Cannock Road to Fox's Lane 2

This section of the canal stretches from lock 6 to lock 10 and includes Griffin, Morris, & Griffin's Ceres Works, and the Corporation's Team Department.

Ceres Works - Griffin, Morris, & Griffin

The company was founded by Edward Griffin in 1821 on Snow Hill, importing hemp, flax, and tar. He manufactured nets, rope, and twine, and sold boat cloths, door mats, mill sails, sacks, tarpaulins, and wagon and cart covers.

His entry in Pigot & Company’s 1842 Staffordshire directory is as follows:

Edward Griffin, rope, rick cloth, and sacking. Baltic Place, Snow Hill.

He was joined by John Morris in the 1840s, and formed Griffin & Morris and Company.

Ceres Works, from the London & North Western Railway's guide book of 1861.

The company's canal basin and wharves are in the bottom right-hand corner.

The company’s entry in White’s 1851 Staffordshire directory is as follows:

Griffin & Morris and Company, rope, twine, and sacking manufacturers, and linseed cake dealers, Snow Hill.

By 1857 the business had moved to Ceres Works and began to manufacture manure. On Sunday 22nd November, 1857 a large fire engulfed the Snow Hill site, which the company vacated. An article about the fire, published in the Wolverhampton Chronicle on Wednesday 25th November, 1857 states that the business moved from the Snow Hill premises to the company's other premises off Stafford Road, where they made manure. So at that time Ceres works was already in operation.

Their entry in the 1860 Post Office Directory lists them as manure merchants and agents.

The works had two covered wharves above a large basin at the southern end of the site, and a number of loading bays along the side of the canal.

By this time the company’s name had changed to Griffin, Morris, & Griffin.

John Morris.

Another view of Ceres Works.
This advert from an 1861 trade directory shows that the business on Snow Hill had been sold to
W. H. Lee & Company, and continued to sell a similar range of products.

The 1861 North Western Railway Guide includes a description of the company and the production of artificial manures. The sections that relate to Ceres Works are as follows:

…having run with the train through Wolverhampton station, you have only to look down the embankment on your right hand, to discover an extensive pile of bright red brick buildings; which constitute the Ceres Works of Messrs. Griffin, Morris, and Griffin, and are the most complete and flourishing artificial manure works to be found in the United Kingdom.

The buildings are somewhat striking in appearance, and, being built of bright red bricks, contrast favourably with the many smoke-stained and dingy erections which have been passed. The area of the works is about 4 acres, and they are so located as to command the best means of transit to every part of the kingdom, the Birmingham and Liverpool Canal constituting their boundary on one side, and the London and North Western and the Shrewsbury and Birmingham railways being in almost immediate contiguity on the other – presenting facilities of conveyance that are of the highest importance in the case of a manufacture which is at once of considerable bulk and weight, and in which economy in the cost of transit (of both the raw material and the completed article) becomes no inconsiderable element of the price……

……it is the province of agricultural chemistry, in connection with accelerated conversion, as evidenced at the “Ceres Works” of Messrs. Griffin, Morris, and Griffin, to supply. The principal material in all artificial manures is bones, but subsidiary articles, such as dried horse flesh from South America, and dried ox blood, gathered chiefly on the continent, are also constituents, and contribute, with the necessary admixtures, to the formation of the various manures – not less than 10 distinct kinds, which are found to be the most suitable to different crops; thus, some for wheat and straw crops, and some for green crops; some for root crops.

In the manufactory of Messrs. Griffin, Morris, and Griffin, thousands of tons of bones are – we were about to say, annually consumed – but we must say, rendered the means of producing thousands of tons of food – grain and grass alike benefiting by their application in the shape of artificial manure.....

....It would be quite impossible to enumerate the various processes these bones undergo before they are finally ready for the dissolving machine; suffice it to say, that the various mills and machinery, requiring steam power equal to 70 horse, are of the most perfect and complete character: and the surprise to us, was that a manufacture of so comparatively a modern date should have so soon attained such perfection.....

