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British Industrial History

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Oak Farm Ironworks

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Kingswinford, Near Dudley.


Started in approx 1835(?) by Sir Stephen Glynne, Lord Lyttleton, W. E. Gladstone and James Boydell. Note: Gladstone and Lyttelton had both married sisters of Glynne.[1]

Boydell's Walking Engine was made here.(?)

1847 'KINGSWINFORD. Boiler Explosion.—Caution to Engineers. — On Monday last a large boiler at the Oak Farm Works exploded, and injured six men and boys, and although they were hurt badly from scalds, and were struck by some parts of the boiler, it is hoped that five of them will recover. The other, a boy, who with another lad was in hovel close to the boiler, eating his dinner, has received such injuries, from the hovel falling upon him, as to preclude any favourable opinion being entertained of his recovery. There appears to be no doubt as to the cause of the explosion, which was occasioned by a quantity of cold water being turned into the boiler when nearly empty, and a large fire under the same, and which immediately created a quantity of gas so powerful as to force the boiler from its seat on to its side, and to lay it completely open.'[2]

1848 'Damage to Machines.—Thomas Wasden was charged by John Griffiths with damaging machinery belonging to Messrs. Lucas and Chance, at the Oak Farm. Defendant was employed at the works as engineer; he had for nine weeks attended to the engine, but in consequence of the recent eruptions had received no wages for that time. Messrs. Lucas and Chance having taken part of the works, this engine was put into play, and went well for a short time, but the engineer found the feeding pump did not work: it was examined, when the valve was found missing. Defendant had been heard to say a short time previously, that no one could work it but himself; he had done something to it. His only defence was that it was a hard case to lose his work when so much wages were due to him, and he had not taken it from the premises. Fined 10s., and 7s. costs, or 14 days.'[3]

Failure of the Company

'THE OAK FARM IRON-WORKS (From the Mining Journal.)

'The various circumstances connected with the suspension of these once highly-prosperous works, and which were of a very painful nature, have been noticed in the Mining Journal from time to time, as they occurred. On the examination of Mr. William Gladstone before the Bankruptcy Commissioners at Birmingham, that gentleman made certain statements which threw a deal of the responsibility and odium, as to the cause of failure, on the proceedings and conduct of Mr. Boydell, the managing partner. Mr. Boydell, feeling that such statements, in going forth unanswered to the world, might injure him in the opinion of many of his oldest friends and neighbours, has published a reply, with an abstract of the examination the Bankruptcy Court, and the correspondence between the parties. The letter is addressed to Sir S. R. Glynne, Bart., which he shows that the extensive losses have been caused by the latter, and that by his acts he sacrificed a large prospective revenue, as well as ruined Mr. Roper and the writer.

'It will be impossible to go through the whole of the details of the evidence, but we will give the heads of Mr. Boydell's statement; from which it appears he had to fight his way in the management, for the general interest, amidst much opposition and considerable mala fides.

'The balance-sheet filed by Mr. Boydell in the Court of Bankruptcy, proved that from November 2, 1815(?), to November 26, 1847, under his management, the Oak Farm Iron-works realized a profit of 60,000l., after paying management and bankers' charges; and, in the meantime, the liabilities were reduced by upwards of 130,000l , besides paying Sir S. R. Glynne 12,000l. for royalty and rent. This large sum was made up out of the profits, Mr. Roper's new, and Mr. Boydell’s additional capital brought into the concern, with the amount of debts due at the time of stoppage. Mr. Boydell states that the ruin of himself and Mr. Roper has been the result; and he considers it is only from his large property and great resources that Sir Stephen is saved from a like result.

'All might have been averted had the Baronet, Mr. W. E. Gladstone, and Lord Lyttelton kept faith in accordance with the understanding come to with Messrs. Boydell and Roper; the latter complain that they received 34,000l. less of floating capital than was agreed to carry on the works. Mr. Boydell states that it even then was through Sir Stephen not giving guarantees, as promised, for the credit of the house, that the event turned out disastrous ; and that since the suspension of the payments he had warned Sir Stephen of the consequences of allowing them to go through the Gazette.

'Mr. Boydell concludes by saying — "Notwithstanding I have lost all I have worked hard for in the last twenty-five years, I have been blessed with health of body and strength of mind to bear it, and shall begin business again with confidence that, if such be continued to me, I shall once more gain a competency for my family ; and the experience I have gained will be a lesson to me, and teach me not to put too much confidence in any person, however apparently high may be the position he occupies."

