John Cockerill (1790–1840)

John Cockerill was the archetype of those British engineers who took the technologies of the Industrial Revolution to continental Europe and developed successful and long-lived manufacturing enterprises. He was the son of William Cockerill (1759-1832), a man of great mechanical talents who made his living by making flying shuttles and other components for textile machines. He went to St Petersburg in 1794, but after the death of Empress Catherine II was imprisoned. After escaping to Sweden, he settled in Verviers as a maker of textile machines.

His 12-year-old son John joined him in 1802. John was a partner with his father and brother in a workshop established in Liege in 1807, where they manufactured textile machines. In 1815-6 he and his brother set up a successful woollen manufacturing business in Berlin, but returned to the Liege area, then ruled by William I of the Netherlands, where from 1817 he established coke-fired blast furnaces in the former palace of the Prince Bishops of Liege at Seraing, to which by 1850 he had added forges, foundries and engineering shops forming an integrated complex extending 5 km along the banks of the River Meuse. The works specialised initially in supplying railway companies with rails, locomotives, wagons and constructional ironwork. Cockerill built La Belge, a 2-2-2 steam locomotive, the first to be constructed in continental Europe, and the works had completed 100 locomotives by 1844.

He died in Warsaw while returning to Seraing after discussing the prospects for equipping projected railways in Russia. In 1850 the Seraing complex was probably the largest of its kind in Europe, and its last blast furnace continued operation until 2005.

A memorial to Cockerill was erected at Seraing in 1871.