Aaron Manby and his partner Joseph Smith, founded and ran the Horseley Ironworks, which began life as the Horseley Coal and Iron Company, with coal mines, ironworks and an engineering factory.

Aaron Manby (1776 to 1850)

Aaron Manby was born on the 15th November, 1776 in Albrighton, Shropshire. He was the second son of Aaron Manby of Kingston, Jamaica and Jane Lane, of Bentley Hall. His early years were spent at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight where he started his career working in a bank. On the 14th September, 1800, Aaron married Juliana Fewster, at St. Anne's Church, Soho, Westminster. They had a son, Charles, who was born at Cowes on the 4th February, 1804. Sadly. Aaron's wife, Juliana, died in July 1806 and is buried at Cowes.

On the 15th August, 1807, Aaron married his second wife, Sarah Ann Haskins, at Newbury, Berkshire. They had one daughter, Sarah, and three sons: John Richard (1813-1869), Joseph Lane (1814-1862) and Edward Oliver (1816-1864), who all became civil engineers and worked mainly abroad. Sadly, Sarah Ann died on the 4th September, 1826, in Paris.

Aaron joined the Horseley Coal and Iron Company, which had been formed in about 1770. By 1812 he was a managing partner in the concern and quickly developed the engineering side of the business, which initially concentrated on the manufacture of marine steam engines. In 1813 he was granted a patent for the manufacture of building bricks and blocks that were cast from furnace slag. The earliest known Horseley marine engine was built in 1817 for the ‘Prince of Coburg’ steamship, which sailed between Cowes and Southampton. The firm also began to design and build bridges, the first of which may have been a cast iron swing bridge, built at the East India Docks, London in 1816.

In 1821 he became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and on the 9th July, 1821, was granted a patent for an oscillating marine steam engine. The first of which, was built and operated with the help of his son, Charles. Another of Aaron’s patents at that time was for the use of oil to get-up steam in a marine engine. Aaron became very interested in France and took out French patents for his oscillating engine and for the design of an iron ship. He became involved with Captain Charles Napier who was greatly interested in iron-hulled ships and hoped to eventually develop an iron warship.

Admiral Sir Charles John Napier.

Charles Napier was a British naval officer who fought in most of the major wars in the first half of the 19th century and had a distinguished military career.

He became a captain in 1809, was knighted in 1840, became the Liberal MP for Marylebone in 1841, then a rear-admiral in 1846 and a vice admiral in 1853.

He became a Radical MP for Southwark in November 1855 and again in 1857. In 1859 he became Liberal MP for Southwark.

He died in 1860 at the age of 74 and is buried in the churchyard at All Saints Church, Catherington, in Hampshire.

There is a memorial to him in St. Paul's Cathedral.

For many years he tried to persuade the powers that be, to develop iron-hulled steam warships.

Manby and Napier formed a company in France to operate steam boats on the River Seine between Rouen and Paris. Their first iron boat, built at Horseley works was financed by Napier and registered on the 30th April, 1822 as ‘Manby’, although it was generally known as the ‘Aaron Manby’.

After successful trials, the ship crossed the channel and became the first iron ship to put to sea. It successfully operated on the Seine for about thirty years. Manby and Napier then ordered a second, slightly larger iron boat called the ‘Commerce de Paris’ which was completed in 1823 and powered by engines built in France at Manby’s engineering works. Napier financed the building of several other iron steamboats until the business was declared bankrupt in 1827.

Between 1819 and 1822, Aaron Manby established an engineering works at Charenton, near Paris, with Daniel Wilson as manager. He then severed his connections with the Horseley works, concentrating on his interests in France. The Charenton business, called Manby, Wilson and Company became known as the ‘Compagnie Anglaise’ and survived until 1847. The firm employed around 500 people. Daniel Wilson was a chemist who patented the use of ammonia to remove hydrogen sulphide from gas. The business included a gas lighting company called Manby and Wilson's 'Compagnie d'Éclairage par de Gaz Hydrogène', or in English, the Hydrogen Gas Lighting Company. They received orders for the provision of hydrogen gas lighting in parts of Paris.

In 1826, Manby purchased the ‘Le Creusot’ ironworks which amalgamated with Manby, Wilson and Company in 1828 to form the ‘Société Anonyme des Mines, Forges et Fonderies du Creusot et de Charenton’. Aaron Manby returned to England in about 1840 and lived for a while in Munster Road, Fulham. In 1845 he sold Horseley Ironworks to John Joseph Bramah, the  nephew of the inventor and locksmith Joseph Bramah. Aaron Manby then moved to Ryde, on the Isle of Wight, and later to Shanklin, where he died on the 1st December 1850, at the age of 74.