'We heartily wish Mr. Boydell may realize all he anticipates: his capability of successful management is abundantly proved throughout the entire examinations and explanations respecting the unfortunate Oak Farm Works; and our columns have often detailed inventions and improvements emanating from him of great mechanical skill and value, which, under more fortunate circumstances, could not have failed proving highly lucrative to the manufacturers, and of public benefit their adoption.'[4]

An alternative view:-

Another source refers to Boydell as '....'a man of fervid and infectious enthusiasm', indeed grossly optimistic and even extravagant, who greatly extended the works and their paraphernalia.' Difficulties surfaced in 1841, requiring advice and finance from John Gladstone. 'In 1845 the three brothers-in-law, in order to secure themselves against the risks arising from unlimited liability, retired from the company, taking instead mortgages on works' property. Therefore they were not involved when the firm failed during the depression of 1848[5]. Even so, the brothers-in-law appear to have suffered enormous financial losses, but the experience gained by W E Gladstone in dealing with the company's debt was said to have stood him in good stead when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer [6]

1848 'Tenth Sale Notice'

MESSRS. OATES and PERRENS have received instructions from the Assignee to the estate of Messrs. Paterson, Walker, Boydell, and Roper, to offer for SALE by AUCTION, on Monday next, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the 7th, 8th, and 10th days of August, on the premises, at the Oak Farm Iron Works, in the parish of Kingswinford, the county of Stafford — the whole of the valuable WOOD and BRASS PATTERNS, &c. ; consisting of patterns of fly, spur, bevil, and pulley-wheels, water-wheels, shafts, pinions, pedestals, glands, crab, and other patterns ; sugar and loam mills, 14, 50, and 90-horse power; condensing engines complete, 12-horse and 30-horse power ; marine engines complete, 14-horse, 30-horse and 40-horse power ; high-pressure engines complete ; gun, shot, and shell patterns, for English and Spanish Governments; cranes, coreboxes, railway chairs, pipes, window frames, large quantity of brass patterns for mills and forges, blast engines, &c, old brasses, &c. ; work-benches, anvils, blocks and seats, deal baulks and planks, hydraulic gun-proving machine, ditto pipe-proving machine, large steelyards, weighing from one to six tons ; lifting jacks, winches, wrought iron waggons, &c, office fixtures, and other effects; catalogues of which will be distributed, and may be had of Richard Valpy, Esq., Official Assignee, Waterloo-street, Birmingham; Messrs. Collis, Clowes, and Uhthoff, Solicitors to the Assignee, or of the Auctioneers, Stourbridge ; at the Swan Hotel, Wolverhampton ; Hotel, Dudley ; Talbot Hotel, Oldbury and of Mr. Pearson, Fir-Tree House, Oak Farm Works. Sale to commence each morning at eleven o'clock.'[7]

1849 Sale Notice

'The OAK FARM COMPANY, well known as the Oak Farm Iron Works, comprising the COLLIERY, BLAST FURNACES, and MALLEABLE IRON WORKS, with the Buildings, Shops, Offices, Workmen's Dwelling-houses, and Appurtenances thereto respectively belonging; together with the fixed PLANT and MACHINERY, &c., hereunder described.

'THE MINERAL ESTATE comprises the COLLIERY and Site of the Works, containing about 103 Acres (more less), of which admeasurement the following portions of the Mines and Minerals hitherto now remain ungotten, viz.:

'Of the thick or 10-yard Coal, about 24 Acres.
Of the Brooch Coal, about ditto.
Of the Heathen Coal and the Gibbin Ironstone, about ditto.
Of the White Ironstone, about 41 ditto.
Of the Fire Clay and the New Mine Coal, about 81 ditto.
Together with the RIBS and PILLARS of THICK COAL in and under about 3. Acres of the same Estate. Also the MINES and MINERALS in and under two other detached Fields, containing together about 18 Acres, near to the above, the whole of the Mines under which remain ungotten. These Fields contain, in addition, a valuable Mine of Foundry Sand, from which the Works have been supplied. To the Mines and Minerals as above 18 Pit Shafts have been sunk, with the Workings, Gate Roads, Headings, Engine, Pits, Drifts, &c, complete.

'THE IRON WORKS consist of TWO BLAST FURNACES, with superior Blowing Engine, 60-horse power, in Brick Engine-house, Boilers, Blowing Apparatus, Pipes, &c. complete, to the Twyers and Water Balance Lift to raise the Materials, large Casting House and Foundries, Bridge House, &c.; Refinery and Blast Pipes to ditto, and Brickbuilt Stoves to Foundry.

The MILLS and FORGES have several Plants and Machinery arranged as follows:—
MILL-ENGINE of 80-horse power, in Brick Engine-house, with Boilers and Seating, Flues, and Chimney Stack.
MAIN MACHINERY.—-Timber Frames, Cast-iron Shafts, Wheels and Carriages, comprising the motive power from the Engine to all the Roll Trains and Shafts ; to the Shears, Turning Lathe, and Rail Saw, and terminating at the point of connection, viz., where the motion to each part is disengaged or connected for working the fast or fixed Crab.
Nos. 1 and 2 FORGES.—Condensing Engine of 50-horse power, in Brick Engine-house and Stacks, with one Boiler, Seating, Flues, &c.
MAIN MACHINERY. —Frames, Shafts, Wheels, and Carriages, all as above described and the point above limited in Mill; two Hammers, with Camrings, &c., complete.
The above Mill and Forge Works are enclosed and covered with spacious Roofs, supported with Cast-iron Pillars and Brick Walls.
No. 3 FORGE (Worked by Portable Engine).—Main Machinery, Frames, Shafts, Wheels, and Carriages, all before named, and limited complete to the fast Crabs of the Sheet Rolls and the Guide Roll Train, Iron Helve Forge, with Camring, &c., complete; three Firing Boilers, with Seating and Flues, and large Chimney Stack to ditto.

