Ironmasters with a pivotal role in the industrial revolution

In an age of great figures whose achievements made their mark upon the making of the modern world, Sampson Lloyd II was one of the most influential, and yet today is one of the least known. Matthew Boulton, James Watt, William Murdock and Joseph Priestley still attract renown and have statues to commemorate them, but in the years immediately before they came to prominence, Lloyd played a pivotal role in the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.

Through his business as an ironmaster, he provided the iron and steel that was so crucial for the making of so many metal things. Then as the pace of economic change gathered speed he provided another impetus through his bank, Taylor's and Lloyd's, which loaned much of the money to power manufacturing forward further and faster.

Sampson's father, Sampson Lloyd I, had come to Birmingham from Dolobran in Montgomeryshire as the 17th century waned.

A Quaker, he was attracted by the town's reputation for religious tolerance and also, it seems, by the proximity of the family of his second wife, Mary nee Crowley.

Her father, Ambrose Crowley II was a remarkable man. A Quaker, he was born in Rowley Regis and was the son of a nailer who owned moveable goods valued at £24 at his death in 1680.

By comparison, Ambrose the second went on to leave almost £1,200 when he died. His fortune had been made by iron and it seems that the late 17th and early 18th centuries were favourable times for enterprising and talented men from humble beginnings such as he to wax wealthy.

Ambrose Crowley II of Stourbridge founded a dynasty of iron masters.

Slitting mills

The rise of the Crowleys was spectacular; so too was that of the Foleys. This family was responsible for expanding industrial output in northeast Worcestershire and south Staffordshire through the introduction of slitting mills. This innovation was crucial to the massive growth in nail making by hand. A piece of machinery with rotary cutters that was worked by a water wheel, it cut (slit) thin iron sheets into narrow strips and rods for nail making and other purposes. The iron was made thin beforehand when a bar was hammered flat and then squeezed even flatter between metal rolls in a rolling mill.

According to an old story, Richard Foley was a fiddler from Stourbridge who wished to learn about the new slitting mills that had appeared in Sweden. He worked his passage from Hull to Scandinavia and then paid his way to the slitting mill by playing his fiddle. Here he became friendly with the workmen and found out the mysteries of their trade. Returning home he set up works with a partner, but as he had forgotten some of the secrets on the long journey back he had to make another expedition to fill in the gaps in his knowledge. This he achieved and his mill was a great success and he became wealthy.

Another story has Foley as a nailer who was a drunkard who had his cow taken for his debts, after which he went to Holland and returned with the invention of the slitting mill. Such stories are embellished with fantasy but there is a grain of truth in the recognition of Richard Foley as the key figure in the introduction of slitting mills to England. His importance is made plain in a most important book by Roy Peacock called 'The Seventeenth Century Foleys. Iron, Wealth and Vision 1580 - 1716', which is published by the excellent Black Country Society. Based on deep and thorough research, Roy brings to life the progress of the Foleys. Richard himself was the son of a nailer from Dudley. He became the most successful ironmaster of the age and the slitting mill he set up on the River Stour from the late 1620s was vital to his ascendancy.

Foley was not the first person to open such a mill in England, but he was the first to do so successfully and in the long term. Henceforth more rods could be made more cheaply and more quickly than slitting by hand. This allowed a vastly increased output of nails, which were essential in an age when so much was made of wood.

Based in Stourbridge from 1630, Richard Foley built up a considerable undertaking so that by his death in 1657 the family's ironworks accounted for over half of the total iron production in the West Midlands and perhaps as much as a quarter for the whole of England and Wales. Roy Peacock's shows how Foley's children expanded their holdings into iron making in north Staffordshire and the Forest of Dean, gun-founding in the Weald of Kent, and into trade in London. However by the early 18th century, the Foleys were moving away from iron and into land - and as they did so other families such as the Crowleys became pre-eminent in the making and trading of iron.

A Black Country blast furnace and coal mines. The Lloyds were among the pioneers of blast furnaces in the region at the Old Park Works in Wednesbury, in 1825-26.


