Old Park Works and The Patent Shaft &
Old Park Works
In 1818 Lloyds,
Fosters & Company opened a coal mine near Hob’s Hole.
They were heirs of Richard Parkes, who in 1708 had
acquired a lease on the coal mines in the area. The coal
mine, like many others in the area suffered from
flooding, and so Samuel Lloyd installed a steam engine
to pump out the water. The site also contained large
quantities of iron ore, and also clay, which was used to
produce bricks and tiles.
built an iron works and a foundry on the site, so that
the iron ore could be used to produce pig iron and
malleable iron for the foundry. All kinds of items were
cast including ironwork for buildings and bridges, parts
for steam engines, and wheels and axles for the
railways. Even complete locomotives were built. In 1849
Old Park Works became the first factory in Staffordshire
to use the hot blast in their furnaces, which produced
high quality iron for the foundry.
A cross section through a 19th
century blast furnace.
originally used a cold blast, from air at normal
temperature. The cold blast cooled the furnace and so
large amounts of fuel were required to maintain the
In the hot blast furnace the air was
pre-heated using the waste gases from the furnace which
greatly reduced the cooling effect and saved the company
around 10,000 tons of coal a year.
In 1854 the
company opened The Monway Axle and Tyre Works at Monway
Field. The new works produced axles, tyres, and iron
plate for boilers and bridges.
|Samuel Lloyd was known as "Quaker
Lloyd" because of his religious beliefs. He was a good
employer whose kindness could be seen from the help that
he gave to widows and orphans of employees who lost
their lives in the company's collieries. He also built a
school where the orphans could be educated.
The company had a large truck shop
that sold only the best quality goods. Prices were low,
often lower than in the town centre shops. Samuel Lloyd
took great pride in buying the chief articles himself,
particularly tea, bullocks and sheep. The shop sold the
best butcher's meat in the town. Samuel Lloyd
died in 1862. Just before his death he signed an
agreement with Henry Bessemer for the use of the
Bessemer process, which the company began to use in
This was the first factory in the
Black Country to make mild steel, at a time when Old
Park Works were the largest steel works in the area,
employing over 3,000 people by 1866. There were 3 blast
furnaces, large machine shops, and foundries.
The company obtained a large order to supply the
ironwork for Blackfriars Bridge in London. Unfortunately
the building contractor was unable to pay for the
ironwork. As a large sum of money was at stake, Lloyds
and Fosters decided to finance the contractor until the
bridge could be completed. This soon led to the
company’s downfall because of unforeseen circumstances.
When work started on the bridge piers it took a long
time to find a suitable solid foundation, which greatly
increased the overall cost. As a result the company lost
£250,000 and in 1867 the works had to be sold to cover
the loss. The company was purchased by The Patent Shaft
& Axletree Company and became part of the largest steel
works in the area.
The Patent Shaft & Axletree Company
In the early 19th
century coach axles were made by welding together a
bundle of wrought iron strips. Such axles would often
fail because some of the strips were not as strong as
others. The Patent Shaft took its name from an improved
axle which overcame the problem, and was founded by the
inventor to manufacture the new axle.
James Hardy, a minister at the Independent Chapel in
Holyhead Road, and an enthusiast about anything
mechanical, developed the new axle. According to F.W.
Hackwood in his “Wednesbury Workshops” Hardy got the
idea from the cross section of an orange when cut in two
horizontally. The new axle consisted of a central bar
surrounded by smaller bars to form a circle. The outer
bars were round instead of flat to avoid cross graining
the iron, when they were heated and welded under the
hammer. This produced an axle of equal strength
throughout its whole length.
A Bessemer Converter.
|Hardy decided to patent the idea,
and with financial help from Samual Hodgetts, a grocer
from Toll End, he took out a patent in 1834. Hardy and
Hodgetts decided to set themselves up in business to
produce the new axles.
They purchased a forge at Leabrook
for £1200 from Joseph Rollason. At the forge were 2
puddling furnaces, a scrap furnace, and an engine.
|Although work was undertaken to
improve the facilities on the site, no axles had been
produced by 1836. As a result Hodgetts became
disappointed with the project and withdrew.
