by S. A. Barnett

with Frank Sharman and Reg Aston

Origins and Early Days:  1830s to 1909

William Thompson was born in 1811 at Wolverhampton and at the age of ten started to work in his father’s mine. The loss of an eye whilst working in the pit led to the intervention of his mother who insisted that he should never work there again.  In 1823 he was engaged by G. B. Thorneycroft who was in business at his small Millfield's ironworks, Bilston.

In 1834 William married Susannah Briscoe at St Peter’s Church, Wolverhampton.  Their first home was in Broad Lane.  They had a family of eight children and they also looked after William’s younger brother, Stephen, who was fourteen years younger than William.

Sometime between 1834 and 1840 William established himself as a boilermaker and maker of canal boats at a works situated on the Birmingham Canal at Highfields near Bilston. 

This was origin of the John Thompson engineering operation.

But William got into difficulties and the business was taken over by his younger brother Stephen in about 1850.

William's son John continued to learn his trade under his uncle, Stephen, and became progressively more responsible for running the company.   Around 1860 he bought the company from Stephen on ten years deferred agreement. 

By 1862 the firm had assumed the name of William Thompson and Son, although John Thompson was owner and riving force behind it. 

In 1868 they were described as manufacturers of sheet iron, nail kegs, casks and cisterns for containing naphtha, blast and stove pipes, colliery air pipes, steam boilers, iron boats and wrought iron girders.

Around 1870 a decision was made to concentrate on the production of steam boilers.  This seems to be the reason for the firm acquiring a new site a few miles along the canal at Ettingshall.  The equipment was moved to the new works by canal boat and hand cart.

The works at Highfields continued to be operated for some time by William, the son of the William, the firm’s founder.  William, the founder, died in 1878.

Little detail is known of the activities of the firm during the last quarter of the nineteenth century but under the leadership of John Thompson, who might really be described as the second founder, the firm began to build up a considerable reputation.  It was clearly expanding rapidly and their Head Offices on Millfields Road seems to have been built around the turn of the century. 


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