The Chillington Iron Company and the Chillington Tool Company

The Chillington Iron Works, the first iron works to be built within the old Wolverhampton boundary, opened in 1822 on the site of Stowheath Manor. The works were founded by John Barker, James Foster, and George Jones. The company’s products were well known throughout much of the world for their quality, and the “Chillington” brand gained a high reputation.

A map of the old works.

The ironmaster at the works was John Barker, a Justice of the Peace, a Sheriff of the County, and School Superintendent at the Sunday school at Snow Hill Congregational Church.
John Barker grew up on his father's farm in Cheshire and came to Wolverhampton after obtaining the post of assistant in Mr. Warner's drapers shop in High Green.
He went into business with George Jones and they joined forces with banker James Foster to form the company. Mr. Foster provided most of the capital and George Jones the business experience.

Barker was clear headed and strong willed, and very industrious. He died in 1852 and his two sons inherited his share in the business.

James Foster was well known for his large manufacturing works at Stourbridge; Foster, Rastrick and Company, and also his iron works; John Bradley and Company, also at Stourbridge. He was born in 1786 and became a successful banker. He lived at Stourton Castle.

John Barker.

James Foster.

The plant for the works was designed and supplied by John Rastrick who had joined forces with James Foster in 1816 to form Foster, Rastrick and Company, the large manufacturing concern at Stourbridge.

They became well known for their work on early railways and built a few locomotives including the Agenoria, and the Stourbridge Lion; the first steam locomotive to run in North America.

James Foster died in 1853. He never married and his estate passed into the hands of his nephew William Orme Foster.

The site of Chillington Works, about a quarter of a mile to the east of the canal, had its own coal and iron ore mines, furnaces, rolling mills and foundries. The works were connected to the canal by Chillington Basin. The old Stowheath Manor had a moat, part of which still existed when the works were built. It consisted of a large pool, 100ft. long and 75ft. wide. Waste water from the steam plant was fed into the pool.

The company greatly benefitted from the coming of the railways. On 9th March, 1836, an order was received from the Grand Junction Railway for 500 tons of rails and chairs.

In 1839 there were 4 blast furnaces in operation, each producing around 80 tons of iron per week. The total production in 1839 was 16,661 tons. The furnaces used a cold blast.

John Barker’s sons George and Thomas eventually purchased the interests of the partners and extended the works. They leased 200 acres of land at Bentley, Darlaston where they opened mines and set-up several blast furnaces. They also purchased the Capponfield Iron Works at Bilston, and Lea Brook Iron Works at Wednesbury. In 1872 the brothers transferred their properties to a joint stock company and ran it as managing directors. By 1873 the company had 95 puddling furnaces, and 6 mills and forges, with the hammers working at 10 blows a minute. They also had 6 blast furnaces working night and day at Wolverhampton, and 3 at Bilston. At Chillington Colliery the company had around 100 shafts that were sunk for the mining of coal and iron ore. They were eventually closed due to a dispute with a neighbouring mining company over the pumping out of water, which resulted in the pumps being turned off, and the flooding of the pits.

The location of Chillington Colliery which covered a large area.


Two adverts from 1873.

The company was hit hard by the recession in the 1870s and ran for several years at a loss. As a result serious consideration was given to a change of direction. The minute book of the Iron Works Board includes a reference dated 20th April, 1876 to the “Desirability or otherwise of taking up the edge tool trade” A further minute of 27th July, 1876 reports that “The erection of the Edge Tool and Horse Shoe Works has commenced”.
In its earlier years the company produced mainly horse shoes and became known as the largest maker of hand-made horse shoes in the world.
The shoes were produced under the brand name “King Of The Road”. The making of horse shoes by hand required considerable skill and was very arduous.

The location of the works and the company's canal basin.

The tool works superimposed on a map of the iron works.

An old advert.

It became increasingly difficult to find sufficient smiths to meet the growing world demand, and as the demand for hoes and other edge tools increased, horse shoes were phased out.

