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Alaska.
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Smethwick and Industrial History.


Not much to look at really, Smethwick, you could pass through without even noticing it. On the way from Birmingham, as most of the Town has now been by-passed, the only part you register as Smethwick, is the bit just before you get to Oldbury.  Thats a bit unfair, because if it wasn't for the industrious people of many generations ago, a lot of Black Country companies would not have exsisted. Just over the border, in Handsworth, that giant of invention, Matthew Boulton set up his Manufactory, and demonstrated to the World, what could be achieved. In Foundry Lane, Smethwick, the famed Soho Foundry was built, and over the years expanded. James Watt, started his Steam Engine Works not far away near Cornwall Road.  All this started off a demand for Rivets, Nuts and Bolts, Rolled Iron Plates and Bars, Brass Bearings and Valves, better quality Iron, and all the man-power, skilled enough to keep it all moving. Smethwick was built on Industry, and at one time, most have run Birmingham a very close second, as the manufacturing centre of the Region. First the Canals, then the Railways, insured that supplies and finished goods were always delivered. It was the same when the internal combustion engine came along, the many Companies, hard at work, adapted to it all. Never the less, it's a strange place. West Smethwick, mainly housing to the south of the Railway line and the Oldbury Road, then it changes to heavy Industry to the north. To the east, the hundreds of medium and small factories that sprang up in the 1880/90s, including Guest, Keen, and Knettlefolds, and the giant brewery of Mitchell and Butlers, on Cape Hill.



The High Street, that short section up to Rolf Street, and now split by a new road, has always seemed seperate from the section that contains the Council House. Thats a bit unfortunate, as the bit has what is one of the oldest Public House sites in the region, The Red Cow. There has been a pub here since the time of Elizabeth I, and possible long before.The remainder of Smethwick, up to it's border with Birmingham on the Hagley Road West, is almost entirely made up of housing. It includes a part of Bearwood, and the much older Warley, which was at one time, part of Shropshire. Confusing I know, but thats boundry changes for you. The Only notable employers I can think of, for this part of Smethwick, were the Midland Red Bus Company, with their works and Head Office in Rutland Road, just off Bearwood Road, and British Pen's, whose works were just above the old fire station. There are 6 Parks in this area of Smethwick, so it's citizens were not short of a bit of open space, and another one, Black Patch, in Foundry Lane, which is almost where I began this topic. It has been said of late, that the famous Film Comedy act, Charlie Chaplin, may have been born on this bit of waste land, in a Gypsy Queens caravan no less. I hope that it's true, Smethwick needs a bit of recognition. He can always join the multi-talented Julie Walters, and Liza Goddard, in a little hall of fame, I'm sure they won't mind. There are a few old pictures in " Around and about ", in the Gallery.

August 8, 2011 at 3:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Smethwick, Industrial History, Boulton and Watt.


Looking around the place, as I did last week, it's hard to imagine that it was once a rural area. It was certainly so when the Public Health Act was passed in 1848. The act covered numerous things, from the water supply, waste disposel, and noxicious smoke and smells. All of which affected the poor long suffering inhabitants of Smethwick. The main problem in the 1860s, was the smoke and fumes from the many works which had sprung up in a short time. Chance's, the area's largest employers, frequently blanketed the district with dense clouds of smoke, which were added to by Fox Hendersons Iron works, and Muntz's copper and zinc factory. The old foundry of Boulton and Watt, now owned by Hamilton and Blake, escaped serious blame, as one of it's directors was the Chairman of the Public Health Committee. ( such is the way when money talks ) Hanbury and Company, the makers of tubes, also got a severe roasting. At some risk to themselves I should add, the Alkali Works was mentioned. I say risk, because it was owned by Mr Chance, and was an important part of the glass production. Smethwick, at the time, was still very rural, and was described as a " Hamlet " during Committee meetings. They could not though, dispute what they were being told, The fields were black from the fumes and smoke, Tree's and Hedgerows were withered, and dying under the onslaught of the pusuit for profit. Chest complaints amongst the population was very high, and some houses near to the many works, could not be occupied, making them virtualy worthless. A similar picture could be found all over the Black Country, and nothing was being done. There was a very good reason for this. When a factory was reported to the Magistrates, a small fine was imposed for causing the pollution. The guilty party would then be given a set  amount of time to correct the problem. Sometimes as long as two years, money and influence at work, in what some would say was the march of progress. it's interesting to note, that like almost all of the Victorian Factory Owners, they lived several miles away from the grime scene, and wouldn't suffer their families to breathe such obnoxious and dangerous gas'es. Still, as long as you drag your asmatic, coffin (sic) raddled body to work, you at least had a job. Thank god for the clean air act.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 25, 2011 at 2:58 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Smethwick, Boulton and Watt.


