Thursday, 9 October 2014

Wednesbury Bridge Mill

Wednesbury Bridge, over the River Tame. The mill was to the left.

The area around Wednesbury Bridge has been important within the town’s industrial history since the 1600s; the waters of the Tame here powered one of Wednesbury’s first iron forges and helped ignite its trade in gun barrels.

Wednesbury Bridge Mill in the 1850s when it had converted back
to a corn mill. 

WATER POWERED FORGE AT WEDNESBURY BRIDGE

The first bridge built here seems to be more-or-less contemporary with the iron forge, both appearing in the 17th century. In its early years the forge was John Jennens' foothold in Wednesbury; Jennens was what we might now call a ‘Iron King’ of the period and ran forges elsewhere along the Tame (see Bromford and Aston forges). The Wednesbury Bridge Mill, if it still stood, would be hugely important as a historical building, representing the beginnings of the iron industry in the Black Country. But I can somewhat imagine standing inside as the historian Hackwood did before the mill was taken down, he noted that the ‘internal evidence seems to show that it was built in the 17th or 18th century for an iron forge [...] The woodwork is of hewn oak and the ironwork is a fine specimen of the durable cold-blast charcoal iron of olden Wednesbury’. If only he had of elucidated a little more.

By 1761 the water powered forge was in the hands of John Wood who obtained a patent that year for making a new kind of malleable iron from pig iron which was well regarded by the local gun barrel makers (eliminated the need to make iron using charcoal producing a better quality product). One of the first to locally supply that trade. In the gun making trade Wednesbury was interlocked with Birmingham, the former made predominantly gun locks, and to a lesser degree the barrels, but in Birmingham, as well as also producing the component parts, these came together to form the finished articles. In 1816 the mill was for sale and described as possessing “a lift hammer and a tilt hammer in good repair, well adapted for making best and common iron: also sufficient warehouses for storing scrap iron and manufactured iron”. The mills history in the beginnings of the iron trade in Wednesbury came to an end with its purchase, as it was converted into a corn mill and by 1818 run by the Jones family. The mill closed in 1885.

THE AREA TODAY

The site of the mill marked with a shopping trolley, as
well as orange staining from iron ore.

With thanks to Ian Bott, Peter Knowles and John Selway for help with research into this area of Wednesbury.

* In 1785 there were four iron forges in Wednesbury, three of which were along the River Tame and its tributaries, and one was near Wednesbury Bridge (the other two near the Tame were Wednesbury Forge and Sparrow’s Forge (situated on a brook near the Tame); the fourth was Adam’s Forge which was horse powered.

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