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British Industrial History

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Bersham Ironworks

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Bersham Ironworks.
Bersham Ironworks.
Bersham Ironworks. Cannon foundry.

Bersham Ironworks were large ironworks at Bersham, near Wrexham, North Wales.

They are most famous for being the original working site of John Wilkinson. They were also the first site in the world to use a new way of boring holes in cannon and steam engine cylinders.

Ironworking first started at Bersham around 1640, and evidence shows that cannon for the Royalists in the English Civil War were made here.

In the 18th Century, Isaac Wilkinson bought the ironworks and ran it for a considerable number of years. The main product was cannon, although the process to make cannon in iron was difficult, and cannonballs often became stuck in the barrel, leading to explosions.

1761 When Isaac's son John took over, he employed a boring machine to accurately make a smooth bore cannon, which became so popular that the cannon were used in the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic wars.

1774 John admitted his brother William to a partnership on very favourable terms.

As well as cannon, the smooth bore machine could make cylinders for Boulton and Watt steam engines, and John Wilkinson entered into a partnership with Watt to make the cylinders. However, Watt discovered Wilkinson had been marketing his own black market steam engines on the side, and the partnership was terminated.

1793 With Europe and the world returning to peace, the market for cannon was lost. The space to expand at Bersham had ran out, and Wilkinson needed to move on. He bought a house and estate at nearby Brymbo and built a blast furnace there, at what would later become Brymbo Steelworks. John Wilkinson arranged to sell Bersham, moving much equipment to his new works at Brymbo.[1]

John had fallen out with his brother William, who raised a small gang to destroy Bersham Ironworks. Upon hearing this, John Wilkinson also raised a gang and helped the destruction: he was only too happy to destroy the mill causing him a loss. Only three structures survived: the mill building; the building which housed the smooth bore machine; and a lime kiln.

After this, the site was leased to a family who opened a paper mill on the site. This did not last a long time, however, and the site was left derelict.

The site on the southern bank of the River Clywedog had been completely destroyed, while the original works were in a state of decay.

The site passed into agricultural use, and the "Mill building" became a mill, complete with a water wheel, still intact today. Most of the mill building has new red brick roof built on the old sandstone walls.

The remains of the works are being restored. See Bersham Heritage Centre

Some Events

1795 "IRON WORKS. TO be sold by Auction, at the House of John Jones, the Eagles, in Wrexham, Denbighshire, on Tuesday the ist of December next, at Five o'Clock in the Afternoon, subject: to the Conditions then to be produced, That old established Iron Work, called BERSHAM FURNACE, comprizing the Machinery and Utensils thereto belonging, together with the Reversion of the sundry Leases of the Lands and Buildings; the Whole being well calculated for carrying on the Foundry Business on an extensive Scale. At the same Time will be sold the Stock of Metal, consisting of Cast and Wrought Iron, and Lead, together with various Castings, &c which will be disposed of in Lots agreeable to the Purchasers. The Whole to be seen at any Time previously to the Sale; and further Particulars may be had by applying to William Fawcett, Merchant, Liverpool."[2]

1801: 'A few weeks ago, was carried from Bursham, in Wales, to the glass works near St Hellen, a large iron plate, 18 tons 11 cwt. upon a carriage constructed for the purpose, and drawn by 12 horses; for which the undertaker, Mr S. Ball, of Liverpool, received a considerable sum of money. This amazing weight is supposed to be the largest that was ever carried over-land in England.'[3]

1802: 'Last week a large copper table, weighing twenty tons, was cast at Bersham iron-works for the Riverhead [Ravenhead?] Glass Company. The metal was melted in five furnaces, each containing four tons; the building was secured from the immense heat of the casting by a wrought iron umbrella. A carriage with eight wheels has been constructed to convey it to its place of destination.' [4]

1805: 'A large copper table, for making plate glass, has been lately cast at Bersham Iron Works, near Wrexham ; which contains upwards of twenty two tons of copper. The surface is levelled by a cast iron plane, from 17 to 18 cwt. weight, resembling a carpenter's, which is kept in motion by a water wheel.'[5]. Note: This brief article is highly significant, as it identifies the existence at an early date of a powered machine for planing metal.

1812 & 1813: Premises and plant advertised for sale[6] [7]

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Biography of William Wilkinson, ODNB
  2. London Gazette 7 November 1795
  3. Caledonian Mercury, 21 September 1801
  4. Sussex Advertiser, 4 October 1802
  5. Chester Courant, 2 April 1805
  6. Manchester Mercury, 15 June 1813
  7. Leeds Mercury, 11 January 1812