I moved to Stourbridge ten years ago and almost immediately recognised this was a place where I wanted to settle. There were no initial compelling reasons to… Read more “A personal account”
John Bradley & Co. was set up in 1802 as partnership between the Bradley and Foster families and this formed the basis of John Bradley & Co. until 1837 when James Foster acquired sole ownership, but the company continued to trade as John Bradley & Co. Even when the Stourbridge site was sold in 1919 the new owners traded as John Bradley and Co. (Stourbridge ) Ltd. In 1819 James Foster & John Urpeth Rastrick formed a separate partnership to operate alongside John Bradley & Co. and develop the manufacturing side of the business (steam locomotives, boilers, industrial equipment etc.). This partnership was dissolved by mutual consent in 1831 and the New Foundry absorbed into John Bradley & Co. (With thanks to Ian Williams)
THE BLACK COUNTRY
In 1830 James Nasmyth walked to the Black Country from Coalbrookdale.
“I proceeded at once to Dudley. The Black Country is anything but picturesque. The earth seems to have been turned inside out. Its entrails are strewn about; nearly the entire surface of the ground is covered with cinder heaps and mounds of scoriae. The coal which has been drawn from below ground is blazing on the surface. The district is crowded with iron furnaces, puddling furnaces, and coal-pit engine furnaces. By day and by night the country is glowing with fire, and the smoke of the ironworks hovers over it. There is a rumbling and clanking of iron forges and rolling mills. Workmen covered with smut, and with fierce white eyes, are seen moving about amongst the glowing iron and the dull thud of forge-hammers.
Amidst these flaming, smoky, clanging works, I beheld the remains of what had once been happy farmhouses, now ruined and deserted. The ground underneath them had sunk by the working out of the coal, and they were falling to pieces. They had in former times been surrounded by clumps of trees; but only the skeletons of them remained, dead, black, and leafless. The grass had been parched and killed by the vapours of sulphurous acid thrown out by the chimneys; and every herbaceous object was of a ghastly grey – the emblem of vegetable death in its saddest aspect. In some places I heard a sort of chirruping sound, as of some forlorn bird haunting the ruins of the old farmsteads. But no! the chirrup was a vile delusion. It proceeded from the shrill creaking of the coal-winding chains, which were placed in small tunnels beneath the hedgeless road”.
This image from the Illustrated London News (December 1866)
Slide show of changes to Riverside from the 1880’s to the 1960’s.
© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited 2016. All rights reserved. C. 1880’s; 1900’s; 1910’s; 1930’s; 1950’s; 1960’s
These maps are very detailed and revealing. They show the original narrow boat basins before they had canopies built over them and eventually filled in. To the west of the river in the woodland, the rivers meandering formed an island which has subsequently become obsolete. The island was accessible by bridge with a boat house nearby. Apparent too, is the narrow gauge railway that brought large cast products from the foundry to the canal side crane to be loaded onto the narrow boats, as well as the railway track coming from the eastern end of the site.
The changes to Riverside House itself are also evident, showing that a significant part of the building no longer exists. The estate too, is clearly delineated into different areas having different functions, probably including a orchard (there are still apple trees on the site) and vegetable plots, as well as the (still remaining) walled garden next to the house. The dry dock is clearly marked as part of a larger courtyard area with associated workshops, as too are a variety of smaller buildings throughout the site.
© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited 2016. All rights reserved. C. 1880’s
© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited 2016. All rights reserved. C. 1842
Aerial photographs from 1963 and 1980 clearly showing the gardens and estate features of Riverside House
NINETEENTH CENTURY ETCHINGS OF THE IRON WORKS
A Wintry Blast on the Stourbridge Canal. 1890. Drypoint Etching. 6 7/8 x 9 7/8. Edition 50. Signed by Short and by the famous printer; Frederick Goulding. The image shows an area between Foster’s Ironworks and Wollaston Forge. Image courtesy of Simon Meddings. The image, however, is artistically reversed than how it actually appears in reality.
Mid 20th Century images of the ironworks taken by Harry Cartwright.
Much of the valley has been quarried, mainly for its sand which was ideal both for the glass and iron industries. The extent of the removal is evident in the places marked on the map below where significant rock faces are exposed.
Before the lime kilns, the glass and iron works and the plethora of other industries, the valley would have been picturesque. The name of the recently closed ‘Beauty Bank’ school to the south of the valley is perhaps indicative of this. The Riverside House site has since reclaimed much of that original beauty.