....The substances come forth in a semi-liquid state; they are then carried off to different deposits according to their kind, the machine that we have noticed turning out between 70 and 80 tons daily. The manure for this has become its designation, is placed under shelter in vast heaps, rising with pathway round, except that they are square, like pyramids, until they are 40 or 50 feet high. In this state they dry and become solid. When wanted, they are broken up, and often from 30 to 40 men are employed in breaking up a single heap. It is riddled as it is broken up in large circular riddles – the larger pieces that will not pass through the riddle being carried off to the respective places allotted for its reception, and bagged for transmission to its destination.....

....We must however stop, but we cannot do so without noticing that, owing to the large expenditure they have incurred, and the scientific means to which Messrs. Griffin, Morris, and Griffin have resorted, the manufacture is carried on without emission of effluvia offensive to the neighbourhood: they are, by mechanical and chemical appliances which we cannot describe, completely destroyed. The demand for artificial manures is great, and it is every day increasing. Messrs. Griffin, Morris, and Griffin are, we believe, among the largest manufacturers; and we cannot better close our notice than by recommending all who take an interest in one of the most important manufactures of modern times, to pay a visit to their establishment. We may add that a large sack, sack cloth, and tarpaulin manufactory is attached, which has been established nearly 40 years, and is one of the most extensive in England.

In June 1861 the following article about Ceres Works appeared in the second edition of 'The Official Illustrated Guide to the Great Western Railway':

The first object that strikes the eye on entering the gateway of the 'Ceres Works' is a yard full of refuse woollen textures; this is a reserve stock, as a guard against contingencies in reference to supply. The next object in order is an immense collection of bones, raw boiled, and calcined. The former are collected in neighbouring towns and counties, and subjected to the influence of heat for the extraction of those gelatinous and oily matters which would otherwise retard the dissolution of the whole organic construction. This heating is more economical in point of time and agents, than the application of sulphuric acid to them in the raw state would be.

Hoofs and horn parings lie about in odd corners, but as these objects are small in proportion to the other parts of animal structure no further notice of them need to be taken than to say, it is a good thing that they are not wasted as they used to be, but that their valuable elements, though small, are rendered capable of at once entering into reproduction, first of plants, and secondly of animals.

With these things before us as stock, we have a key to the local reputation of this firm as manure manufacturers, and substantial material to work upon in this current historical narrative relating to agricultural progression. Wool has been proved to be a fertiliser second to no other material for certain crops, as for instance, by the favour that woollen rags are in with hop-growers; and equally so in certain proportions with other fertilisers, for both corn and green crops. Bones also are too well known, from their proved effect on dairy pastures, and in a boiled form in large quantities, or as superphosphate in small quantities for turnips to need any special recommendation.

The refuse woollen material is first introduced into the maw of a 'wool digester'. This is a cylindrical iron boiler, about ten feet deep by six in diameter, with a fixed hood on it, having a door about eighteen inches square on the side of the hood for its introduction. Then a given quantity, varying to the requirements of the hour, has been introduced, loose 'waste' is placed on the edges and the door is closed and screwed down that no offensive effluvia may escape. A pipe is attached to the top for conveying the steam and scent to a special condenser and purifier, at a distant part of the premises. Sulphuric acid is the agent used to liquefy this woollen waste, and in a few minutes that which was wool and sulphuric acid is ready to be drawn off when required as sulphate of ammonia. This retort will hold about two tons of waste, and in from thirty to forty minutes that quantity can be liquefied and combined in the proportions as sulphate of ammonia.

