Industry & Transport

 
Notes and Articles

These pages are intended to reproduce articles, notes and queries regarding industry and transport topics

Notes

  
The Demise of the Colliery
 
With the closure of Hatfield, Thoresby and Kellingley Collieries in 2015, deep mining ceased in Britain.  Kellingley was the last to close (December 18th, 2015). It lay close to the banks of the Aire & Calder Canal. For many years this mine sent coal by water to Ferrybridge Power Station, but in the end only despatched coal by rail. With the passing of this mine, the "British "colliery will become extinct following in the footprints of the Town Gas Works.
 
Surface mining, or opencast, is still carried on in Britain
 
This is the legacy of coal mining throughout England, Wales & Scotland where centuries of mining have ranged from the Bell Pit to the Deep Pit. It was a period of innovation and improvement, sadly laced with loss of life in often dangerous working conditions. Mining throughout the coalfields varied according to the thickness of the seams. The thickest being in South Staffordshire and East Worcestershire where seams were up to a depth of 30ft.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
An early South Staffordshire Mine
 
 
It is, however, with regret that this source of power will be lost despite resources remaining. For the moment the remaining coal fired power stations will burn imported coal. But what of the remaining household properties which still burn coal, where will their supplies come from?
 
Such homes exist in remote places and some lie beside our waterway network. It still provides a source of revenue for the odd commercial boaters to deliver coal to such locations.
 
For those who are concerned about global warming, the news of the demise of the coal mine and the impending ending of burning coal to generate power, it may be welcome news. But the cost to everyone who requires electricity may well increase. The nameless, faceless people who have made these decisions may yet prove to be misguided individuals. Is global warming a myth or a reality?  Furthermore imposing rules here appear to be disregarded elsewhere.
 
Are there alternative methods to utilise British fossil fuel resources? The town gas model relied on the carbonisation of coal. This was the heating of coal in retorts. The resulting products included the gas, which was used for domestic and industrial use. Town gas essentially was a mixture of hydrogen, methane and other carbon-/hydrogen gases. Within our modern technology methods are available for the separation of hydrogen which now has a use in fuel cell engines. The carbon-hydrogen gases could be used for industrial purposes or generating electricity.
 
The many bi-products include sulphates, cyanides, tars and other organic products, which used to be an important earner for chemical works. The coke also has use in iron making- that is as long as there is an iron industry here!   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Colliery Screens, Shafts & sidings, Denaby
 
 
 
 
 
  
The Birmingham Iron Trade
 
 
Introduction
 
The West Midlands conducted various trades in working up a wide range of metals into a range of finished products. This included Aluminium, Copper, Iron, Nickel and Zinc. Various alloys such as Brass, Bronze and Steel were also employed in staple trades.
 
For Birmingham the first of these metal working skills were concentrated in iron and steel. Birmingham in the sixteenth century is best described as a “hardware village”. When Leland visited the town in 1538, there were many smiths in town that made knives and all manner of cutting tools; many lorimers that made bits and a great many nailors. A great part of the town was maintained by smiths, who had their iron and sea-coal out of Staffordshire (1).
 
Working up of iron into useful products became an important industry in the region. Birmingham came to excel in the “Toy” trade that comprised a range of small articles, such as buckles, snuffers and saddlers ironmongery made from iron and steel. Local refining of iron ores provided a relatively cheap supply of iron for the Birmingham trade.
 
                                                                                                                  …….
 
Birmingham was surrounded by rich deposits of minerals that included, coal, ironstone and limestone. Ironstone existed in commercially extractable amounts in North & South Staffordshire, North Warwickshire and East Worcestershire and was found usually together with the different measure of coal.
 
Refining the iron ores was initially conducted in a “bloomery” which produced, in relatively small amounts, a sort of metallic iron that required repeated hammering to expel impurities such as slag and to work it up into a useable piece of metal. The technological advances that produced the “blast furnace” proved to be a significant step forward, for temperatures in the furnace could be raised by the blast to melt the iron and whilst molten the addition of a limestone flux provided a means for the separation of the majority of the impurities.
 
