Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, Bart.

Isaac Lowthian Bell was born in Newcastle upon Tyne on the 16th of February 1816. He was the son of Thomas Bell, a member of the firm of Losh, Wilson and Bell Ironworks at Walker. Bell was educated at Dr Bruce’s Academy (Newcastle upon Tyne), Edinburgh University, and the University of the Sorbonne (Paris).

In 1850 Bell was appointed manager of Walker Ironworks. In the same year he established a chemical works at Washington with Mr Hugh Lee Pattinson and Mr R. B. Bowman (the partnership was severed in 1872). In 1852 Bell set up Clarence Ironworks at Port Clarence, Middlesbrough, with his brothers Thomas and John which produced basic steel rails for the North Eastern Railway (From 1865 to 1904, Bell was a director of North Eastern Railway Company). They opened ironstone mines at Saltburn by the Sea (Normanby) and Skelton (Cleveland). Bell Brothers employed around 6,000 workmen. They employed up to the minute practises (for example, utilizing waste gases which escaped from the furnaces) and were always keen to trial improvements in the manufacture of iron. In 1882 Bell Brothers had a boring made at Port Clarence to the north of the Tees and found a stratum of salt, which was then worked. This was sold to Salt Union Ltd in 1888.

Bell’s professional expertise was used after an explosion at Hetton Colliery in 1860. He ascertained that the cause of the explosion was due to the presence of underground boilers.

In 1861 Bell was appointed to give evidence to the Commission to incorporate a Mining College within Durham University. Durham College of Science was set up 1871 in Newcastle with Bell as a Governor. He donated £4,500 for the building of Bell Tower. Large collection of books were donated from his library by his son to the College.

Bell served on the Royal Commission on the Depression of Trade. He was a Justice of Peace for County of Durham, Newcastle and North Riding of Yorkshire, and was Deputy-lieutenant and High Sheriff for Durham in 1884. In 1879 Bell accepted arbitration in the difficulty with the miners during the General Strike of County Durham miners

Between 1850 and 1880 Bell sat on the Town Council of Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1851 he became sheriff, was elected mayor in 1854, and Alderman in 1859. In 1874 Bell was the Liberal Member of Parliament for North Durham, but was unseated on the ground of general intimidation by agents. Between 1875 and 1880 he was the Member of Parliament for the Hartlepools.

Bell was an authority on mineralogy and metallurgy. In 1863 at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Newcastle, he read a paper ‘On the Manufacture of Iron in connection with the Northumberland and Durham Coalfield’ (Report of the 33rd meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Newcastle upon Tyne, 1863, p730).

In 1871 Bell read a paper at a meeting of the Iron and Steel Institute, Middlesbrough on ‘Chemical Phenomena of Iron smelting’. (The Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute, 1871 Vol I pp85-277, Vol II pp67-277, and 1872 Vol I p1). This was published with additions as a book which became an established text in the iron trade. He also contributed to ‘The Industrial Resources of the Tyne, Wear and Tees (1863)’.

In 1854 Bell became a member of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers and was elected president in 1886. Bell devoted much time to the welfare and success of the Institute in its early days.

During his life Bell was a founder member of the Iron and Steel Institute (elected President in 1874); a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Chemical Society of London; a member of the Society of Arts, a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers; President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers; President of the Society of Chemical Industry; and a founder member of the Institution of Mining Engineers (elected President in 1904)

Bell was the recipient of Bessemer Gold Medal, from Iron and Steel Institute in 1874 and in 1885 recieved a baronetcy for services to the State. In 1890 he received the George Stephenson Medal from The Institute of Civil Engineers and in 1895 received the Albert Medal of the Society of Arts for services through his metallurgical researches.

Bell was a Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) of Durham University, a Doctor of Laws (LLD) of Edinburgh University and Dublin University, and a Doctor of Science (DSc) of Leeds University.

Bell married the daughter of Hugh Lee Pattinson in 1842 and together they had two sons and three daughters. The family resided in Newcastle upon Tyne, Washington Hall, and Rounton Grange near Northallerton.

Lowthian Bell died on the 21st of December 1904. The Council of The Institution of Mining Engineers passed the following resolution:
“The Council have received with the deepest regret intimation of the death of their esteemed President and colleague, Sir Lowthian Bell, Bart, on of the founders of the Institution, who presided at the initial meeting held in London on June 6 th 1888, and they have conveyed to Sir Hugh Bell, Bart, and the family of Sir Lowthian Bell an expression of sincere sympathy with them in their bereavement. It is impossible to estimate the value of the services that Sir Lowthian Bell rendered to the Institution of Mining Engineers in promoting its objects, and in devoting his time and energies to the advancement of the Institution.”

Information taken from:
Institute of Mining Engineers, Transactions, Vol XXXIII 1906-07

Institute of Mining Engineers, Transactions, Vol XXXI 1905-1906, frontispiece

Further reading:
Bell, Lowthian and Forrest, James (1887) ‘On the manufacture of salt near Middlesbrough’ Institution of Civil Engineers: London. p37 – 58
Bell, Lowthian (1890) ‘On the Probable Future of the Manufacture of Iron ‘ American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers: New York. XIX.

See also the article in Wikipedia.

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