By 1292 iron was smelted in Dudley.
It was recorded that two smithies were in operation in
the town. Iron would have been smelted using a coke
fire, because local coal has too high a sulphur content
and would cause the iron to crumble when being worked
under the smith’s hammer. The wood from many of the
trees on Pensnett Chase was used to produce charcoal for
iron smelting. Wood was cut into even lengths called
cords and stacked to produce a circular cone. This was
covered in earth or clay and lit from below.
Some of the iron was used to
produce domestic and farming items and some was used for
nails. Nail making was one of Dudley’s first successful
and profitable industries. In 1538 when King Henry VIII
was extending Hampton Court Palace, nails were ordered
from Reynold Warde of Dudley at a price of 11s.4d. per
1,000. The industry greatly benefited from the
development of slitting mills, used to produce rods for
Richard Foley, born in 1580, was a
nailer. He travelled to Sweden, where slitting mills
were in common use. He learned how the mills were made
and set up a mill at The Hyde, in Kinver. The mills
prepared iron rods for the nailers, so that all they had
to do was to cut the rod to the correct length, point
one end, and make the head. This was one of the first
examples of mass production, as large quantities of
nails could be made simply by unskilled people.
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,
many of which were first developed in the
The Foleys began to make a lot of
money trading in nails. Richard Foley was Mayor of
Dudley in 1616 and by 1630 had moved to Stourbridge. The
Finch family also made a fortune, trading in nails.
Another local industry that
developed in the 16th century was scythe making.