At the turn of the 19th century, Tipton and its
neighbouring Black Country towns were in an ideal
situation for the production of iron. The vast local
deposits of coal, iron ore and limestone, and cheap
efficient transport on the canal network meant that
the appearance of ironworks was almost inevitable,
especially because of the country’s growing appetite
for products made of iron.
Tipton’s iron industry began in
a relatively small way with the production of items
such as hinges, wood screws, awl blades, edge tools
and nail rods for the nail makers. At the time,
around one quarter of the local workforce were
involved in the production of nails. Whole families,
including several generations, from children to the
elderly, made nails.
Things began to change with the
development of steam engines, large machinery, iron
bridges, and the building of the railways.
A 19th century blast furnace
which produced pig iron.
Charging a blast furnace.
Tapping one of the
furnaces at Willingsworth Ironworks. The
molten iron was run into channels cut into
sand to produce iron ingots. This was known
as a pig bed. The iron was called pig iron
because during casting, the ingots were
likened to a piglet suckling milk from a
|The most common method of producing wrought
iron from pig iron in the 19th century was
puddling, invented by Henry Cort in 1784.
Pig iron or scrap cast iron was melted in a
puddling furnace and stirred with a long pole,
which reduced the carbon content by bringing it
into contact with air, in which it burned. The
puddling furnace heated the iron by reflecting
the exhaust gases from the fire down onto it. In
the drawing below, the iron would be placed in
the central section. Because it was not in
contact with the fire, cheaper, poor quality
fuel could be used. After puddling, the iron was
hammered and rolled to remove the slag.
A puddling furnace.
A puddler at work.
Puddlers at work.
Some of Tipton's
Daniel Moore had a
water-powered slitting mill, with two undershot
water wheels and a steam engine. The firm produced a
wide range of nails and tacks, especially horse
nails, as well as shovels and tongs. Around 40
people worked there.
Edward and James Fisher and
James Bate employed around 100 people in the
manufacture of iron hinges. Zachary Parkes and
Company at Dudley Port had a single furnace that
produced between 20 to 25 tons of iron per week.
They also had a forge and a slitting mill.
George Parker & Company had
two furnaces that produced 20 or 25 tons of pig iron
per week at Coneygre Ironworks, Dudley Port,
established in 1794 by Zachariah Parkes. They had
three forge hammers and a rolling
and slitting mill. One of their products was boiler
plates. Another furnace was added and the business
was acquired by
the Earl of Dudley. The three furnaces then produced around 200 tons of iron per week.
George Parker & Company also owned Tipton Furnace,
also known as 'Parker's New Furnace'. It was later
called Coseley Moor Furnace.
Read, Banks, and Dumaresq had a
forge and a single furnace producing around 25 tons
of iron per week. Richard Hawkes and Company also
had a single furnace which produced around 20 tons
of iron per week. At Toll End was Taylor's Foundry
where heavy items such as parts for steam engines,
whimseys and machinery were cast.
The Great Bridge Iron & Steel Company Limited was
founded by James and Neal Solly, who traded as Solly
Brothers and were one of the oldest and largest
suppliers of puddled steel. There were two forges,
two merchant mills, and two sheet mills that could
produce up to 320 tons of iron and steel per week.
Another successful enterprise was the Crown Iron &
Galvanising Works at Toll End, run by Edward Bayley,
who also operated two blast furnaces at Eagle Works.
Crown Works were established in 1870 and were later
extended with the addition of two sheet mills and a
galvanising factory. There were ten puddling
furnaces and three mill furnaces, with a total
capacity of nearly 100 tons per week. The factory
employed around 200 men and produced best quality
black sheet iron and galvanised corrugated iron
The two blast furnaces at
Willingsworth Ironworks that produced good forge
iron. From an old postcard.
|Eagle Works, founded in about 1800 by Richard
Hawkes, once stood on a site that was later occupied
by Great Bridge Railway Station, alongside Eagle
Road. Around 1844 Eagle Works were put-up for sale
and the site was acquired by the South Staffordshire
Railway, in readiness for the building of the railway
factory had two blast furnaces, a double refinery
large foundry capable of producing 100 tons of
castings per week. There was a boring mill, capable of boring
cylinders ten feet in diameter,
blast and boring mill engines, a
smiths shop, a fitting shop, a carpenters shop, plus
a manager’s house and three workmen’s cottages.
