Other Industries

Wednesbury was at the centre of a vast area of industrialisation, which greatly affected the landscape and everyday sights and sounds. In 1854 John Nock Bagnall published his book "A History of Wednesbury in the County of Stafford" which includes a chapter describing Wednesbury as it was at the time. In the book he describes the view from Church Hill at night:

Notwithstanding the great change that has taken place in the appearance of the surrounding country, there are but few places which afford so extensive and striking a panorama of the mine and metal district as Wednesbury Hill, "taking in," as a modern historian expresses it, "within its lofty glance the burning, fiery furnaces of West Bromwich, Tipton, Coseley, Bilston, and Darlaston; the horizon, miles upon miles, dotted about with smoking, blazing coke hearths, appears under the black, sooty roof of nightfall, like a large illuminated minster, devoted to a ritual of the ancient Parsees, or fire worshippers, and eclipsing the very clouds of heaven in their gigantic wreath of incense.

And a strange, wild, savage music seems to accompany these loud litanies; bell and ball, hammer and shears, crank and chains, wheels and rolls, steam, blast and engine screams, yell and howl, and shriek and roar and hiss, and above them all, the big shout of the forgeman, or call of the collier, seems ever and anon to set them yelling, howling, shrieking, roaring, and hissing with a renewed grim energy, as if they were resolved to deafen every other tone of mortal sound except their own hideous minstrelsy.

And when the mild, quiet moon looks down at times upon the riot, like a 'blue light' on a field of fireworks, so stillness looks more still in the contrast of the rioting, and she seems timidly to steal away faster than usual through the mountain masses of drifting smoke clouds, that irreverently smoke her face as if she was a common street lamp.

The stranger shudders as he beholds the scene. Far as the eye can reach it is a series of fires; there seems to be too much fire and too much fury to be ever put out again. The dread is that it must grow and spread beyond its flaming boundaries, till the whole realm be in a general blaze, which all its island waters cannot quench, and bonny England become a holocaust."

Today the scene couldn't be more different. It is now a tranquil scene, only broken by the roar of traffic on its way through the town, and illuminated at night by countless street lamps, enveloping the whole area in an orange glow.

Iron and Steel

The earliest references to iron mining in the area are from 1315 but there are no records of iron smelting until the 16th century. Much of the local ore would have been exported to other towns until the later part of the 18th century when the growth of local industry provided a new market. Early iron making used large amounts of charcoal, and so much of the local woodland would have disappeared in the process. The locally found iron ore would have been heated with a large amount of charcoal in a bloomery, consisting of a hearth of stones, covered by a dome of clay. A constant blast of air would be applied using bellows, and a spongy, metallic bloom of iron would be the result. The bloom would then be reheated and worked down with a large hammer to remove some of the impurities (slag and clinker), to make the iron hard enough for forging. The end product would then be wrought into bars or rods for the production of horseshoes, nails or tools.

In 1597 there was a water-powered iron mill (a forge) owned by William Comberford and leased to William Whorwood, which is mentioned in the records of the Quarter Sessions. Two of the employees were Blaise Uyntam, a finer, and William Heeley, a hammer man. In 1606 Walter Coleman leased the forge for 21 years. It had finery and chafery hearths. In 1708 it was owned by Richard Shelton and leased to John Willetts, who probably used it as a rolling mill.


An old iron works at Leabrook. Presumably John Bagnall & Sons Limited, photographed from the bridge over the canal.
In 1726 he is listed as a saw maker. The forge was possibly at Wood Green and later known as Wednesbury Forge, owned by the Elwell family and situated at the confluence of the southern and western branches of the Tame. The power came from two water sources, which were dammed, and drove waterwheels from the floodgates. The wheels would power a large hammer consisting of a timber beam bound with iron hoops (the helve), set in an iron pivot (the hurst). A cast-iron head weighing 7 or 8 cwt would be fitted to the end of the helve, and this would fall onto the iron bloom placed on the anvil below. The hammer was operated by cams and large wooden pegs fixed in a drum. At intervals the iron would be removed from the anvil and reheated, the process continuing until it had been converted into wrought iron.

There were two types of hearth at the forge, the finery and the chafery. Both would have burned charcoal and been fed with air from bellows. In the smaller finery the lump of iron was re-melted to produce a bloom; a lump of iron with slag.