The raw bones are first placed in a similar boiler, but with a door at the bottom to rake them out, when sufficiently acted on, and the 'size' from them has been drawn off. These bones are not subjected to great heat, but to a continuous steam for some hours, till the gelatinous substance which gave them toughness has been withdrawn as 'size', and they are in a fit state to grow brittle as they get dry. These bones, when fit, and the calcined heaps, which are always ready, are crushed and ground to an impalpable powder by French stone mills, just as wheat is made into meal. The small proportions of palpable particles, or the 'offal' as it may be turned in this milling comparison, is separated by sieves, and reserved to supply ten percent of insoluble phosphate of lime that it is advisable to use in nominally soluble fertilisers, that too much food may not be present for the plants at starting, and, as in the case of turnips, complete exhaustion by September or October.

Ceres Works

Running from the bottom of the 'wool digester' is a cistern, above which is a trough with a trap board at the bottom. In this trough a certain quantity of bone dust is put, when jerk goes a lever, and down goes that article into the cistern. A certain quantity of sulphuric acid then spouts from some subterranean source. All this time two Archimedean screws are at work, one, one way, the other opposing, so that in a few minutes the contents, so far, are in an agitated mass of bubbles and paste. Then the tap from the 'wool digester' is turned on till an exact proportion has been poured in, by which time the matter of the cistern is all bubbles and soup, with no paste. During this time the man at the trough is still at work, and at the end of a fixed time jerk goes the lever again, and down goes that lot into the mixing tank. The last jerk or two supply drying or shortening organic material. If this were not introduced, the dissolved wool, hooves and horns, and the subtle cohesive qualities of bones that have been liberated by heat and sulphuric acid, together with the returned portion of the gelatinous fluid previously extracted, on cooling, would turn tough and hard, and a farmer would be as well pleased with a ton of gutta percha, in its native impurity, for distribution.

This is the digesting, dissolving, and blending process of this new feature in agriculture for economising labour, and making fertiliser out of substances that a few years ago were thrown to the dogs, and afterwards kicked out of one's way or pitched into a hole or rut for the combined purpose of getting rid of this nuisance, and helping to fill up in some sort of way. All this is carried on with so much regularity; every man being at his lever, tap, bag of material, shovel, truck, or barrow that from two or three tons of the mixture, of pease pudding consistency, are evacuated, and this rapidly by means of the 'eternal' screws, every thirty five minutes!

A clock is before the foreman at the trough, and his lever and the taps are directed by him at those stated intervals which have been found long enough to be economical, and short enough to admit of despatch. Messrs Griffin, Morris and Griffin's success, as artificial manure manufacturers, is no doubt owing, in a great measure, to the enormous quantity of sulphuric acid they use, in their own way, in developing the raw material they search for; and also, in their own way, get. The ponderous heap above mentioned is like good beer in a good cellar, improving day by day, to come out with its qualities fully developed for spring and summer consumption.

In conclusion, we may mention another branch of business attached to this artificial manure manufactory, as there is a preparation being made for adopting novel features of this wonderful age for mechanical contrivances, and works for lessening labour, both of men and women. The senior partner of this firm established long ago an extensive tarpaulin and sack-making business. The reputation of the present firm has commanded for them so great a demand for their cloths and sacks, that they cannot get them made half fast enough by hand. Consequently they have fixed a seven horsepower steam engine to drive eight sewing machines and a printing press for stamping the names of their customers on these articles. One sewing machine is being worked by hand, and no simple handwork can touch it by comparison. But this is not half fast enough even for that. What is wanted at present is machinery that will turn out a sack, cut from the piece, sewn and printed, about every half minute or so, and tarpaulins in proportion. To make the latter thoroughly waterproof, about a fortnight is absorbed in dressing and drying, and redressing and re-drying them.

A larger map of the works.

The company’s products included artificial manure manures for all crops, growing and fatting compounds for horses, oxen, cows, and sheep. Corn, flour and potato sacks, rick cloths and tarpaulins, wagon and cart sheets, canvas and hair nose bags and cloths.

On 9th November, 1866 John Morris began his term as mayor of Wolverhampton.

