The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter XX
CHAPTER XX. STAFFORDSHIRE COAL AND IRON
The South Staffordshire coalfield, which is usually classed with those of Shropshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, dominates, from a metallurgical point of view, Birmingham and all the South Midland counties with its coal, iron, steel and non-ferrous metallurgical trades. These embrace every kind of product from the heaviest machine tools down to jewellery and watches. John Leland in his itinerary visited Birmingham in 1538. He writes:
"There be many smithes in the towne that use to make knives and all manner of cutting tooles and many loriners that make bittes and a great many naylors. Soe that a great part of the towne is maintained by smithes who have their iron and sea cole out of Staffordshire."
Charcoal from the local forests was, however, used for smelting the iron in earlier days. "Dud Dudley" has been regarded as the father of the Staffordshire iron trade. In 1619 a patent was granted him for smelting in a coal-fired furnace. He worked this at Pensnett, where plenty of coal was at hand, and where the Dudley works still exist. He left a chronicle in which it is stated that a year after the grant of the patent "much good merchantable iron" was carried to the Tower of London from Staffordshire by King James' command "to be tryed by all artists, and they did very well approve of the iron."
Works were established on the streams where water power was available, as at Broseley and Ironbridge on the Severn, at Coalbrookdale, at Erdington, on the Stour at Cradley and other places. A few still exist, having been adapted for rolling sheet iron and tin plates.
During the eighteenth century the transition from charcoal to coke approached completion. It was the Darbys of Coalbrookdale who vigorously applied themselves to the problem of smelting with coal. Some believe that the Darbys were the originators of smelting by coal, and that Dudley never really mastered the secret. But assuming that he did (and tradition seems to be on his side), the secret had probably been lost afterwards when Abraham Darby, the Quaker, set to work by charging his furnace with coke only. The pig iron was subsequently converted into malleable iron with charcoal. Then came Cort's invention of puddling in 1784. This was further developed by the introduction of the "boiling process" of puddling introduced by Joseph Hall of the Bloomfield Ironworks, Tipton, early in the last century. Few or no changes in the practice of puddling have been made since then to the present day.
The most vigorous pioneer of iron-making in the Midlands was John Wilkinson. He was born in 1728, the son of Isaac Wilkinson (and the brother-in-law of Dr. Priestley of oxygen gas fame), who had established charcoal iron furnaces at Lindale, in the parish of Cartmel, near Ulverston. John Wilkinson, in conjunction with his father, started a charcoal blast furnace at Bersham, near Wrexham, about 1753. He was associated with Abraham Darby (the third in succession of that name) in 1779 at Coalbrookdale, and there made the first iron bridge in the world (still standing), over the Severn. He then built his first blast furnace at Bradley, near Bilston, where he also erected the first steam blowing-engine, and he collaborated with Boulton and Watt in the general introduction of steam. He introduced a method of boring cylinders. This was a vitally important factor in the development of the steam engine. He invented and used the first steam-driven tilt hammer about 1787. In 1801 he heated the blast for his furnace in a cylinder, thus anticipating Neilson's patent for hot blast in 1828. Curiously enough, he used only a leather "goose neck" connection with the tuyeres, and, as this soon charred, he abandoned the hot blast, without having tried a metal connection. He made cast-iron cannon and took out what is probably the earliest patent for rifling guns.
Wilkinson did more in his time than any other man to lay the foundations of the modern iron trade. Amongst his early followers and successors after his death in 1806, having their own mines, furnaces and ironworks, were:
- Samuel Haden Blackwell, of Russells Hall, near Dudley, and Crookhay, Wednesbury.
- The Bagnalls of Wednesbury.
- The Lloyds-Fosters of Wednesbury.
- The Sparrows of Bilston.
- The New British Iron Co of Cradley.
- John Bradley and Co of Stourbridge and elsewhere.
- N. Hingley and Sons of Netherton.
William Hatton of Bilston established one of the earliest rolling-mills, at Kidderminster, for tinplate and sheet iron, and one on the River Stour. These grew in number, and at one time, before the trade went to South Wales, there were several in operation. Mr. George Hatton, his son, is prominent to-day in the Staffordshire world. In 1788 there were nine coal- and coke-fired furnaces in the district, with a total weekly output of 135 tons.
