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British Industrial History

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Hyde Ironworks

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1888 'DISMANTLING OF THE HYDE IRONWORKS - From an announcement in our columns it will be seen that these works are to be dismantled, and the fixed plant of the forges and mills, costaining in the aggregate over 1,500 tons of wrought and cast iron, are to be put up to auction. The works, as our readers know, are situate on the banks of the canal and the Stour at Kinver, and date back over 200 years; having been first started by Messrs. Foley and Brindley. The former was that famous Thomas Foley who established Oldswinford Hospital and laid the foundations of the prosperity of the Foley family. It may be interesting to note that Mrs. Brindley, who recently died at the Union Hall, Kilver, was the wife of a descendant of the Mr. Brindley, who, in connection with Mr. Foley, founded the works. Like other old world things the works are not without their tradition, and a particular tradition, embellished as it is by so much circumstantiality and detail, has gained a certain amount of credence. It relates how, is order to learn the iron slitting process than unknown in England, Thomas Foley, who was a musician of no mean order, travelled from Kinver to St. Petersburg and to the Ural Mountains, and there surreptitiously gained admittance to the department of the cutters an iron mill. The Pied Piper of Hamelin charmed the rats and the mice and afterwards the children of Hamelin, but, according to tradition, Foley, with his violin. charmed the dogs of the Muscovite workmen, and as the dogs, which killed the rats and the mice, were drawn away by the sweet strains of the violin, the manager was fain to take the musician within the works. There he obtained a knowledge of the slitting process, and making his way back to England introduced it into the works at Kinver. All this sounds well, and has quite a charming air of romance about it, but the story would seem to have the disadvantage of being apocryphal, inasmuch as no documents are in the possession of the Foley family bearing it out It seems clear that the process of slitting was introduced by the founder of the Foley family, but that this was due to his own ingenuity and skill, and was not acquired after the romantic fashion of the tradition referred to. Anyhow, the introduction of the process was looked upon as a significant advance in the making of rod iron in the country, and gave to the works a fame which they continued to maintain for many long years.
In 1832 the works were carried on under the style of Hunt and Brown, the latter being the father of the partner of that name in the firm of Messrs. Brown and Freer, and prior to 1832, we believe, the works were carried on by a Mr. Humphries, who was related to the Crawshays, of Wales. Messrs. Hunt and Brown were succeeded by Messrs. Lee and Bolton, who, however, failed in 1868, and in turn were succeeded by Mr. H. O. Firmstone, the present proprietor of the works. The latter kept the works on intermittently, and finally they were brought to a stand in April, 1883. At one time between 200 and 300 hands found employment here, and Kinver then was a thriving little place. The "Crown and Plough and L B" brand of iron was famed far and wide, and in the giving out of Government contracts years ago It was no uncommon thing for the specifications to contain a clause stipulating that the iron of Messrs. Lee and Bolton, the style of the firm under which Mr. Firmstone continued the works, should be used. Welsh blacksmiths, too, it also said, at one time of day would scarcely look at any other than the famous L.B brand. It was at one time hoped that the Hyde would be kept on. but this, as the sequel shows, was not so to be. The glory of the Hyde has departed, and as to the case of Whittington, Ichabod has had to he written over the portals. It is needless to say that the closing of the works has seriously affected Kinver, which, instead of being the animated and thriving place it once was, has relapsed into a semisomnolent state, from which it will take a good deal of rousing, if it is to regain its former position. The village seems marked down for decay. There is, perhaps, some hopes for it yet, though it is but a faint one, and that the possibility of a railway being constructed thither at some time or other. There was an attempt years ago to take the iron horse there, but, owing chiefly, it is said, to the strong opposition of the landed proprietors, the scheme collapsed, and with it went out the last ray of hope for Kilmer. However. now that there seems be be nothing else that will resuscitate the place, some such scheme in future may have a better chance of success. One thing is certain, and that is that Kilver affords scenic beauty of a rural character that is not met with every day, and which, if the place ever should become easy of access, could, with the grand panorama of scenery which stretches out on every hand, to say nothing of the ancient and historical associations with which the village abounds, can hardly fail to attract numbers of excursionists, and help the place to regain some of that life and vitality which would place it on a level and in some respects ahead of many rural places in the Midlands as a pleasure-going resort.'[1]

Of course, the folktale mentioned above is nonsense.W. K. V. Gale points out that the slitting mill technology was imported from Flanders, and patented in England when Foley was only 8 years old. Godfrey Box had a slitting mill in use at Dartford in 1590, and he was probably working to the patent granted to Bevis Bulmer in 1588.[2]


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Sources of Information

  1. County Advertiser & Herald for Staffordshire and Worcestershire - Saturday 14 July 1888
  2. 'The Black Country Iron Industry - a Technical History' by W. K. V. Gale, The Iron and Steel Institute, London, 1966