Water power was harnessed to work the bellows for the blast. This requirement limited the location of furnaces generally to river and stream courses. The basic materials for making the iron, charcoal, ironstone (or ore) and limestone were transported to the furnace by wagon or pack horse.
 
Charcoal was made through a slow process of burning wood in heaps covered with turf in order to restrict the access of oxygen. Limestone was quarried or mined, as was the ironstone. Furnaces to smelt iron were established at different river locations in South Staffordshire and East Worcestershire, which were near the mineral supply. There were also furnaces in Warwickshire. The nearest to Birmingham was at Aston that used the waters of Hockley Brook to turn the water wheel, which in turn worked the bellows that provided the blast.
 
Ironstone was mixed with the limestone and dropped, from above, into the furnace containing the burning charcoal. Forcing the air through the furnace from below raised the temperature in to a level sufficient to liberate iron in metal form. Contrary to some published accounts, the ironmasters carefully managed their supply of charcoal through coppicing, which maintained a regular supply of wood.
 
The molten iron was collected in moulds shaped out of a bed of sand. Once cool, the rough rectangular shapes were known as pig iron. This was a type of iron suitable for casting, or recasting, into forms with a structural important such as hollowware or cylinders, but lacked malleability.
 
                                                                                                                        ……
 
 
Smelting iron at Aston
 
Aston Furnace was located near modern day Porchester Street. The first mention of this furnace was in 1615 when William Cowper (Cooper) owned the property. Later tenants were successive generations of the Jennens family. John Jennens, ironmonger of Birmingham, bequeathed his leasehold interest Aston Furnace and Bromford Forge to three of his sons from his second marriage (Humphrey, Joseph and Edward). But it was Humphrey whose name was mentioned on later leases for the furnace.
 
Humphrey Jennens made his will on 14th February 1689 providing for his son John (2).
 
And whereas I am possessed of and interested in several forges, furnaces and ironworks with the appurtances which I conceive may be very proper and beneficial for my son John Jennens having bred him up and employed him that way my mind and will is that all the said ironworks and stocks of coles, ironstone, wood for coles and other things belonging to or used by the said ironworks shall be granted, assigned, transferred and turned over by my executor unto my said son John so soon as the same can be conveniently valued and apprized and that at a moderate rate.   
 
The use of the words “coles” and “wood for coles” may be read to mean charcoal, but “coles” could include pit (or sea) coal. It is known that Dud Dudley used pit coal in some form to smelt iron (3). Whilst there has been a lengthy debate whether he actually succeeded in this task, that other ironmasters might also have followed Dud Dudley’s example, such as Humphrey Jennens, remains a possibility.
 
Several noted twentieth historians have firmly placed the success in smelting pit coal with ironstone with the Darby family of Coalbrookdale, whose carefully preserved records have aptly demonstrated their role in the development of the process. Yet not all ironmasters kept as detailed records as the Darby’s. Had this happened a more balanced picture might have appeared as to the role of the South Staffordshire smelting furnaces and their methods used in extracting iron from the various ores. 
 
A key argument against the use of local coal was the sulphur content in the many seams of coal to be found locally. When Sulphur was present at the smelting stage a brittle type of iron was produced, and one unsuitable for many working up processes. However not all coals had sulphur present, certain types lacked it. The area around Swansea in Wales, for example produced an anthracite coal, which was used in the local iron industry. Midland’s coal pits also raised some coals, such as heathen, which lacked, or were low, in sulphur content.  It is therefore possible that ironmasters such as Dud Dudley had access to such types of coal and selected them for iron making even if the properties, and processes, were not understood. With Aston Furnace there is nothing to suggest that charcoal was not used in smelting for at least another ninety years. The ironmasters that worked the furnace evidently had sufficient access to coppice wood to maintain the business.
 
The Holte family owned the Aston estate and subsequently leased the furnace to Christopher Vaughton and Riland Vaughton and documents confirm this was from 1711 until 1722. The next tenants were John Mander and Phelicia Weaman. Initially the agreement with them was for 8 years. Between 1746 and 1747 the lease for Aston Furnace was made with Abraham Spooner merchant of Birmingham and Edward Knight ironmaster of Wolverley, Worcestershire (otherwise known as the Stour Partnership).  Edward Knight operated various other ironworks and can be considered as one of the most successful ironmasters of his time. The lease was renewed on 25th March 1768 to Spooner & Knight for another 21 years and should have been in operation until 1789, but Spooner and Knight gave up the lease in 1779 (4).
 
