Bradley and Foster Limited started in a small way, with one cupola working in the shadow of the old derelict hoist. The firm, based at Darlaston Iron Works, produced refined, or synthetic pig iron manufactured from steel and cast iron scrap. Initially small batches were produced, and they soon found a ready market thanks to the hundreds of malleable iron foundries in the Midlands.
In 1945, Bradley & Foster Limited became a subsidiary of Staveley Coal and Iron Company, based at Staveley, Hollingwood, near Chesterfield.

The demand soon grew, and by the 1950s thousands of tons were produced each year, which were sent to foundries all over the country, and abroad. Bradley & Foster became part of Staveley's Foundry Products and Abrasives Group which had two grey iron foundries, John Hill & Sons, at Wolverhampton, and another at Halifax.

Other companies within the group included J. M. Tew & Roden, a scrap metal company at West Bromwich; and pig iron manufacturer, Warner & Company in Middlesbrough.

An advert from the mid 1960s.

The group's three plants were producing over 100,000 tons of pig iron in the 1970s, which was about sixteen percent of total UK production. About sixty percent of the company's production was exported. By 1980 the plant at Darlaston had been expanded with the opening of a disamatic grinding ball foundry.

Another member of the group, Stanton & Staveley made cast iron pipes which were bolted together with malleable iron bolts. The bolts were made by Bradley & Foster using American-made machines which could make 100,000 bolts per week.

In the mid 1960s, the Staveley Coal and Iron Company changed its name to Staveley Industries after acquiring a number of other companies. One of firms acquired by Staveley Industries in 1961 was Sleeman Engineering Limited, which specialised in steel plate. In 1978 Sleeman moved to a site in Bloxwich, before moving to Bradley & Foster's site at Darlaston in 1990, when it became a division of Bradley & Foster. In 1992 Bradley & Foster, and Sleeman were sold to Johnson & Firth Brown. Seven years later, Sleeman relocated to Scunthorpe, and the Darlaston site closed.

The photograph, and description below are courtesy of Ken Southwick.

The photograph above was taken in the late 1950s at Bradley & Foster Limited’s, Darlaston factory. It illustrates how a pig bed was managed and shows a typical pig bed layout consisting of the main runner, with sows at right angles, and pigs at right angles to the sows.

The operation of a pig bed was highly professional, and managed by an experienced man called a "Keeper", who had his work cut out, particularly in bad weather such as rain and snow. The beds were open to the elements and the sand had to be suitably vented and dried to avoid molten iron boiling due to steam formation, with disastrous results.

The sand cast operations at Bradley & Foster were possibly the last manufacture of sand-cast merchant pig iron in the U.K., which just had to be in the Black Country.

The pigs were separated from the Sows after solidification. Sand was thrown over the sows to keep them warm whilst allowing the pigs to cool more quickly. The Pig Bed workers then put on wooden clogs and walked onto the red hot beds and "nicked" or parted the relatively cold pigs from the sows, by means of an iron bar. The sows were then broken up by bar and sledge hammer.

At the end of each day at Bradley & Foster, four workers called ‘Pig Weighters’, shifted, wheeled, and stacked 80 tons of pig iron from the sand beds and loaded it into railway wagons. A job that few people could do today.

Bradley and Foster Lab Boys in 1941. Courtesy of Ken Southwick.
Back row left to right: George Micklewright, Ken Southwick, " Dacky" Richards, Mick Evans, and Stan Pugh.
Front row left to right: ?, Brian Mantle, ?, and "Little Jack" from Willenhall.

Workers at Bradley & Fosters. Courtesy of Brian Groves. 2nd from left: Jimmy Cattell, 5th from left: Mary Groves, 5th from right: Elizabeth Millington. It is thought that the women operated the American bolt-making machines.
The firm had three local subsidiaries, Bradley (Concrete) Limited, of Darlaston; Bradley (Darlaston) Limited, of Capponfield, Coseley; and Arblaster & Company Limited, of King's Hill.

Darlaston Iron Works was the largest producer of refined pig iron in the country. The firm also manufactured special castings that were resistant to heat, wear, and corrosion; cast iron nuts and bolts; metallic abrasives; heat presses and other machines; and all types of pre-cast concrete work. The managing director, George Lunt, started to work at the site in 1943. He began as a foreman-manager, then became general manager, followed by works director, before becoming managing director in 1957.