The company decided to concentrate on the manufacture of lighter edge tools such as hoes, and would soon claim to be the largest manufacturer of hoes in the world. The tools were sold under the “Crocodile” brand name and included axes, forks, shovels and spades, most of which were exported.

The Chillington Tool Company Limited was formed in 1892 under the direction of John William Hunt.

The tool works soon covered a much larger area than the old iron works.

The buildings were greatly extended in the 1920s and included a new up-to-date forging department.

A group of workers from 1888.

There were forges, fitting shops, polishing shops, an emery wheeling department, mill department, stores, a packing department, a laboratory, and a metallurgical department.

The works office included the wages department, the buying department, and the drawing office. There were also up-to-date toilets with washing basins, hot and cold water, liquid soap, nailbrushes, and a plentiful supply of clean, dry towels.

In the early 1920s the fitting shop was used for the building of gas and oil furnaces.

An advert from 1892.
The Warehouse Department in 1901. Left to right:
Back row - Tom Hitch, Sarah Booth, George Heath, Ethel Jackson, Joe Green, Eliza Steele, Sidney Monckton, Dave Lavell,
W. Porter and Rose the dog.
Front row - Sarah Pritchard, Eliza Pritchard, Lily Chinn, Arthur Parkes, Minnie Jackson, Harriett Rogers, and Esther Bodley.
The grinders and polishers in 1903.

The engineering staff in 1903.

Left to right:
Back row - J. Gandy,
A. Fisher, J. Delve,
J. Halfpenny,
W. Thomas, J. Brown, and H. Webb.

Front row - T. Gandy, G. Fisher, J. Hopkins, W. Fisher, and
J. Vincent.

Factory workers in 1888.

Mr. J. W. Hunt's 60th birthday celebrations at the Agricultural Hall in 1904.

Another view of Mr. Hunt's birthday celebrations in 1904.




One of the many types of hoe that were manufactured by the company.

An old Chillington hoe found in the West Indies in 1930 after 12 years of use.

The white background shows the original size of the hoe.

In 1908 a fire broke out at the works one Sunday morning, but unfortunately the employees were caught without any effective means of fighting it. As a result the company's Fire Brigade was formed. Initially the equipment consisted of 6 lengths of hose and a wheel valve to connect to the pump. Over the years the equipment improved and 6 of the members, Chief Officer H. W. Hunt, 1st Officer G. A. Fisher, 2nd Officer S. Hopton, Engineer W. Thomas, and Firemen J. Caddick and A. Adey obtained long service medals from the National Fire Brigade Union.

Sports and Social Activities

The company had a thriving sports and social club known as "The Working Men's Club and Institute". There were many sports teams including a thriving football team who played in the local football league, the works league, and the J. W. Hunt Cup, named after one of the company's founders. There were tennis teams, athletics teams, and an angling team who played for the Chillington Challenge Cup, and a bowling team who played in the Chillington Works Bowling Championship.

Mr. George Surplice, president of the Club and Institute in 1929.
Other activities were provided by the camera club, the thrift club and the horticultural society. Whist drives and dances were also held at the institute, and the fancy dress carnival dance became one of the highlights of the social calendar. An annual outing would also be organised.

The many dances were used to raise funds to pay for the club's activities, and for donations to local charities.

The 1927 Fancy Dress Ball.

In 1928 the football teams in the Wolverhampton and District Works Sports Association League were:
   Division 1      Division 2
Chillington 'A' Team   Chillington 'B' Team
Sunbeam   Sankeys
Rubery Owen   Weldless Tube
Perks and Sons   Jenks and Cattell
Harpers   Great Western
Palethorpes   Motor Pressings
Great Western   Palethorpes
Weldless Tube   Sunbeamland

A menu from 1953. Courtesy of Tina Harper whose father played-for and ran the football team at the time.

