Thursday, 25 September 2014

Bromford Mill & Forge, West Bromwich

A couple of months ago we visited Bromford rolling mill in West Bromwich; above is how it looked in the late 1980s from the air, the Birmingham to Wolverhampton  canal cutting through the site, which opened in 1777. But Bromford mill is older than the canal, and was there using the waters of the River Tame from at least the early 1600s. The river is just out of shot at the bottom of the image. Bill Venables, who has worked at Bromford for the last 30 years, showed us around the mill.

Up until the late 20th century there were a number of industries that could trace their roots back to medieval mills along the river, but all but one, Bromford, have gone now. Photos below by Ian Stenson (visit his website here).

Bromford Mill was bought in 1610 by William Turton the Younger and used as a 'blade mill', grinding sword blades, which would have probably been made and finished elsewhere, but brought to the mill for sharpening. Ten years later Turton bought more land including 'Smithie Leasow', a nearby pasture, where there were 'all manner of pooles, stagnes, waters, lands and watercourses'. The name of the pasture suggests that the mill had been being used as a 'smithie' for some time.

By the end of the century, in 1693, Joseph Carles(s), a Birmingham whitesmith (basically a tin worker), bought the mill and converted it into 'an iron forge or flatting mill'; taking down much of the original mill and enlarging the mill pool. The Carless family were a big Birmingham and Black Country metal working family, and their steel mills in Birmingham helped the Birmingham streets ring out with the sound of hammers. The family owned the mill through the mid 1700s when it was used for making edge tools.

In the late 1700s the mill as owned by the Abney family, descendants of the Turton's, and they lived in and worked nearby mills too. They witnessed the coming of the canal that cut behind them, and wrote to Matthew Boulton asking him to advise on an expansion, probably wanted to keep up with the industrial changes of the time. Towards the end of the century the mill was making wire.

In 1800 the renowned Black Country iron founders, Wright & Jesson, took over the mill, adding to their collection of other iron forges along the River Tame, such as Old Forge. Nine years later, after marrying Jesson's daughter, a man called Samuel Dawes became partner in the firm. It was at about this time that the river was abandoned as other forms of power came into play and Bromford moved closer to the canal, leaving the old mill behind to be run by the Izon family, another Tame dwelling family with mills along the river.

Next it was the railway that came through, it was completed in 1851 and cut the original mill site in half, the pools were drained and the site used for Oldbury Carriage and Wagon Works. The original water powered mill was gone, but the business that had grown from it prospered by the new waters of the canal.

Photos above by Ian Stenson, visit his website:

From Men & Things of Modern England, 1858. 
Map from the 1880s showing Bromford Iron Works. GREEN shows the canal and the site
of the new Bromford Iron Works. BLUE shows the River Tame and the site of the original
water powered mill. 

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