The Gun trade
Birmingham was famous for its gun makers who used many components produced in the Black Country.
Wednesbury businesses supplied large numbers of gunlocks and gun barrels, especially during wartime.
Both Adams’s Forge and the iron mill at Wednesbury Bridge produced suitable high quality iron for the industry, which rapidly grew in the town.
Most of the gunlock and barrel makers had their own small workshop, usually adjacent to their home.
Most were self-employed, whereas others were “outworkers” for gunlock makers such as Richard Edge, who became one of the town’s more prosperous citizens.
The trade rapidly grew, especially around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, but entered a slow decline afterwards.
It was a skilled trade, a gunlock filer needing at least a five year apprenticeship.
The work involved in filing the smaller parts of the mechanism could be very difficult and delicate, requiring a high degree of precision.
After the war with France the trade was mainly confined to sporting guns for export, and at the time about 400 people worked in the industry in Wednesbury and about 600 in Darlaston. Between them they produced around 10,000 gunlocks each week.
By the 1870s the industry was in severe decline and by 1886 the gun trade in Wednesbury had almost disappeared, leaving just a few businesses producing gunlocks of the highest quality.
By 1907 only 8 gunlock manufacturers remained, and by 1935 the number had fallen to 2.
Although components were mainly produced in the town, complete guns of the highest quality were also made.
In 1851 Thomas Griffiths of Wednesbury produced the “Lilliputian Gun” which was on display at the Great Exhibition.
Although only 4½inches long, the gun could fire a tiny pellet through a piece of wood, half an inch thick. In order to make the gun Griffiths had to first make a set of tiny tools.