It has been recorded that a Newcomen Engine was later installed to assist the workings of the blast bellows. The use of this engine was mentioned by Robert K Dent (5):
 
There exists a popular error among those who know our town but imperfectly, - and an error of very respectable antiquity,- picturing Birmingham as “grimy with dense smoke of furnaces, echoing with the clamour of forges, gleaming with great fires, and busy in the production of iron”. No picture of the town, certainly, could have ever have been wider of the mark. Scarcely a bar or a pig has ever been smelted within its boundaries; but there was, as we have previously mentioned, a solitary furnace at Aston, until towards the end of the eighteenth century, which had existed for many generations. There the blast was blown by a water wheel, and one of the first steam engines in this neighbourhood was erected to supply its place; one of Newcomen and Cawley’s curious atmospheric engine, which attracted great crowds at the time of is erection and for several years afterwards, who used to stare and wonder at what was then commonly known as “the fire machine”. 
 
Aston Furnace was blown out in 1783. The premises were converted as a paper mill and stayed in this role until 1836, when the owner Thomas Mole had died. The premises included mill buildings, drying rooms and warehouses. A contemporary sales notice mentions that there was a steam engine at the mill. Whether it was the early Newcomen engine or a later type remains to be established. Aston Furnace Mill, as it was then known, then became a wire drawing mill operated by W.Edwards. He moved to Saltley Wire Mills in June, 1860 leaving Aston Furnace Mills to be re-let. A “Mr Biddle” made some alterations to these premises in 1864, but by 1866 “Aston Furnace Mills had been demolished and the land redeveloped as new streets and housing. The mill pool was stagnant and local people complained of the nuisance that was caused.
 
 
                                                                                                                    ……
 
 
 
Bar iron
 
Pig iron went either to the caster for melting and reforming into specific shapes (the Foundry), or to be worked up to “bar iron” and made malleable. It was as “bar iron” that it had various and important uses. From the earliest days of the blast furnace the working up of the metal into bar iron produced the commodity which the ironmonger dealt in. From this stage the metal could be rolled into sheets for plate or split in to rods for the local nailing industry. Some might also be drawn as wire.
 
Bar iron was a product of the forge and those who engaged in the smelting of iron, the ironmasters, also frequently operated forges, rolling mills and slitting mills. Most were water-powered, although a stronger flow of water was needed for rolling and such mills were usually downstream of the blast furnace.
 
The Jennens family working practice to smelt iron at Aston Furnace and covert it into bar iron at Bromford Forge was continued by the Vaughton’s, Mander & Weaman and then Spooner and Knight through to 1779, when both leases were given up. Bromford Forge then was re-leased to Isaac Spooner and Edward Knight and their ironworking partnership was carried forward to 1812 when Isaac Spooner was left in sole charge of the forge. Bromford Forge had a long industrial history. There is mention of it being a fulling mill in the 13th Century and was recorded as a forge from 1605.
 
Several other local water mills were used for slitting iron, rolling iron or as blade mills. There was a particular concentration along the River Rea and the tributaries, which joined it: -
 
 
 
