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.

The company 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.


An advert from 1851.


A cross section through a 19th century blast furnace.

Blast furnaces 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 temperature.

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 1865.

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 Old Park Works and Monway 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.


Henry Bessemer.

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.


Old Park Works from Old Park Road.

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 1948 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 Washwood Heath.


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 South Africa.

In 1964 Old Park Works was acquired by the Owen Organisation, but sadly closed as a result of the recession in the 1970s and 1980s.


   

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