Now there's been a bit of a fuss just lately, about the famous connection the region had with the ill fated Titanic. It's not the only connection the Black Country has had with the sea though. Long before that chunk of ice in the drink finished off the Titanic, a couple of Smethwick Companies, were also making history. About 1855, Boulton and Watt's Foundry, recieved an order for a massive Steam Engine. The order was placed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and it was to power his new ship, The Great Eastern. At 692 feet Long, ( 211m ) a beam of 82 feet, (25m), and weighing 18,915 gross tons, she was the largest iron ship built until nearly 50 years later. Designed to carry 4,000 passengers and 418 crew, she could sail around the World without refuelling. ( She never did )



To power such a monster required some very powerful engines, and Boulton and Watt, very much on the cutting edge of Victorian technology, managed to fill the order. The Equipment fitted to the ship weighed just over 500 tons, produced 8,000 horse power, and turned a propeller shaft weighing 60 tons and was 150 feet long. On the end of the shaft, was a scew propeller weighing in at just over 36 tons, which gave the ship a top speed of nearly 14 knots. ( 27km/h ) Before this could all be tested out though, The Great Eastern hit a snag, and on the scene come's the second famous Smethwick Company, Tangyes. Stuck on the slipway in Milwall, it began to look like a permanent fixture until the huge hydraulic rams made by the firm arrived. Launched in 1858, her designer never lived to see the maiden voyage in 1859. Rather a good job really, for off the south coast she suffered a boiler explosion which killed 5 stokers, and badly damaged the vessel. The ship was never a commercial success, and is better remembered for the laying of a great many Telegraph Cables. She sailed many thousands of miles under the power from those Boulton and Watt engines, every single part of which had been cast, and machined in Smethwick. She was finally scrapped in 1889, a task in itself, as it  took  2 years to dismantle her.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 9, 2011 at 3:32 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Smethwick, Richard Tangye, Brunel.


Richard, James ,and Joseph Tangye, a famous surname in Smethwick. Not only here either, their name, painted on the wall of the factory, could be seen by all the passengers who travelled through the region by Train. Not a local family though, they came from Illogan, Cornwall, where their Quaker father was a farmer. The three brothers were well educated, Richard becoming a School Master. James and Joseph were apprenticed as wheelwrights and Blacksmiths, after spending many happy hours with their grandfather, in the Engine House of a local mine. It was the machines that facinated this pair. When he was 20, Richard secured a job with a small Birmingham engineering company as a clerk, and decided, with his brothers expertise, to start up a company himself. James and Joseph meanwhile, had come up with a working model of a Hydraulic Press, and had been given great praise by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. ( pops up everywhere does Brunel ) For 4 shillings a week, they rented a small workshop in the grimy back streets of Birmingham, where Richard and James hammered hot metal into shape, and Joseph set to work on a Lathe. It was hard graft, but they struck gold when one of Brunels agents turned up, in 1856, and asked if they could produce enough Hydraulic Jacks to help launch the Great Eastern. ( Which was well and truly stuck on the stocks in London ) This they did, and Richard was later to say, " We launched the Ship, and the Ship launched us ". The workshop was no longer big enough, so another was rented for 10 shillings a week, and Richard retired to the office to look after the firms accounts, and drum up more business. Venturing into the Black Country, demonstarting the power of their Jacks, soon bought in more work so they built a bigger factory in Clement Street, Birmingham, in 1864. The company continued to grow, and by 1867, the works were far too small so they found a site just over the border, within sight of Matthew Boulton and James Watts Soho Foundry. Today it's called the Cornwall Road Industrial  Estate.

