Background

Dud Dudley was a pioneer in the iron industry, the first man to successfully use coal to produce iron by melting iron ore in furnaces, with bellows, although only in small quantities. Iron had been traditionally produced using charcoal, made from the wood that came from the plentiful forests that grew locally. This couldn’t last because trees were being chopped down at an alarming rate, leading to deforestation. There were vast coal and iron ore deposits in the area, so coal would seem to be the obvious fuel for smelting iron.

The problem with this is the high sulphur content in coal. Any iron smelted with coal would contain sulphur, which had little short term effect when producing castings, but led to deterioration. The sulphur content was disastrous when making wrought iron. Much of the iron produced was wrought iron, but the high sulphur content from the coal caused the iron to crumble when it was being worked under the smith’s hammer. The use of coal in a blast furnace only became possible after the introduction of the hot blast, by James Beaumont Neilson in 1828. This greatly increased the hearth temperature and enabled the sulphur to be removed as calcium sulphate from the slag.

In the 1700s, Abraham Darby, a relative of Dud Dudley, developed coke-fuelled blast furnaces to produce good quality iron, which led to the growth of the Shropshire iron industry. His great-grandmother Jane, was Dud Dudley’s sister.

Little is known about the process used by Dud Dudley in his iron making, which was kept secret, but it was unlikely to have involved the use of coke because the local thick-seam coal slack, which he often referred to, is non-caking. Coal is not as combustible as charcoal and it would have been difficult to produce an adequate blast for a coal-fired furnace using the crude blowing apparatus existing at that time. He did rely on extra large bellows to increase the blast, and extra blasts, but his furnaces and the bellows have not survived. He certainly produced cast iron in small quantities, but it is unlikely that it would have been very profitable.

Dud Dudley

Dud Dudley’s parents were Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley and his mistress, Elizabeth Tomlinson, with whom he had at least 11 illegitimate children. They lived at Himley Hall, then a moated manor house. Dud was born in 1599 and was given a lease of Chasepool Lodge in Swindon, near Wombourne. Edward looked after his children well and educated them carefully, before employing them in the management of his extensive properties.


Himley moated manor house, where Dud lived as a child. An engineering drawing by Ravenhill, from 'Dudley' by G. Chandler and L. C. Hannah.

Dud took great interest in his father's ironworks near Dudley, and obtained considerable knowledge of the various processes involved. He was a special favourite of his father, who encouraged his interests in the improvement of iron manufacture, and sent him to Balliol College Oxford, to obtain an education that would help to turn his excellent practical abilities to good use. He was there until 1619 when his father sent for him to take charge of an iron furnace and two forges at Pensnett.

After taking charge of the factory, he discovered that wood for making charcoal was in short supply, so he began to look into the possibility of using coal, then known as pit coal, as a substitute. Dud altered one of his furnaces to burn coal and carried out a trial run. He was quite satisfied with the result and decided to persevere, carrying out the same procedure as before but with the addition of a second blast to increase the active combustion of the fuel. He felt that the small quantity of iron produced was of good enough quality to be sold and so he wrote to his father, then in London, to inform him of what he had done. He asked him to obtain a patent for the invention from King James, which was granted as patent No. 18, dated the 22nd February, 1620 and taken out in the name of Lord Dudley himself.

Dud proceeded to produce iron in this way, both at Pensnett and Cradley, where he built another furnace. The following year he sent a quantity of the new iron for testing, to the Tower of London, following a command by the king. After the tests it was pronounced to be good merchantable iron and so there was every prospect that the new method of manufacture would become established. He hoped that further improvements could be made, but due to a succession of calamities, manufacture came to an end.

The first calamity was a flood, known as the "Great May day Flood" which destroyed his main factory at Cradley and caused a lot of damage in the area. Dud later recorded that part of Stourbridge was deep in water: "At the market town called Stourbridge," says Dud, "….although the author sent with speed to preserve the people from drowning, and one resolute man was carried from the bridge there in the daytime, the nether part of the town was so deep in water that the people had much ado to preserve their lives in the uppermost rooms of their houses."

The next calamity came because the hostile local iron smelters hoped that the flood had put an end to Dud's pit coal iron making. They had seen him making good iron by his new patent process, and selling it at a cheaper price than they could manage. They began to spread the word that his iron was bad and not fit to be used. The iron smelters even appealed to King James to put a stop to Dud's work, but Dud quickly repaired his furnaces and forges after the flood, at great cost and after a short time was making iron again. A fresh outcry came from the local iron smelters who again appealed to the king, who commanded Dud to send samples of all the types of iron that he made to the Tower of London, as quickly as possible for testing. The iron smelters were unsuccessful in their efforts until 1624 when they managed to limit Dud’s patent to 14 years instead of 31.