The bloom would be hammered to consolidate the iron and remove much of the slag. It would then be reheated in the larger chafery and hammered to draw it out into a bar of various widths and lengths suitable for blacksmiths, coopers, nail makers, toolmakers, and wheelwrights.

The chafery would have held several bars at a time, all in various stages of production.

The Patent Shaft & Axletree Company at the turn of the 20th century.

In 1675 Frederick de Blewstone from Germany constructed an experimental furnace in the town, in an attempt to smelt iron using coal, traditional charcoal being in short supply. Unfortunately the attempt failed because of contamination from the sulphurous gasses emitted by the coal.

By 1785 there were 4 forges in the town:

Wednesbury Forge, Wood Green
Adams’s Forge, Camp Hill Lane
Sparrow’s Forge, Fallings Heath
The iron mill at Wednesbury Bridge

Adams’s Forge opened in Camp Hill Lane around 1760 in the middle of the Seven Years War. The business sold special quality iron to the government, made from specially selected scrap. As the forge was situated on the south side of the town, well away from any natural watercourse, the hammers were powered by a horse gin. This was superseded by one of the earliest Watt steam engines in the area, and supplied with water from a large reservoir extending from Camp Hill Lane to Camp Street, possibly from a spring. Unfortunately unhealthy gases arose from the water and so in 1869 the company moved to Ridgeacre, West Bromwich.

Sparrow’s Forge was run by Mr. Edwards in partnership with Edward Elwell, who later ran Wednesbury Forge. It was situated next to Forge Pool and Forge Pool Colliery, just off Sparrow’s Forge Road, now called Park Lane. The forge was initially powered by a horse gin, and later used water from the adjacent Forge Pool, which flowed into Willenhall Brook. By 1851 it became Heath Works, owned by Addison Russell, and sometime before 1900 the works closed, and the buildings were demolished.

The most common method of producing wrought iron from pig iron in the 19th century was puddling, invented by Henry Cort in 1784.


A section through a puddling furnace.

Pig iron or scrap cast iron was melted in a puddling furnace and stirred with a long pole, which reduced the carbon content by bringing it into contact with air, in which it burned.
The puddling furnace heated the iron by reflecting the exhaust gases from the fire down onto it. In the drawing opposite, the iron would be placed in the central section. Because it was not in contact with the fire, cheaper, poor quality fuel could be used. After puddling the iron was hammered and rolled to remove the slag.
The iron mill at Wednesbury Bridge opened in the 17th century and may have been built by William Comberford, who planned such a mill in 1606. In 1761 the buildings were owned by John Wood, the son of ironmaster William Wood who lived at the Deanery in Wolverhampton.
John obtained a patent in 1761 for making malleable iron from pig iron. He also melted selected scrap, and produced iron that was as good as the best Swedish iron of the day, often being used by the local gun barrel makers. In 1816 the works included a lift hammer, a tilt hammer, and sufficient warehouses for storing scrap, and finished iron. According to F.W. Hackwood, John lived “in great splendour” in the town, and was buried there after his death in 1779.


Puddlers at work.

The first coke furnace in the town was at Hallens’ Ironworks, which stood by the canal on part of the site later occupied by the Patent Shaft Steelworks. The following description of the works is from Aris’s Gazette of 6th January, 1800:

A capital set of ironworks, consisting of a blast furnace, foundry, boring mill, forges, slitting and rolling mills, pattern and smiths shops, warehouses, six workmen’s houses and every suitable convenience for carrying on a very extensive trade, advantageously situated on the banks of the Birmingham Canal at Wednesbury: the whole comprising of about two and a half acres of freehold land with valuable mines of coal, ironstone and clay under the same; together with all the machinery, implements and tools now on the premises.

By 1830 there were only two furnaces in the town that were used for iron smelting, which is surprising considering that large amounts of iron ore were mined locally. The first was Matthews and Company who ran Broadwaters Furnaces. They had 2 furnaces which produced 6,368 tons of pig iron in 1830. The second was Lloyds and Fosters at Old Park Iron Works. In 1823 they had one furnace which produced 2,600 tons of pig iron in 1823, and in 1830 there were two furnaces producing 5,280 tons of pig iron.


Tapping a puddling furnace.

