Iron and Steel
The first mention iron mining in the area is 1315 but no records of iron smelting until the 16th century.
Most of the local ore would have been exported to other towns until growth of local industry and the invention of the blast furnace. These furnaces depended on Charcoal and I suppose being surrounded by woods as far as the eye could see, charcoal was in abundance. The business seemed only limited to the supply of wood.
But the effect was soon felt by the alarming decrease of timber by as early as the late 1500’s, and the scarcity of wood soon became very serious. Partitions were presented and laws enacted against increasing the number of ironworks. An act of parliament was passed “Forbidding timber to be felled to make coals for burning iron” . And the employment of timber trees of a given size was prohibited within certain districts.
It soon became highly probable that many works must shut up forever, and the trade in this town, this country must cease.
It was wrote in 1600 by a man named ‘Fuller’; It is hoped that a way may be found to char sea coal in such a manner as to render it useful for the making of iron. But it was not to be.
In 1612 to 1619 all attempts to use pit coal failed until Dud Dudley came home from Oxford to help his father run his iron works in Dudley, attempted to make iron with pit coal. He was granted a patent to him by King James but rival manufacturers sought to deprive him of his invention, people cut the bellows which blew his furnace and eventually his property was confiscated. Eventually he decided to give up on his invention.
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. He said; “The sulphurous, vitrolic steams that issue from the pyrites from pit coal poisoned the ore”.
“So if all this happened in late 1600’s, how did the iron works overcome the problem of forbidden wood”
By 1785 there were 4 forges in the town: “Wednesbury Forge on Wood Green Rd, Adams’s Forge in Camp Hill Lane, Sparrow’s Forge in falling heath and The Iron mill at Wednesbury bridge.
Adams’s Forge opened in Camp Hill Lane around 1760. 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.
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. 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 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.
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.
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.
Marshall & Mills who ran Monway Iron Works, was said to produce 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.
“I presume that by then the trees had all disappeared”?