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Oregrounds iron

The English term Oregrounds iron takes its name from the small Swedish city of Öregrund. In the 18th century oregrounds iron was regarded as the best grade available in England.

Oregrounds iron is the equivalent of the Swedish vallonjärn, which literally translates as Walloon iron. The Swedish name derives from the iron being produced by the Walloon version of the finery forge process, as opposed the the German method, which was more common in Sweden. Actually, the term is more specialised, as all the Swedish Walloon forges made iron from ore ultimately derived from the Dannemora mine. It was made in about 20 forges mainly in Uppland.

Many of the ironworks were founded by Louis de Geer and other Dutch entrepreneurs who set up ironworks in Sweden in the 1610s and 1620s. Most of the early blacksmiths were also Walloon immigrants.

Quality, uses and marketing

Swedish law required bars of iron to have the forge's mark stamped into it for quality control reasons. In Britain, the iron was known by these 'marks', and the quality of each brand was well-known to the buyers in London, Sheffield, Birmingham and elsewhere. It was divided into two grades:

  • 'First oregrounds' came from Österby ('double bullet'), Leufsta (now Lövsta - hoop L), and Åkerby (PL crown). Later Gimo joined them.
  • 'Second oregrounds' came from the other forges, including Forsmark, Harg, Vattholma, and Ullfors.

Its special property was its purity. The manganese content of the Dannemora ore caused impurities, which would otherwise have remained in the iron, to react preferentially with the manganese and to be carried off into the slag. This level of purity meant that the iron was particularly suitable for conversion to steel by being re-carburized, using the cementation process. This made it particularly suitable for making steel, oregrounds iron was an indispensable raw material for metal manufactures, particularly the Sheffield cutlery industry. Substantial quantities were also (until about 1808) bought for use by the British Navy.

This and other uses absorbed substantially the whole output of the industry. The trade in oregrounds iron was controlled from the 1730s to the 1850s by a cartel of merchants, of whom the longest enduring members were the Sykes family of Hull. Other participants were resident in (or controlling imports through) London and Bristol. These merchants advanced money to Swedish exporting houses, which in turn advanced it to the ironmasters, thus buying up the output of the forges several years in advance.


  • K. C. Barrclough, Steelmaking before Bessemer: I Blister Steel (Metals Society, London, 1985).
  • K. C. Barrclough, 'Swedish iron and Sheffield steel' History of Technology 12 (1990), 1-39 - originally published in Swedish in A Attman et al., Forsmark och vallonjärnet [Forsmark and Walloon iron] (Sweden 1987)
  • P. W. King, 'The Cartel in Oregrounds Iron' Journal of Industrial History 6(1) (2003), 25-48.
  • K-G. Hildebrand, Swedish iron in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: export industry before industrialization (Stockholm 1992).
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Oregrounds_iron". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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