Marshall & Mills who ran Monway Iron Works produced the best gun barrel iron in the world. Their customers included the Birmingham gun makers, and the British and American governments. By 1844 their iron sold for £44 a ton.

Also in the 1840s Adams & Richards of Bridge Street were producing coach springs.

   
Read a report from 1843 about
the employment of children in
the town
   

White’s directory of Staffordshire from 1851 lists the following iron and steel companies in Wednesbury:

George Adams & Company, Camp Hill Lane
John Bagnall & Sons, Imperial Works, Leabrook
Colburn & Groucett, Broadwaters
Fletcher, Rose & Company, Victoria Works, Leabrook
Lloyds, Fosters & Company, Old Park Works
John Marshall, Monway Iron and Steel Works, Leabrook
Maybury & Williams, Leabrook
David Rose, Moxley Forge
Addison Russell, Heath Works
Thomas Wells, Moxley Iron & Steel Works

Others included Gospel Oak Ironworks owned by Philip Williams & Sons, Brunswick Iron Works, owned by Henry Pitt, and Bull's Bridge Ironworks owned by Molineux & Company.

Most of the early iron and steel works closed as a result of the depression of 1875 to 1886 after which the main players were the Old Park Works, the Patent Shaft, and F.H. Lloyd at James Bridge Steel Works.

Wednesbury had many foundries including:

John Deyrick, established in 1818
Addenbrooke & Lloyds Fosters, established in 1829
Edward & John Blakemore & Company, brass and iron, Camp Street
J.H. Blakemore, brass & iron. Trouse Lane
Thomas Elwell, Bull Lane

By the 1850s Wednesbury had secured a monopoly of the new iron tube trade and had become the largest local supplier of iron to the railways.


An advert from 1861.

Wednesbury Forge

Wednesbury Forge was leased by Edward Elwell in 1817 and purchased by him in 1831. His father, William Elwell, an ironfounder at Walsall, became Mayor of the town in 1778 and 1787. Edward trained as a surgeon and served with the Royal Artillery from 1807 to 1811. After returning to Walsall and practicing there for a while he set himself up as a maker of edge tools at Sparrow’s Forge in Wednesbury.


Elwell's Pool and Forge.


An advert from 1949.

The Elwell family had another industrial link with the town because Edward’s uncle, Edward Elwell established an ironworks in Wednesbury producing cast iron holloware. It later became Hill Top Foundry.
 
  Read about
Hill Top Foundry
 

In 1831 Wednesbury Forge consisted of a forge or iron mill, a grinding mill which had previously been a windmill, 2 mill pools covering 25 acres, with a watercourse, a house and 13 cottages, which were previously workshops.

The machinery at the forge was driven by steam and water power, and the water rights provided a worthwhile income from the canal company and other local firms. By 1851 management of the business had passed into the hands of Edward’s son, Edward junior.

Unfortunately Edward junior died prematurely and so his father, now elderly, resumed control of the business until his death in 1869.
During the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) the company sold large quantities of edge tools to America, greatly benefiting from the war, and also exported its products to many countries. The company's catalogue listed over 1,200 types and sizes of heavier hand tools, such as axes, forks, hoes, pick axes, shovels, and spades. By 1889 there were around 200 employees.


A railway accident at Elwell's Pool in 1859.


Wednesbury Forge. From the 1869 Elwell catalogue.


Elwell tools from the 1869 catalogue.


More Elwell tools from the catalogue.


More of the wide range of Elwell tools made in the 1860s.


An advert from 1962.

Edward Elwell never recovered from the death of his son and became a sad and morose man. He helped to establish St. James’ Church and a school for the children of his workmen.

After his death Alfred Elwell, a grandson, took over the running of the business, and on his death in 1902 it became a private limited company. Two years later the water wheels were replaced by water turbines.

Around 1930 Edward Elwell Limited and the Chillington Tool Company of Wolverhampton combined and formed a holding company; Edge Tool Industries Limited, and in 1937 the firm displayed a range of tools at the British Industries Fair, including agricultural tools, axes, billhooks, choppers, cleavers, earth borers, edge tools, forks,  foundry ladles, hammers, hatchets, hoes, horticultural tools, matchets, picks, road contractors' tools, shovels, spades, and slashers.

In 1962 Eva Industries acquired Edge Tool Industries Limited, and in 1967 Spearwell Tools was formed to merge the gardening and agricultural interests of Spear and Jackson and Eva Industries.

