Dudley had a wide variety of industries, thanks to the building of the canal network in the late 18th century and a plentiful supply of raw materials in the form of coal, iron ore, limestone and fireclay. As the industries grew, the landscape became dominated by pit heads, chimneys and glass cones.

The area was ideally situated for the many industries that appeared, because of its location in the central part of the country and the excellent transport links in the form of canals, followed by the railways and the improved road network.

The industries were extremely successful until modern times, when most disappeared because of competition from cheap foreign imports.

John Barnsley and Sons Limited 

The Barnsley family were originally farmers who opened an iron foundry in 1809. They specialised in lifting tackle for builders and structural engineers and were also world famous for making Jews Harps, which at the time were being produced by dozens of similar companies based in and around the Dudley area. They were popular for many years until people started buying harmonicas.

John Barnsley and Sons also produced a range of cranes, until the firm began to specialise in the production of lifting equipment, starting with pulley blocks. By the 1950s the firm produced a variety of overhead travelling cranes, which were very successful. In the 1970s the firm produced explosion proof equipment for North Sea oil rigs and the oil and gas industries. Development of the cranes continued and today the firm is a world leader in the production of explosion proof cranes and hoists.

  Coal, Iron and Limestone Mines
  Dudley's Glass Makers
  Beans Industries
  N. Hingley and Sons
  H. and T. Danks and Edwin Danks
  Round Oak Iron and Steel Works
Nail Making

The making of hand-made nails was a long established industry that continued until the latter part of the 19th century. Thanks to Richard Foley, who set up a slitting mill at The Hyde, in Kinver to produce iron rods for nailers, nail making became a simple operation that could be carried out by unskilled people. All they had to do was to cut the rod to the correct length, point one end, and make the head. It was one of the first examples of mass production, because large quantities of nails could be made simply and quickly.

Making nails in the nail shop at the Black Country Living Museum.

The nailers couldn't afford to buy the rods themselves, they were advanced to them by the mills, to where they returned the completed nails and were paid for them. They were also given standard allowances for waste. A bundle of rods weighed 60 pounds and was 4ft 6" long.

The nails were characterised according to the number produced from a given weight of iron. Long thousand (1,200) nails weighing 4 pounds, were known as four penny bundles.

Larger nails were called 100 work, and were priced by the hundred. They were more profitable than the smaller ones, as less work was required to produce them, and less waste produced.

There were many types of nails including brads, tacks, spriggs, dog-eared frost nails, sheath nails, and sparrables.

In 1852 around one quarter of the male and female workers in Dudley and the surrounding area were still producing nails, usually in a small workshop at the back of their home. There was some unrest in 1842 when nail makers’ wages were reduced. Around 15,000 to 20,000 men met in the town on the 25th April and kidnapped several of the nail masters by force. The Riot Act was read by the Mayor and troops were called-in from Birmingham. The nail masters were only released after promising to cancel the wage reduction.

Another view of  the nail shop at the Black Country Living Museum.

Samuel Lewis and Company Limited

The business was established at Netherton in about 1750, as a nail manufacturer, specialising in horse and mule shoe nails. The firm began to produce pressings and forgings, particularly for farm harrows, and handmade chain for specialised uses such as horse gear. There were hundreds of customers for nails, including the Admiralty, the War Office and the India Office. They were exported to many parts of the world.

M. and W. Grazebrook

The business, based at Netherton Iron Works, Dudley, was founded in 1750. The firm mined coal locally and originally had an old square blast furnace. This was replaced by two blast furnaces, with a cold blast, to produce iron. In 1817 the firm purchased a Boulton and Watt blowing engine. There were three partners, William Grazebrook, Michael Phillips Grazebrook, and John Phillips Grazebrook. In 1865 William Grazebrook retired and the business continued as before, with the same name, but run by Michael and John Phillips Grazebrook.

It became a private limited company in 1914 and a public limited company in 1950. In about 1931, engineering, welding and foundry shops were added to the factory. During World War Two the firm helped develop 8,000lb. and 12,000lb. block buster bombs.

In 1961 the business was acquired by N. Hingley & Sons and was listed as a general heavy engineering company and iron producer, with 250 employees, manufacturing all types of welded fabrications, oil and chemical plant, rail tank wagons, homogenous lead lined vessels and iron castings. Also carrying out general machining.

An advert from 1953.

An advert from 1958.