Covering over 3 acres, they were soon employing over 400 men, and just for good measure, they painted the firms name on the factories large walls. " CORNWALL WORKS, TANGYE BROS., HYDRAULIC ENGINEERS. If you look carefully, the name can still be seen today. That name.so prominant on the wall, bought in an American gentleman, who had the plans for a new type of Direct-Acting Steam Pump. The brothers decided to build it, under licence, and earned a fortune from it. As the name and reputation grew, so did the number of products they produced, bringing much needed employment to Smethwick. Richard Tangye loved comparisons, so it's not surprising, that this one found it's way into the companies advertising leaflets.


A.D. 1586...Fontana raised an Obelisk in Rome with 40 Capstans and worked by 960 men, and 75 Horses.

A.D.  1836... Le Bas, raised the Luxor Obelisk in Paris with 10 Capstans and worked by 480 men.

A.D.  1878... Mr John Dixon, raised Cleopatra's Needle in London. with 4 Tangyes Patent Hydraulic Lifting Jacks, worked by just 4 men.


Well thats progress for you, and all from a tiny part of England called Smethwick. Illustrations in the Gallery.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 1, 2012 at 3:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Smethwick, George Muntz, IMI Metals.


Already mentioned in this topic, is the name of George Frederick Muntz. Muntz, who lived in Handsworth, at Lea Hall Farm at one time, solved a problem that had been devastating the countries trade for centuries, how to prevent the ships carrying goods around the world from rotting. Many coating had been tried, Lead, Pitch, and Copper. ( which was very expensive ) In 1829, in his Elliot Street, Birmingham rolling mill, he came up with a formulea, 60% copper, 40% zinc, and a touch of iron, that could be rolled, red hot, into sheets thin enough to be riveted to ships hulls. The trade called this " Yellow Metal ", or Muntz Metal. Soon, the works were not big enough and Muntz purchased the old foundry of James Watt Jnr, in Smethwick, on the eastern side of the Railway, not far from Soho. Even this site was not big enough, so he then purchased, in 1840, The French Wall Foundry, on the western side of the Railway line, bordering on Alma Street, Smethwick. The site also contained its own small canal basin, and later, was linked to the goods yard at Smethwick Station, adding to its easy transport system, which was just one of the reasons the firm did so well. In 1838, just 50 ships used the improved metal sheathing, but by the time the firm moved again, this time to South Wales, over 500 ships world-wide were protected by his yellow metal. In 1857, when his patent expired, the company began producing ship fittings from the metal, nuts, bolts, in fact anything subject to the corrosive elements of the sea. There were up to 200 men employed by the company, in Alma Street, in rolling the yellow metal, which of course made George Muntz, and later his son, very wealthy men. Today, its part of IMI Metals Division, still producing corrosion resistant fastening, although they do not today, produce the level of pollution that the Smethwick of old had to contend with. There were still some of the old building, standing in Alma Street, when I worked for a Steel and Hardware company on the site back in the 1970s. Iron framed windows were every where, but sadly, not made from the favoured yellow metal.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 17, 2012 at 3:46 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

The whole area during World War I, seemed to have been taken over by the war effort. Vehicles, Guns, Ammunition, and all the spare parts needed to keep it all working. This required a great deal of man-power, and of course, a great deal of woman-power. Those men who had a vital skill, were exempted from Military service, Thomas Firkins, as a highly skilled Toolmaker, was one of them. He had been born in 1887, in Aubry Road, Quinton, which was then part of Halesowen, but had worked most of his life in Smethwick. On the morning of the 19th July, 1916, he set off for work on his trusty bicycle. His route took him along the Hagley Road towards Birmingham, then a left turn into Bearwood Road, a right turn further on and he was in Waterloo Road, straight on down Windmill Lane, left into Soho Street, and a final right turn at the canal bridge and down Rabone Lane, his destination being the Handsworth Destructor Works, in Cornwall Road. That day, he never arrived. Just opposite Cornwall Road, was Foundry Lane, the home of the Smethwick Gas Compay, several other works, and the famous Soho Foundry, now owned by W. & T. Avery.  From out of the gates, issued a works van, loaded with urgently needed material, and the driver, ( unnamed ) was in a bit of a hurry. As he turned out of Foundry Lane, he met Thomas Firkins, who was turning into Cornwall Road. It wasn't a happy meeting. Firkins was knocked off his bicycle, ending up under the van, with a fractured leg. Thomas Firkins decided to sue for damages.