Spearwell Tools was jointly owned by the 2 companies, but after several years of losses, Spear and Jackson acquired the whole group, taking over Wednesbury Forge in 1970. In 1995 the company became Spear and Jackson plc.

Wednesbury Forge continued to produce tools until Christmas 2005, when the factory closed. The administrative, warehousing and maintenance sections continued to operate throughout part of 2006. In 2007 the buildings were demolished, and the site cleared.


A company letterhead.


A close up view of the factory from the above letterhead. On the left is the Elwell family's house.


   
Read about Old Park Works and The Patent Shaft & Axletree Company
   

   
Read about Britain's largest foundry -

F. H. Lloyd & Company Limited
 

   
Read about Crown Tube Works and Tube Making
   

   
Read about Richard Garbett and the Monway Gas, Steam and Water Cock Manufactory
   


An advert from 1861.

In the 1860s Josh. & Thos. Davies manufactured a wide range of products, including high and low pressure steam engines on the vertical direct action, beam and horizontal principles, steam donkeys for feeding boilers, improved metallic pistons and safety valves without stalk or guide, winding and pumping machinery, and brakes for collieries, hydraulic presses, lift and force pumps by hand or power, portable mounted steam threshing machines, improved water heaters by waste steam, blowing fans by hand or power, hoisting crabs and cranes, circular saw and rack benches, shearing and punching presses, pipe fittings, nut and bolt screwing machines, forge hammers, and boring and grooving machines for coach axle work, sluice glan plug, valve and other cocks, lathes, carriage shafting, pulleys and couplings, etc. The firm also carried out turning, boring, planing, fitting, shaping, and repairs done to order.

The firm's small steam engines were as follows:


Other Companies and Products

Henry Hope & Sons Limited. Windows


An advert from the early 1960s,

The company started in 1818 in Birmingham and started to produce metal casements in 1819. In between 1845 and 1857 they made all of the windows for the Houses of Parliament, and by 1900 their main product was metal windows.

In 1904 the company purchased some land at the corner of Dartmouth Road and Halford's Lane, Smethwick and in 1905 built the Halford Works. In 1919 the whole business was transferred there, and by the late 1950s the factory covered around 10 acres.

The company acquired a 37 acre, old coal mining site in Wednesbury in 1938 and built a new works there which included a hot dip galvanising plant. The plant included a 120 ton bath of zinc at a temperature of 852 degrees Fahrenheit.

By 1957 Hopes made over 500 types and sizes of windows and installed a specially designed, highly mechanised galvanising plant at Wednesbury for the production of reversible steel windows for multi-storey flats.

The company had a large export market and in 1965 merged with another metal window manufacturer, the Crittall Manufacturing Company Limited of Braintree to form Crittall-Hope Limited. Braintree then became the new company's headquarters.


The hot dip galvanising tank.


Hope's assembly and storage department.


Part of Hope's mechanised galvanising plant.

   
Read about William Mills Limited, producer of accurate aluminium castings
   
Read about Wednesbury's electrical equipment manufacturers:

William Sanders, and The Power Centre.

   
Crown Metal (Wednesbury) Limited

Crown Metal (Wednesbury) Limited was founded in 1919 by W. G. Hitchman, and became a limited liability company in 1952. At the time, the Managing Director was the founder's son. The non-ferrous foundry used a range of alloys including brass, gunmetal, phosphor bronze, and high tensile alloys of aluminium bronze, and manganese bronze. Alloys were also made to individual customer's requirements. Castings were supplied to many industries including  manufacturers of machinery, hydraulic equipment, electrical equipment, and ship builders, varying in weight from a few ounces to five hundredweights. They were supplied in small or large quantities as required. The firm prided itself in its quick service, especially when castings were needed for plant maintenance.


An advert from 1954.

J. Frankel (Aluminium) Limited

First class aluminium alloys were produced in Wednesbury by J. Frankel (Aluminium) Limited at Victoria Works, Alma Street. The company was incorporated on 17th January, 1948. Before the year was out the firm began to refine aluminium on the site of the former Globe Ironworks in Charles Street, Walsall. By 1974 the factory was producing aluminium alloy ingots from scrap, for use in foundries, rolling mills, and steelworks. In May 1977 some of the firm's buildings in Bridgeman Street, Walsall were sold to the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company for £105,000.