There were also collieries mining Heathen Coal, New
Mine Coal, and New Mine Ironstone, with two winding
and pumping engines, and three winding engines.
Other large concerns included
the Portfield Works near Dudley Port, owned by James and
Charles Holcroft, which could produce almost every size,
shape, variety and section of iron, and had a large
galvanising department. Another sizeable ironworks
was the Church Lane Works run by George Gadd &
Company. There were 14 puddling furnaces, 2 mill
furnaces, and one ball furnace, with a total
capacity of 180 tons of bar iron and 200 tons of
puddled iron per week.
The Hope Iron, Steel and
Tinplate Company Limited at Summerhill had 4 mills. Plant and Fisher at Dudley Port Works produced
250 tons of iron per week from 20 puddling furnaces
and 3 mills. The Gospel Oak Iron & Galvanised Iron &
Wire Company had 24 puddling furnaces and 6 rolling
mills, and the Dudley Port Furnace Company, run by
James Roberts and Fred Deeley had a single blast
furnace with a capacity of 250 tons of pig iron per
W. Barrows & Sons, Factory
The Gospel Oak Iron Works, which
was founded by Samuel Walker and William Yates in
1817, began making cannon in 1822, but the business
failed. The sons of the owners took over and started
to produce ironwork for all kinds of building
projects, including Hammersmith Bridge, in London,
in 1825, and the cast iron columns for the Albert
Dock, Liverpool, in 1846. Similar columns were later
produced for the Gladstone Dock, also in Liverpool. In
1848 the business was taken over by John and Edward
Walker, who employed around 350 people, producing
large amounts of wrought-iron cannon
and tinplate. The business failed for a second time
in about 1860 and cannon manufacture was taken
over by three ex-employees who founded the Hope
Company. Around 1900 the Blackwall Galvanised Iron
Company acquired the Gospel Oak Company and exported
galvanised sheets to many parts of the world using
the product names Poplar, Blackwall and Gospel Oak.
Tubes were produced in Great Bridge by Wellington
Tube Works Limited at Wellington Tube Works. The
firm, founded by Joseph Aird started making tubes in
1861. Products included mild steel and wrought iron
tubes and fittings for gas, water and steam, along
and wrapped tubes, loose flanged tubes, grilled
metal tubes and special pipe work of all kinds.
Other locally made iron
products included cast iron grates and stoves
produced at the Moat Foundry, Summerhill by Charles
Lathe & Company, established in 1877. There were
also boiler makers, hurdle and iron fencing makers,
anvil makers and manufacturers of vices and hammers.
Bloomfield Ironworks was
founded in1830 by Joseph Hall (1789 to 1862), who invented an
improved method of making wrought iron, known as pig
boiling or wet puddling. The process revolutionised
the industry and was used throughout the world.
Joseph Hall began with three puddling furnaces at
the factory and was joined by two partners,
Mr. Bradley and soon after Mr. Welch. In 1834 Mr.
Welch left and was replaced by William Barrows. The
firm became Bradley, Barrows and Hall. The factory
was greatly extended and the iron was sold under the
brand name B.B.H.
Bloomfield Ironworks in
From Griffiths' Guide to
the Iron Trade of Great Britain. 1873.
Mr. Bradley retired in 1844 and
was succeeded by Mr. Bramah, who lived at
Kingswinford. Mr. Bramah died in 1846 and the firm
became Barrows and Hall, William Barrows and Joseph
Hall being equal partners. In 1851 the firm employed
1,000 men. Joseph Hall died on the 18th January, 1862,
and the company became W. Barrows & Sons.
In 1848 two men were killed
in a boiler explosion at the ironworks. They
were Mr. Millington and William Perry. Several
people were injured. The boiler, weighing 7 to 8
tons was thrown about 70 yards across the canal.
William Barrows was born in
Birmingham in 1800 or 1801. In the 1830s he lived in
Hampstead Row, Handsworth, before
moving to Springfield House, Dixon's Green, Dudley.