Hardy soon found four other partners and began to devote
his whole life to the project, but production still
didn’t get underway and the business got into more and
more debt with the Birmingham and Midland Bank. The
bank’s manager Charles Geach realised that the axles
would be ideal for use on the rapidly growing railway
network, and that large numbers of reliable axles would
be required. Geach didn’t waste any time, and along with
12 men, including Hardy, he purchased the works and the
patent, and formed the Patent Shaft & Axletree Company
An advert from 1870.
|Within 2 years Hardy left and took Anglican orders.
He was replaced as manager by his ex-clerk Thomas
In 1844 thanks to Walker’s efforts, the London
& North Western Railway adopted the patent axle, and the
company’s future was secured. In 1852 the company
purchased the adjoining Victoria Iron Works from
Fletcher, Rose & Company.
Blast furnaces at night.
An advert from 1909.
|Geach died in 1854 and the company was purchased by
Thomas walker. At the time they had a railway steel
works, 5 forges, 4 mills, 12 hammers, more than 100
puddling furnaces, and employed over 800 men.
In 1864 the business became a limited company with a
capital of £300,000. Thomas Walker became Chairman, and
his assistant manager Richard Williams became General
Manager. The works now covered over 12 acres and
employed 1,500 men working around the clock. They
produced large numbers of products including axles,
wheels, tyres, rails and boiler plate.
In December 1866 the company
purchased Old Park Works from Lloyds & Fosters after
their large losses from the Blackfriars Bridge project.
The works and collieries were bought for £400,000. The
company could now produce wrought iron, Bessemer steel,
and constructional ironwork, all made from their own raw
At the time the company had 86
puddling furnaces, 3 blast furnaces and became one of
the most prosperous factories in the country.
|The local iron ore contained too high a percentage
of phosphorus, for reliable use with traditional
smelters. This problem was overcome in 1879 with the
invention of the Gilchrist-Thomas process, in which the
converter had a lining of dolomite brick. The dolomite
combined with the phosphorus to leave good quality
The Patent Shaft acquired a furnace using this
process in 1882, but difficulties led to its temporary
abandonment. The company also used Siemens open-hearth
regenerative furnaces, where the waste gases were used
to heat the air for the blast. The furnaces were lined
with refractory dolomite brick to allow them to
efficiently use the local iron ore. They also had
another advantage, they could use scrap.
At this time the company also had four 12 ton
traditional Bessemer converters, and a 12 ton and an 8
ton Bessemer, both lined with dolomite brick. The slag
from the furnaces was sold to Germany for use in
An advert from 1902.
A letterhead from 1929.
|In 1885 the company built the world's first steel
bridge at Benares on the Ganges, which used 6,500 tons
of steel, and in 1900 built a 7 span bridge at Natal in
just 2 months.
In 1902 The Patent Shaft & Axletree
Company became part of a new conglomerate, the
Metropolitan Railway, Carriage, Wagon & Finance Company.
The new business prospered and the Patent Shaft spent
over £300,000 on new plant, including electrically
driven machinery, new buildings, and greatly increased
its workforce. Many of the double-decked trailers that
were pulled by the local steam trams were built at the
works during the early years of the 20th century.
The business continued to thrive, even during the
severe depression in 1907 when the annual profit was
over £300,000. In 1911 the company received an order
from the Great Central Railway for 6,500 wagons, the
frames for which were made at the Patent Shaft.
An advert from 1949.
The Patent Shaft offices.
At the time the Patent Shaft
produced a wide range of products including:
axles, patent weldless steel spoked wheels,
rolled iron plates, steel plates,
steel bridges, wrought iron and cast iron
girders, constructional iron and steel work,
wagon under frames, plant for gas works and
water works, and every kind of pressed work
Railway bridges had been built for
all of the railway companies in the UK, and the company
also built some of the largest bridges in Egypt, India,
Japan, South Africa, and South America.
The old Patent Shaft turntable
that is in the town of Realicó, in the province of La
Pampa, Argentina. Courtesy of Arch. Néstor D. Dalmasso.
The makers plate that is on the
turntable above. Courtesy of Arch. Néstor D. Dalmasso.
