There was a time not that long ago, when parts of Wolverhampton constantly rang to the sounds of industry, and night skies were ablaze with light from numerous factories and furnaces. Today most of our factories have gone and it’s hard to imagine what life was like in the industrial era. One of our oldest factories is the Crane Foundry, which occupies a foundry site that dates back to the late 18th century.

The foundry is situated alongside the canal and originally had its own basin. Many foundries were built close to a canal to use the readily available supply of water to cool their cupolas. With the opening of the canal in 1772 the area became heavily industrialised and for the first time raw materials could easily be transported here and finished goods taken away. Its early neighbours included T. & C. Clarke’s Shakespeare Foundry, which opened in 1795; the Shrubbery Iron Works, founded in 1824; Isaac Jenks & Sons’ Minerva and Beaver Iron, Steel, & Spring Works; the Osier Bed Iron Company; and the Horseley Fields Chemical Works.

By 1827 the foundry was known as Atherton’s Foundry and run by James Atherton and Henry Crane. Initially it was a brass foundry, but by 1827 iron castings were also produced on the site.

The main products were castings for the building industry, ironmongery and brassware. In the 1830s castings for the hand tool and lock industries were added to the product range and by 1836 Henry Crane had taken control of the business.

The Foundry in 1842.

The company became known as the Crane Foundry in 1847 with its own registered trademark.

By the 1850s iron weights were produced, and a design was registered in 1872 with roundels decorating the edge. Brass weights were also produced, mainly after the regulation of 1890 that required weights of 2oz. or less to be made of brass.

A look at the 1881 census reveals that the Crane family lived at Lower Street, Tettenhall.

Charles Henry Crane ran the business and was aided by his two sons, Edward and Charles. At the time the foundry had 150 employees.

Edward was a member of the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce and became President in 1902.

The registered design of weights with roundels.

Read about the moulding and
casting process


The foundry in 1919.

A Crane Money Chest. Courtesy of Marlena Fairbourne.

In the early 1900s the foundry began to produce castings for electric motors and continued to do so throughout its life.

The Crane family continued to control the company until 1917 when William Cyril Parkes of lockmakers Josiah Parkes & Sons Limited, Willenhall became a majority shareholder, with the immediate result that the production of lock cases greatly increased.

One of the lock-related products from the late 1920s is shown opposite. It is a cast iron Crane Money Chest. You can still see the original green paint in places.

Another view of the Crane Money Chest.

Courtesy of Marlena Fairbourne.

A lovely Crane Money Chest that found its way to Burma.

Courtesy of Jamie Humphries.

Another view of Jamie Humphries' Money Chest.
A close-up view of the maker's plate that's on the front of Jamie Humphries' Money Chest.


A look at the company’s 1928 catalogue reveals over 300 products including weights, rice bowls, sad irons, ventilators, mole traps, door knockers, and hinges. 


View the 1928
Crane catalogue

  An advert from "Machinery"
  30th June 1933.

An advert from the "Electrical Times" 20th April 1938.

An advert from 1938.

A corner of the works in 1938.

The company began to specialise as a supplier of castings to engineering companies, as can be seen from the above adverts. Crane brand metalware eventually became a thing of the past and this change in direction helped the foundry to survive long after all of it's local competitors had gone.

By April 1937 the metalware catalogue consisted of just five pages, whereas the 1928 catalogue had 77 pages. The principal metalware products in 1937 were box irons, heaters, sad irons and weights.



On 25th June, 1945 Josiah Parkes & Sons sold the foundry to Qualcast for £9,200 and in 1949 the foundry was officially called Qualcast (Wolverhampton) Limited. The Crane trade mark was still retained and the factory continued to be known as the Crane Foundry. The company also owned the nearby Swan Gardens Iron Works off Swan Street.

A staff social evening in 1949. Courtesy of Crane Cast.

Another photograph of the event. Courtesy of Crane Cast.

An advert from the mid 1950s.

Production at the Crane Foundry concentrated on light repetition work for the engineering industry. Grey castings were produced, weighing from a few ounces to half a hundredweight. Castings were supplied to vehicle manufacturers, gas and electric cooker manufacturers, hand tool makers, and lockmakers. Castings were also made for electric motors, lawn mowers, sewing machines, typewriters, washing machines, telephone equipment, and conveyor rollers for the mining industry.

The Swan Gardens foundry opened in 1953 and produced larger castings from 0.5 to 3 hundredweights for motor cars, commercial vehicles, farm tractors, stationary engines, electric motors, refrigerators, and domestic water heaters.

Some of the smaller castings made at the Crane Foundry.

Things started to go wrong during the recession of the 1970s when many of the country’s foundries closed. Qualcast was hit hard by a series of industrial disputes and the Swan Gardens Foundry lost a lot of orders due to the recession in the tractor industry, which resulted in the workforce being reduced from 420 to 280. The work’s output fell from 500 to 290 tons per week and this proved to be unprofitable, with the result that the Swan Gardens Foundry closed on 24th June, 1972.

