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British Industrial History

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John Corbett

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of Stoke Prior Salt Works, Worcestershire.

1817 June 12th. John Corbett was born the son of a Shropshire farmer,

His father moved to Staffordshire to become a carrier of merchandise by canal boats.

John worked on the boats from age ten to twenty-three.

1840, having studied mechanical problems in his spare time, was apprenticed to W. Lester, chief engineer of Hunt and Brown of the Leys ironworks, Stourbridge.

1846 became his father's partner; the business was renamed Corbett and Son

1852 the business was sold in face of increasing competition from the railways

1856 John married Anna Eliza O'Meara.

Corbett bought two defunct salt companies at Stoke Prior and installed new brine pits lined with cast-iron cylinders and introduced a novel extraction process. Fifty canal boats were acquired, and feeders to the main canal were dug. A railway was laid within the works; a wagon factory, a foundry, fitting shops, sawmills, and a brickyard were built. As many as seven depots were established in London.

Within twenty-five years he raised the annual output of salt from 26,000 tons to 200,000 tons.

1889 He sold the works to the Salt Union.

1901 Corbett died at Impney on 22 April 1901.

1901 Obituary [1]

JOHN CORBETT, born on the 12th June, 1817, was the son of Mr. Joseph Corbett, a Shropshire farmer. The subject of this notice left school at an early age, in order to assist his father, who had migrated to the Black Country and become a canal carrier, with boats plying between the Midlands and London, Liverpool and Manchester.

His spare time was devoted to the study of mechanics and other subjects, and in 1840, at the age of 23, he entered on an apprenticeship of five years to Mr. W. Lester, Chief Engineer to Hunt and Brown, of the Leys Ironworks at Stourbridge.

In 1846 he was taken into partnership by his father, but the advent of railways having greatly reduced canal traffic, he gave up that business in 1852 and became the proprietor of the Stoke Prior Salt Works in Worcestershire.

Previous efforts to work the salt springs at Stoke Prior had not proved successful, and Mr. Corbett was aware that the venture he had taken in hand was attended by considerable risk. By a firm grasp, however, of the mechanical, commercial and economical problems to be solved, by untiring energy and by personal superintendence of detail, he succeeded where those before him had failed, and in twenty-five years he had gradually extended the annual production of the works from 26,000 tons to 200,000 tons.

In 1889 the Stoke Prior Works were sold to the promoters of the Salt Union.

Mr. Corbett’s relations with his workpeople were excellent. He was a considerate employer and erected at Stoke a small town of well-built cottages with gardens attached, schools, a dispensary, a workmen’s club and a lecture-room. He abolished female labour at the Stoke Prior Works, and in order that the men might be compensated for the loss of their wives’ earnings, increased at the same time their rate of wages. He founded the Corbett Hospital at Stourbridge, and in many other ways contributed largely to philanthropic institutions in the Midlands. In connection with his Worcestershire estate, he devoted himself enthusiastically to the development of Droitwich as a health resort, and the Salters Hall and other buildings there were his gift to the town.

At Towyn, on the coast of North Wales, in the neighbourhood of which he had also an estate, he built an esplanade, public market, hall, and county school, and it is mainly owing to his efforts that that town has developed into a prosperous watering place.

In 1874 Mr. Corbett was returned as the last representative in Parliament of the ancient borough of Droitwich, now merged in the Parliamentary Division of Mid-Worcestershire, for which he sat until 1892. He was a Deputy Lieutenant for the county of Merioneth, and a Justice of the Peace for that county and also for Worcestershire.

For many years he acted as a Director of the Grand Junction Canal Company, of the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal Company, of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal Company and of the Sharpness Docks Company, and he was also a Commissioner of the River Severn. He was a member of various technical bodies, and a governor of Birmingham University and of the University College of Wales.

Mr. Corbett died at his residence, Impney, Droitwich, on the 22nd April, 1901, at the age of 83.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 5th December, 1876.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Biography of John Corbett, by S. E. Fryer, ODNB [1]