Other trades sprang up during the centuries following Leland's visit, and produced a race of small master-men who themselves worked with their hands. This class of worker has not yet vanished, though the steam engine and the factory practically, and on a larger scale, took his place. During the nineteenth century, the process of consolidation went on rapidly, and with it developments which have borne fruit in the wonderful groups of industries now centred in South Staffordshire, in North Staffordshire (usually known as "The Potteries"), Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Shropshire in the Birmingham district. The original South Staffordshire iron-making area is only about 30 square miles in extent. James Watt's first steam engine was built at Smethwick, near Birmingham, and through the use of steam as a prime mover, Staffordshire advanced rapidly in the production of coal, iron and steel. In the year 1800 there were thirty smelting furnaces in South Staffordshire; in 1806 there were forty-two out of the 232 in the whole of Great Britain. Down to 1829 these furnaces were run on cold blast, but the subsequent adoption of the hot blast gave a further impulse to the trade, and the number of furnaces rose to 123. Their output was one-third of the total in the country. Fifty more furnaces were afterwards erected as the older ones fell out of use. In 1865 there were 170 at work, smelting about 2,000,000 tons of ore per annum in Staffordshire. These furnaces had open tunnel heads through which the flames of the waste gases escaped, lighting the sky at night in lurid fashion. The effect was heightened by the consumption of a considerable quantity of raw coal in the furnace of that day.
The fame in Scotland of the Mushet-Neilson hot blast reached Staffordshire in 1835. Two of the leading iron-masters, one being George Barker of the Chillington Ironworks, posted, each with his young son, to Glasgow - a leisurely journey which took them a fortnight each way. They returned to Wolverhampton with licences to use the patent, and so inaugurated a new era in the local iron trade.
Most of the pig iron produced was converted into merchant iron for local consumption. The rapid rise of manufactures in the district was such that the local pig-iron output became unequal to its requirements, and in the sixties of last century nearly 300,000 tons of pig iron were annually imported into the county. At that time a very large tonnage of finished iron was produced in Staffordshire. This was the highest point of her prosperity in that trade, as Cleveland was already challenging her supremacy, encouraged, strange to say, by the Cochrane and Bagnall families from Staffordshire. In merchant iron, however, Staffordshire still held a high place, with 2,100 puddling furnaces, or nearly one-third of the total number in Great Britain. These were the furnaces that dealt with the raw pig iron, and prepared it for the rolling-mills by a laborious manual process which no machinery has ever been able to replace. The output of finished iron at that time was over 800,000 tons per annum, employing 17,000 persons in the forges and mills.
Of the ore used, less than one-half was native mine — that is, ore found in the coal measures. The rest was brown ore from North Staffordshire mixed with the red stone of Alverton and the brown siliceous stone of Northamptonshire. The average yield was 25 to 40 per cent. The capacity of the Staffordshire furnace was small, if judged by modern standards. It ranged from 180 to 250 tons of iron per week, though many had an output of less than 100 tons. At that time the total output was about 15 per cent of the iron production of Great Britain. In the railway-building boom of the forties of last century it was soon evident that South Staffordshire could not supply the demand for rails, and South Wales, with its wonderful fuel and other advantages, became South Staffordshire's first serious competitor in that trade. Many of the large firms, like Crawshay of Cyfarthfa and Guest of Dowlais, went quickly into rolling iron rails, and although the quality of the metal was not equal to that of Staffordshire, it was suitable for railway purposes. Although South Wales took a large proportion of the rail trade, they did little or no injury to South Staffordshire, as they did not attempt to develop the better-class bar-iron trade, nor did they to any extent become competitors in boiler or ship plates. This trade was left to South Staffordshire in consequence of the high and well-known quality of its product. Meantime, the sheet-iron trade increased, and some of the local bar mills were converted for rolling sheets.
