A Journey into the Past
West Midlands Branch event
Paul Belford and Branch President, John Willetts.
The final meeting of the season followed the AGM, when Phil Shakles of Metalltechnik was appointed President for the 2008-2009 session, Dean Millington of J&J Siddons as Senior Vice-President and Chris Mintern of Vanguard Foundry as Junior Vice-President.
Members then enjoyed being taken back to the origins of steelmaking in the West Midlands and Coalbrookdale. Paul Belford, the resident archaeologist at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, told us how this had begun at the end of the 16th century, long before Abraham Darby was smelting ore to produce cast iron from the blast furnace using coke. Archaeological digs had taken place at Coalbrookdale, at the Upper Forge and at Wednesbury, at the Elwell site.
Ironworking was done at Coalbrookdale from 1630 and this plant was owned by Wenlock Priory until the Dissolution of the Monasteries and had the first steel making furnace in England. Steel was produced by the Cementation process by carbonisation of wrought iron for 10 days in a carbonising atmosphere. Steel was shipped down the River Severn to Gloucester Docks.
The first documentation mentioning the Wednesbury site was in the 1590’s and the site was used for ironworking up to 2005. Edward Elwell purchased the site in 1831 and was known as the King of Spades as this was one of the tools he produced. In the 1960’s ownership passed to the Spear and Jackson group who continued to make metal implements such as spades, forks etc until 2005.
We usually look at the present and the future of our industry but it was a fascinating change to look back for once at its origins particularly with such a knowledgeable and accomplished speaker.