Ironmasters and Ironmongers who forged a city of prosperity

Iron was what made the wealth of Lloyds of Birmingham. And it was iron that made the wealth of their relatives - the Crowleys of Stourbridge and the Parkes and Fidoes of Wednesbury. All Quakers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries they played a vital role in preparing the way for the Industrial Revolution that would blacken south Staffordshire by day and redden it by night.

As ironmongers and iron masters they supplied the pig iron from their furnaces for their forges that converted it into bar iron - and they owned the slitting mills that then cut it into thin rods to be sold to nailers and other metal workers. Then they would buy the finished products and as merchants sell them in London, Bristol and elsewhere.

Often from humble beginnings, by hard work, talent, enterprise, initiative and an unquenchable desire to succeed, these men gained riches for their families and through their marriages to wealthy heiresses. This immense wealth allowed them to move away from trade and manufacturing and to buy estates and become part of the landed elite, as with the Crowleys; or else to move into banking, as with the Lloyds.

Yet one branch of that family that hailed originally from Dolobran in Wales remained true to iron: the Lloyds of Wednesbury. Through their descent from Richard Parkes, the Lloyds owned valuable property around the town.

Wilson Lloyd was the son of Samuel Lloyd the third. Born in Wednesbury in 1835, he went on to become active both in the trade and public life of the town.

A distinguished mayor from 1888-90 and later alderman, he was elected the first Conservative member of Parliament for Wednesbury.

Wilson Lloyd's wife was a daughter of Dr. Underhill of West Bromwich, and was said to be the most popular mayoress Wednesbury ever had.


A Quaker, like the Lloyds, Parkes had married Sarah, the daughter of Henry Fidoe, who ran one of the largest rod iron accounts in Staffordshire. Parkes himself became a successful ironmonger and with his profits purchased local surface and mining rights. These were not exploited much during most of the 18th century, simply because of the inability to effectively pump out the water that flooded coal and other mines that were much below the surface. But the development of the steam engine transformed this situation and made mineral rights a most valuable possession.

So it was that in 1818, Samuel Lloyd the second went to live in Wednesbury to look after the family's interests in Lloyds, Fosters & Company, which operated coal and ironstone mines and clay pits for bricks and tiles. Samuel was the great grandson of the influential Sampson Lloyd II, who had expanded the family's interest in the iron trade and moved them into banking.

The young man was well aware of his heritage, for his house in Wood Green was called Dolobran, after the ancestral home of the Lloyds in Montgomeryshire in Wales. Nearby Myvod Road brings to mind the village of Meifod near to Dolobran. Young Samuel was a worthy successor in powering forward Lloyds, Fosters & Company. In so doing he was helped by his younger brother, who was also called Sampson.

As for the Fosters they were first cousins of the two men, being the sons of their aunt, Sarah Lloyd who had married Joseph Foster.

Lloyd's Bank in Wednesbury, which was formerly the home of an Edward Wright. It became a private school and then the Wednesbury Old Bank of Messrs Phillip and Henry Williams before it was taken over by Lloyds.
This photo of the heavy foundry at the James Bridge Works is from the South Staffordshire Institutions and Trades Illustrated of about 1900.

Because the Wednesbury site had an abundance of iron ore as well as coal, Lloyds, Fosters & Company quickly began an ironworks at the Old Park Works. Blast furnaces were started in about 1825-26, and the business went on to produce half of Wednesbury's output of pig iron. From 1843, Samuel Lloyd, known locally as Quaker Lloyd, was joined by his son, Samuel III. In his history of the Lloyd family, the younger man remembered that by the time his father died in 1862 the business had become "large and prosperous; engineering works and forges and mills had been erected, and the weekly wages amounted to £3,000".

Quaker Lloyd was deeply knowledgeable about his industry and was a leading member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the West Midlands, but in Wednesbury he was highly-regarded as a fair and kind employer, a leading figure in local government, and a philanthropist who supported many good causes. His standing in the community was made plain on the day of his funeral on September 10. Quaker Lloyd was conveyed from his family residence in a plain hearse, befitting his faith, to a train that took his body to the Non Conformist cemetery in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham.


As the cortege passed through Wednesbury the shutters of most places of business were partially closed, while the blinds of houses were drawn as a mark of respect. It was stated that "the town generally wore the appearance of sincere regard for the memory of the departed". And when the funeral party arrived in Hockley, it was joined by 500 clerks and workers from the Old Park Works.

After the death of Quaker Lloyd, his son, Samuel the third, ran the businesses with other members of the family. As well as producing pig iron, their company now manufactured bridgework, turntables, railway wheels and axles. For all that diversity

Samuel later recalled that "almost as fast as money was made it was spent in what seemed to be needful outlays to supply the increasing requirements of customers, so that no great amount of money was available for distribution among the partners".