Patent Shaft and Axletree Co
South Staffordshire has never been noted as a steel-producing centre, though in 1865 it had forty-five furnaces for making blistered steel. But this trade did not expand. The Bessemer process was installed in the Old Park Works of Lloyds, Foster and Co, now the Patent Shaft and Axletree Co, at Wednesbury, but nowhere else. This firm was also the first to establish a basic open-hearth furnace. It was the invention of the basic process which enabled the district to produce cheap phosphoric pig for conversion into a correspondingly cheap steel. In the early eighties the late Sir Alfred Hickman, who up to that date had produced only pig iron, formed an auxiliary company called the Staffordshire Steel and Ingot Iron Co, which erected steel works and commenced the manufacture of basic Bessemer steel, and this Company has since added basic open-hearth Siemens furnaces and up-to-date electrically driven mills. In the year 1893 Mr. George Hatton built, at the Earl of Dudley's Round Oak Works, new steel works consisting of basic open-hearth furnaces, cogging mills and finishing mills, which continue to operate to their full capacity of upwards of 3,000 tons per week at the present time.
The Patent Shaft and Axletree Co. at Wednesbury has developed the basic open-hearth process, and has quite recently completed an entirely new and up-to-date Siemens plant, in extension of its output of plates, sections, wheels and axles.
N. Hingley and Sons
The firm of N. Hingley and Sons, of Netherton, has developed the bar-iron trade, making almost exclusively high-class merchant bar iron and iron for ships' chain cables, the manufacture of which is an important part of its operations; and there are other works still carrying on successfully in the bar-iron trade. Other mills in the district have been adapted for rolling down steel into smaller sizes of bars and large quantities of hoops and strip, so that the aggregate quantity of steel and iron still produced in the district cannot be less in tonnage output than in the busiest time when iron was the only product.
The earlier pre-eminent position of South Staffordshire in the iron trade led to the establishment of many subsidiary industries, all drawing their supplies from the neighbouring works. Amongst their products in iron and steel are materials for bridge and constructional engineering, railway carriage and wagon-building, heavy foundry and iron and steel works machinery, chilled and grain rolls, electrical engineering, nuts and bolts, tubes (butt welded, lap welded and solid drawn), locks, woodscrews, ships' chain cable and anchors, cast-iron hollow ware, and stamped tinned and enamelled hollow ware.
During the last half-century other fundamental changes have taken place in the district. Natural resources either began to fail or were more costly than imported raw materials. The native ironstone became exhausted, and the furnaces took their main supply from Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, North Staffordshire and Oxfordshire. Coke had entirely displaced coal as furnace fuel, and was obtained from Yorkshire, Derbyshire, North Staffordshire and South Wales. Pig iron, bought more cheaply elsewhere, was imported, and the number of blast furnaces decreased. In 1913 only thirty-one of these remained, and five have been dismantled since the War. High railway rates made it more difficult than ever for Staffordshire smelters to compete with other districts. The miners' strike in 1921 dealt a heavy blow at this trade, and the men's refusal to recognise economic conditions made it impossible to carry on many furnaces at a profit. Between the strike of 1921 and that of 1926, five or six furnaces only were in blast.
The ascendancy of steel, particularly during the last twenty years, has adversely affected South Staffordshire. In all directions steel is taking the place of that which is known as "best wrought iron," especially of the cold blast qualities. It is difficult to say how many puddling furnaces survive in the South Staffordshire iron trade. Before the war there remained about 700, employing probably, one way or another, 10,000 hands. All this has reduced and weakened local resources, especially in man-power, and the prospect of the Staffordshire iron trade is poor. If, however, South Staffordshire has been losing in one direction, it has greatly extended its activities in others. The finishing branches of the metallurgical trades of the district find employment for a steadily increasing population.
What used to be known as the "Black Country" is an almost continuous chain of towns and villages, linked by ironworks, stretching in a north-westerly direction from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. The general aspect of the countryside is one despoiled of all its natural charms and sapped of its underground wealth. The area is honeycombed by miners of past generations, who went to work in the shortest way to exploit their mineral wealth. Mountains of refuse cast up from shallow coal works, and banks of slag from old furnaces, are a feature of the country. Slag mounds are now, however, being quarried away for road-making purposes, and the pit mounds produce low-class fuel. Some attempt has been made to clothe these mounds with plantations of young trees, but without much success.