'STEEL WORKS —Consisting of two Furnaces,Casting house, Shops, and Warehouses.

'FIRE-BRICK AND CEMENT CLAY WORKS.—Steam Engine of 30-horse power, in Brick Engine-house, with two Boilers, Seatings, Flues, &c.; Fly Wheel and Machinery for Grinding, Lifting, and Tempering Clay, with extensive Buildings for the same, viz., six large Drying Stoves, with Floors, Flues, and Fire Grates, and six Kilns to ditto with Furnace, Offices, Sheds, &c.
The whole of the Fire Clay Works are now occupied by Messrs. Chance and Co., and will be sold subject to the terms of the agreement or arrangement under which they now hold the same.

'GAS WORKS.—Brick Retort House, with Flues and Chimney Stack, and Brickwork to Gasometer, Tank, &c, exclusive of the metallic part.

ENGINE SHED and STORE ROOM, Lathe House, Boiler Shops, and Tube Mill, and a number of Shops for various manufacturing purposes.

'Adjoining the Works are large and commodious OFFICES, with DWELLING-HOUSE, Stable, and Outbuildings attached.

'CANAL BASIN and two large WAREHOUSES, with Boat Loading Slips in each, on the Stourbridge Extension Canal.
BASIN, WHARF, and RAIL-ROAD, in the occupation of Mr. B. Gibbons under agreement for Lease for years, from the 1st December, 1845, and will be sold subject to such agreement and the other terms on which Mr. Gibbons holds the same.
N.B. Mr. Gibbons holds some spare Land, formerly spoil, adjoining his Wharf, under a verbal agreement tenant, from year to year.

'Also THIRTY NINE WORKMEN'S TENEMENTS or DWELLING-HOUSES, with Gardens and Appurtenances thereto belonging, near to the Works.
Also all that substantial DWELLING-HOUSE, with Stabling, Outbuildings, and Appurtenances thereto belonging, now in the occupation of Mr. John Griffiths. Also all that conveniently situated and commodious DWELLING-HOUSE, now used as a Public-house, with the Garden, Stabling, Outbuildings, and Appurtenances, and WATER CORN MILL, now in the occupation of Mr. John Cartwright.

'The whole of the above extensive Works and Premises are held under Lease from Sir Stephen Richard Glynne, Bart., for 31 years, from the 26th day December, 1835, whereof 18 years are now unexpired, (together with the benefit of any extension thereof which there may an understanding with the landlord to grant, if any such exists,) , and will be sold subject to the Rents and Royalties the said Lease reserved and the covenants therein contained; and also subject to a Mortgage the said Premises to George Talbot, Esq., of Green Hill, near Kidderminster, for £30,000.
The Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton Railway Company have Branch to the above Works.
A Copy of the Working Plans of the Minerals, made , the Mine Agent employed at the Works, and a Copy of the Lease and also the terms under which Messrs. Chance , and Co. work the Fire Clay Mines, and of Mr. Gibbons* Agreement for the Wharf and Railroad, may be inspected and further particulars obtained at the offices of Messrs. Collis, Clowes, and Uhthoff, Solicitors, Stourbridge; at R. Valpy's, Esq., Official Assignee, Waterloo-street, Birmingham ;of Mr. Griffiths, at the Oak Farm Works; and Messrs. Freshfield, Solicitors, New Bank Buildings, London ......'[8]


Late 1840s/early 1850s William Marston Warden "joined the Oak Farm and the Whittington Iron-works"[9]. Does this mean he went to work at one then the other, or that he brought the two of them together?

Trevithick-type Steam Engine and Boiler

The Science Museum collection includes a Trevithick type cast iron steam boiler with enclosed engine cylinder, which constituted a stationary or semi-portable engine/boiler unit. Stated to have been built by Oak Farm Ironworks, Dudley, c.1845. However, the design and construction appear more consistent with the first decade of that century. Object number 1881-57, credited to E. B. Marten. See here for brief description and photos. The photos show the return flue as removed from the boiler, and the boiler with its flue and wrought iron backplate in place. Protruding from the boiler is the engine cylinder, complete with piston road and crosshead.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1]'The First Industrialists: The Problem of Origins' by François Crouzet, Cambridge University Press, 1985
  2. Worcestershire Chronicle, 10th February 1847
  3. Worcestershire Chronicle, 21st June 1848
  4. Birmingham Gazette, 25th September 1848
  5. [2]'The First Industrialists: The Problem of Origins' by François Crouzet, Cambridge University Press, 1985
  6. [3] 'Mrs Catherine Gladstone: 'A Woman Not Quite of Her Time' by Janet Hilderley, The Alpha Press, 2013
  7. Birmingham Gazette, 31st July 1848
  8. Worcestershire Chronicle, 4th April 1849
  9. Obituary of William Marston Warden