James Griffin and Sons

Dudley once had a thriving holloware industry, particularly thanks to the products manufactured under the ‘Griffin’ name by James Griffin & Sons of Withymore Works, in Northfield Road, Netherton, alongside the canal. The firm, founded in the late 18th century, produced a wide range of products including scythes, spades, forks, nails, spikes, horseshoes, chains and buckets. James Griffin died in 1818 and his son took over the running of the business.

The firm was taken over by C. E. Swindell and Company in 1856 and manufactured edge tools. The business was later taken over by Joseph Russell and taken over again in the 20th century by chain maker Eliza Tinsley. The firm stopped trading in 2005.

An advert from 1849.

An advert from 1958.

J. G. Walker & Son

J. G. Walker & Son, was established in about 1814 by John Griffin Walker, at Darby End (also known as Darby Hand), Primrose Hill, Netherton. The firm produced wrought iron nails, chain, high strength chain cables and anchors. It began as a partnership between Joseph Griffin Walker, William George Griffin Walker and Henry Griffin Walker. In 1833 Henry Griffin Walker retired and the business was then run by William and Joseph Walker.

Joseph Griffin Walker died in 1864 and his grandson, W. H. Walker Higgs, took his place in the business. In 1866 William George Griffin Walker was registered as a debtor by the Registrar of Bankruptcy, but was allowed to carry on trading in order to pay off the creditors. In 1881 William George Griffin Walker, died and the business was then run by W. H. Walker Higgs.

In the early 1900s the firm specialised in crane and mining chains, ship chains and cables. Most of the chain was exported to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

An advert from 1891.

Lloyds Proving House, Netherton

Lloyds Proving House was situated in Cradley Road, Netherton, alongside the canal.

In 1865 it received a license from the Board of Trade for the testing of chain cables, chains, and anchors. The first superintendent was Mr. S. Tregenner.

In 1894, Henry Green was appointed as superintendent and more powerful machinery was installed to meet the requirements of various Acts of Parliament, and of the rapid developments that were taking place in the manufacture of chain, cable, and anchors.

It became the largest and most complete proving house in the country. In 1900 the establishment became part of Lloyd's British Testing Company.

Henry Green remained as superintendent until his retirement in 1936 and was responsible for many reports on the testing of anchor chains and cables. In 1926 he visited continental testing houses to study their facilities for examining chains and drew up specifications for many of the testing machines installed at other testing houses. The Netherton Proving House closed in 1990.

An advert from 1958.

Lloyds Proving House at Netherton. From an old postcard.

Atlas Tube Works, Netherton

Atlas Tube Works in Netherton was established in 1858 by Henry Parkes Skidmore, born in January, 1831. In the first part of the 19th century there was a great demand for wrought iron tubes to carry town gas from local gasworks to all parts of the area. This became possible thanks to Cornelius Whitehouse of Wednesbury, who patented a greatly improved method of manufacturing tubes in 1825.

Atlas Tube Works was established to produce tubes using Cornelius Whitehouse’s patented method. Around 140 men were employed, making the tubes at the factory using some of the best and most up-to-date machinery. Strip iron for making the tubes was purchased locally as was bar iron, used to make the sockets and fittings. Around 60 to 80 tons of tubes and fittings were produced each week, as well as a large number of garden seats that had supports made from tubing.

The firm also produced wrought iron welded coils for boilers etc. and the patented Atlas hot water coil stove that formed the basis of an early central heating system. There was a tramway at the factory to move things around the works and onto the adjacent canal wharf.

Henry Parkes Skidmore married Blanche Jones in 1857 and they lived at Hill House in Netherton.  He died of diphtheria on the 9th October, 1861. His son, Henry Parkes Skidmore, born in 1860 took over the business in partnership with Thomas Jones. In the 1881 census he is listed as living in Church Road, Netherton. In 1883 he bought Stonehouse Farm at Fockbury near Bromsgrove and by 1891 had retired to Austin's Close, Harberton in Devon. Henry Parkes Skidmore junior, died in Devon on the 9th March, 1897 at the age of 36.

An advert from 1876.

W. & S. Gorton

W. & S. Gorton of Eve Hill had a rope walk beside the grave yard belonging to St. James' Church. The business was founded in 1788 and produced a wide range of ropes, including boat lines, using the 'Samson' brand name. On the rope walk, fibres of mainly hemp were twisted into rope. There was a similar business at Holly Hall, run by Benjamin Whitehouse.

The location of W. & S. Gorton, Eve Hill.