Charles Manby (1804 to 1884)

Charles Manby was born in Cowes on the Isle of Wight on the 4th February, 1804 and educated at a Roman Catholic seminary, followed in 1814 by a year at the Saint-Servan College, near Rennes, in France. In 1817 he joined his father’s business at Horseley Ironworks and trained as an engineer. After assisting his father in the ‘Manby’ paddle steamer project, he helped to install hydrogen gas pipes in Paris for his father’s company and worked for his father at a gas works at Ternes. He then reorganised his father’s Le Creusot ironworks before working for the French Government to help with the building of France's state-owned tobacco factories.

He returned to the UK and was in control of the Beaufort Ironworks at Blaenau Gwent, where he married Ellen Jones in 1830. After working in Bristol and London he became Secretary of the Institution of Civil Engineers, from November 1839 until 1856. In 1853 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1856 became the London representative of locomotive manufacturer, Robert Stephenson & Company. After the death of his first wife, he married Harriet Willard, in 1858.

Charles joined the International Scientific Commission on the Suez Canal, based in Paris and received a number of international honours including the French Legion of Honour and a knighthood by the Italian Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus. He died at his home on the 31st July,1884 at the age of 80. He lived at 60 Westbourne Terrace, Paddington, London, where he is commemorated by a blue plaque.

The Paddle Steamer

Aaron Manby formed the steamboat operating company in France, with Captain Charles Napier, who had the idea of operating steamships on the Seine. They were assisted by Charles Manby in the design of an iron paddle steamer to operate on the Seine. It was patented in France and built at Horseley, before sailing to France.

The boat was 106 feet 10 inches long, and 17 feet 2 inches wide. The flat-bottomed hull was made from ¼ inch thick iron plate fastened to iron ribs and powered by a 32 horsepower, two cylinder oscillating steam engine. The cylinders were 27 inches in diameter with a stroke of 3 feet. The steam was 2 lbs above atmospheric pressure and the funnel was 47 feet high. The paddles were of a type designed by the Irish engineer, John Oldham. They had a radius of 6 feet and were 2½ feet wide. The top speed was about 9 knots and the draught was one foot less than any other contemporary steamboat.

The steamship 'Manby'.

After completion, the boat was transported in pieces by canal to Rotherhithe and assembled at the Surrey Canal Dock. The boat was then registered on the 30th April, 1822 under the name of ‘Manby’, but was generally known as the Aaron Manby.

After trials on the River Thames, the ship sailed to Rouen via Boulogne, captained by Charles Napier, with Charles Manby on board as ship’s engineer. The ship arrived at Boulogne on the 18th May, before reaching Rouen on the 27th or 28th May. It then sailed along the Seine to reach Paris on the 10th June, 1822. It carried passengers and a cargo of iron castings and linseed. It was the first iron ship to go to sea.

The ship made other voyages along the channel but was mainly used for pleasure trips along the River Seine. Unfortunately, Napier and Manby’s sailing company was declared bankrupt in 1827. The paddle steamer Aaron Manby was sold in 1830, along with the company's other boats, to a French consortium "Compagnie des bateaux a vapeur en fer". The Aaron Manby then operated on the River Loire until the 1850s. It was broken up for scrap in 1855.

In 1972 the Black Country Society produced a bronze medallion to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the building of the Aaron Manby.

The Black Country Society's bronze medallion.

The other side of the medallion.


The friends of Tipton Library are organising a series of talks and events to commemorate and celebrate things that happened in the past. Much of this is thanks to the excellent work carried out by Richard Jeffcoat. The Libraries in Tipton used to be managed by Robert Hazel, who is now retired. He made them friendly places to visit, so that they are now part of the community and helpful in every way.

One of the events, which took place on Friday the 29th April, 2022 was the unveiling of a blue plaque to mark the 200th anniversary of the building of the steam ship, Aaron Manby. The plaque was produced by Tipton Civic Society and installed on the front wall of the Joseph Turner Primary School, in Powis Avenue. The plaque was unveiled by local MP. Shaun Bailey and was followed by a brief talk given by Derek Nicholls, along with refreshments, at Glebefields Library.

The plaque.

Shaun Bailey unveiling the plaque.   Shaun Bailey.

Shaun Bailey holding a model of the paddle steamer.


Derek Nicholls.

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