Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Wednesbury Forge

Wednesbury Forge in about 1869 when it was making edge tools
and was run by Edward Elwell.

The site of Wednesbury Forge has over 400 years of industrial history, from the late 1500s till 2005 when the site closed and manufacture ceased. Between 2004 and 2008 an archaeological dig was carried out on the site, which was able to trace much of its change and development over the five centuries it was used; you can find an extensive paper on the digs here.


About 1590: Douglas Dilworth estimates construction to be about this time, but then mentions that in 1606 the forge was in a ‘decayed’ state, so the date is probably earlier. In 1597 workers from a different forge (Wednesbury Mill Forge) formed a ‘riotous and unlawful assembly’ and descended on Wednesbury Forge armed with shovels and axes.

1657: Mill rented by Thomas Foley, the English ironmaster and politician, so became part of the large Foley iron empire.

1676: Some of the mill rented by Humphrey Jennens. Jennens was possibly part of the Jennens iron family from Birmingham and north Warwickshire. Later Prof. Johnson notes that John Jennens (Birmingham ironmaster) is involved in the mill, but this could have been another in Wednesbury.

About 1708: The mill was owned by Richard Parkes (another prominent local family), leased to John Willetts, and used as a metal rolling mill. In the 1720s John Willetts junior was a saw-maker. The mill remained in the Willetts’ family, and in 1794 the widow of a Benjamin Willetts carried on the business, owing to the mill pool becoming known as ‘Mrs. Willetts’ Pool’.

 Late 1700s: The forge was in partnership between Holden and Willetts and grinding gun barrels.

 Early 1800s: The mill was run by Hyla Holden.

1817: Edward Elwell, who had previously been carrying on business at Sparrow’s Forge, leased Wednesbury Forge, and erected the long chimney stack. In 1831 he bought the premises which consisted of ‘a forge or iron mill, also a grinding mill which had formerly been a windmill [...] a house, thirteen cottages which had been workshops, but Edward Elwell had reconverted into dwellings, together with adjacent land, a forge pool and watercourse to feed it’.

1839: Elwell advertised his business as making ‘spades, shovels, hoes and edge tools’.

1876. Click to enlarge.
1850s: Edward Elwell junior took over and steam power began to supplement water power. Mrs. Willetts’ Pool had become unused, but it was brought back into use. It later became known as Elwells’ Pool. The forge remained in the Elwell family for the next 50 years.

1902: The last Elwell, Alfred Elwell died and the forge became Edward Elwell Ltd. Water power stopped being used and in 1904 a turbine was used.

About 1920: The pools were filled in.

1945. Click to enlarge.
1970: The site was taken over by Spear and Jackson, making tools. Do you have any memories of working in Spear & Jackson or Elwell's? Please contact Jenni at

2005: The site was closed.


Part of Tame Past Present Future is to train and support people in conducting their own research, you can find out about local archives here. This section will be continually added to with more information about Wednesbury Forge, and documents that relate to its history.

D1400/1/6/1  1699  (STA)
Wednesbury. Piece of meadow (3a.) adjoining road from Wednesbury Forge to Tame Bridge (reserving minerals) Copy assignment of term in trust Jennens/Ward

5350/pp 44 - 45  Nov. 1736  (STA)
Willets of Wednesbury Forge: treatment of colic; similar treatment for R. Wilkes of Wolverhampton

BOOK: Georgiana Elwell, A Lady of Wednesbury Forge: The Diary of Georgiana Elwell, 1868-1869 (Published Black Country Society, 1976) (also held at 'WAL').

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