Osier Bed Iron Works

This was situated at the northern end of Wolverhampton’s iron-making district and traded under the name of the Osier Bed Iron Company. It began life in the early part of the 19th century alongside the Wyrley and Essington canal, and had two canal basins. By 1873 there were 4 blast furnaces, 26 puddling furnaces, and 6 mills and forges. The factory produced large quantities of tin plate.

In 1843 William Hanbury Sparrow, an iron master, mine owner, and industrialist, purchased the business. He was soon joined by his eldest son William Mander Sparrow who became senior partner. He took complete control in 1867 when William Hanbury Sparrow died. The Sparrow family had several houses including Penn Hall, Albrighton Hall, and Acton Beauchamp Manor.

Two other family members, William Brown and Thomas Fowke, joined their uncle William Mander Sparrow as partners. Unfortunately the recession in the iron trade in the late 1870s took its toll on the business, and it closed in the early 1880s.

Casting iron 'pigs' on the factory floor.


John Lysaght, a clever and ambitious Irish businessman owned several steelworks including factories in Bristol and Scunthorpe, producing galvanised sheet steel, and galvanised corrugated steel. In the early 1880s he decided to expand into the Black Country and purchased the Osier Bed Iron Company and Swan Garden Iron Works. It’s likely that Lysaght purchased the Wolverhampton factories for their rolling mills.

An advert from 1892.

The business prospered, and so the Wolverhampton factories must have been extremely busy. Unfortunately Lysaght died in 1895 at the relatively young age of 63. The company took the decision to build a new steelworks at Newport in South Wales and move their Wolverhampton business there.

As a result the move to Newport took place in 1897, after which Osier Bed Ironworks and Swan Garden Ironworks were closed.

It appears that most of the Wolverhampton workforce was transferred to Newport.

The Wolverhampton factories seem to have remained in the possession of John Lysaght Limited for several years because they are listed in the 1902 Red Book as still being in the company’s ownership.

After John Lysaght’s death the employees at Swan Garden and Osier Bed paid for the erection of the Lysaght memorial clock tower in East Park as a tribute to their late employer.

A 19th century rolling mill in operation.

John Lysaght’s factory was demolished March 1906 as can be seen from the cutting below, dated 20th March. It is from the Wolverhampton Journal.

Osier Bed works site was acquired by the Wolverhampton Steel and Iron Company. In 1935 Welsh industrialist Alfred Kieft and his son Cyril purchased the factory. They also owned Monmore Green Rolling Mills Limited in Wolverhampton, Haybridge Steel in Wellington, and the Shropshire Iron and Steel Company Limited. In 1946 the four companies were combined under the name of the Wolverhampton Steel and Iron Company (1946) Limited. Cyril Kieft became Managing Director but sold his interests in the company before the end of the year because he feared that he would become a civil servant when the industry was nationalised.

Nationalisation took place in 1949 with the formation of the British Iron and Steel Corporation. At the time the Wolverhampton Steel and Iron Company produced 1,000 tons of steel each week and had 2 rolling mills, a test house, and a laboratory. Products included steel bars for bright drawing, machining and forging.

An advert from 1953.

By 1953 the company became one of the largest re-rolling operations in the Midlands and produced around 1,200 tons of finished steel each week.

The rolling mills were fed from continuous reheating furnaces that could heat billets from 2 to 4 inches square. The factory had cold straightening, reeling, and re-shearing facilities.

A wide range of steel sections were produced, including steel bars up to 30 feet long, by a 9 inch guide and merchant mill, and a 12 inch merchant mill. They were used in the following industries:

Drop forging, bright drawing, fencing, glazing, steel barrel making, aircraft manufacturing, vehicle wheel rim making, and many others.

Other products included mild steel with a precise carbon content (specified by the customer), free cutting and load bearing steels, special forging quality steels, and many alloys.

The company operated in conjunction with its associate, Birchley Rolling Mills Limited of Birchfield Lane, Oldbury.

By 1956 both companies had amalgamated to form Wolverhampton and Birchley Rolling Mills Limited with their head office at Osier Bed Works.

The combined output of both factories was up to 2,500 and 3,000 tons of finished steel per week. The total annual output exceeded 100,000 tons.

In more recent years the Osier Bed factory became British Steel Tubes Division, Wolverhampton. The recession in the steel industry in the 1990s and the lack of demand for small seamless tubes resulted in 520 job losses in September 1995.

In October 1999 British Steel changed its name to Corus after being taken over by an Indian company.

The Wolverhampton factory became Corus Engineering Steels’ Midland Service Centre.

An advert from 1959.

A final blow came in January 2009 when it was announced that Corus would close the Horseley Fields factory, which now has an uncertain future. This is a sad end to one of the area’s longest surviving steelworks.

The factory in August 2009.

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