Unfortunately the company only had a short life. The following notice appeared in the London Gazette on 8th October, 1982:

J. Frankel (Aluminium) Limited

At an extraordinary general meeting of the above named company, duly convened, and held at the Holiday Inn, ATV Centre, Birmingham, on 15th September 1982, the subjoined extraordinary resolution was duly passed:

That it has been proved to the satisfaction of this meeting that the company cannot by reason of its liabilities continue its business, and that it is advisable to wind up the same, and accordingly that the company be wound up voluntarily, and that Bernard Phillips, of New Cavendish House, 18 Maltravers Street, London WC2 R3EJ and David Zackheim, of 48 Welbeck Street, London W1M 7HE, be and they are hereby appointed joint liquidators for the purpose of such winding-up.


An advert from 1954.

Roberts & Company (Wednesbury) Limited

The firm, based in Franchise Street, was founded in 1919 and became a limited liability company on 22nd August, 1931.

It specialised in the production of galvanised steelwork for overhead electrical transmission lines, carried on wooden poles.

The firm had a large, well-equipped forge and bending shop where special steelwork of all kinds was produced including motor body parts, hinges, tow bars, towing brackets, and signal ladders for railways.

The firm also specialised in flame-cut and welded fabrications.

Unfortunately the business, like many others, suffered during the recession in the 1990s. The company went into receivership on 17th May, 1993, and went into voluntary liquidation on 31st January, 1998.


An advert from 1954.


The text above and the advert below were taken from the 1918 Wednesbury Official Handbook.


An advert from 1954.


An advert from 1958.


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


An advert from 1958.


The text above and the advert below were taken from the 1918 Wednesbury Official Handbook.

Quilliam Limited. Jute Bag Manufacturers


An advert from the early 1960s.

Quilliam Limited manufactured all kinds of jute sacks and bags for industrial use at Victoria Works, Potter's Lane.

They produced new and reconditioned sacks for all types of small metal components, steel strip and wire, nuts, bolts, nails, washers, rivets, stampings, castings, and chains.

The factory survived until the early 1960s when it was destroyed in a disastrous fire.

   
Read about Edwin Richards & Sons who made coach axles, springs, and fittings.
   
Another local company, with a similar name, supplying the same range of products as Edwin Richards & Sons was based in Hobbins Street, off Portway Road. This advert is from the 1909 Ryder's Annual.

The Ordnance Survey map from that time does not show any obvious factory in Hobbins Street, only houses. There were more sizeable buildings at the the ends, fronting on the Holyhead Road, and in Portway Road, but that is all.

It could be that Richards & Company were suppliers of Edwin Richards & Sons' products, and possibly run by a member of Edwin Richards' family.


Another coach axle manufacturer. The advert is from 1861.
 
Another advert for John Rigby & Sons who were based at Phoenix Works.

This advert is from 1896.

Wednesbury also had at least one cycle maker.

S. J. Taylor is listed in Peck's 1896 Trade Directory of Birmingham. The address given is Apsley Place, Pritchard Street, Wednesbury.

The advert opposite is from Ryder's Annual, 1911.

The advert opposite is from the 1909 edition of Ryder's Annual.


Richard Disturnal & Company also produced axles. The advert is from 1896.


From the 1918 Wednesbury Official Handbook.

 

Two adverts from 1918.

 
Hickinbottom's Bakers

Many people will fondly remember Hickinbottom's excellent bread, baked in the Albert Street bakery and delivered door to door by expert roundsmen. The business started in 1893 when Sam Hickinbottom, a wheelwright at the Patent Shaft and Axletree Company was on short time, and couldn't find alternative work. His wife Martha had previously worked as a domestic help at Priddins Bakers in Bridge Street, where she learned the art of bread making. Because of their financial hardship, the young couple decided to establish their own bakery.

They rented a shop with a small bakehouse in Lower High Street and began to bake and sell bread. Sam realised that the best way to sell their bread was to take it around the local area. He began by selling bread to his ex-workmates, delivered in a small basket, and soon acquired a hand cart. Sales were good and so the Hickinbottoms acquired a pony and cart.

Within a short while the business moved across the road into a larger premises with a new bakehouse. Martha soon became pregnant and had the job of bringing-up her first son Joe, followed by two others Bert and Len. Sam then employed a baker and was able to greatly increase the product range.  

