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Tyne and Wear HER(4144): Ouseburn, Ouseburn Lead Works - Details

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Ouseburn, Ouseburn Lead Works




Metal Smelting Works

Lead Works

Early Modern


Documentary Evidence

James & Co's white lead manufactory for paints and varnishes was operating as early as 1801 and used primitive production methods until its closure over a century later. A headline in the London Daily Chronicle in December 1892 reported on Tyneside's white lead trade and the plight of their workers: "White Cemeteries - How Women Are Poisoned". The writer described the stacking or "blue bed" process by which thin sheets of lead were placed upon small earthware pots containing acetic acid, stacked up to twelve layers high. Another article, "The Human Dredger", reported that "women stand on rough staging one above the other, and hand the dishes of wet lead up and up till the top shelves are full. Then the lower ones are packed, and when the stoves are "set", gas or fire is applied, and the batch is left to dry for a fortnight. The sight of these pale women, with the red hankerchiefs bound tightly over their hair, enveloped in the sack-like overall, going on quietly and incessantly with this drill, passing up the wet poison like a live dredging machine into the dark recesses of the stove, is a sort of nightmare to carry away with you". The acid fermented in the jars and turned the sheet lead into a carbonate lead paste. The "white bed" process involved drying the paste in large ovens to form powdered carbonate of lead. The fine white lead was then mixed with oil to form paint. Some of the powdered lead would have been sold to other oil and paint works, shipped out on wherries to the Tyne or by horse and cart. The 1900 Factory Act enforced the provision of dust extractors, abolished the old drying stoves, banned female labour and stopped the practice of workers entering the stoves to empty the stacks. In 1900 statistics of lead poisoning showed that the three chief offenders were Tyneside firms: of 66 workers at James & Co., 32 had experienced poisoning. The old works of James & Co. fell into disuse by 1914. The site is now covered by landfill.




<< HER 4144 >> 1st edition Ordnance Survey Map, 1864, 6 inch scale, Northumberland, 97 Northern Counties Archaeological Services, 2002, Byker City Farm, Archaeological Assessment, p11 Ouseburn Heritage, Issue 2, pp 5-7

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