The coalfield within the area described forms a plateau or tableland, from which the originally overlying Permian system has been denuded by glacial action. This has brought the coal measures comparatively near to the ground level, and in some instances the thick coal has been extensively worked from the surface. The coalfield is bounded by faults or downthrows. Beyond this boundary the New Red Sandstones of the Permian system recur, and beneath these, at a considerably greater depth, the same Staffordshire coal measures have been reached, and are being worked both on the western and the eastern sides. There is abundant evidence that coal was taken from the outcrop by short adits in many places, particularly on the west and south-west of Dudley, some hundreds of years ago, and there are many surface indications of these old workings in the neighbourhood of Netherton, and interesting finds of ancient miners' tools have occasionally been made.
In 1865 there were about 500 small coal-mines in this region, producing marketable coal up to 10,000,000 tons. Of this 1,850,000 tons were used in the blast furnaces and 2,672,000 tons in subsequent manufacturing processes. The coal deposits of South Staffordshire are of remarkable thickness. Some seams average from 25 to 30 ft., at depths close to the surface or down to 175 yards. These are mixed with bands of fireclay and of coal-measure ironstone, and are far from exhausted at the present day. Local coal has been the mainstay of local industries, but much fuel is still imported. The district is served by an admirable system of canals, of which Birmingham is the centre, which are connected with the coalfields of Cannock Chase and Warwickshire as well as with those of the Black Country. This canal system is of first importance to large numbers of works erected on the waterside. Their total length is about i6o miles. There are 550 private basins and short branches comprised in the system. These canals carry fuel from the collieries to innumerable works.
The actual South Staffordshire coal output is small in comparison with that of Warwickshire. Since the War the annual output from the whole of the coalfields of Staffordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire has averaged between 17,000,000 and 18,000,000 tons, while South Staffordshire and Worcestershire now do not produce more than one-twelfth of the total. In Staffordshire subterranean floods have made increasing headway against inadequate pumping arrangements, and many submerged collieries have consequently remained unworked for years. After the War the whole area of Tipton was abandoned to the encroaching waters. Coal has been drowned out in other districts, and there are many derelict mining properties in South Staffordshire abandoned from other causes. The district still, however, possesses great reserves of coal which modern engineering will probably be able to utilise if it can be got at a commercial price.
Some of the local towns owe their trade to curious causes. Walsall, for instance, formerly and still known for saddlery and harness, found that the metal furniture of these was no less important than the leather work, of which it had taken up the manufacture. Now that the motorcar has supplanted horses, Walsall has adapted itself to the change, and turned its resources to the production of steel parts as well as to upholstering cars. Dudley, its neighbour, used to be famous for a particular kind of hand-made nail.
Now the town has become the centre of engineering supplies. During the War it forsook everything for munition work, and after the peace it found itself in possession of new resources which it was obliged to put to account.
West Bromwich, which is between Wolverhampton and Birmingham, works malleable iron in busy foundries and forges, and makes balances as well as domestic ware. The Morris Commercial Cars are produced in this neighbourhood. Cradley Heath is the centre of the chain trade, and Tipton, with its blast furnaces, turns out large castings and forgings. The heavy trades also are grouped at Wednesbury. Darlaston and Willenhall, which lie between Wolverhampton and Walsall, are associated with the manufacture of nuts and bolts and the lock trade. Bilston is the centre of the hollow ware trade. Wolverhampton, sometimes called the capital of the Black Country, has a somewhat cosmopolitan character. Steel stampings of a large size, motor-cars and cycles are made there, and many branches of engineering are carried on, with every diversity of metal working. Some of the best-known names in South Staffordshire are written in the history of this part of the district. The Spring Vale furnaces and other works of Sir Alfred Hickman are the finest in South Staffordshire.
