lane became autonomous as a company again, after being sold in 1976 to Parson & Crosland.

Since then, the company has remained true to its founding principles.

"We've stuck to our original niche which we occupied as a jobbing small scale foundry - that's been the key to our success," insists Mr Bilcliffe.

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