Water Mills engaged from time to time in metal trade
 
Bournbrook                                                    Bourn Brook                           (1) Blade
                                                                                                                           (2) Ironworks
Dogpool                                                          Rea                                           (1) Rolling
                                                                                                                           (2) Tube
Greet                                                                                                                 Blade
Harborne                                                        Rea                                           Rolling Mill
Hay Mills                                                         Cole                                         Wire
Heath                                                              Rea                                          (1) Blade
                                                                                                                         (2) Wire
Holford                                                           Tame                                      (1) Ironworks
                                                                                                                        (2) Blade
                                                                                                                        (3) Gun Barrel
Lifford                                                            Rea                                          Rolling           
Malt Mill                                                         Rea                                          Blade
Moor Green                                                  Rea                                          Blade
Nechells Park                                                Rea                                          Blade
Over Mill                                                        Chad Brook                            Blade
Pury’s                                                             Holbrook                                 Ironworks
Speedwell                                                      Rea                                          Blade
Saltley                                                             Rea                                          Blade
Stanton’s Mill                                                Tame                                       Slitting
Stechford                                                      Cole                                         Blade
Thimblemill                                                  Hockley Brook                        Thimbles *
Trittiford Mill                                               Cole                                         Rolling (steel pens)
Town Mill                                                     Rea                                          Slitting
Willetts Meadow                                         Rea                                          Wire
Witton Lower Mill                                        Hawthorn Brook                   Rolling
 
* non ferrous/ ferrous- later non ferrous rolling mill
 
 
                                                                                                                        …..
 
Coke Smelting and Malleable Iron
 
An important advance in the production of pig iron came with the perfection of the coke smelting process, credited to the Darby’s of Coalbrookdale. With the improved method of making a mechanical blast, as patented by Isaac Wilkinson, and the further improvements of the use of a steam blast engine by James Watt, iron making was able to move from the riverside onto the coalfield. Larger furnaces were constructed and production increased.
 
With the advent of navigable waterways, the canals, improved transport link were established between the furnace and places where the iron was worked up to bar iron or into useful products. The ironworks and forges were also transformed by a new process known as puddling. It was a method that made malleable iron in a reverbatory furnace, which required working and turning pig iron in the furnace as the heat was forced down from above. Credit for the invention of this process belongs with Henry Cort, although other iron masters improved on it notably in South Wales, where a practical method was devised for industrial scale production.
 
Puddling was at first a two stage process, which required the metal to be “run out” as part of the conversion to make iron malleable. The method required a large amount of coal, for heating the furnaces, and this need restricted ironworking to locations near coalfields. East Worcestershire and South Staffordshire became popular locations with ironmasters who placed forges near the blast furnaces and used the canal network or tramways to move pig iron between the two.
 
Birmingham is perhaps better known for working with non ferrous metals, yet there were a number of ironworks with Puddling Furnaces and rolling mills (contrary to the view expressed by Robert Dent) that were placed around the town and alongside the canal, which enabled pig iron to be brought by boat. Their operation was confined to a period of time during the nineteenth century, when locally smelted iron was plentiful.
 
 
         Iron Rolling Mills located in Birmingham and Aston
 
 
            Aqueduct Ironworks, Fazeley Street
            Aston Junction Forge, Dartmouth Street   
            Aston Rolling Mill, Lichfield Road
            Atlas Works, Cliveland Street
            Bordesley Ironworks, Adderley Street
            Denmark Ironworks, Freeth Street
            King Edwards Works, Summer Hill Street
            Leighton Ironworks, Berkeley Street
            Mill Street rolling mill, Aston
            New Church Ironworks, Lister Street
            Springhill iron mills, Eyre Street
 
 
At neighbouring Smethwick ironworking continued for a much longer period. Forges and mills were established along side the Birmingham Canal main line, the Engine Arm and the Cape Arm. There was also one modern coke blast furnace that was erected at the end of the Cape Arm near Grove Street, which operated for some 7 years (1863-1870).
 
The rolling of metals into sheets had a particular local use, the cut nail and tack trades. Making cut nails and tacks required a relatively simple process of cutting out the shapes with the aid of steam power, and annealing the products in muffles or ovens. Nails could be mass produced by this method, but the business was a competitive one, producing a type of cheap nail useful for certain purposes. Those who entered the trade in the hope of profit often found themselves the poorer for it, and some careers ended at the bankruptcy court door, such was the fluctuating price of iron in this period.
 
                                                                                                                 …..
 