When Ambrose Crowley the second died in 1680 he owned a steel-making forge and an iron-making forge in Stourbridge; he was an ironmonger of standing, putting out work to a host of nailmakers and buying their goods from them to sell on; he had a share in an iron works in Brecknock; and he was a partner in a company that aimed to supply water to Exeter and Barnstaple. These considerable achievements were surpassed mightily by his son, Sir Ambrose. He shifted the nailmaking operations to the north east of England and his trading centre to London. So successful was he, especially in selling nails to the Royal Navy, that upon his death in 1713 he left the vast amount of more than £100,000.

Despite his move away from the West Midlands and his undercutting of the prices of local ironmongers, Crowley kept his interests in the Stour Valley and he forged a strong link with Sampson Lloyd I. With little experience of either manufacturing or trading, the Welsh migrant to Birmingham soon became knowledgeable of both. He started up as an ironmonger, fetching in iron from distant furnaces to sell to local forges and slitting mills and then buying back from them bar iron and rod iron to sell to putters out - the men who supplied nailers and smiths.

Sampson Lloyd II - a leading figure among iron masters.

In this business Sampson I benefitted both from the advice and custom of his brother-in-law, Sir Abraham Crowley.

The knight bought rod iron from Lloyd for his slitting mills to supply to nailers in the north of England, while Crowley's mills in County Durham produced bar steel which was distributed to edge tool makers in the Midlands by Lloyd.

With no canals then to speed the movement of goods, it was a long journey to Birmingham. The steel was taken by boat from the north east to London and was then carried to the town.

This expensive movement was made possible by the high value of steel compared to its weight, as opposed to the lower value of iron.

Sampson the first died in 1725. When he had arrived in Birmingham it is said that he had nothing. This seems unlikely given his background and close relationships with wealthy families locally. Still, he may have had only 'modest' means by middle class standards but through hard work, integrity, and the development of family contacts with other leading Quaker families he transformed his fortunes and became a wealthy man, leaving £10,000.

His business was passed on to his eldest son, Sampson II who had been apprenticed at a brass-wire firm in Bristol where his father had an agent. The younger Sampson drove forward the Lloyd's operations. If his father had laid the foundations it was Sampson Lloyd II who successfully built upon them and made himself one of the most influential businessmen in the Midlands at an extraordinary time; the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.

His first wife, Sarah, was another well-connected Quaker woman, for her father was Richard Parkes an ironmaster from Wednesbury who had settled in Birmingham; while his second wife, Rachel, was the daughter of Nehemiah Champion, a Quaker merchant from Bristol with metallurgical interests. Of their three daughters, Mary married Osgood Hanbury, a Quaker merchant who had an extensive concern in trading with the American colonies; and Rachel married David Barclay, another leading Quaker merchant and also a banker. Still, it was Sarah Parkes who provided what would become a longstanding and crucial link between the Lloyds and Wednesbury.

Her father, Richard, had arrived in the town from the Cotswolds in 1690 and like Sampson Lloyd I, his rise to riches was greatly helped by a fortunate marriage - in his case to Sarah, the daughter of Henry Fidoe. The son of a small-scale ironmonger in Wednesbury, Fidoe became an active Quaker with wide interests in the iron trade in Staffordshire.

It would seem that as Sir Ambrose Foley had helped Samson Lloyd I, so too did Henry Fidoe help his son-in-law, for Richard Parkes went on to become one of the biggest customers of the Foleys. Parkes then built on these strong foundations and invested in the future by buying land and buildings in and around Wednesbury. Most importantly he also purchased local surface and mining rights.

These latter weren't much exploited during most of the 18th century, simply because of the inability to effectively pump out the water that flooded deeper coal and other mines. But the development of the steam engine transformed this situation and made mineral rights a most valuable possession.

