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Harvey & Co iron foundry, site of
Foundry Square, Hayle, Cornwall, UK
associated engineer
Richard Trevithick
Arthur Woolf
date  1779 - 1983
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Factory/Industrial Plant  |  reference  SW558371
Harvey & Co. was the first iron foundry in Cornwall, and later diversified into many trades. The company also built the largest steam engines in the world. The Harvey and Trevithick families were linked during the 18th and 19th centuries, when steam power fuelled the Industrial Revolution in Britain.
The town of Hayle in west Cornwall is sited on the estuary of the Penpol River. John Harvey (1730-1803) established his iron foundry at the western end of the town in 1779, though he had a smithy elsewhere before that date. His first involvement with the Trevithicks was in 1775, when he was employed by Richard Trevithick senior (1735-97) as part of the team installing a second-hand Newcomen engine at Dolcoath Mine, where Trevithick was mine captain.
Harvey & Co.’s rivals, the Cornish Copper Co., had established premises at the eastern end of Hayle in 1758, where they smelted copper, later diversifiying into iron founding. The two companies competed fiercely for more than a century, particularly over the use of harbour quays, dividing the town’s loyalties. Finally, on 10th December 1867, Harvey & Co. bought the Cornish Copper Co. — by then known as Sandys, Carne & Vivian — and gained control of Hayle's harbour. They increased their access to the sea by acquiring Porthleven Harbour, 13km south east of Hayle, in 1855.
One of the foundry’s early commissions was the casting of a 4.6 tonne tenor bell for Stithians parish church in 1790. By 1800, the firm employed more than 50 people and its main business was connected with manufacturing steam engines, working with such noted Cornish engineers as Richard Trevithick (1771-1833, son of the Dolcoath mine captain), William West (1751-1831) and Arthur Woolf (1766-1837). However, shipbuilding was to become equally important to them.
They bought their first ship, the 36.6 tonne sloop Providence, in 1787 to import iron and coal for the foundry, and also to supply the local copper and tin mines with coal for their steam engines. She had been built in 1777 at Barmouth in Gwynedd, Wales, but was lost around the turn of the century. A second ship, the 61 tonne brig Henry, was launched at Appledore in north Devon in January 1795.
John Harvey had four sons but only Henry (1775-1850) survived to take over the foundry business, becoming an equal partner with his father in around 1801. The foundry began building its own ships in 1805, with the 50.8 tonne sloop Elizabeth. She lost her mast in a storm in November 1818 and was towed to Tenby for repairs. She foundered off Morwenstow in north Cornwall in winter 1819-20, though local farmer John Adams rescued the crew.
Henry Harvey wanted to expand the business after his father’s death but lacked the capital. On 30th September 1809, he raised £28,000 by selling the company’s stock and premises to a co-partnership intended to operate for 21 years. He held a three-eighths share, and Hannibal Curnow Blewett (born 1769) held the remainder, subletting an eighth share to Andrew Vivian (1759-1842) and a sixteenth share each to Thomas Ellis (1755-1823) and Philip Richards. The new firm was named United Mining Company but known more generally as Blewett, Harvey, Vivian & Co.
The partnership bought the 72.1 tonne brig Alfred, built at Barnstaple in Devon in 1807. In August 1814, a larger vessel was ordered, and the 107.7 tonne brig Fame duly launched from the Chapman & Ellis shipyard at Bideford in Devon. The ships were used for cargoes of building materials, and the partnership added constructing dwellings to its list of trades. Despite this seeming affluence, money was at first in short supply and the partnership inharmonious. In 1812, Blewett sought dissolution and the court closed the foundry from 5th September to 14th December that year while the Lord Chancellor deliberated. The partnership was dissolved with judgement in favour of Henry Harvey, who was appointed receiver and manager.
The winding up process was completed on 29th January 1816 and the company name reverted to Harvey & Co. By this time, Harvey was receiving more work from the Cornish mines and was able to buy out Blewett and Richards. Ellis remained a partner and was joined by West and Harvey’s sister Elizabeth (1779-1848). Arthur Woolf was employed as superintendent from 1816, though he was also working for various mines. He worked solely at Harveys from around 1820 until his retirement in 1833.
The rejuvenated company expanded, and tin smelting began in October 1816 using ore from Great Wheal Vor mine (SW624303) near Helston. They may have smelted copper from Wheal Squire mine (SW557342) near St Erth in 1817.
A new quay 400m long was completed in late 1819 and more ships were purchased. In February 1820, the new 59.9 tonne schooner John Adams was built by Thomas Williams of Neath in west Glamorgan, though she was lost with all hands in December 1823. Four second-hand vessels joined Harvey’s growing fleet — in 1827 the 112.8 tonne brig Rosewarne built at Bideford 1814, in 1829 the 91.4 tonne brig Park built at Goole 1800, in 1830 the 91.4 tonne brig Providence II built at Barnstaple 1805 (wrecked in the Towy estuary 1833, salvaged, and lost 14th October 1853) and in 1832 the 203.2 tonne brig Phoebe built at St George in New Brunswick, Canada, 1823 (sold 1841).
Henry Harvey had no children, so in 1834 the business passed into the hands of one of his nephews — Nicholas Oliver Harvey (1801-61). Nicholas had worked at the Fijnoord Engineering Works in Rotterdam, building steam boats capable of navigating the River Rhine. Under his guidance Harvey & Co. began building ships in-house for local customers.