Dud carried on regardless and accumulated a large stock of merchantable iron and sold it for £12 per ton. He also made all kinds of cast iron wares including brewing cisterns, pots and mortars. He continued to have problems with the local iron smelters who began to take out lawsuits against him and succeeded in getting him ousted from his ironworks at Cradley. He then set up a pit coal furnace at Himley, from where he sold pig iron to charcoal ironmasters. He also built a large furnace at Hasco Bridge (usually known as Askew Bridge), on Himley Road. The furnace was built of stone, 27 feet square, with an unusually large bellows, enabling 7 tons of iron to be produced per week. At the time it would be the greatest quantity of pit coal iron ever made in the country. Dud also opened a coal mine above a 10 feet thick seam, lying over a large deposit of ironstone.

When the factory had just been completed, a mob of rioters, instigated by the charcoal ironmasters, broke-in and destroyed everything, even cutting the new bellows into pieces. Dud was attacked by mobs, received countless lawsuits against him and was eventually overwhelmed by debt. His creditors seized him and took him to London, where he was held a prisoner in one of the Compter prisons for debtors, for several thousand pounds, until his patent expired.


Wood Street Compter, London.

The compters were terrible places, each run by a sheriff and his staff, who charged the prisoners for everything necessary for their survival and comfort, including food, drink, clothes, bedding, heating and medicine.

Conditions were awful, many inmates died from disease.

Dud sought employment as an adventurer with the court of Charles I and in 1637 was sent by the crown on a mission to Scotland. The king seems to have taken pity on the suffering inventor and granted him a renewal of his patent in the year 1638. Dud obtained the patent with three other partners; Sir George Horsey, David Ramsay, and Roger Foulke. Soon after this happened, Dud became involved in the army, supporting the king, and within a few years the country was in turmoil when the Civil War began.

Dud later claimed the manor of Himley, because his father had at one point put it in his name, probably to avoid it being seized by his creditors. This led to Chancery proceedings, which he lost, and resulted in him spending time in prison for contempt of court.

The Civil War

When the Civil War began in 1642, Dud joined the Royalist side, supporting the king. As previously mentioned, he had been employed by the king in 1637 and was sent on a mission to Scotland. In 1639 he accompanied the king on his expedition across the Scottish border in the first Bishops’ War and was present at the battle of Newburn in August 1640, when the English army was defeated by the Scots.

Dud abandoned his ironworking and became surveyor of the Mews or Armoury in 1640. In 1642 when the king left London to start his campaign, Dud went with him and was present at Hull, when the king went there to acquire arms that were stored in the weaponry depository used in the previous Scottish campaigns. When the king and his men arrived, Sir John Hotham, the military governor appointed by Parliament, refused to let them enter the town, and when Charles I arrived with more men, they were driven off. Dud was also there when the king raised his royal standard at Nottingham, and also at Coventry, where the townspeople refused the king entrance and fired on his troops from the city walls.

Dud also took part in the first pitched battle of the war at Edgehill, on the 23rd October 1642, which proved inconclusive, with both Royalists and Parliamentarians claiming victory. After a second field action at Turnham Green, the king withdrew to Oxford, which became his base for the rest of the war. Dud was in most of the battles that year, and also acted as military engineer, supplying arms, shot and cannon to the king’s forces at Stafford, Worcester, Oxford and Dudley Castle.

Dud took part in the taking of Lichfield and was made Colonel of Dragoons. He accompanied the Queen with his regiment to the royal headquarters at Oxford. In the autumn of 1643 he was at the siege of Gloucester, followed by the first battle of Newbury and later at Newport. In 1645 he was appointed general of Prince Maurice's train of artillery, and afterwards held the same rank under Lord Ashley. He was taken prisoner at the end of the Siege of Worcester and later released. When the first Civil War ended in 1646, most of the Royalists who had fought in the First Civil War gave their word not to bear arms against Parliament, but when the war started again in 1648, the Parliamentarians showed little mercy to those who had brought war to the country again.

Nothing was heard of Dud until 1648 when he again joined the king’s forces. He proceeded to raise 200 men, mostly at his own expense. They were no sooner assembled in Bosco Bello (Boscobel) Woods near Madeley, than they were attacked by the Parliamentarians, and dispersed or taken prisoners. Dud was taken prisoner and first marched to Hartlebury Castle. Dud stated that 200 men were dispersed, killed, and some taken, namely Major Harcourt, Major Elliotts, Captain Long, and Cornet Hodgetts. Major Harcourt was miserably burned with matches and the others were stripped almost naked and marched to Worcester, where they were kept close prisoners, with double guards both at the prison and in the city.

Dud and Major Elliotts contrived to break out of the prison and made their way over the tops of the houses, passing the guards at the city gates, and escaped into the open countryside. They were hotly pursued and travelled during the night, hiding in trees during the day. They succeeded in reaching London, but were soon recaptured. Major Elliotts and Dud were taken before Sir John Warner, the Lord Mayor. The prisoners were sentenced to be shot to death, and closely confined in the Gatehouse at Westminster, with other Royalists.

