The Early Industrialists in Flintshire
caution !! this is an initial draft ... these notes are on my server for safe keeping !!
The industrial revolution famously involved Lancashire cotton & calico, Yorkshire wool & worsted, Cheshire salt & silk, Staffordshire pottery & porcelain, Coalbrookdale pots & pans and Soho steam & engines ... but other seldom mentioned activities in Flintshire must be included - water transport, water power, lead, copper, iron & zinc smelting and coal ... all added impetus to the development of the Dee wharfs & the port of liverpool ... and all touched the industrial development of rural Cheshire at acton bridge.
There were no mines and no smelting at Acton Bridge but there was water power, river transport and intimate trade connections with the Liverpool merchants who knew all about the Flintshire entrepreneurs ... Flintshire was in the thick of it ... why?
Flintshire, the torrents of St Winifred & the Liverpool Port were exciting places in the 18th & 19th Centuries -
In 1798 Richard Warner in 'A second walk through Wales' described the scene -
- There we quickly saw marks of the considerable manufactures carried
on there, in the employment of the women and children, who were sitting at
the doors of the cottages, picking and preparing cotton for the mills in the
neighbourhood of the town. Its wonder working Well rendered it a place of
notoriety in former times, and its numerous manufactories and valuable mines
stamp it with much more real importance in the present day. The spring has
for some years been made subservient to much wiser, and more important,
purposes than the superstitious uses to which it was formerly dedicated. In
the short course of little more than a mile from its first appearance out of
the rock the torrent works one large corn-mill, four cotton manufactories
under the firm of the Holywell Cotton Twist Company, a copper and brass
work, one under the firm of the Mona Mine Company, the other under that of
the Parys Mine Company, hammer mills, where copper, brewing, and other
vessels are manufactured, a mill for drawing off copper wire, a calcinary of
calamine, and a building for making brass.
With all the noise, bustle, and appearance of business produced by these numerous manufactories, the little valley in which they stand may yet be called a picturesque scene, the only instance of that sort of beauty we had ever seen, blended with so much mechanism, and so many specimens of human art.
We began our tour of the manufactories with a visit to the great cotton works. This is an extensive and elegant building, erected about twenty years ago, in which the raw cotton, being first cleansed and picked, is spun into thread of a texture superior to all other brought to the market. For this excellence it is indebted to the copious stream that works the mill, which, not being affected by drought, floods, or frosts, always applies to the great wheel that moves the whole machine the same equal invariable power. The cotton work, till within these few years, employed one thousand people, but the same paralyzing effects of war have been produced here as in the other manufactories throughout the kingdom, by the reduction of their number to five hundred women and children. In this work the cotton, after having been previously picked by the poor of the town, is reduced to thread, being thrice carded, thrice roven, and once spun. The process is performed by the improved cotton machine, a stupendous piece of mechanism, the first view of which irresistibly impresses the mind with the idea of magic; here thirty or forty thousand wheels and spindles are seen moving in the most rapid manner, without any perceptible cause, spontaneously performing operations of the most curious nature, and in the most systematic, manner.
Nothing that we had seen, indeed, before, gave us so exalted a notion of human ingenuity as the work before us; of the extraordinary mechanical powers of that mind which could conceive, design, and bring to perfection, so vast and so complicated a machine as the cotton mills of Sir Richard Arkwright.
We next proceeded to the brass works where this compound metal is formed, and afterwards manufactured. The calamine used in its composition is brought from the great mines which cover the top of Pen-y-Bawn, being first roasted in order to divest it of the sulphur, with which, in the raw state, it is combined. It is then cleansed and separated from the lead also, which always accompanies it, and undergoes the process of calcination. A pounding mill next receives it, where a quantity of ground charcoal is mixed, and pounded with it. This compound is afterwards put into a crucible, containing alternately a layer of this compound, and another of small masses of copper, then the copper becomes completely united with the zinc, and the brass is produced. The plates procured by this process are oblong masses of metal, about fifteen inches long, eight broad, and two and half thick. These being baked, or made red hot in order to render them malleable, are placed between cylindrical rollers of immense pressure. Entering on one side in their original size and form, they are delivered on the other reduced in thickness to about half an inch, and increased proportionally in longitudinal extension. Again they are heated, and again pass through the cylindrical rollers, the process being repeated till the plates are reduced to the thickness required by the manufacturer.
These works are chiefly employed at present in making articles for the African Company, such as broad shallow pans for the procuring of salt from saltwater by evaporation, and manillas, small baubles, somewhat resembling a horseshoe in shape, between two and three inches in diameter, disposed of to the Africans, and by them used as current coin, being strung on a copper wire and worn round their waists.