The inside of the 1953 menu. Courtesy of Tina Harper.

Louis Ward from the Warehouse Department who played for the 'A' Bowling Team and became the best bowler in the whole of the Works League in 1928.

His awards included the Plant Cup and Gold Medal for the Works League Individual Men's Competition when he beat 175 other entrants. He also came first in the Merit Competition, beating J. Whitehouse of Sunbeam 21 to 11.

The prize winners in the Fancy Dress Carnival held in 1928.

Left to right:

Mr. C. Walker, Mrs. C. Walker, Miss D. Taylor, and
Mr. W. Crowe.

The founder of the tool company, Mr. John William Hunt died on 10th December, 1925 at his home Maycroft, Ash Hill, Compton. He was 81 years of age.

Some of the employees in the 1920s

Mr. Sidney Monckton entered the company in 1889 as a warehouseman. In 1911 he took charge of the Shoe Turning Department where he remained until 1918. afterwards he was in charge of the General Stores.

During the First World War he became chairman of the Chillington War Savings Association and afterwards became secretary of the Angling Club.

Mr. Aaron Heath began at the works in 1887 as a horse shoe striker for Harry Johnson, and later for Jack Baxter, then Joe Miller. After a couple of years making shoes, a reduction in demand meant that he had to return to striking. He struck for Pat Powell, Jimmie Kerrigan and later Arthur Wilden. After a few years he returned to shoe making until 1917 when he began tool setting in the Forge.

He was proud to have never drawn a day's sick pay. His two brothers, four stepsons and his daughter all worked for the company.

Mr. Tom Lockley started work at the age of 9 at the Chillington Iron Company, working in one of the company's coal mines. He later became a hoe maker at the Chillington Tool Company and remained as such for about 5 years. After a short time at Eagle Works he emigrated to South America.
Mr. John Ganderton only worked at Chillington for 5 years, but during that time he became a prominent member of the Club and Institute. He was its oldest member and became very involved in the Angling Society.
Sister Squire was in charge of the First Aid Room. She trained at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and held various posts as Sister at Stafford, Bournemouth, and Wolverhampton General Hospital.

She made many friends in the works due to her unassuming nature, and sympathetic manner.

Mr. Alfred James joined the company at 16 years of age as a heater for John Colbourne in the Forge. He then moved to the Horse Shoe Department as a striker, and later worked in the Mill, striking on bright hoes.

His son Edward worked for many years at Chillington and his two daughters worked at the factory during the First World War.

Mr. Jack Hewins started at Chillington in 1885 as a boy of 14. He began his working life heating hand-made ploughs for Dave Smith. He then moved to the Polishing Shop to become a polisher under Jesse Broome.

During the First World War he became a charge hand working night shifts at a time when much of the production consisted of entrenching tools. After the war he continued as a charge hand but worked on the day shift.

His two sons, two daughters, brother and nephew also worked at Chillington.

Mr. Tom Edge started work in 1890 at the age of 13 as a heater for H. Cartwright, a mould steeler. After some time striking on horse shoes, and another stretch in the Steeling Department he became a mould steeler. After many years he became a stamper.

His 3 sons, stepson, and daughter-in-law also worked at Chillington.

Mr. Harry Wilden started at Chillington in 1883 at the age of 14. He began his career working as a heater for Harry Cartwright and was promoted to striking before he was 16. He later heated for Alf Heath and then joined his brother in the Shovel Shop, where he worked for many years.

His son Harry Wilden junior and his daughter also worked at Chillington.

Mr. Tom Hunt was the Works Engineer. He became well known as a song writer and had many compositions to his credit.

One of his songs "The Baby Tank", written in France during the First World War, became well known in several countries. It became quite popular and resulted in the sale of about half a million records.

Mr. Fred Roberts started at the works in 1889 at the age of 14 as a heater. He later worked with his brother Tom, then started striking for Dave Smith on odd work.

