Old Limekiln Wharf and Commercial Wharf

On the southern corner of Horseley Fields Junction, next to the Wyrley and Essington Canal stop lock were two wharves, Old Limekiln Wharf and Commercial Wharf.
There were two canal basins, one from the BCN which has now disappeared, and another from the Wyrley and Essington, the northern half of which still exists.

The canal basin on the right of the map had a slip dock on its western side, consisting of a slipway that led into the canal basin.

It allowed boats to be repaired or constructed, and was covered with a later single storey structure, dating from around 1890.

Several old limekilns are marked on the 1902 Ordnance survey map, near the northern end of Old Limekiln Wharf. Limestone to feed the kilns would have been transported to the wharf on narrow boats from some of the many quarries in the Black Country. Pigot & Company’s Directory of 1842 and White’s 1851 Staffordshire Directory both list a lime burner at Horseley Fields by the name of John Ellis, so presumably he was based at the wharf. It appears that the lime kilns were still in use in the 20th century. The 1902 Wolverhampton Red Book includes the following entry:

Lime Burner – James Baker, Horseley Fields
Lime Merchant – James Baker, Horseley Fields

By 1908 the business is listed as lime merchants only, so the limekilns may no longer have been in use at that time.

For many years Limekiln Wharf was owned by members of the Dyke family. I must thank Jo Skidmore, Aubrey Dyke's granddaughter, for the following information, which brings the story of the wharf, almost up-to-date.

In the 1940s the wharf was owned by Elijah Dyke, his son Aubrey, and a third party. Elijah had a number of canal boats which operated from the wharf. At least three of his boats were 'Ampton' boats, for use on the Wolverhampton level of the BCN.

'Ampton' was the boater's name for Wolverhampton. Because there were no locks along the Wolverhampton level, it was possible to use longer and wider boats on this section, which stretched from the Wyrley and Essington at Wolverhampton, through to the Cannock Arm, and to Factory Junction at Tipton. Large quantities of coal were transported along the canal from the mines at Cannock to the wharves at Wolverhampton. The boats, also known as 'wharf boats' could carry a load of 45 to 50 tons. They were built of wood and usually had a day cabin.

This type of boat would have been ideal for Elijah, who owned several coal mines, including Bradley Mine. Three of his boats were as follows:

Name BCN gauge number Date of gauge testing Dimensions
Aubrey BCN 1037 30/3/1925 80ft. 2in. x 7ft. 7in.
Down And Out BCN 1214 21/10/1926 83ft. 7in. x 7ft. 8.5in.
Florence BCN 933 8/10/1924 82ft. 4in. x 7ft. 8in.

The boats were named after Elijah's children, Aubrey, Florence, and possibly Patricia. It is believed that 'Down And Out' was originally called 'Patricia', but later renamed, after Patricia's death in her 20s.

When Elijah retired in March 1945, his business passed-on to his son Aubrey Dyke. Aubrey used part of the wharf for his own business, and rented the other buildings to several small business owners. A surviving valuation document from January 1954 lists the tenants as follows;

Mr. White, who occupied 110 square yards, Mr. Tonks, who occupied 290 square yards, Mr. Penny, who occupied 772 square yards, and Mr. Saunders, who occupied 396 square yards.

One problem with the site was the road access from Lower Horseley Fields, through a railway bridge with a very low arch. Because of this, all of Aubrey's trucks had low beds. Sadly Aubrey died in 1959 at the young age of 56. His wife inherited the wharf and continued to collect rents from the tenants, possibly until the late 1970s, after which she sold it to Mr. Penny.

Aubrey's son Ivan, remembers his father's coal wharf, and two separate brass foundries, run by Mr. Saunders and Mr. Tonks respectively. The furnaces were in the ground, in the yard. Mr. Penny cast fence posts and other concrete items in his part of the wharf.

Some of the small buildings that stood between the two wharves still exist, but are now derelict.

The old Commercial Wharf buildings, as they were in the early 1970s.

What's left of the buildings today.

An advert from 1915.

Several other small wharves were on the eastern side of the basin from the Wyrley and Essington Canal, and another, Cleveland Wharf was at the southern end of the BCN basin. The buildings associated with the basins were in use until recent times. Throughout the years a large number of small businesses occupied the buildings, many of them would have only existed for a short time. Kelly’s 1962 Directory of Wolverhampton lists two businesses on Cleveland Wharf: J. P. Griffiths Limited, iron and steel stockholders; and Bulls Head Motor Body Repairs. At the time Commercial Wharf was occupied by Trucose Engineering Limited, general engineers; and A.M.S. Marine, boat repairs.

What's left of the basin that ran from the Wyrley and Essington Canal to Commercial Wharf.

Union Works

Until December 2003 cut nails were still made in Wolverhampton. The long-lived local industry ended with the closure of the Crown Nail Company’s factory. One of the first factories in the area to produce cut nails must have been Union Works, owned by John Neve and Company. The works was situated near the northern end of the Wyrley and Essington canal basin next to Commercial Wharf.

The company is listed as a cut nail maker in Pigot & Company’s 1842 Directory, and White’s 1851 Staffordshire Directory. In 1853/54 John Neve became Mayor of Wolverhampton and was described as a prominent and influential person in his native town of Wolverhampton, and a gentleman engaged in a large lucrative business. The narrow side road that leads from Lower Horseley Fields to Union Works became known as Neve’s Opening.

John Neve.

John Neve was descended from the Rev. Titus Neve, Rector of Darlaston, Curate of Willenhall, and Prebendary of Hilton. He married Sarah, the only child of John Read, a well-known shoemaker and Methodist in Willenhall.

Union Works was later purchased by Manley & Company (Wolverhampton) Limited, founded in 1890 by Arthur Manley, and later run by his three sons.

The company manufactured paints, varnishes, and enamels, including lacquer and spirit varnishes for the art metal and furnishing trades.

Their products were sold under the ‘Manco’ trade mark and were supplied to many businesses and shops throughout the country.

The factory was divided into several parts. In the varnish making kitchen, fossil gums and synthetic resins were processed to produce varnishes with a high-class decorative finish, both for air drying and stoving.

The paint department made air drying and stoving enamels, and paints for domestic and industrial use.

Part of the varnish processing kitchen.

A corner of the paint department.

An advert from 1953.

Today, the site of Union Works is occupied by Priory Woodfield Engineering.

Alma Wharf was off Alma Street. From the 1913 Wolverhampton Red Book.

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