Its potential for creating wealth was recognised in the early 19th century by Samuel Lloyd II Known popularly as Quaker Lloyd, he inherited the Parkes properties, and then in 1839 added to them with 108 acres that came to him through his Fidoe ancestry. It was by this connection that eventually the great firm of F. H. Lloyd would be set up in the Black Country.

That was in the future, for now in the 18th century the Lloyd's affairs grew rapidly under the guidance of Sampson the second. It was he who created what would be regarded today as an integrated structure of businesses. Pig iron came from a blast furnace at Melbourne in Derbyshire, while it was converted into bar iron at Burton upon Trent, and the family owned another forge at Powick near Worcester. This bar iron was then taken to Lloyd's slitting mill at Birmingham, which had been bought in 1728 by Charles Lloyd, the older brother of Sampson II.

The first proper plan of Birmingham dates to three years later. It shows Lloyd's slitting and corn mills on the corner of Lower Mill Lane and what would become Bradford Street. It was in a most prominent position with easy access to the important through-route of Digbeth and was powered with water from the nearby River Rea. This mill came into the ownership of Sampson II in 1741 after his brother died.

Bull Street, Birmingham, in 1956. The Minories is on the right and the Friends Meeting House and burial ground was further up, just before the building that juts out.

The Friends still meet on virtually the same spot as they have done since 1703.

This is where the Lloyds, Parkes, Fidoes, and Pembertons met to worship.

In Stourbridge, the local Friends gather in an older meeting house leased to them in 1689 on a peppercorn rent by Ambrose Crowley II.


Fourteen years afterwards it was described in 1755 by some Londoners who visited the Pembertons, close relatives of both the Lloyds and Fidoes and another Quaker family that made its wealth from iron. It was: "too curious to pass by without notice. Its use is, to prepare Iron for making nails. The process is as follows: They take a large iron bar, and with a huge pair of shears, worked by a waterwheel, cut it into lengths of about a foot each; these pieces are put into a furnace, and heated red-hot, then taken out and put between a couple of steel rollers, which draw them to the length of about four feet, and the breadth of about three inches; thence they are immediately put between two other rollers, which having a number of sharp edges fitting each other like scissors, cut the bar as it passes through into about eight square rods; after the rods are cold, they are tied up in bundles for the nailor's use".

Lloyd's workers also produced bar iron, which was used by smiths across the land to make a wide range of iron goods, and steel for the cutlery, blade and edge-tool industries. On top of this Lloyd acted as an ironmonger, selling the finished goods of smiths and nailers to London markets especially.

A Black Country scene that was familiar in the latter 18th century - mines, machinery, steam and canals.
Sampson Lloyd II was a leading figure among the great names of a dynamic, exciting and sometimes confusing era that changed the world,

He was a contemporary of Matthew Boulton, perhaps the most famed industrialist of the age, and joined with him and others in supporting the cutting of the Birmingham Canal.

From its full opening in 1772 this linked the town with the coal and iron deposits in the Black Country.

It was the first of the canals that soon would enable Birmingham's manufacturers to reach the world more easily through readier access to ports such as London, Bristol and Liverpool.

A self-effacing man, Sampson Lloyd II was also a pivotal figure in the banking revolution that was so crucial to the Industrial Revolution, by way of providing the finances for the rapid expansion of manufacturing. In 1765 he and his eldest son, Sampson III, joined with John Taylor the Brummagem button king and his son to found the first real bank in Birmingham - that of Taylor's and Lloyd's.

Their premises were in Dale End and are remembered today by a blue plaque placed by the Birmingham Civic Society, and indirectly Sampson Lloyd II had a major impact on the growth of Wednesbury in the 19th century through the legacies of his father-in-law, Richard Parkes, and of his Fidoe cousins. Ultimately they led to the arrival in the town of Sampson's great grandson, Samuel Lloyd II who would go on to establish one of the chief ironworks in the Black Country; while his great, great, great grandson, Francis Henry, would found the celebrated company of F. H. Lloyd, a name that resonates still with pride for the folk of Wednesbury and Darlaston especially.

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