Some of the staff in 1959 were as follows: Tom Green, from Bilston, was in charge of transport. He had a small office beside the weighbridge and oversaw around 200 lorries each day, when they entered and left the works. The firm had eight long distance lorries of its own, each of which travelled about 1,000 miles every week, and could carry a load of nine tons. Cyril Chambers from Walsall, the garage foreman, looked after the fleet of lorries.

Norman Wood, who lived in Fallings Park, Wolverhampton was the technical representative. He travelled an average of 17,500 miles each year, visiting customers. Valerie Smith from Blakenall  was one of the sixty women workers in the nut and bolt department. She was a machine operator, and her father Frank Smith was shift foreman. Another three of the women in the nut and bolt department were Valerie Smith, Martha Collett, and Mary Chrimes who all put the nuts onto the bolts, a process known as 'buttoning up'.

Two of  the foundry staff were Harry Hawkes, who was in charge of foundry sales, and Bill Greenway, a moulder. Jack Sherrard, from Darlaston, was a metal tester, and Ken Bull, also from Darlaston, was one of the apprentices. Another trainee was John Egan, who wanted to become a metallurgist. The oldest member of staff was Jack Sherrard, aged 70.

Some of the office staff were Ann Wilkes, who worked as a shorthand typist, secretary Valerie Turner, from Darlaston, and Joyce Walton, from Walsall, who was secretary to the production manager. Bill Jones of Wood Green, Wednesbury was the buyer, Harry Hawkes from Bilston was in charge of the factory sales section, Roy Orton from Bilston worked in the accounts department, Assistant sales manager was William Taylor from Essington, and George Hull from Kingswinford, a keen DIY enthusiast, was drawing office manager. Cliff Horsfield from Darlaston, was one of the draughtsmen, and Sam Ralph worked in the concrete department.

Shorthand typist Ann Wilkes and a colleague.

Ann, who lived at Bentley was a former Darlaston ladies football team member. She retired from the game after a leg injury.

Courtesy of Ken Southwick, and Christine and John Ashmore.

The Darlaston site had its own railway, and a 35 ton steam locomotive called 'Daisy' that was driven by Bill Mayer from Darlaston, who also used to drive the firm's steam cranes. Ken Southwick, who also worked for the company,  remembered that at one time there were three steam engines which were more powerful than the company's diesel locomotives. During the Second World War, one of the steam engines was left in gear, and the firebox was not completely emptied. During the night the steam pressure in the boiler built up, until it was strong enough to start the engine moving. It ran along the track, until it fell off, and landed on top of the works air raid shelter, which at the time was occupied by members of the night shift. The people inside thought it was a bomb. Hot water from the boiler soon began to leak into the shelter, and they thought they might drown.

Ken also mentioned that the moulders were on piece work, so the apprentices who were learning to be moulders were paid by the moulders themselves, and not the company, whereas all of the other apprentices were paid a weekly wage by the company.

Some of the Coseley Staff were as follows:

The works foreman was keen motorcyclist Jack Bonsall. Number one furnace man was John Bull from Coseley, who operated the furnace with his two colleagues, David McElroy from Sedgley, and Harry Hill from Coseley. Between them they threw eight tons of scrap metal into the furnace during each eleven hour shift. Tom Cattell of Short Heath operated the two works diggers, and the two works dumpers that moved the scrap metal around the site, and Harry Turpin from Willenhall, a keen cricket enthusiast, was weighbridge clerk,

Some members of staff at King's Hill:

William Burns of Gospel End, Sedgley was works manager. He also worked as a part-time mathematics lecturer at Wulfrun College. Will Arblaster, who lived next door to the factory, which was once owned by his father, was machine shop superintendent, and Granville Clerk from Coseley was personnel manager. The youngest worker in the machine shop was 15 years old Larry Beardmore, from Darlaston.

Photographed by the late W. J. Ashmore on 3rd October, 1937. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.


The photo opposite shows the old bridge that carried the works' railway line over the canal. It then went across Heath Road to The Flatts. The bridge also seems to have been used by people as part of a short cut from the middle of Heath Road to Bentley Road South.

An advert from the mid 1950s. Courtesy of Christine and John Ashmore.

The following images are from a catalogue, printed in the 1970s, which gives details of the wide range of pig iron produced by the company. They are courtesy of Ken Southwick, and Christine and John Ashmore.


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