Peter Wright & Sons

Peter Wright started producing vices and anvils in the early 19th century in Black Acre Road, where Shedden Street now stands. Peter Wright was born in Dudley on the 15th March, 1803 and started in business in the trade that had been carried out by his family in the same place for over 100 years.

He made many improvements in the manufacturing of anvils and vices and became senior partner in Peter Wright and Sons, of Dudley and Oldbury. In 1848 he invented and made the machinery for cutting the internal screws of vice-boxes out of solid iron, making the ‘solid box vice,’ and in 1852 he invented the 'solid anvil', the first to be forged in one piece by means of dies and by turning it frequently under the hammer during forging. Over 11,000 of them were sent to America alone.

In 1862 he invented the parallel vice, and an improved railway wheel. He died on the 28th August, 1874 at the age of 71. The firm was acquired by Isaac Nash in 1904 to 1905 and was later a part of the Spear & Jackson Group.

An advert from 1890.

An advert from 1855.

An advert from 1855.

An advert from 1855.

James Smellie Limited

James Smellie was born on a farm in Ayrshire on the 31st May 1861. In 1878 after going to school at Hutton Hall Academy, he served an apprenticeship as an ironmonger in Dumfries and continued his education by attending classes in several subjects including Mathematics, Chemistry and Geology.

In 1882 he worked for a while in an iron monger’s shop in London, followed by two years in Penrith, before moving to Birmingham in 1887, where he became a representative for a manufacturer that specialised in steel fire irons and burnished steel and ormolu fenders.

He purchased a partnership with a manufacturer of cheap iron and brass rail fenders in Dudley, in 1893 and they began to produce a wide range of brass, copper, pierced and forged hearth suites, grates and fire places.

He travelled throughout the country promoting the company’s products, opening over 2,000 new accounts. Thanks to his efforts they became the largest manufacturer of hearth suites in the country.

In 1901 James was elected as a member of Dudley School Board and became a local councillor in 1903, representing the St Thomas Ward.

On the 8th January, 1904  the partnership was dissolved on friendly terms, and James purchased the works, the property, the patterns etc. and continued to run the business under his own name.

The firm was based at Ivanhoe, Cellini and Crator Works, Oxford Street, Dudley. The business thrived and in 1906 became a private limited company with 30,000 ordinary one pound shares, all owned by members of his family. Products included fenders, hearth suites, dog grates, coal boxes, lamps, fire screens and the polished steel ‘Ivanhoe’ fireplace, one of which was supplied to Princess Mary. Ivanhoe fireplaces were then supplied to many of the old historical castles as well as wealthier households and the largest hotels in the country. The firm also supplied all of the brass tomb railing for the Sultan of Morocco’s grave.

James Smellie in his mayoral robe.

In 1909 James became Chairman of the Elementary, Higher and Technical Education committees and became a magistrate in 1917.

In 1924 he became an alderman and was Mayor of Dudley from 1924 until 1926.

He lived at Comberton House, Kidderminster.

By the mid 1930s, James Smellie Limited also produced coal and electric fires. The firm still exists and is based at Halesowen.


An advert from 1938.

An advert from 1958.

An advert from 1961.

Dudley also had a number of leather producers.

Hillmans, founded in 1852, in Newhall Street, supplied leather to cobblers. They then moved to 14 Hall Street, a 3 storey building with a shop at the front.

By 1870 they produced whole hides, morocco leather, goats, fancy leathers, belts, cases, oil seals, special types of industrial leathers including oil butts and stale butts for collieries, footballs, tennis equipment and sports gear.

The firm was known as J. & H. Hillman of Castle Leather Works in the 1890s, and later as J. and A. Hillman.

They began to manufacture industrial belting, which was very popular and moved to larger premises on the corner of Trindle Road and Porter Street.

In 1906 they took over the neighbouring tannery of J. R. Tilley.

The firm later specialised in handbags, motor hides, belting and harness leather. In 1958 there was a fire in part of the works.

An advert from 1958.

John Nayler & Son of Castle Belting Works, Dudley, made leather belting. John Douglas, Son and Company of Trindle Works, made a range of products in 1922 including footballs, golf bags, leggings and gaiters, purses and wallets, fancy goods, fishing bags, game bags and camera cases.

In 1947, Trindle Works was run by John Douglas, Sons and Company. Their product range included high class fancy leather goods, handbags, wallets, notecases, travel bags, document cases, attaché cases, suit cases and golf bags.

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