Friday, 28 October 2011

Thomas Ellis, North British Iron Works, Coatbridge

Thomas Ellis was born on the 30th December 1818 in Whittingham, Shropshire.

Little is known about his early life, although his Obituary states that he was left an orphan from ‘early age’ and that he came to Scotland around 1842.

By the time of the 1851 Census, he was married to Sarah Leonard, had an 8 month old daughter, Sarah Leonard Ellis and was living at English Row, in Gorbals Parish, Glasgow. His occupation in listed on the census as ‘Iron Roller’, employing 3 men. Living with them was also Sarah’s younger brother, Moses Leonard age 20.

Ten years later, in 1861, not only had Thomas, now age 42 & Sarah’s family grown, but they had moved eastward and were living at Phoenix Cottage, Coatbridge, Lanarkshire. On the 1861 Census, his occupation is listed as an Iron Manufacturer and in his employment were 30 men and 10 boys. His place of business may have been ‘Ronald’s Forge’ which had originally been erected in 1840 and on conversion to a malleable iron-work was locally known as ‘the Phoenix’, possibly named after Phoenix Cottage, but around 1870 was changed again - to the North British Iron-Works.

The 1861 Census verifies Sarah’s parents and one sister as they are listed as ‘in-laws’ at Phoenix Cottage. Her father was James Leonard age 72, mother Sarah age 74 and sister Elizabeth age 46

Thomas & Sarah’s children were as follows:

Elizabeth Ellis, born 28th February 1847 at Glasgow
Sarah Leonard Ellis, born c1851 at Glasgow
John William Ellis, born c1854 at Glasgow
Thomas Leonard Ellis, born c1862 at Coatbridge

Moses Leonard, Sarah’s brother had obviously decided to settle in Coatbridge as he also can be found in the 1861 Census living at Main Street, Coatbridge with his wife Margaret (nee Chalmers)
who was born in Falkirk, Stirlingshire.
His occupation, like his brother-in-law Thomas Ellis is listed as Iron Manufacturer.
It is unknown whether Moses and Margaret had any children.

Moses died on the 3rd of May 1879 aged 49 years. His wife Margaret outlived him by 14 years
and can be found on the 1881 & 1891 Census still living in Coatbridge.
Margaret died at Coatbridge on 13th January 1893.

Thomas and Sarah continued to live in Coatbridge and in 1871 at the age of 52,
Thomas was listed as ‘Iron Master’ on the 1871 Census.
Daughter Sarah Leonard Ellis age 20 and sons John William, age 17 and
Thomas Leonard Ellis age 9 were still living at home with them.

John William Ellis is listed as an Art Student at Glasgow University.

In letters dated 12th November 1878 (described in Thomas’s Will), he made the following statement:

By 3rd/4th April 1881, the date of the 1881 Census, Thomas and Sarah were enumerated Whittington Lodge in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire, daughter Sarah Leonard Ellis and son Thomas Leonard Ellis now with ages listed on the census as 28 and 19 respectively, were still with their parents. Whittington Lodge was a second property owned by Thomas, the other being Dudley House in Coatbridge.

Thomas Ellis died at Whittington Lodge on 28th July 1884.

The Glasgow Herald of 29th July 1884 printed the notice of his death.

The following transcribed Obituary was contained in the same issue:

Death of Mr. Thomas Ellis, Coatbridge

Mr Thomas Ellis, the sole proprietor and originator of the North British Iron-Works, Coatbridge died at his residence at Bridge of Allan yesterday morning. The deceased had been in feeble health for some time past, and within the past few days his illness became so serious that his demise was looked for at any moment, and it took place about half-past one o’clock in the morning.

Thomas Ellis was the son of a cabinet maker, and was born in Whittingham, Shropshire, in 1818, so he attained his 66th year. At a very early age he was left an orphan, and was living near Wrexham, when his natural inclination led him to enter an iron-work as a mill boy. He also learned the puddling branch of the trade.

He came to Scotland about 1842, and entered Dixon’s work at Govan as a mill roller. Shortly afterwards he became manager of the Dundyvan Iron-works, in which capacity he had ample opportunity for indulging his desire for further knowledge of his business.

He returned to Dixon’s again s a merchant bar roller, and his next step was in starting with his brother-in-law, the late Mr. James Leonard, of a small malleable iron-work which is now known as the Phoenix. This was about 1856; and the firm next took a lease of the Globe Iron-works, and during the three years in which they held that lease Mr. Leonard died. The lease of the Globe having expired, Mr. Ellis feued a piece of ground on the Dundyvan estate, and upon this he has reared that great iron-work which is known all over the world. The North British Iron-works, by which name this remarkable work has been known, was founded in 1870, Mr. Ellis being himself the sole partner. It was necessarily a work of comparatively small pretentions. It was the first of the kind in Coatbridge, and was destined under the indomitable perseverance and shrewd business qualities of its projector to take the lead in the malleable-iron trade exported from Scotland.

It started with an output of 40 tons a-month, and the name and class of the iron soon claimed a high position in the home and foreign markets. It was known as the N.B. Crown Brand, and only two years ago the enterprising proprietor purchased the sole right to use the Govan Star Brand – these two brands being well-known throughout the world, large quantities of the iron with these brands having especially gone to India, Australia, and other colonies. From 40 tons a-month 13 or 14 years ago, the output of the North British Works now averages 2000 tons monthly. The number of men employed is considerably over 500, and the coal consumed every 24 hours is about 180 tons.