Birmingham & the making of metal goods
 
Meanwhile Birmingham came to excel in the variety of metal goods made in the town. Products included-
 
(1)       Toys such as Buckles
(2)       Edge Tools and Weapons
(3)       Saddlers ironmongery
(4)       Buttons
(5)       Nails
(6)       Wrought Iron Hinges
(7)       Metallic Bedsteads
(8)       Lamps
(9)       Ordinaires, safety bicycles & tricycles
(10)     Other engineering products e.g stationary steam engines & gasometers
(11)     Foundry products in cast iron e.g. as grates, irons & hollowware
 
Such was the nature of iron and the tendency for the surface to oxidise (rust), coatings of “japan”, plating with tin, or zinc (galvanising) provided a form of protection for finished articles. Related industries developed to supply the varnishes, lacquers and paints used to protect the various products made in the town, whilst galvanising and plating trades flourished at certain times.   
 
Certain occupations deserve special mention:
 
(a)  Nail Makers
 
Nail making was at first a family trade, based on making nails from rods supplied from the slitting mill. Profit in this industry lay with the ironmonger who supplied the rods and repurchased the nails produced for sale to the customers. The whole process was labour intensive, which gave employment to workers in South Staffordshire, East Worcestershire and North Warwickshire.
 
Birmingham’s nature as a centre for mass production led to new methods being developed in many trades. Nail making was no exception and during the nineteen century new techniques were established in the town.  
 
An important development was the cut nail trade, which came to be conducted by a select number of manufacturers. Before 1811 all nail had been forged out of hot iron on the anvil, by hammers, but in that year the process of cutting them out of cold metal by machinery was begun in Birmingham (6). The manufacturer bought his iron in sheets 6ftlong by 2ft wide, which were cut into parallel strips. Different types of nails were produced in large numbers these included bills, brads, clout nails and tacks.
 
Early cut nail factories included the former Britannia Brewery site in Blews Street that was operated by the Chunk Nail Company. These works were placed beside the towpath of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal and was subsequently served by a canal basin that was made through to Blews Street Wharf.
 
The premises as described in 1836 (7) occupied an area of between two to three acres that was surrounded by a high wall. The buildings were arranged around a central court and comprised workshops, warehouses, packing rooms, store rooms and counting houses. A wide variety of nails were produced from both ferrous and non ferrous metals and sold in bags, half bags and pockets that were despatched by road wagon or canal boat.    
 
Ownership of Chunk Nail Works comprised a partnership, which changed from time to time. In 1847 the members were Clement C Scolefield, William Scholefield, Francis Clark and John Scholefield (8). It was John Scholefield who the principal partner and he continued the trade here until 1862, when the trade was acquired by another cut nail maker John Reynolds (of the Crown & Phoenix Cut Nail Works, Newtown Row) (9).
 
Birmingham cut nail making trade expanded during the second half of the nineteenth century when makers such as Hadley Brothers (Eyre Street) and John Marriot (Sampson Road North) came into the trade. Thomas Hadley had started the Mitre Nail Works in Bishops Street in close proximity to the Mitre Inn. When this business was transferred to larger premises in Eyre Street,   Felix Hadley presided over the firm. Placed alongside the Eyre Street Rolling Mill, there was a ready local supply of sheet metal and there was also wharf access to a basin alongside the Birmingham Canal for raw material supply and coal for the steam engines. These premises were perhaps one of the most extensive nail factories in Birmingham. The premises included well lighted workshops, two engine houses, boiler sheds, a muffle house, blacksmiths shop, sheet & nail warehouses and stables (10).   John Marriot advertised the manufacture of a variety of different types such as cut tacks, tingles, joiners, brads, tip nail, escutcheon, coal panel and gimp pins, french wire tacks, split cutters, bell and netting staples as well as tacks in chip and tin boxes (11). Marriot’s business interests became as diverse as the types of nails offered, when he went into bicycle making at his Camp Hill factory.
 
Some makers lasted in business, but for a brief time. Fairfax, Bryson (Birmingham Cut Nail Company provided an example of a business that failed in 1867.
 
Another aspect of nail making was the wire nail and rivet trade, which some Birmingham makers (such as Hadley) carried on. Specialist firms in this trade included the Ladywood Nail and Hardware Company which in 1893 had 45 nail and rivet machines, 8 wire nail machines and 8 “American” wire nail machines (12).
 