In 1861 he was living at Himley House, Himley (now a
pub and restaurant) with his wife Martha and four
servants. Their sons Thomas and Joseph were both
William Barrows died on 10th December, 1863
at Stafford Railway Station. In 1867
the firm had 58 puddling furnaces and eight
mills. By 1872 there were 100 puddling furnaces and
10mills and forges. There were around 800 employees producing approximately
800 tons of iron sheets, plates and bars per week.
Their iron was second to none.
|Wednesbury Oak Ironworks
The business was founded in
1820 by Philip Williams and Sons, who were from an
old Shropshire family who moved to the area in 1776.
Philip started in business in about 1800. After
working for several companies, became a partner in
Gibbons, Whitehouse, and Williams, who built their
first furnace at Wednesbury in 1814. His partners
soon left the business and he purchased the
foundation timbers for a forge and mill from the
Government authorities at Woolwich, in 1818.
In 1820 the forges and mills
were built at Wednesbury Oak Ironworks and
manufacture of ‘Mitre Brand’ iron began. The factory
was extended and modernised in 1847 and 1880 for the
production of cold-blast pig iron. In 1829 Philip
Williams and his family founded and ran the Union
Furnaces at West Bromwich and also acquired the
Albion Works, and the Union Works at Smethwick,
along with Birchills Collieries and Furnaces, Mabbs Bank
Bunker's Hill Colliery. By 1846 they were
employing over 5,000 men.
Philip Williams died in 1864
and the business continued to be run by members of
his family. One of his nephews, Walter Williams
became honorary secretary to a scheme that
encouraged ironworkers and colliers to keep their
children at school in the days before School Boards
were formed. He also anonymously wrote about the
value of education to the labouring classes and was
Chairman and President of the Mining Association of
Great Britain, Chairman of the local Mines Drainage
Commission, and Chairman of the Birmingham, Dudley,
and District Bank. He was also a Justice of the
Peace for Staffordshire and High Sheriff of
Staffordshire in 1880 to 1881. He lived at Sugnall
Around 1875 Wednesbury Oak
Ironworks were managed by George MacPherson who
became a partner in about 1890. The other partners
at the time were Philip A. Williams, Walter
Williams, and Joseph W. Williams. There were 3 blast
furnaces, 32 puddling furnaces, 5 mills and forges,
extensive collieries, saw mills, carpenters and
pattern makers' shops, foundries, millwrights,
engine fitters’ shops, blacksmiths’ shops, and
boiler makers' sheds. Finished products included bar
iron, angle iron, strips, nail rods, sheets, etc.
Summer Hill Iron Works
Summer Hill Iron Works was
founded by Thomas Millington in about 1820.
Summer Hill Iron Works.
An advert from 1872.
|The firm was run by several generations of
the Middleton family, beginning as Thomas
Middleton, then Thomas Middleton & Son, followed
by T. Middleton & Sons, William and Isaiah
Millington, and finally W. Millington and
By the 1870s it was run by Samuel
There were 16 puddling
furnaces, 4 mills and forges, an annealing furnace,
a forge and up-to-date machinery.
boiler plates, merchant bar iron, plates, strips,
angle iron, shoe tip iron, horseshoe and rivet iron,
cable and chain iron of nearly every size, shape,
The average production was around 200
tons per week and 150 men were employed at the
Tipton Green Furnaces
The original two furnaces were
built in 1808 by Bradburn, Scott, and Foley, and in
the 1840s were let to Benjamin Gibbons, junior, of
Corbyn's Hall, who started to operate them in 1847.
He also rented the adjoining Tipton Green Colliery.
In 1848 he was joined by William Roberts who became
an equal partner in 1851. The furnaces originally
produced about 30 tons of iron per week using cold
blast, but they were enlarged and hot blast stoves
and winding engines were added to increase
production to 100 tons of iron per week.
In 1848 there were three furnaces,
which gave their name to a public house in Wood
Street. The old furnaces were demolished and
replaced by two new ones in the late 1850s and a
further two in 1860. In 1858 Benjamin Gibbons left
the firm, and in 1869 Alfred Roberts joined William
Roberts, and Mr. E. A. Spurgin joined in 1882.
Cowper stoves were added in 1889 and one of the
furnaces was rebuilt to include all of the latest
developments. The firm’s main customers were steel
works at Wednesbury, Bilston, and Round Oak. By the
1890s only two furnaces were in operation producing
200 tons per week of ‘Roberts' Tipton Green Iron’.