The business became extremely successful. By the First World War, Sam had been joined by his three sons, and had moved into a larger premises in Victoria Street with better facilities, including two Cornthwaite ovens. Only the best ingredients were used, and the bread gained a deserved reputation for high quality.

During the war the business thrived because other foods were in short supply and so the demand for bread greatly increased. By this time Joe was going out with Annie Lett, who later became his wife. She was recruited into the business to take charge of a horse and cart to help with deliveries.

The firm soon outgrew the Victoria Street premises and so a larger bakery was built nearby in Victoria Street. It included a lot of second-hand equipment from Birmingham bakeries, and opened in June 1923. The second-hand equipment was slowly updated, and the firm acquired its first motorised van and a large horse-drawn flat wagon to transport flour from the nearby GWR goods depot to the bakery.

Sam died in 1939 and his eldest son Joe became Managing Director.

In 1951 Hickinbottoms joined Allied Bakeries of London, makers of Sunblest bread. By 1960 the Victoria Street bakery supplied around 30,000 customers, and it became essential to extend the bakery in order to cope with increasing orders. Over the next two years the company purchased adjoining properties, which were demolished to make way for a new bakery.

In 1961 Sam's youngest sons Bert and Len died. They were replaced on the board by Joe's son, Michael, and his cousin Geoffrey. Building work soon got underway and  the new Electric Bakery in Albert Street opened in May 1963. At the time the bakery supplied around 30,000 retail customers, 800 wholesale customers, and employed 180 people. The company operated eighty vehicles and had its own maintenance department.

Michael Hickinbottom soon became Chief Executive of the group, leaving Geoffrey in charge of the operation at Wednesbury. In 1977 Geoffrey decided to retire, and shortly later the Hickinbottom name ceased to be used. At the same time door to door deliveries were discontinued. The Wednesbury bakery closed in 1989 and production was transferred elsewhere. Demolition of the bakery soon followed, to make way for the Mecca Bingo Club, which stands on the site today.

   
The Steel Nut & Joseph Hampton Limited. Fastenings, Steel Bars, Tools

 
The Steel Nut & Joseph Hampton Limited made a wide range of products at their Fallings Heath works. As well as nuts, bolts, set screws, and studs they produced a wide range of bright drawn steel bars, and tools, including vices for wood and steel, clamps, dowelling jigs, holdfasts, and wood planes. In 1955 the company produced its patented quick release screw vice. The factory was known locally as "the Woden". For a detailed history look at the Darlaston industry section on this website.
 

Two views of the Steel Department.


The Steel Store.

 


The Test House.


Another nut and bolt manufacturer. The advert is from 1861.


Another nut and bolt maker in 1861.

   
Read about Samuel Platt Limited based at King's Hill Foundry.
   
Read about Prodorite Limited.

A well known and important manufacturer.

   
 

Two adverts from 1949.

There were several galvanisers in the town including Frost & Sons of Falcon Works, Church Street, Moxley which specialised in galvanising electricity transmission towers for the Central Electricity Board, and galvanising every kind of wrought and cast iron work, and tubes and fittings. The company had a reputation for quick service, high quality work, and low prices.
 

An advert from 1954.

 

A shot blasting machine.


Galvanising tubes, forty feet long and eleven inches in diameter.


The text above and the advert below were taken from the 1918 Wednesbury Official Handbook.

Frost & Sons (Moxley) Limited was founded in 1889, and initially specialised in tube and general galvanising.

There were two branches, one at Rough Hills, Wolverhampton, and another at Ebro Works, Tividale, Tipton, which specialised in galvanising bolts, nuts, and washers etc. by centrifugal force.

The business was wound-up in March 2002.

Wednesbury, like many other local town had its share of brick makers. The very last one was Hadley (Wednesbury) Limited, based at Brunswick Park Brickworks in Crankhall Lane.

Hadleys started producing bricks in 1876, and by 1950 150,000 bricks were leaving the factory each week. Production ended in about 1960 when the business closed.

Another long-standing Wednesbury business was Isaiah Oldbury Limited, founded in 1861 to manufacture coach and cart axles at the Reliance Coach Ironworks.