Luckily the Crane Foundry survived and the company decided that the foundry's future could be secured by increasing sales to mainland Europe. A 2,500 mile round trip to Sweden was organised as a cost exercise to see if it would pay to make regular deliveries to the continent. The trip also included deliveries to existing customers to show that the company meant business.

The lorry sets off on its 2,500 mile European trip.
General Manager R.M. Lackner shakes hands with driver Arthur Lloyd and colleague Geoff Walker. Courtesy of Crane Cast.
The lorry left Wolverhampton on 23rd November, 1972 and took the ferry to Gothenberg in Sweden. After three days travelling around the country visiting customers, they took a ferry to Germany from where they drove to France. After making deliveries to French customers they returned to Wolverhampton via Dover.

Qualcast also produced a range of casseroles and frying pans that were designed by Robert Welch. After some hard negotiating and advertising the products were exported to America, Australia, Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden.

The lorry arrives at A-B Vibro-Verken in  Solna, Sweden.

Courtesy of Crane Cast.

One of the deliveries in France.

Courtesy of Crane Cast.

View the foundry in Qualcast days
View some of the Qualcast products
By 1978 Crane Foundry employed around 600 people and produced 300 tonnes of castings per week. The foundry specialised in intricate thin section castings made to BS1452:1977 Grade 180 within a weight range of 0.03kg to 35kg. Castings were made for the automotive industry, gas cookers, multi-fuel stoves, domestic appliances, and general engineering.
Foundry closures continued and most of the factories in the Qualcast group disappeared. Crane Foundry itself was threatened with closure but saved by the intervention of Managing Director Mr. Roger Lackner, who purchased the unprofitable company. The works were severely over-manned and a rationalisation programme initiated. Unfortunately the redundancy costs were so high that even with a healthy order book, liquidation soon followed.

The installation of the new cupolas in 1995. Courtesy of Crane Cast.

The cupola control equipment is lifted into position. Courtesy of Crane Cast.
Receivers were appointed in 1985 but Mr. Lackner managed to buy the company from the receivers with financial backing from Crane’s two largest customers, Stanley Tools and Brook Motors.

The new company was renamed Crane Foundry (Wolverhampton) Limited with a workforce of just over 130.

The new company’s future looked bright under the leadership of Roger Lackner and his son Mark.

A Disamatic automatic moulding machine was installed to increase production and the maximum weight of the castings increased to 100 kilograms.

Examining the cupola control equipment. Courtesy of Crane Cast.

Installing the Disamatic moulding machine in 1995. Courtesy of Crane Cast.
Further improvements followed in 1995 when the company embarked on a 2.5 million pound investment programme to ensure that the foundry was technically and environmentally viable.

A second Disamatic moulding machine was installed to double the work’s capacity and two 8 tonne per hour Dozamet cold blast cupolas with full fume cleaning were added to increase iron production and comply with the Clean Air Acts.

The cupolas are mechanically fed with scrap metal, limestone and coke, and water-cooled. The cupolas were designed so that each can work on alternate days when the other is de-clinkered, stripped of its clay lining and re-lined in readiness for use. The tuyeres are fed by fan-blown air and the speed of flow of the molten metal can be varied by changing the air pressure. The temperature, air flow and water cooling are precisely monitored by an electronic PLC control system.

The Disamatic control panel is lifted into place. Courtesy of Crane Cast.

The Disamatic machine from above. Courtesy of Crane Cast.

A Birlec electric induction melting furnace was installed as a reservoir for the cupolas, which also allowed two grades of iron to be used at the same time.

The Disamatic moulding lines can produce up to 300 castings per hour and the foundry's automated track can produce 150 moulds per hour.


The heavy moulding line is capable of 30 moulds per hour and in-house facilities were set up for shell cores, cold box cores, CO2 cores and a new four tonne annealing oven.

Box sizes are 600mm x 480mm on the Disamatic lines, 660mm x 460mm on the automated line and 760mm x 760mm on the heavy moulding line. The castings vary in weight from 0.5kg to 80kg and grey iron can be produced to BSEN 1561 Grades 180, 200, 220, and 250.

The Disamatic machine in operation. Courtesy of Crane Cast.

A fresh ladle of molten metal in readiness for casting. Courtesy of Crane Cast.

The Core Shop, Fettling Shop, Dressing Shop, and the main foundry were greatly improved and a steady stream of new customers followed.

Sadly, even after all of the investment the company remained unprofitable and the workforce was reduced to 68.

For a while Crane Foundry became part of British Steel, but the foundry went into receivership again on 21st September, 2000. Luckily funding was found and the company reformed itself as Crane Cast.

Casting on the Disamatic machine. Courtesy of Crane Cast.
View the foundry as it was in 2005.
Things seemed to be going well until the company’s liabilities spiralled out of control. The recent rise in electricity and gas costs, and the loss of two of the company’s largest customers, meant that the directors had no choice other than going into liquidation in January 2006.

The company and workforce had fought hard to survive, but too many things went wrong at once. A sad end for one of Wolverhampton’s oldest companies.

I would like to thank Rebecca, Kevin and Mr. S. Reacord of Crane Cast for all of their help in producing this brief history.

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