Exclusive of these foreign articles, large pans and smaller utensils are made for the English market. The great vessels are formed out of fiat sheets of brass of a circular form, (cut to that shape by steel scissors worked by water) and a proper thickness, by being subjected to the action of heavy hammers worked by the same power, which beat upon them with such astonishing velocity as to give from one to eight hundred strokes in a minute. The utensil is held the while by a workman who sits at the side of the battering hammer, and continues moving it under the blows of the engine, till it has assumed the form required. A small peg then stops the motion of the waterwheel, the hammer loses its power in a moment, the intonations cease, and all is quiet and silent.
Quitting the brass works, we visited the copper mills, where the pigs of copper brought from Swansea and Stanley are again melted, cast into plates, reduced to the proper thickness, and cut to the requisite size by means similar to those made use of in the manufactory just described. It may only be observed, that the plates of copper are polished by the action of the cylindrical rollers, which give them in passing a most smooth and bright appearance.
This manufactory is chiefly occupied in preparing copper sheets for sheathing ships of war, and a large order is now getting ready for America. Most of the maritime powers have adopted this admirable method of defending their marine from the depredations of the worm but all differ with respect to the size and weight of the plates they use, Spain taking the largest, America the second size, and England the smallest. The copper nails, also, which fasten the sheets to the bottom of the vessel, and the great bolts of the same metal used in building men of war, are manufactured at the works of Holywell.
A Visit to the wire mills, where slips of copper are drawn into strings of any given thickness, by the action of an engine. that pulls them through holes bored in iron plates, concluded a survey of the most interesting, amusing, and instructive nature. The number of manufacturers employed in these works are about 600.
In 1860 'A Guide through North Wales, including Anglesey, Caernarvonshire' by William Cathrall & Andrew Crombie Ramsay added some detail -
FLINTSHIRE - That portion of this county which commences at the western
limits of the main limestone range, near to Prestatyn and the Point of Air,
at the mouth of the river Dee, and which passes near Holywell and Halkin to
the district of Mold, forms the most important lead-mining district in North
Wales. Commencing at Holywell, near to the celebrated Well, and taking a
course almost due south, and passing Mold into Denbighshire, there has been
traced an extraordinary mass of rock, termed a fault or slide, varying in
width from 1 yard to 10 yards. This fault is called the 'Gallop', from the
comparative straightness of its course. It intersects all the lead lodes,
disturbing their stratification, and in some cases absorbing them
altogether. This somewhat remarkable geological feature is the more
interesting, from it being supposed to act as a natural drainage to the
line of country through which it passes, and is most probably the main cause
of the enormous flow of water at the famous Well of St. Winifred, at
Holywell. Lead ores (galena, lead sulphide), mixed with zinc ores (blende or
sphalerite, zinc sulphide) lie in the veins, zinc carbonate (calamine) is
not found in carboniferous limestone.
Probably the oldest and most valuable mine in Flintshire is that of Talargoch, at present returning from 100 to 150 tons of lead ore monthly. Some years ago more than double this quantity was sampled from the mine. The engine house attached to it forms a conspicuous object from the Chester and Holyhead Railway, near Prestatyn. Talacre, the next mine, has yielded considerable quantities of lead ore, but at present its monthly returns are comparatively small. This mine is named after the seat of Sir Pyers Mostyn, on whose property it is situated. At Holywell is the celebrated Holywell Level Mine. The levels can be reached only in a boat, which is pushed by the miners through an adit or tunnel some hundred yards in length. The returns of ore from this mine have been enormous, and are still large. At Halkin is the celebrated Pant-y-go Mine, now exhausted, but from which the Grosvenor family realised, it is understood, more than half a million sterling profit. Rhosesmor mine now returns more than 100 tons of lead ore monthly, and from surveys made it is likely that the yield will be increased. Near Mold, westward, are Mount Pleasant, Maesysafn, and Westminster mines, all still productive and rich. From the Talargoch to the Westminster hundreds of other mines have been profitably worked, and in all directions, especially near Holywell, may at present be seen 'small ventures' made by the mining population. The sales of lead ore from the county are held fortnightly at Holywell, at the principal hotel; at each sale from 150 to 700 tons of lead ore are disposed of. The smelting firms represented at these sales have their works on the banks of the river Dee. Mr Eyton possesses extensive works near Mostyn - Messrs Courage and Co at the Upper Mills, Dee Bank, Bagillt - Messrs Walker, Parker and Co, also at Dee Bank - Messrs Newton, Keates and Co, at Bagillt.
The first lead smelting works on the Dee were established at Gadlys, near Bagillt, but were removed nearly 100 years ago, to the Upper Mills, now occupied by Messrs Courage. At the latter works the lead ore is smelted into pigs, and after being de-silverized the lead is manufactured into sheets, pipes, litharge, and red lead, all of which find a ready market at Liverpool. Frequently masses of silver, called cakes, are refined to the utmost purity, and they occasionally weigh from 2,000 to 5,000 ozs each cake. From Holywell to Greenfield there is a succession of mills and manufactories, employing the enormous water power arising from the overflow of the Well in its passage and fall to the Dee. This valuable watercourse affords power to two corn-mills, a brewery, two large flannel (formerly cotton) mills, a limestone crushing mill, an extensive paper mill, and also the large works for copper rolling of Messrs Newton, Keates and Co, copper smelters. At Greenfield there are spelter or zinc mills, and at Dee Bank Messrs Courage also manufacture spelter on a large scale.