 
Examples of cut nail makers 1860-1900
 
Arthur Neve Cresswell Birmingham Heath
Sarah Farmer & Sons, Lower Hospital Street
Hadley Brothers, Mitre Nail Works, Eyre Street
Ibbotson Brothers, then William John Sheldon at 35 Lower Hospital Street
John Marriot, Sampson Road North
Morewood & Co, Wiggin Street and Woodford Ironworks
A.F Parkes, Coldfield Works, Dartmouth Street
J Poutney, William St and Granville Street
Power & Lampert, 83 Caroline Street
Thomas Pritchard, Globe Cut Nail Works, Cuckoo Lane, Aston
J Reynolds, Crown, Phoenix and Chunk Nail Works, 208 & 209 New Town Row
 
                                                                                                                          …….
 
 
(b) Iron foundries in Birmingham
 
Another Birmingham trade was the iron foundry. Pig iron brought by canal from South Staffordshire, Forest of Dean or South Wales was used in the local foundry trade that produced engineering products, hollowware, stoves, grates, fenders and ranges.
 
Iron worked up as tube fixed together by castings (made in chills fixed to the framework) became a standard production tool of the metallic bedstead trade, which Birmingham came to specialise during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Tube was also an essential component for early bicycles, tricycles and ordinaries.     
 
Cast iron was used to fashion a host of products for domestic, engineering and industrial use. Birmingham based foundries pursued a variety of trades.
 
They included-
 
Atlas                      Oozells Street                      Steam engines, mills, presses, dies, spur wheels
Beehive                 Watery Lane                       Window frames, stoves, register grates, weights
Britannia              72-78 Bradford Street       General ironfoundry
Chunk                   Coventry road                    fenders, grates, stoves, umbrella stands
Cumberland       21 Cumberland Street      General ironfoundry
Eagle                     Broad Street                         General ironfoundry and engineering
Great
Western                54/55 Bull St                        Oven grates, metallic bedsteads, fenders, stoves
Junction                45 Glover Street  Pallisades, widow frames
Newport               72-76 Stour Street              General ironfoundry
Phoenix                Henrietta Street                  Grates stoves, sad-irons, rollers, weights
Standard              Andover Street                   Ranges
Victoria                 Lawley Street                      Grates, Stoves, Weights
Vulcan                  Bridge Street West             Engineering, Railway Plant
Washington        Commercial Street            General ironfoundry
Whitmore’s         Lionel Street                        Weighing machines, structural engineering parts
 
 
 
 
 
(c) Malleable cast iron
 
Malleable cast iron came to perform a valuable role in the making of certain products such as saddler’s ironmongery.
 
The process used articles of cast iron that were malleable placed in annealing furnace for 6 days and covered with iron oxide. The original patent was presented by Samuel Lucas of Dronfield Foundry near Sheffield in 1804. Between 1811 and 1812 William Grove, of Birmingham made various improvements to the method and effectively started the trade in Birmingham. His foundry was located in Lancaster Street, where he carried on the business of “patent steel and malleable iron founder”, bit stirrup, spur and coach harness maker.
 
Grove was bankrupt in 1841, but other makers continued the trade. A well known Birmingham malleable iron caster was Thomas Cardall.
 
 
                                                                                                                   ……
 
 
  
Ray Shill
November 2010
 
 
References
 
1 Birmingham Reference Library 185968, Birmingham and the Midlands, F. W. Hackwood, printed by Blackie and Son Ltd, London, 1905
2 The Great Jennens Case compiled on behalf of Jennens family by Messr Harrison and Willis, Sheffield 1879.
3 Dud Dudley Mettalum Martis
4 Birmingham Public Library Archives, Holt MS, leases 18-23
5 Old and New Birmingham; A History of the Town and its People, Volume 2, Robert K Dent, p 339
6 Birmingham & the Midland Hardware District, edited by Samuel Timmins 1866, p613-616- article by R.F Martineau
7 Aris’s Gazette Sales Notice, October 10th, 1836
8 London Gazette, notice of partnership dissolution October 26th, 1847
9 Birmingham Daily Post notice, June 17th, 1862
10 Birmingham Daily Post Sales Notice November 9th, 1901 following death of Felix Hadley
11 Kelly’s 1890, Birmingham Trade Directory
12 Birmingham Daily Post, sales notice September 9th 1893
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Iron Warehouse at Trevor, Ellesmere Canal

The Iron Warehouse covered the short basin that joined the east side arm of the Pontcysyllte Basin at Trevor and was immediately north of the branch canal junction for the Plaskynaston Canal. 