Round Oak Works
The two old firms which founded the Staffordshire iron trade deserve more than passing mention. The Earl of Dudley's Round Oak Works, at Brierley Hill, an historic English firm, is one of the largest iron and steel producers in South Staffordshire; the issued capital consists of £100,000 Preference Shares, £500,000 Ordinary Shares and £600,000 Debentures. The family tradition is maintained by the Chairman, Viscount Ednam, M.C. The Vice-Chairman is Sir Mark Webster Jenkinson, K.B.E., and among the best known of the Directors is Mr. George Hatton, C.B.E. The Company owns blast furnaces, open-hearth steel furnaces, cogging and finishing mills, with an output capacity of 3,000 tons per week of rolled sections and bars; and is remarkable for possessing one of the few remaining cold-blast furnace plants in the country, producing its well-known cold-blast pig iron, used by all the leading chilled roll-makers. The Dudley family have been identified with iron-making for many generations, and it was in close proximity to the existing works that the invention of making iron by means of pit coal, as distinct from charcoal, referred to on an earlier page, was put into practice. Its iron-rolling mills, making the well-known L.W.R.O. brand, were started in 1856, and were for many years the most modern and up-to-date in the trade. In 1923 the Company acquired other trading concerns from the Earl of Dudley, the chief being the Earl of Dudley's Baggeridge Colliery, the Earl of Dudley's Level New Furnaces (Blast-furnace Plant), and the Earl of Dudley's Pensnett Railway.
Equally interesting from an historical point of view is the old business of the Coalbrookdale Co, in Shropshire, one of the founders of the Staffordshire iron trade, from which have sprung the developments we know to-day. There were old furnaces at Broseley which were used by the Parliamentary Forces in the Civil War for making round shot and "grenadoes." There were also furnaces at Charlcote and Withy, worked by the Baldwins at that period. These may have been connected with the Coalbrookdale iron-makers, for the origin of this firm starts from beyond its existing records. It, however, appears to have produced cast-iron chimney-backs and tomb plates in the early days. Abraham Darby, who was born near Dudley in 1676, was engaged in many iron industries, and took out patents for various metallurgical processes. He acquired the Coalbrook Works about 1709. The records of the firm in 1718 show that they made "mortars, smooth irons, cart boxes, fire backs, bake stones, weights, and garden miles." The stock of pig iron at that date was valued at £8. 10s. a ton. Abraham Darby died in 1717, and was succeeded by his son Abraham in 1732.
In 1745 Professor Mason, F.R.S., of Cambridge, visited the works, and made a report to the Royal Society describing the attempts made "to run iron ore with pit coal," and refers to the fact that "the firm makes iron brittle or tough as it pleases, there being cannon cast so soft as to bear turning like wrought iron." The works grew in importance, and pumping engines of an improved Newcomen type were erected in 1735. At that time the furnaces produced 75 tons of iron a week. Ore and fuel were carried on the backs of horses. Three and a half cwt. of coal was the settled horse-load. About 1752 a wagon-way on wooden rails, laid on sleepers, was constructed, and ultimately extended to the River Severn, though in course of time cast-iron rails were substituted. The firm did a large business in cylinders for pump work for Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire and Cornwall, and in 1770 engine cylinders were sent to Newcastle for Lord Ravensworth, Sir John Delaval and Mr. P. Lambton. These cylinders were 10 ft. long and up to 70 in. in diameter. A month often elapsed before the transport could be effected even to a neighbouring county. In one case it took a whole year for a consignment to reach Newcastle.
The second Abraham Darby died in 1763. His daughter married Richard Reynolds of Bristol, who became a partner in 1756. In 1785 the firm had upwards of 20 miles of iron rails, ten blast furnaces, nine forges and sixteen "fire engines," as steam engines were then called. In 1776 Abraham and Samuel Darby, sons of the second Abraham Darby, came of age and joined the business. Collieries and mineral leases were extended. At that period James Watt's engines were installed in place of the old wasteful Newcomen type. Richard Reynolds died in 1816, but the family of Darby has carried on the business uninterruptedly since those days, and has produced descendants who themselves founded other ironworks during the eighteenth century. The firm is undoubtedly, in point of view of historical continuity, the most distinguished in this country. Mr. A. E. W. Darby, who died in 1926, was fourth in descent from Abraham Darby (1711-1763). Since his death the firm has recently been absorbed by the Light Castings, of Audenshaw, a private Company with a capital of £600,000.