His daughter Tilly worked in the Warehouse and his son worked in the Mill.

Mr. John Dutton worked for many years as a wet grinder. Unfortunately the dust and fine particles caught up with him and he had to retire early on a pension at the age of 46. He was one of the last wet grinders because that type of grinding was abolished. After a long and trying illness he died at the age of 50.
Mr. David Potts worked at Chillington for 32 years as a plater. His son Albert also joined the company as a plater, and his other son Dave worked in the Mill.
Ted Bradley started work for the company in 1989 at the age of 13. He began working as a heater and striker for Dave Smith who worked on the Coffee Diggers and Shovel Bits. At the start he was so short that he had to stand on a box to strike at the hot metal.

After striking for the shoe turners, Ted migrated to the Mould Steeling Department and remained there until the late 1920s when he was given employment of a lighter nature.

His brother Alf Bradley also worked for a while at Chillington as a mould steeler.

Mr. George Fisher started at Chillington on 26th March, 1892 as a boy in the Fitting Shop. He soon became a die sinker, but unfortunately he lost the sight in his left eye after it was struck by a chipping from a die. He left the bench but returned during the First World War. In 1927 he took charge of the Fire Station and the upkeep of the fire appliances.

Strangely enough his son Arthur also joined the staff at the Fire Station after loosing the sight in his left eye.

Fred Gandy began in the Warehouse Department under Arthur Parkes in June 1887. After 5 years he moved to the Horse Shoe Department to strike for his brother Jack even though this meant a drop in wages of 6 shillings a week.

After learning his new trade he went on to punch the holes in the horse shoes using the company's first punching machine. It was driven by a steam engine and the cogs jumped up and down to such an extent that it could be heard all down Willenhall Road.

After 25 years he gave up punching to go into cheeking up. His brother Jack died in 1925 after 42 years service at Chillington. His two other brothers also worked for the company.

Chillington Tool Works from the air in 1928.

In the late 1920s the employees of the Mill and Warehouse started a benevolent fund to provide financial help to members who were away from work through no fault of their own, for a period of 3 or 6 weeks. It also assisted in cases of hardship.

Men and women over 18 years of age contributed 3 pence and 2 pence each week respectively, and younger members of staff contributed one penny a week. When a man had been away from work for 3 weeks he received £2 from the fund, and a further £2 at the end of 6 weeks, providing he was still off work and that sick notes were produced. Women and juniors received two thirds, and one third of the benefit respectively.

The Packing Warehouse in 1929.

The main works drive in 1929.

Another view of the Packing Warehouse.

Some of the gas forging furnaces.

Packing hoes.


A bank of electrically-powered grinding machines. Note the overhead line shafting.


The company's works magazine.

Building work in the late 1920s.

Another view of the new buildings erected in the late 1920s.

In 1953 the company produced plantation hoes, bars and forks; shovels, spades, axes and other edge tools. Chillington and its associated companies became the largest group of edge tool makers in the world, exporting most of their products. The associated companies, the EVA Industries Group of Companies, were Edward Elwell Limited of Wednesbury, A.W. Wills & Son Limited of Wolverhampton, John Yates & Company Limited of Wolverhampton, and the Pheonix Shovel Company Limited of Cradley Heath.

By the 1950s a considerable jig and tool division, equipped with modern high precision machine tools had been formed to produce jigs, fixtures, and press tools for the aircraft, motor and domestic appliance industries. Jig boring and inspection were carried out under ideal conditions in temperature controlled rooms. The company also provided facilities for special purpose machining, and manufactured rolls and ancillary tools for tube production.

An advert from the early 1950s.

The works in the early 1950s.

The Chillington Tool Company has since moved to Willenhall and the original site is now occupied by an industrial park. The old Chillington canal basin was purchased by the London and North Western Railway in 1902 to become the Chillington Interchange Basin. Sadly it is now in a derelict state.

The old Chillington Interchange Basin as it was a few years ago.

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