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Forum Home > Tale's from the region. > Darlaston, with Pictures.

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Darlaston, Furnaces, Gunmaking, Rubery Owen,


Just a small collection of humble cottages in the 17th century, although coal mining was already earning money for the local Lord of the Manor. The introduction of a blast furnace, in the 1780s, saw a rise in the population, and production of coal shot up. This lead to many more cottages being built, most of them, it has to be said, of poor construction. Samuel Mills took over what became Darlaston Green Furnaces, in 1806, and went on to become a wealthy man, his widow using some of money to build All Saints Church, in 1872. The Methodists arrived in the 1740s, and dispite severe opposition from some of the many miners, became established in the growing little Township. It wasn't the Coal or the Iron though, that put the name on the map, it was the Gunmaking Trade. This occupation was already established, in Wolverhampton, West Bromwich and Wednesbury, and it quickly grew in Darlaston. Most of the employment in the Black Country at the time, could rightly be called little short of slave labour, and it's a bit Ironic, that it was the Slave trade that drove the business to such success.



Lord knows just how many Guns, made in Darlaston, were traded in Africa, for slaves. Such was the demand at the turn of the century, that the Birmingham Gunsmiths were paying over the odds for gunlocks, and barrel's. Some of the items were of poor quality, the result of greed, by men who had not served a five year apprenticeship, and wouldn't have known a bit of quality, even if it had hit them on the head. All things come to an end however, and when the slave trade went, so did the majority of Gunsmiths. It did though leave behind a small hard core of expertise who went on to produced some really fine sporting guns. It also cleared the way for others to step in, and begin producing other items, like one Thomas Rubery, who, from humble beginnings, formed a partnership in 1893 with a certain John Tunner Owen. This company, Rubery Owen, bought untold wealth and prosperity to Darlaston, and splashed the Towns name all over the World. You also needed a few nuts and bolts to make guns, and many firms sprang up, a prominant name being Thomas Oliver, the local man, credited with inventing the first Bolt making machine. ( Bilston Museum ) Darlaston also produced one Richard Juggins, who was responsible for setting up the Wages Board, which determined the pay of the nut and bolt makers, in 1889. It all sounds really good doesn't it, but it must have a been a fearful place to live. Old pit mounds and open shafts all over the place, scarred waste land from previous use, smoke blackened streets and houses, and the constant thump of machinery. Mind you, I suppose most inhabitants today would welcome back those days, as it was recently described by some locals as a " Ghost Town ". 



The big firms have long gone, Rubery Owen, Guest Keen and Nettlefold, even the Railway has disappeared. It began in the 1970s, and hasn't stopped since, most of the people having departed to housing estates farther afield. The old mining industry has even come back to haunt those that have stayed. In 1999, a house in Moxley fell into an old unmarked mine shaft, luckily the tenant was on Holiday. When he returned, the house next door had been pulled down as well. Subsidence is every where, affectijng Church Street, Pinfold Street, Rough Hay, and even the Police Station in Victoria Park. Walsall Council have been forced to pull down all the high rise housing in recent years, carrying on where the Germans left off in the last War, when All Saints Church was distroyed in a air-raid on GKN. Lets hope things improve, Darlaston has one of the highest un-employment rates in the region, it deserves better after all the upheaval of the industrial revolution. Besides, thats the second time this year I have heard the term " Ghost Town ", the other time was in Halesowen, and although I don't believe in Ghosts, it sent a shiver down my spine.

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

August 12, 2011 at 3:23 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Darlaston, Methodists, Gun Locks, Fashion.


Following some serious concerns being raised, about the truly awful conditions in Darlaston, reports were submitted after a few planned,  but unannounced visits from Government appointed Inspectors. Some concentrated on the appalling housing, others on the working conditions. There were a few surprising findings, which went some way, to explain why very little was done in the way of improvements. There was, it appeared, no shortage of spiritual guidence for the population, in 1838 at least. The large Church, erected by public subscription no less, had, as it's rector, The Rev Charles Simeon, educated at Cambridge, and a well respected figure.



There were Independent, Wesleyan, and Primitive Methodist Chapels, all with Sunday Schools. The town boasted, not one, but two National Schools, again built by public subscription. By any standards of the time, the place appeared to be very well off. Appearences though can be deceptive, and most of the houses were described as being of very poor construction, as were the workshops which were attached to a great many. Sanitation was primitive in the extreme, with open sewers and cesspits. Many of the streets were little more than mud tracks, and the writer of this report, had seen better pathways on the rural farms of the country. There was no public subscription for this item though, most of the population were more content to spend their money on other pursuits. Drinking and gambling being just two. The main trade at this time was the making of Gun Locks, and as long as there was a War being waged somewhere, they were in the money. A good Lock maker could make between 8 and 15 shillings for a single lock, and turn out 2 a day. Consequently, they mostly only worked two days a week, spending the rest of the time enjoying themselves. Nobody seemed to have worked out, that by doing a full week, they could save money for harder times. Not only did they drink a great deal, they also ate well. The town was renowned for the choice of the finest Fish, Meat, and Poultry, to be had anywhere in the County, and it's Market was always crowded. There were other pastimes much enjoyed as well, the morals of the town matched the filthy conditions of the roads. Vice and immorality were to be found in almost every dark corner and allyway of the town, and the noise from the crowds attending Bull baiting and Cock fighting, were said to be heard in nearby Wednesbury. The Schools had a difficult job, not just teaching the ragged children how to read and write, but to teach them how to speak proper words, other than the vile and vulgar language they had learned fron their parents.