An aerial view of Patent Shaft's Brunswick
During the First World War the
company concentrated on war work, and as a result made
record profits. Some of the first tanks were built at
Old Park Works, which at the time had between 1,300 and
1,500 employees. At the end of the war part of Old
Park Works was used by Vickers Limited of Sheffield, who
in 1919 purchased the Metropolitan Railway, Carriage,
Wagon & Finance Company.
In 1929 Vickers Limited and Cammell
Laird & Company of Birkenhead amalgamated their steel
making and carriage building businesses. This resulted
in the formation of the Metropolitan Cammell Railway
Carriage and Wagon Company who took over the assets of
the Metropolitan Railway, Carriage, Wagon & Finance
Company. The take over had one immediate effect at
Wednesbury, the separation of Old Park Works and the
Patent Shaft. Vickers, who had already been using part
of Old Park Works took over the remainder.
The blooming and slabbing mill at
the Patent Shaft Steel Works Limited.
|In 1938, war work began with a batch of forty five
A10 cruiser tanks. By 1942 Metropolitan Cammell was
producing 82 Valentine tanks a month, with production
equally divided between Old Park Works and the firm's
Midland Works. Over three and a half years, the firm
built 2,135 Valentines. During the war, 435 Churchill
tanks were built at Old Park Works, along with 75
Cromwell tanks, fitted with a 77mm high velocity gun.
Other war work included the production of armoured cars, artillery trailers, pre-fabricated hulls
for tugs and light tankers, and a small quantity of
railway rolling stock.
Old Park Works were purchased from the Patent Shaft
in 1949 by Metro-Cammell and it became part of the
Metropolitan Cammell Railway Carriage and Wagon Company
Limited who also had factories at Elmdon, Saltley, and
A wagon plate from 1947.
|The works now concentrated on the production of
railway coach bodies, railway wagons, and pressings of
all kinds for the other factories in the group. Old Park
Works also produced electric locomotives, and so a 65ft.
turntable and a test track was installed for the
purpose. In 1960 a total of 35 locomotives were sold to
In 1964 Old Park Works was acquired by the Owen
Organisation, but sadly closed as a result of the
recession of the 1970s and 1980s.
Old Park Works from Old Park Road.
|The Patent Shaft decided to concentrate on steel
production and so axle building ceased in 1949. The
business was Nationalised in 1951 and returned to
private ownership in 1956.
75% of its shares were
purchased by Cammell Laird, and the remaining 25% by
Metropolitan Cammell. In 1959 its name was changed to
the Patent Shaft Steel Works Limited, and by 1961 the
company had 1,500 employees.
In the late 1950s a development scheme costing £8.75
million was undertaken, during which the 4 existing open
hearth furnaces were converted to oil firing, and two
75ton oil fired furnaces were added.
The company also had a 15inch section rolling mill
and produced over 300,000 tons of steel a year.
Sadly the works were also a victim of the 1970s
depression and closed in 1980. The buildings were
demolished in 1986.
An advert from the early 1960s.
The last cast at Patent Shaft
Steelworks on 17th April, 1980, from G Furnace. Courtesy
of Peter Carter, who was Steel Plant Manager at the
time. It was an extremely sad event for all the steel
An advert from 1954.
A group of Patent Shaft employees,
possibly at a presentation of long service awards.
Sidney Rickards is on the far right of the third row
from the front, the one looking down. Some of them
signed their names on the back of the photograph, they
are Vick Hill, T. Burton, J. Powner, A, Adams, E.
Davies, G. Knowles, L. Jones, J. E. Wright, G. Richards,
G. Hewitt, C. W. Boden, W. R. Watson, and five others
which are indistinct. I think they are G. Collins, A. A.
Finsby, E. Hewitt, P. Kelly, and one other which I
cannot read. The photo was kindly sent-in by Janice Cox,
daughter of Sidney Rickards.
||The "Wednesbury Alps". The
spoils heaps from open cast coal mining on the former
Patent Shaft site in the early 1990s.
Courtesy of Brian
Groves and John Hellend.
|The old Patent Shaft gates in
the early 1990s.
Courtesy of Brian
Groves and John Hellend.