Mr. Ellis was a man of exceptional energy and perseverance, and worked on the principle of doing everything well that was worth doing. His success in business is probably due to the fact that he worked himself up from the lowest position to the highest, and thus had a practical and thorough knowledge of all its workings. Having been a workman himself he took a deep interest in all that concerned the men in his employment, and was always ready to deal amicably in cases of dispute, over dealing magnanimously and with characteristic generosity in cases where he recognised the men’s interests to be really affected. He did not, however, approve of the union principle, and union men have never, since the last strike, been accepted as workmen in the North British. In politics Mr. Ellis did not figure conspicuously on public occasions, but was known to lean to the Conservative side, although he also accepted a good part of the Liberal creed. In religion he was a member of the Wesleyan Society, and his interest in that body in Coatbridge is best shown by the liberality with which he built the present handsome edifice of St. ThomasWesleyan Church, which cost him a sum of £4000. Up until the time of his death he held the office of Circuit Steward in St. Thomas’ Church.

Mr. Ellis was married to a daughter of the late Mr. James Leonard, Gateshead, by whom he has had a large family. He is survived by a widow, two sons and a daughter, all of whom are grown-ups. Another daughter, who died two years ago, was married to the Rev. Mr. Chambers, late incumbent of St. Thomas’s Wesleyan Church, Coatbridge.

In an extract from his will, Thomas said:

Seven years after the death of Thomas, the 1891 Census finds Sarah Ellis (widow of Thomas), daughter Sarah and son Thomas boarding at the ‘Hydro’ in Logie Parish, Perthshire. This is more than likely to have been the Spa at Bridge of Allan which would have been relatively close to Whittington Lodge.

The following two images show how the Spa appeared in the 1930’s.

Sarah Leonard, widow of Thomas Ellis died 4th February 1895.

Elizabeth Ellis, eldest daughter of Thomas and Sarah married Wesleyan Minister Jabez Chambers shortly after the 1871 Census. They can be found on the 1881 Census living at the Wesleyan Manse in Coatbridge with 3 sons: Albert Ellis Ernest Chambers age 10 (born c1871), Thomas Chalmers age 9 (born c1872) and Ernest Harold Jabez Chambers age 2 months (born 1881). Elizabeth died on 27th June 1882 age 35.

They had another two children, Leonard John Chambers born 29th December 1876 and Sarah Ellis Chambers born c1878. Both these children were with their grandparents Thomas & Sarah Ellis at Whittington Lodge in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire at the time of the 1881 Census.
Leonard John died 18th January 1882 age 5 years 11 months.

After the death, of his wife and child, Jabez Chambers moved away from Coatbridge and was enumerated on 1891 English Census with children Sarah and Ernest at Grantham in Lincolnshire. By 1901, had moved to Devon and had remarried.

Sarah Leonard Ellis, Thomas & Sarah’s 2nd daughter is enumerated on the 1881 Census as both Sarah Millet and Sarah Ellis, age 28. This indicates that she had been married and was possibly a widow back living with her parents. Her year of birth would have been around 1852 which is a close match with the Sarah Leonard Banner in the following photograph

John William Ellis, eldest son of Thomas and Sarah was a Student of Arts at Glasgow University in 1871. He was the son whom his father wished not to have anything to do with the Management of the North British Iron-works (see previous extracts from Thomas’s will).
He is listed on the 1881 Census as living at John Street, Coatbridge with his wife Jane,
their son John W. L. Ellis age 3 and daughter Jane P. L. Ellis age 1.

Strangely, his occupation is listed as Ironwork Manager – of course he may have been a Manager in one of the neighbouring businesses rather than the North British!

John William and Jane’s eldest son was Thomas Ellis,
who died on the 4th February 1881 aged 4 years and 10 months.

Like his mother Sarah, sister and brother (Sarah and Thomas), John and his family were boarding at the ‘Hydro’ in Logie Parish, Perthshire in 1891. His occupation is listed as Ironmaster. The individuals are all listed as ‘Boarders’ and no family relationships appear, but  there are 2 Ellis children alongside John and Jane - John W. L. Ellis age 13, known to be their son and a Sarah L. Ellis age 8, probably their daughter. Their third son James Leonard Ellis who was born c1884, and would be around 7 years old is not with the family.

John William Ellis died on 28th November 1891 aged 38 years and as can plainly be seen from the following photograph – he seems to have had a definite connection with the North British Iron-works!

Thomas Leonard Ellis, second son of Thomas and Sarah was born c1862 and died at
Whittington House, Dunbeth Avenue, Coatbridge on 27th March 1897 aged 35.

He married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Ritchie Lindsay at Gartsherrie Parish Church on 18th April 1893
Lizzie was the daughter of John Lindsay, Portioner and Jane Lindsay nee Pettigrew of Rosslyn House, Coatbridge.

His occupation on the 1881 Census is listed as Clerk in Iron Works, in the 1891 Census as Iron Manufacturer and as Ironmaster on his marriage and death registration.

The Ellis Family Lair in in Section 19 of Old Monkland Cemetery, Coatbridge.


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  4. I am a direct descendant of Thomas Ellis - there are paintings of Mr & Mrs Ellis in the Summerlee Museum.

  5. I am also a direct descendant - email me if you are interested in contact