On Friday 30th November, Queen Victoria visited the town to unveil the statue of Prince Albert in Queen Square. During the ceremony he was knighted by the queen.

In 1871 Edward Griffin retired, leaving two members of his family to run the business with John Morris.

The company then became Morris & Griffin. In the same year they began to manufacture sulphuric acid.

By 1926 the factory had closed because in that year the site was purchased by Wolverhampton Corporation.

The remains of the loading bays.

Crown Street Wharf and the Corporation Team Department

The location of the site.

Sanitation as we know it today is a relatively modern thing.

In many towns, sewers were not laid to all of the houses until well into the 1920's.

The late George Peck who was 99 years old (in 2009) remembered what it was like when the night soil men used to call:

Our toilet was just a hole in a wooden board with a metal container below, which of course had to be emptied and the contents disposed of. We used to have 2 or 3 toilets to 5 or 6 houses. One board with a hole cut in and a big galvanised tank with 2 handles, underneath.

They used to come every so often to empty it. They would come in rough sort of clothes, rough sort of blokes, they'd come with their horse and cart. It was just an open cart, you see, with roll-up waterproof covers. It would carry about 10 of these things. They would put a big hook on and drag them across the yard. It was a big yard, the things used to come over bricks and there was nothing made on the level, just up and down. They had got to drag them down the entry. They used to overspill and it would be all over the floor. Two men would lift them onto the cart and when it had got the 10 or 12 vessels in, they used to drive it through the main street and down to Crown Street, where they were emptied.

There was a big field there, by the canal, where they emptied a lot of them. Naturally it developed a lot of maggots. Blokes couldn't afford maggots to go fishing and they used to go there to get them. I went there as a kid, my dad was with me, so he must have been getting them as well. We used to go fresh water fishing. That was something you used to enjoy. On night, one bloke went the wrong way and fell into the ‘whatsit’, up to his arms in it. They pulled him out and he stank terrible, so they said "We can't do nothing with you" and dragged him, and threw him in the cut. They got him out and took him home. That was down the bottom of Crown Street. Of course the Corporation was in Crown Street, where all of the factories are now.

The first water toilet we had was down a kind of a well. It was about ten feet down and was what they called an offset tip. It was a cylindrical vessel at the bottom that was unevenly balanced so that when it eventually filled up with water, it would tip itself into a sump, which they had got to empty eventually. That was our first water toilet. All your ashes and things used to be thrown into a big hole in the side of the wall and blokes used to have to come and shovel them out. The ashes were shovelled into baskets that they carried across the yard on their heads, down the entry and were tipped into the ash cart. The ashes were also taken to Crown Street. You had to pay them to take them away. Youngsters don't know what they have missed.

The night soil men were an essential part of town life until the deep sewers were laid.

In 1863 the Wolverhampton Manure Company had the contract for night soil, which was later passed on to R. Deans & Son.

In 1868 when the Council took on the responsibility for sewage, under the control of the ‘Team’ Committee. Deans & Son’s premises in School Street were purchased for the operation.

In 1872 the ‘Team’ Committee purchased a piece of land on the northern side of Ceres Works from Morris & Griffin at a cost of £3,000.

The land lay in between the canal and Crown Street, and extended from Jordans Bridge over the canal to Fox’s Lane Bridge.

Wolverhampton's Waste Incinerator.

The Team Committee’s report describes the site as follows:

During the year a piece of land (about 6 acres), near the Ceres Works, has been purchased by the Corporation, a portion of which is to be used for sanitary purposes, and the Public Works Committee are about to construct a canal basin and stabling on it, for the accommodation of this department. Your committee expect great benefit from having premises so convenient, and such improved facilities for getting rid of night soil, besides which, from its situation, they will effect a great saving in canal dues.

The night soil was distributed to farmers using the Corporation’s own boats. Eventually the facility became unnecessary as the old slums disappeared, and sewers were laid. The site is now occupied by Wolverhampton’s Waste Incinerator.

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