On the day before their execution, the prisoners formed a plan of escape. It was 10 o’clock on the morning of Sunday the 20th August, 1648, in 'sermon time'. They overpowered the guards and Dud, along with Sir Henry Bates, Major Elliotts, Captain South, Captain Paris, and six others, managed to escape. Dud received a wound in one leg and could only walk with great difficulty. He proceeded on crutches, through Worcester, Tewkesbury, and Gloucester to Bristol. On the way he was fed for three weeks in 'an enemy's' hay mow and was unrecognisable, as the helpless creature, dragging himself along on crutches. He reached Bristol safely and hid under the name of Dr. Hunt, a medical doctor.

After the War

Dud lived in great secrecy until after the execution of Charles I in January 1649 and the end of the Royalist campaign in 1651. He then gradually emerged from his concealment. His military career was now over and he was penniless, reduced to a state of utter destitution. His estate had been sequestrated by the government, for treason, including Green Lodge and his home in Worcester, where his sickly wife was turned out of doors. His ironworks were also destroyed. Dud succeeded in finding two local businessmen to join him as partners in an ironworks, which they planned to build at Clifton. They were Walter Stevens, a linen draper, and John Stone, a merchant. Work was well under way on the new factory, when Dud quarrelled with his partners and the scheme came to an end.

Dud wrote the following about his partners: 'They did unjustly enter Staple Actions in Bristow because I was of the king's party; unto the great prejudice of my inventions and proceedings, my patent being then almost extinct, for which and my stock am I forced to sue them in chancery.' He also wrote that: 'Cromwell granted several patents and an act for making iron with pit coal in the Forest of Dean, where furnaces were erected at great cost.'

Dud was invited to visit the furnaces and inspect the operations there by the owners, who hoped that he would explain his secret process to them. Try as they may, they could not discover how his process worked and he stated that they would never succeed in making iron profitably by the methods they were using. The furnaces failed, as did the operations at Bristol. Dud then asked Charles II, for a renewal of his patent, but the king was besieged by many other similar applicants, so Dud failed in obtaining the renewal of his patent, whereas others were granted a patent to make iron with coal.

Dud continued to petition the king, asking to be restored as Sergeant at Arms, Lieutenant of Ordnance, Surveyor of the Mews or Armoury, and also to be appointed Master of the Charter House in Smithfield, professing himself to be willing to do anything to make a living.

After sending several petitions in 1660, he was reappointed to the office of Sergeant at Arms and his estate was returned to him. Some time later he was again living at Green's Lodge, Swindon, just south of Wombourne. Dud stated that nearby were four forges: Green's Forge, Swin Forge, Heath Forge, and Cradley Forge, all of which he operated.

In 1665, at the request of his nephew Edward Parkhouse, Dud wrote his treatise 'Metallum Martis', from where much of the information about Dud comes.

It is possible that it was written to impress the king and give more weight to his petitions. Also to impress possible investors. Dud then disappeared from sight.

He married his first wife, Eleanor Heaton, (1606 to 1675), on the 12th October, 1626 at St. Helen's Church, Worcester.

Dud eventually retired to St. Helen's in Worcester, where he died in 1684, in his 85th year.

He lived at 44 Friar Street, Worcester, where he had a house that was previously owned by Eleanor Heaton’s family. After her death, he married again and had a son in his old age.


44 Friar Street, Worcester. Now a café.


St. Helen's Church, Worcester.

Dud was buried in St. Helen’s parish church in Worcester, where he erected a monument to himself, now destroyed. It carried the following inscription:

Colonel Dud Dudley, son of the late noble Edward of Dudley, dear to his father and most faithful subject and servant to His Majesty the King, in vindicating the church, in fighting for English law and liberty; often captured, in the year 1648 once condemned nevertheless not beheaded; born again, as an old man he sees an unshakeable crown.

Dud Dudley and Eleanor’s surviving monument is in the current church
kitchen. The monument is
unusual as it contains chemical symbols written in Latin, including a list of metals: lead, tin, iron, gold, copper, silver and mercury.

The monument was restored in 1911 by the Staffordshire Iron and
Steel Institute.


The existing monument to Dud and his wife Eleanor, in St. Helen's Church.


The inscription on the monument.

Dud and his schemes had not been liked by some members of the Sutton family. A relative of his, John Bagley, accused him of wasting his father's fortune on his coal mining schemes and bringing his father to such destitution. His mother Elizabeth was clearly aware of his nature and in her will she requested that the money belonging to her, which was passed-on to Dud, five years before her death, be given instead to the poor people of Dudley. She also mentioned in her will that Dud was not to see either her will or her personal correspondence or diary. Dud did contest his mother's will and claimed that he should own the land where his industries stood, and also demanded the ownership of Tipton Park and Parkfield, which Elizabeth had owned.

Dud kept his iron smelting process a secret, not even describing it in his 'Metallum Martis'. He was never able to make more than five tons a week on average, so his process never made a lot of money. The high sulphur content in his iron meant that it was not as good as that produced with charcoal. He led an interesting and troubled life, and was lucky to have survived the Civil War.


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