In Court, W & T Avery claimed that the accident was Firkins fault, as he been riding in a most reckless manner, attaining a speed so great that he misjudged the turn, lost control, and ran into the Van. Firkins claimed that the van had come out of Foundry Lane so fast, he was on wrong side of the road, and had forced him to abandon his bicycle, in order to escape being seriously injured. To Avery's surprise, the Judge, having listened carefully to the evidence, weighed it up, and decided that although both sides had been at fault, awarded Thomas Firkins damages of £50, and ordered the Company to also pay the costs of the case. Now I doubt if you will find this particular case in the Company files, one of those times when the Balance was in favour of a little fish.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 6, 2014 at 3:55 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

The Red Cow.


I mentioned this Public House before, but at the time, I didn't have a suitable picture. I do now, so in acknowledgement that this is possibly the oldest business site in Smethwick, here it is.



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 4, 2016 at 7:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Now most folk know, that the old Soho Foundry, is in Foundry Lane. James Watt also had some works here as well. The area was original known as Soho, Handsworth, but time, and a few boundry changes have altered it bit now, for most of it is in Smethwick, It was from here, that James Watt and Company constructed the massive 500 ton engines, and the 36 ton propeller for the cutting edge technology of " The Great Eastern ".  Even they must have been surprised at the sheer size of the vessel, a wonder of the great age of Victorian engineering. I should also add, that the two photographs below, dated from 1857, are also an example of Victorian expertise.


Some idea of the scale, can be seen in the illustrations, and it's no wonder that the dockside attracted thousands of visitors. Other parts of the Black Country, are quick to point out, that some of the anchors for the Titanic, were made in Netherton, but compared with the sheer level of equipment supplied from the Soho Works for the Great Eastern, it's a drop in the ocean. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, may have been a great engineer, but he certainly miscalculated when it came to Launching this Leviathon of the sea.



Step forward a Birmingham company, Tangyes, whose hydraulic jacks saved the day, but cost Brunels company over £70,000. This made Tangyes famous, but they soon required bigger premises, and where did they choose, a site close to the Soho Works, in what later became known as Cornwall Road, named after the Works erected by Tangyes. Progress is an ever relentless driver, and W.T.Avery took over Soho Foundry and Works, and eventually, E.G.Wrigley established themselves in part of James Watt's old works. A firm of Toolmakers, they were soon making parts, and components for the growing Motor Trade. Foundry Lane was about to provide yet another form of Transport. In 1924, Wrigleys went into Liquidation, and a major customer, Morris Commercial Cars, bought the business, lock, stock, and 350 workers. 

They quickly produced a one ton Lorry, and followed this with products that became world famous. A Six wheeled vehicle, with independent axles, that could tackle almost any terrain in the world. Those who have long believed that Land Rover got there first, read on.



The first test vehicle was produced towards the end of 1924, and production, and continued improvements, followed year after year.


The design was a complete success, and the following years saw the companies vehicles in many countries, setting records, and showing just how adaptable it was. Morris Commercial also designed, and made Buses at the Soho Works.


Fire Engines, Heavy Lorries, and Military vehicles of all kinds



Their six wheelers were also the first overland types to be used for Expeditions and long range trips. You could say, they were the first, in a long line of Sports Utility Vehicles, that they started in the 1930s. The company also produced double decker Buses, which were a common sight around Birmingham and other cities during the period.



Morris Commercial left Foundry Lane in the late 1950s, and production was then transferred to their Adderley Works, in Birmingham.  The area continues to be a hive of industrial activity, and long may it last.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

September 29, 2016 at 12:15 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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