Sadly the business fell victim to a major customer who failed to pay for its order.

In 1861-62 the Corporation of London decided to erect Blackfriars Bridge across the Thames. The contract was awarded to a firm in the capital, which "ordered the necessary iron work from Lloyds, Fosters & Co, and agreed to pay cash monthly for each previous month's deliveries". Unhappily "when the first monthly payment became due, they could not meet it, but sent instead their four months' promissory note, which also they failed to meet".

Samuel Lloyd the third "strongly urged that deliveries to them should cease, for it showed that a crisis had arrived, and that we ought to adhere to the terms of our contract". His advice was ignored by his partners. They continued to supply the contractor and although the bridge was opened by Queen Victoria in 1869, Lloyds, Fosters & Co. lost the huge sum of a quarter of a million pounds.

This led to the sale of the Old Park Works to the Patent Shaft and Axletree Co. Limited. Fortunately as Samuel Lloyd recalled: "I left one iron business only to establish others in which, in their turns, my sons are now occupied, so that Lloyds are still true to iron and are likely to be so, as my sons take kindly to different branches of the business. Ironmasters have always been among my heroes and friends from George Stephenson, whom I heard lecture on 'The Fallacies of the Rotary Engine', to Sir William Bessemer and Mr. Andrew Carnegie. I worked with Sir William Siemens in his experiments towards utilising the waste heat of furnaces. I will not say that iron has entered into my soul, for that would not be true; but I am deeply interested in it, and was much pleased the other day to learn that George Washington's father and Abraham Lincoln's great, great grandfather were both ironmasters."

In particular it was the firm of F. H. Lloyd that ensured that the deep bond between the Lloyds, iron and Wednesbury was not broken. Francis Henry Lloyd was the first cousin of Samuel Lloyd III, being the son of Sampson Lloyd of Wednesbury. Born in the Black Country in 1844, he went on to run the Darlaston Iron & Steel Company with his father. This fell before the onslaught of the depression that began in the later 1870s, but as the decade closed, F. H. went on to set up a small foundry. It grew rapidly and successfully to become F. H. Lloyd's James Bridge Steel Works.


Although located toward the edges of Darlaston and having a Darlaston telegram address, F. H. Lloyd always advertised itself as near Wednesbury because of the historic links between the family and that town. In the early 20th century the company began making small castings and in the Great War produced a great amount of cast steel shells. Then in the 1930s, F. H. Lloyd began to produce heavy castings for mechanical excavators and earth-moving machines and in 1938 it installed its first electric arc furnace.

Such developments ensured that the firm played an even more important role during the Second World War than it had in the Great War. It manufactured approximately 80,000 tons of finished steel castings. This total included 2,000 turrets for the Churchill tank and 8,000 tons of bomb body castings. The bomb that they were made for was one of the most effective in the war for the British. Other castings were used for the excavating and mining machinery, gun mountings, ships, electric generating plant and road rollers.

The F. H. Lloyd Pattern shop in around 1900.

Two outstanding features of war-time production were the importance both of female workers and training. Another was the loyalty of a skilled, experienced and motivated workforce. This was a characteristic that had marked out the Lloyd companies in the Black Country since the time of Quaker Lloyd and it was remarked upon several times in the 1950s by the chairman and managing director, F. N. Lloyd.

Expansion at the James Bridge Works continued into the 1960s with a new heavy foundry and a 30-ton melting furnace. The company became renowned for its heavy castings, and despite often difficult trading conditions, it thrived and took over businesses elsewhere. In 1970 it was even featured in The Guardian because of its fabrication of five steel frames that would form the body of a 5,000 ton hydraulic press that would produce concrete slabs 20ft by 10ft and l0ins thick. Each frame weighed 30 tons and was also machined at Wednesbury.

By 1975, the steel industry in the UK had about 70 firms and 90 foundries, many of which were small. Consequently the bulk of output was from foundries that produced more than 1,000 tonnes a year. In fact, four firms dominated the industry, accounting for 55 per cent of output by value. The largest of them all was F. H. Lloyd of Wednesbury, which produced almost 23,000 tonnes a year. It was an astonishing achievement but sadly the end was nigh.

The later 1970s brought major economic problems and a rapid decline in the demand for steel. Short-time working at the foundries was brought in during 1980 and sadly two years later the historic firm that was so linked with Wednesbury was felled by a recession which overwhelmed so many great manufacturing names in the 1980s.

Gone it may be, but the skills and talents both of the Lloyds and their workers should never be forgotten.

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