This basin was the terminus of the Ruabon Brook (Afon Eitha) Plateway that was opened in 1805 and served various mines, ironworks, firebrick works and quarries. The plateway was owned by the Ellesmere Canal Company initially but from 1813 became the propery of the joint Ellesmere & Chester Canals.

Iron smelting in this area was conducted first with charcoal, but later coke became the principal means of smelting local and imported ores to pig iron. This iron was then worked up to bar iron in the water powered forges. The canal brought means for improved transport at a time when the iron industry was embarked on change. Bar iron making by the finery and chafery was being replaced by the puddling furnace and rolling mill where wrought iron was the product.

Transport by canal to Pontcysyllte Basin included limestone from the Vron Quarries and Iron Ore from Chester Ithis being ore brought by coastal vessels from Cumberland & Furness). There  was also pig iron and bar iron despatched by boat to Chester. The need for a warehouse to handle such goods was established from the earliest days of the canals operation.

At present no date has been found for the erection of this warehouse and one of the first maps to show it was made about 1850. The basin is shown on the 1838 tithe map and such maps do not necessarily show all structures, it is possible that it was there then.

There is also a possibility that the building was adapted from an earlier structure. Photographic evidence shows that It is composed of the stone that make up the bridges around the basin. These images also show the west and east walls as being taller than the roof and arches for the basin and plateway track.

A reason for this anolomy is that the warehouse had a previous function. It is known that a trial boat lift was erected in the Ruabon area by the patentees Rowland & Pickering. This lift was demonstrating the raising and lowering of boats by June 1796. The Ellesmere Canal Co had agreed to the trial and for Thomas Telford to set out this location in December 1794. At that time the canal under construction was intended to pass through a long  tunnel north of the aqueduct, but this plan was changed between 1795 and 1796 for the route to head east and rising an addional 76 feet to a higher summit level. This rise was to be accomplished along the length between Trevor and Cefn. Such a rise might have been coped with through 9 or 10 locks, but the loss of water was also a factor. The trial boat lift promised minimal loss of water and the trials when they happened appears to have proved this.

The decision by the Ellesmere Company not to execute the line to the Dee from Trevor, left the lift without a purpose and the canal company paid £200 towards the cost of building the lift. It may have been taken down  or left. The canal company was very careful about assets that might yet have a purpose. That the lift was kept and reused in another form is the basis of the suggestion.

Though there was an iron plateway laid to serve the needs of the mines and other industries. The traffic took its toll. The track was relaid once and then later replaced with a standard gauge railway. By now the Shropshire Union Railway & Canal Co were the owners of, what had become ,the Ruabon Brook Railway, and it was they who brought a locomotive on this line. 

The one side of the iron warehouse where the plateway track had been laid became a locomotive shed with two road. It also appears that at least two locomotives were used by them on the Railway. This can be said as there was reported a collsion that involved two locomotives. The facts of the accident show one coming with a train of coal from Afon Eitha Colliery being met by another from Pontcysyllte Basin. Whilst the New British Iron Company also worked their engines onto the canal owned railway, these engines tended to work to their mines and Acrefair Ironworks.

Census details for 1891 mention that an engine driver lived in a cottage by the Pontcysylle Wharf and a steam crane driver lived at another. The bulk of the canal railway was leased by the Great Western Railway from 1896, but the wharf lines remained owned by the canal company. 

Two images of the warehouse are known to exist, and there may be more. One for 1922 shows the warehouse and track at the wharf, another later one shows the warehouse and basin. By 1936 the warehouse had been demolished and the tracks removed. Evidence for this comes from the first images Bertran Baxter took here in 1936.

Today the trackbed is over grown.


July 7th 2016