Despite all the wealth, most of the crumbling little houses barely had the scrappings of any furniture in them, other than a crudely nailed together table, and a few rough boarded beds. They were though, these rough and uneducated people, fiercely proud of the state of the areas coalpits and mines. Most miners seemed to think more of the pit that they worked in, than their wifes, which following the next observation, might make a bit of sense. The woman of the town drew a scornful response in one report. " They seemed to be round, like a barrel, and the clothes were as drab and colourless as the men's. Indeed, it was extremely difficult at times, to tell one from the other. That there were plenty of women in the town, was self evident, given the large number of children observed, although what sex they may be, is a matter of total guesswork ".  The inspectors had to careful where they walked as well. not just because of the mud and filthy sewage, flowing across unkept roads and streets either.



The constant mining, had caused the ground to weaken, and one could, at any time, vanish into a large hole that would suddenly open up. There were very few interviews attempted with the " natives ", they spoke, so it seemed to the inspectors, an incomprehensible form of language, that some doubted was actually english at all. There are some, even today, who have exactly the same trouble. Thankfully, the education that was so sadly lacking back in the 1840s, has made a great deal of difference in modern Darlaston. Well I'm assured by my friends that it has, but there again, they're a great bunch for a good joke.

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

December 3, 2011 at 4:37 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Rubery Owen, Gun Filers, Darlaston.


My thanks to a member of the site, for supplying a few family tales, and a bit of history of Darlaston. The family members worked for many years for Rubery Owen, at the Booth Street site. The earlist member told stories of the firms start, his job was making the frames for the Bicycles they first produced. Another worked making parts for the motor industry, and later, for aircraft production. Yet another was involved with the side of the business that made steel frames for a great many building projects, one of which, was the old stand, at Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Ground. A well remembered phrase, from the days of their youth, was calling someone a " silly juggins ". Only recently, was it discovered by the family, that the juggins referred too, was actually a real person. Apprently, the person was non other than Richard Juggins, born in the Town in 1843, who became the combined secretary of the Bolt Makers/Gun Filers Associations, and the Midland Counties Trade Frederation. During a strike, he supported a reduction in wages, and the setting up of a wages board. All very sensible during a recession, but it didn't go down very well, for some reason, with the part of working class.



Hence the title " Silly ", and a few words from some, that has a peticular reasonence today. " The working man will be the ruination of this country ", was the line, and looking back at all the strikes and arguments, it's a little difficult not to agree. There are some fond memories of the old Saint Georges Church as well, it was pulled down around 1975, and much favoured by the Owen family. Incidently, and I didn't know the next bit, in Church Street, stood an old Public house. I have mentioned the same name elsewhere on the site, so I was a bit surprised to learn the pub was called the " Why Not ". It's a small world we all live in at times, full of strange little facts, and once again, my thanks to the member for sharing a little history.

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

May 20, 2012 at 11:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

An insight into the many places covered by the website, are the sales of properties and the odd Estate. Some times the Auction Notices give the name of the owner, but the main area of interest, is the dicription of whats for sale. Here are a couple.


Darlaston Green Estate, sold by Robert Corbett, in 1845.

The freehold estate, covering 60 acres, was situated adjoining the Canal. and the newly built Grand Junction Railway. Forget the name, for the area was in no way as green as the title suggests, and as the discription will soon show. It had Mines, Minerals, Engine pits and much Machinery. Beneath what remained of it's once green pastures, were deposits of Ironstone. In order to encourage buyers, a shaft had been sunk, and the samples from the dark tunnels below, were strewn across the Pit Bank for inspection. Also up for auction, was the adjoining property, ( same owner ). This included a Cement Works, Engines, ( probably steam ) Mining shafts, numerous buildings, and and a working Quarry. Fairly extensive industry, across just 60 acres of land, which gives you some idea of how the landscape had changed in just 40 years.



Nor was it the only property up for sale that year, for in the Town itself, in Bell Street, someone had put up for sale an entirely new property. Called The Soho Works, which may have had something to do with the owners name, which was John Watts, it had a frontage on Bell Street, 100 feet in length. The new works were fitted with an 18 horse power Steam Engine, complete with Air Blowing equipment, 12 hearths for Blacksmiths, a Water well and Pump, Engine house, Chimney Stack, a Grinding mill and wheels, Annealing and Hardening Stoves, Wharehouse, Offices, and large yard. Altogether, a total of 1,320 square yards, and surrounded by a solid brick wall.The Watt's family business had hit a spot of financial trouble, as did many others, for times were hard in the Iron trade.

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

November 4, 2013 at 2:24 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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