Much of what has been said of South Staffordshire applies to the Shropshire district, which may be regarded as part of the same area, the two being separated by only 5 miles. The Shropshire coalfield is smaller than that of Staffordshire. Like Staffordshire, it has been celebrated for the quality of its products, notably pig iron. Amongst its other most important undertakings are the Lilleshall Co, with its coal mines, blast furnaces, engineering and steel works. This Company was founded in 1880. Its capital is £600,000. The Chairman is Earl Granville, and among the Directors is Sir G. G. Leveson-Gower. The Company is a private one in which the family to which Lord Granville belongs is largely interested.
Speaking generally, it is remarkable how this district has survived the decline of its original most profitable industries, and has found employment for a greatly increased population in the innumerable trades for which it is famous There is nothing among small metallurgical products which the Birmingham centre cannot produce. Wireless parts, cycles, motor-cars, light castings of all kinds, including aluminium, brasswork, copper and tin, have their home in Birmingham and the towns which surround it. Coventry, Rugby and Redditch are other outlying units in that aggregation of industries.
The North Staffordshire coalfield is about 9 miles long and 7 miles wide, and, geologically speaking, the carboniferous measures are said to be better represented here than anywhere in England, or even elsewhere in the world. About 38,000 men are employed in the mines. The seams are numerous, with ironstone (occurring as carbonates) lying above the coals. Clinging to the large ironstone nodules there is generally sufficient carbonaceous matter to enable them to be calcined in open heaps without the addition of any fuel prior to their being used in the blast furnace.
Shelton Iron, Steel and Coal Co
One of the principal iron and steel undertakings in the district is the Shelton Iron, Steel and Coal Co, which owns three collieries, including the Florence Mine, 1,000 yards in depth, five blast furnaces, five open-hearth steel furnaces and five rolling-mills. The capital is £1,000,000. The property has been acquired by John Summers and Sons of Shotton, referred to in the chapter on Lancashire Engineering. There are also the coal mines, blast furnaces, wrought iron works and steel works of the firm of Robert Heath and Low Moor Co, with a capital of £1,000,000 in Shares and £793,000 Debentures. The Earl of Harrowby is Chairman. This old firm owns the Biddulph Valley, the Norton and the Park House Collieries, and iron and steel works at Biddulph Valley and Ford Green. The Heath family have long been associated with this concern, which produces special brands of iron known as "Low Moor" iron. The business was founded by the late Robert Heath, and after his death was carried on by his three sons, Sir James Heath, Robert Heath and A. H. Heath, but five or six years ago they amalgamated with the Low Moor Co, and have since traded as Robert Heath and Low Moor (see Chapter VI). Their reputation was made by their bar iron.
Stafford Coal and Iron Co
The Stafford Coal and Iron Co has blast furnaces and by-product ovens. Its collieries at Stoke-on-Trent employ 3,800 men and produce house and steam coal. The Hon. Sir Arthur Lawley, G.C.S.I., is Chairman, and among the Directors were the late Viscount Chaplin and the Duke of Sutherland. The Share capital is £230,000, with £304,000 Debentures. It is largely the property of the Duke's family, and affords another laudable instance of a mineral owner working his own mines. The Company has recently sunk a new pit at Hemheath to a depth of 1,000 yards.
There are also the Midland Coal, Coke and Iron Co, owning Burley pits, Forge pits, the Podmore Hall Colliery, coke ovens, and the Apedale Ironworks.
There are indications that coal-mining existed at a very early date in North Staffordshire. It has been actively carried on from about the middle of the seventeenth century. The mines in this coalfield have singular difficulties, such as high inclination, water troubles in certain places, gas and spontaneous combustion. The miners still wear wooden-soled clogs in many of these pits, because these are less liable to skid on the highly inclined floor than boots.
The northern portion of the South Staffordshire coalfield is distinct from the southern portion dealt with in this chapter. It is usually known as Cannock Chase. It has a yearly output of 5,000,000 tons of coal, used for household purposes. Much of this, however, has been exhausted, and fuel of a different class is being sent to the "Black Country." As the Cannock Chase coal does not coke, very few engineering works have been established in that region. The name of Harrison stands out prominently as that of the chief family directing operations on a large scale in this coalfield. Colonel W. E. Harrison, C.B.E., is now the largest coal owner. He is Chairman of the Cannock Chase Coalowners' Association. The Holcroft family is also connected with some of the principal mines.