The founder, Isiah Oldbury, J.P. born at Wednesbury in May, 1840 was Chairman of the Wigmore Schools Management Board, a Borough Magistrate, a prominent member of the Liberal Party, a Wesleyan Methodist, and Mayor of Wednesbury in 1896 to 1898.


An advert from 1949.


Councillor Isaiah Oldbury in his mayoral rhobes.

The firm was a pioneer in the  development of trailer undergear, and opened a factory in West Bromwich for the production of axles and drop-forgings.

The firm had its own malleable and grey iron foundry, a spring shop, and a machine shop for the production and supply of general machined parts. The factory was complete with a range of drop stamps, drop hammers, and machine tools.

Trailer axles and components were regularly exported to much of the world, including Rhodesia, where the firm built-up a large export market in heavy cart axles.

The many products included roller bearing hubs, internal expanding brakes, brake fittings, towing couplings, drawbars, jockey wheels, steel wheels, springs and fittings. Large numbers of specially designed chassis were supplied to manufacturers of caravans, portable welding compressors, and vacuum plant.

In 2000 the company was acquired by Skan Group Holdings and moved to its present 2½ acre site in Wobaston Road, Wolverhampton.

From Wednesbury Faces, Places and Industries, published in 1897:

The Reliance Coach Ironworks, owned by the present Mayor, Mr. Isaiah Oldbury occupy a high and influential position in this important branch of manufacturing activity. It is about twenty three years since the present works were started, and thirty three years since the business was founded by Mr. Oldbury. Its very successful career from the inception to the present time abundantly testifies to the energy and ability brought to bear upon its management. The works have been enlarged from time to time to meet the increased demands, and only recently a malleable iron foundry has been added.


The Smithy.

They now cover a considerable area of ground, giving constant employment to between one hundred and fifty and two hundred hands, and being equipped with all the requisite steam power machinery and labour-saving appliances to facilitate rapid and economical production. The chief manufactures include coach bolts and nuts, steps, scrolls, dash irons, clips, shackles, and coach ironwork in general; also mail, Collinges, drabbles, and other axles, and springs.


Axle and turning shop.

For all these productions Mr. Oldbury enjoys a high reputation both at home and abroad, hence his large and steadily increasing connections; and it may be stated that he is a well-known contractor to Her Majesty's Government, the War Office, and Admiralty; also to Sir W. G. Armstrong, Mitchell and Co., Limited, and Sir Joseph Whitworth and Co., Limited. None but the most durable and best finished goods leave the premises, whilst the productive facilities are such as to ensure the speedy execution of all orders.


An advert from 1954.


M. H. Lowe Limited were one of the oldest engineer's merchants in the Midlands. The shop in Union Street was a delight for anyone interested in tools.

The business was registered on Saturday, January 4, 1947 but is now dissolved.
 

The firm specialised in all kinds of engineer's supplies and equipment for local companies, and carried comprehensive stocks of all reputable makes of tools. They were the sole agents in the West Midlands for 'Lion' brand 'G' clamps and strap clamps, and were stockists and technical advisers for 'Universal' grinding wheels. Nuts, bolts, and Allen screws were also stocked, as well as drill chucks, pipe tools, and precision measuring tools.


An advert from 1954.


An advert from 1954.

The housing shortage after World War 2 led to the construction of many pre-fabricated houses which were relatively cheap, and fast to build.

Mr. H. Howard-Smith developed a method of building traditional-styled brick houses quickly, by assembling factory-built components. S. J. Smith (Bidford) Limited was founded to mass-produce the components, and to build the houses in record time.

The company Chairman was Mr. H. Howard-Smith, and the Managing Director was Mr. S. J. Smith.

Using the Smith system, a house could be built in half the normal time. By the mid 1950s the firm had built over four thousand houses in the Midlands, at a rate of one thousand a year, and with a labour force of less than 500 men.

It was extremely difficult to distinguish the houses from those built using traditional methods.

A once familiar sight in Potters Lane was C. Walsh Graham's timber yard. The text opposite and the advert below were taken from the 1918 Wednesbury Official Handbook.


The text above and the advert below were taken from the 1918 Wednesbury Official Handbook.


The text above and the advert below were taken from the 1918 Wednesbury Official Handbook.


The text above and the advert below were taken from the 1918 Wednesbury Official Handbook.

 

Two adverts from 1918.


   
Return to
Growth
  Return to
the contents
  Proceed to
Education