During the next decade they produced eight schooners (John Harvey 1834, Elizabeth II November 1836, Henry II 1837, Nancy 1838, Jane 1840, Joanna 1842, William 1842 and Frank 1844), three smacks (Nautilus 1834, Trelissick January 1839 and Mellanear May 1839), one brig (Hayle 1835) and one sloop (Carnsew 1836). The Carnsew was lengthened by 3m and rigged as a ketch to transport boilers in 1838, and the Frank was lengthened by 3.65m in 1845.
Harvey then turned his attention to the Cornish engines that had proved so successful, and with William West manufactured the double-beat valve for large pumping engines. Harvey & Co. supplied pumping engines to Liverpool Waterworks in 1845, East London Waterworks in 1855 (this one had a 2.54m diameter cylinder and was then the largest in Britain) and to the Metropolitan Water Board in 1857.
Perhaps the company’s most impressive achievement was building two of the three largest steam engines in the world, for the Dutch government. In February 1843, Harvey & Co. was commissioned to build the first engine for a scheme to drain Haarlem Mere near Amsterdam. It was a compound beam engine that drove eight main pumps, and had a power output of 261kW. Its large (low pressure) cylinder had an internal diameter of 3.66m and surrounded its smaller (higher pressure) cylinder of 2.13m diameter, which had a piston rod 5.79m long.
The engine, pumps, boilers and rocking beams were all housed in a circular tiered brick building — the whole installation being named Leeghwater, after hydraulic engineer Jan Adriaansz Leeghwater (1575-1650). This engine was tested successfully in summer 1845 and by January 1846 the Dutch government had ordered two more engines for installations named after Nicolaas Samuel Cruquius (1678-1754) and Godard Frans van Lijnden (1761-1845). Harvey & Co. built the Cruquius engine. The combined cost of the Cruquius and van Lijnden engines was £36,917.
All three engines were steaming by February 1849 and Haarlem Mere was drained by 1852, enabling land to be reclaimed for polders. Early in the 20th century the Leeghwater and van Lijnden engines were converted to oil power and later diesel electric operation. The Cruquius engine remained steam powered, though it was used as a reserve from 1912 to 1932 and was decommissioned officially on 10th June 1933. The engine is still in place, preserved as part of the Cruquius Museum.
Nicholas Harvey also began constructing iron-hulled steam tugs for use on the River Rhine. In 1858 the company built the 417.6 tonne iron paddle steamer Cornubia for the Hayle Steam Packet Company, though she was bought by the Confederate forces of the American Civil War (1861–1865) in 1861 and was sold on 25th October 1865. After Nicholas' death, control passed to William Husband (1822-87), a former apprentice at Harvey & Co.
More engines were supplied to the Metropolitan Water Board in 1870, with pumping engines for the Severn Tunnel in 1877 and a beam engine for the Cape Copper Mining Company in Okiep, South Africa, in 1882. The Severn Tunnel engines were still working under steam power in the 1960s, while the Okiep engine worked until 1929 and remains in situ.
In 1883, the firm acquired limited liability status and in 1885 William Husband left. Nicholas Harvey’s eldest son Henry Nicholas Harvey (1857-92) took over. Under his leadership the company increased its shipbuilding initiatives, and in 1891 launched the 4,000 tonne cargo steamer Ramleh — the largest ship built in Cornwall. However, competition was reducing the profitability of shipbuilding and the venture and was later abandoned. A beam engine was built for East Pool and Agar mine near Camborne in 1892 and an inverted vertical triple expansion engine was made for the Metropolitan Water Board two years later, though the company’s heavy engineering output was dwindling.
Harvey & Co. closed the foundry and engineering works in 1903 and the shipyard the following year, though they continued trading in building supplies. In 1957, the firm bought the timber merchant Fox, Stanton & Co. and also began selling heating oil. In 1961 they relinquished control of Porthleven Harbour.
In 1969, Harvey & Co. became part of United Builders Merchants Ltd, and traded as UBM Harvey until 1983. The 223ha of Harvey holdings — including the whole port of Hayle — were then divided into 10 lots and sold for redevelopment.
The original offices of Harvey & Co. at 24 Foundry Square have been Grade II* listed since the company’s closure in 1983. This building, now named John Harvey House, was redeveloped in 2004 by a partnership of Harvey's Foundry Trust, Penwith District Council, Hayle Town Council, English Heritage, South West Regional Development Agency, Heritage Lottery Fund, Cornwall County Council and the Prince's Trust.
The red brick Foundry House (circa 1825, SW558371) on Foundry Hill, the timber store and drying shed (circa 1850, SW556372) on Carnsew Road, the former Foundry School (circa 1860, SW557368) built for the workers’ children on Foundry Hill, the pattern shop (SW557371) and other associated 19th century foundry buildings on Foundry Lane are all Grade II listed buildings.
Research: ECPK
"The Harveys of Hayle: engine-builders, shipwrights, and merchants of Cornwall” by Edmund Vale, D. Bradford Barton, Truro, 1966, 2nd edition, The Trevithick Society, 2009
"Hayle: A Brief History” by S.R. Thomas, revised 2008
“Early Steam Pumping Engines in the Netherlands”
by K. Van Der Pols, in Transactions of the Newcomen Society, London, 14th November 1973
“Cornish Mining: Notes from the Account Book of Richard Trevithick, Senior”
by Arthur Titley, in Transactions of the Newcomen Society, London, 17th December 1930
“Life of Richard Trevithick, with an account of his inventions”
by Francis Trevithick, E. & F.N. Spon, London, 1872
“Obituary: Nicholas Oliver Harvey, 1801-1861” in ICE Proceedings, Vol.21, pp.558-560, London, January 1862

Harvey & Co iron foundry, site of