The Warwickshire coalfield has an output of about 5,000,00o tons a year, and employs 22,000 men. The coal is sold in the South of England for household purposes, and also supplies works in the neighbourhood of Birmingham with large quantities of fuel. The Hickman and the Dugdale families stand out prominently as coal-owners in this area. The largest collieries are Arley, Exhall Cuff, Kingsbury, Morris and Shaw, Newdigate, and Pooley Hall. The southern portion of the coalfield contains the Warwickshire thick coal, which can be correlated with the thick coal of South Staffordshire.
Though not in the area referred to in this chapter, there are two small coalfields on either side of the Severn Estuary—Somerset and the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. These may be mentioned here, as they do not lie very far from the Midland district.
The Somerset field is exploited by a large number of very small collieries, with one or two larger firms, such as the Writhlington Co., with an output of 3,500 tons a week; the Nortonhill Colliery, with an output of 3,000 tons; and the Radstock Colliery, working seven different pits for the proprietor, Sir Frank Beauchamp. The Pensford and Bromley Collieries employ 700 men. The coalfield is supposed by some to extend under the southern counties in the direction of Kent and the coalfield of Northern France, but this has not been satisfactorily proved. The whole output of Somerset is about equal to that of one first-class modern Yorkshire colliery.
The greater part of the Forest of Dean, with its coal and iron mines, remains Crown property. The mining rights are peculiar to persons born in the hundred and residing and working in the mines. They become what are called "free miners." They have the ancient privilege of being entitled to the exclusive grant of the Crown mines, subject to the right of the Crown to add a fifth man to every four miners. This right has now been commuted to a royalty. The Commissioners of Woods and Forests appoint what is called a "gaveller" to supervise the mines. Iron and coal were produced in this region for many centuries. Remains of Roman forges have been found, and public records show that coal was worked so far back as the reign of Henry III, and freely during the Tudor and Stuart periods. Today, however, the field is of little consequence, as, like that of Somerset, the whole output is no greater than that of one Yorkshire colliery. The pits are clean and free from gas or dust. The selling arrangements are good and are effected through a combination. One small colliery enjoys the suggestive name of the "Work or Hang" Pit. Negotiations are on foot for buying up the collieries and consolidating the industry under the aegis of Morris Motors, Ltd.
The Flintshire and Denbighshire coalfield may perhaps be included in this chapter, as it has historical connections through Brymbo with Staffordshire. It stretches in a band from the Point of Ayr, on the south side of the River Dee, through Denbighshire to the town of Oswestry, in Shropshire, for about 33 miles. The mean width of the field is about 4 miles. It contains seven principal seams of coal, with a total thickness of at least 30 ft. The largest colliery is Llay Main, with a weekly output of 12,000 tons. This colliery was established by the late Sir Arthur Markham, Bart., M.P., in connection with the Doncaster Colliery Association, and was recently sold to the Carlton Main Colliery Co., of South Yorkshire, under the management of Mr. J. Addy. The Gresford Colliery has a similar output, and the Hafod an output of 10,000 tons. Of these two Mr. Dyke Dennis is Chairman. Sir Henry Robertson is the Chairman of the Plaspower and the Bersham Collieries, and Mr. Ernest Craig, M.P., of the Brynkinalt. There are three blast furnaces and 100 patent coke ovens at Brymbo near Wrexham. The iron plant belonging to the Brymbo Steel Co has been recently amalgamated with Baldwins. The issued capital (part of which has been exchanged for shares in Baldwins) is £258,65o. The Chairman is Sir Henry Robertson, and among the Directors are the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Horne, G.B.E., M.P., and Sir J. R. Wright. The Brymbo Ironworks are among the oldest in the country. They were founded by John Wilkinson (referred to on a preceding page) about 1750. He lived at Brymbo Hall.
Sources of Information