An Osier bed is where historically willows were planted and coppiced to produce withies which were used for basket making, fish-traps, and other purposes. The willow species was typically grown for this purpose. According to a local source, part of the Riverside estate was called the Osier woods.
THE STOURBRIDGE CANAL
The Stourbridge Canal, from Stourton Junction to the Dudley No. 1 Canal was completed in 1779 and brought greater accessibility to a glass industry that had thrived around the Stourbridge area since the arrival of the Huguenots. The canal opened up the glass and iron making industries to more extensive markets and enabled the capacity for the transportation of fragile glass items, on one hand, and heavier products, on the other. Previously it was generally only smaller items such as nails and hinges that could be transported.
The canals functionality lasted for about a century, finally being superseded by locomotives. It fell into disrepair until the latter half of the 20th century where it has since been restored.
According to a local account, the Stourbridge Canal was built into an existing water garden. The purpose for this is not yet apparent. It was called the ‘Hades’ which is indeed substantiated by a map dating from c. 1760, just prior to the building of the Stourbridge canal:
THE RIVER STOUR
According to a local source, the Stour was frequently navigated by coracle, a small round boat made of wickerwork covered with a watertight material, propelled with a paddle. This would have been used for transporting light goods up and down the river.
For an excellent account of the River Stour: http://www.blackcountrysociety.co.uk/articles/stour.htm#inddev
THE BONDED WAREHOUSE
A bonded warehouse is a secure house where goods such as tea, tobacco and spirits which were dutiable, were stored or processed. Outside is the original weighbridge where goods were weighed and subsequently stored in the warehouse ready for transportation. The Bonded Warehouse was built in 1799 and is situated on the wharf at the termination of the Stourbridge Canal.
THE OLD FOUNDRY (LION HEALTH MEDICAL CENTRE)
The ‘New Foundry’ was where ‘The Stourbridge Lion’, the first steam engine to run on a commercial railroad in the USA, was built. The Stourbridge Lion was prior, by about a year, to Stephenson’s Rocket. Another steam engine, ‘The Agnoria’ was the first locomotive to work in the Midlands or south of England and today is the oldest locomotive in the National Railway Museum in York. The New Foundry is now a medical center, ‘The Lion Health Medical Centre’, with 26,000 patients.
JAMES DOVEY GLASSWORKS
This building was part of the James Dovey Glassworks which was established in 1799 and was an early advocate of steam power which was used for cutting, grinding and polishing glassware.
THE CANAL OVERFLOW
The crane base was for loading heavier cast products onto the narrow boats. A narrow gauge railway track connected this to the New Foundry (The Lion Health Medical Centre).
CAST IRON TAIL PLATES
Alongside the canal-side and thanks to the close proximity of the iron works, can be found cast iron tail plates. They were constructed with wood workers dovetails. This was at a time when iron technology was in its infancy, riveting and welding undeveloped, so the default was to use a woodworking approach. The famous bridge at iron bridge is constructed similarly.
WROUGHT IRON MAKING TOOLS
Dave Galley, volunteer at the Black Country Historic Society, claimed that Mr Rodin, son of the manager that lived in riverside house, said these were tools to ‘puddle’ the melted castings, to stir the ‘grain’ and skim off impurities. They are now being used to support the wall. They are located along the towpath on the wall of the Riverside House site
At the northern most edge of the site is the remains of a dry dock that was owned by The Stourbridge Canal Company. The dry dock worked with a gated system in much the same way as a lock, filling itself from the canal and emptying into the River Stour via the Stourbridge Canal overflow from two drainage sluices.
The dry dock was eventually replaced by the one near the Red House Cone possibly because, as suggested by Graham Fisher, the canal was losing too much water through its functioning.
The entrance to the dry dock has been restored in recent years and is lower than the original would have been. What remains is the hand forged posts for the hand rail as well as the water sluices that are situated further down the canal overflow. There are only several dry docks of this type that remain in the UK.
Restoration work being carried out in the the 1990’s. Dry dock bridge in the background.
Image courtesy of Christopher Armfield
At the elbow of the Stourbridge Canal there are two bridges that enabled access to two canal boat basins that went into the heart of the Riverside site where the iron works once stood. These would have brought raw products such as coal and pig iron to be transformed into wrought or cast iron products and shipped back out for distribution. The bridge to the right is the older of the two