Horseley Fields Chemical Works

William Bailey & Son was founded in 1828 in North Street by William Bailey, a chemist. The company is listed in Pigot & Company's 1842 Staffordshire directory as follows:

William Bailey manufacturing chemist and wholesale druggist (and merchant), North Street.

Within a few years the firm moved to the Horseley Fields site, next to Crane Foundry and the canal, where a basin was built for canal access. The company specialised in the production of high quality chemicals, and soon became well known throughout much of the world.

The Stour Valley Line, which carries the railway into Wolverhampton High Level Station was authorised by an Act of Parliament passed on 3rd August 1846. The railway crossed the northern part of the chemical company’s site, where a viaduct, with arches was built. Construction took place between 1849 and 1850, and road access to the site was through the arches, via the newly built Bailey Street, named after William Bailey.

The location of the factory.

The company’s many products included medical, and photographic chemicals; medicines; and chemical salts; all sold at an economical price.

A view of the factory from the north.

Many of the domestic medicines that were on sale in chemists shops throughout the world were developed in the company’s laboratory. One such substance that became well known was magnesia. Bailey’s also produced large quantities of a volatile fluid called bisulphide of carbon, a solvent for India rubber, gutta percha, and resinous gums. Also used in the manufacture of weapons, and for removing oil from seeds, wool, and cotton waste. Previously the chemical had been very expensive, selling at £1 per pound in weight. Through large scale production, Baileys reduced the price to 6d a pound.

An advert from 1873.

Another important product was hyposulphite of soda (hypo) used for fixing photographic images, and for the removal of chlorine from bleached goods. Bailey’s also supplied large amounts of Beane’s patent brewing material, Bailey’s Universal finings, and Bailey’s patent bisulphite of lime, used to preserve fish and meat, to regulate the fermentation of whisky, restore musky casks, and help to prevent cattle disease.
A letter written by William Bailey which was sent to Bass and Jennings Solicitors at Burton upon Trent. Clearly the matter was urgent.

An advert from 1873.

An advert from 1873.

Other products included chemicals for the enamelling industry, anti-fouling chemicals to clean ship’s hulls, and chemicals for crop spraying.

The firm gained a medal at the International Exhibition of 1862 for the purity of its chemical preparations, and the laboratory became famous for its high standards. In November 1871 the factory was visited by staff from the Burmese Embassy.

The 1862 medal.

Major customers included the War Department, and the Post Office. Several generations of the Bailey family ran the business. William was succeeded by his son Vincent, who in turn was succeeded by his son Reginald. The company claimed to be the oldest supplier of brewer’s chemicals.

An advert from 1873.

An advert from 1873.

In 1950 Baileys became a subsidiary of F. W. Berk Limited, of London, and in turn they became part of the Steelley Group in 1970. When the factory closed, the site was taken over by Crane Foundry.

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