The coal measures from Mostyn to Flint are extensive and productive, their extent inland varying much with the run of the limestone formation; but they are found to extend under the Dee to a considerable distance. At Englefield, Coleshill, and Bagillt, there are other collieries in profitable operation. At Holywell and Halkin are quarries of hydraulic and common limestone, also of cement stone, these all form a branch of lucrative trade with Liverpool.
But who were these entrepreneurs and their companies who fashioned this revolution in Flintshire and Liverpool?
Lead & Gadlys ...
Lead with a melting point of only 327°C was relatively easy to recover, little more than a camp fire was needed. The metal was highly malleable, ductile and noncorrosive, being particularly useful for water pipes, roofing ... and salt pans.
The London Lead Company was formed from a merger of Mines Royal Copper, The Ryton Company & The Governor Company for Smelting Down Lead with Pit Coal and Sea Coal. Often called 'The Quaker Company' they owned the Gadlys Lead Smelting Works and were smelting at Gadlys from 1704 to 1799.
In 1700 Flintshire was rural, it seemed not much had changed ... ever ... it didn't really have a middle class, just farmers and crafts. The local farmers made extra bucks from digging the odd bell pit and flogging the lead ores of Halkyn Mountain in the Holywell markets. Since before Roman times charcoal smelting had been practised on the mountain, it was a primitive affair, but lead was lead, and always in demand. Then the big guns came in from London, they had capital for pioneering investment and large scale risk. Flintshire mining and smelting became a model for the later rush of the industrial revolution. The mines got deeper and coal was used for smelting.
The pressure for industrial smelting came from a shortage of charcoal, local coal was available but coal required new furnace technology to indirectly heat the ore. Dr Edward Wright (-1728) and a group of London Quakers formed the Royal Mines Copper by Royal Charter initially in 1693 in Cumbria and then in Flintshire in 1695, they started smelting at Gadlys in 1704.
Capital was at risk ... poor unproductive leases, unproven technology, atrocious roads, incessant tribulations with war & pollution ... all added to the problems of wood shortages, flooding of the mines, remote customers and transport difficulties ... and all the time the threat of competition from imports ... and all before mentioning the parasites & predators intent on stealing and moral decay ... tippling, fighting, night rambling, foul language & other mischief ... immoral idleness ...
john freame organised the capital needed for investment in scale, Edward Wright organised the improved the reverberatory furnace technology to enable smelting with coal. This was a proud achievement, large scale capital investment by London merchants in risky new technology pursued by entrepreneurs with know how. As John Brunner & Ludwig Mond confirmed many years later at Winnington the industrial revolution required a traumatic marriage of expertise in capital investment & innovative technology ...
The Quaker Company was one of the first to solve the problems of separation of ownership & control of high technology and large scale. Their methods were instructive -
seizing the new opportunities which followed the 1688 revolution and the confidence that profits would no longer be confiscated by 'rent seeking' Bishops, Princes, Generals nor bureaucrats ...
raising the efficiency of diverse units employing innovative and developing technology by spreading best practice quickly
regular audits of financial and technical performance by trusted experts of identifiable sub units with standardised comparative measurements ... output, waste, quality, costs, stocks, cash ...
investment in human capital securing commitment & loyalty through education, training and well paid jobs with security & perquisites ...
Sidney Pollard recounts that in 1774 the company resolved that, 'the ore from the company mines and from each mine be kept in separate Bing steads at the several mills; and also the bought ore likewise separate of them' ... this trouble was taken to help management decisions; which department to expand, which to reform and which to close down ...
specialisation & scale necessarily involved delegation and delegation required management ...
Not a Welshman in sight; the only locals were underground digging? For sure the Welsh had the labour but the strangers had the profit ... But The Quakers, like the local Methodists instilled in the folk of Gadlys, Bagillt, Flint and Holywell a culture of hard work, honesty and thrift together with a deep respect for any business success which resulted from investment in risky innovation. The men at Gadlys were risking hard earned capital into something different ... reverberatory furnaces and coal. The business success was invigorating in a community familiar with the dominance of land as the only source of wealth ... there were now new jobs to be had ... for sure the work was hard and unhealthy ... but a job was a job, the babies needed feeding.
The Ryton Co, on Tyneside, was also successfully smelting lead from coal but important patents were held by The Governor Company which had crashed and become defunct. The Royal Mines Copper, The Ryton Co & The Governor Company for Smelting Down Lead with Pit Coal and Sea Coal were amalgamated as a joint stock charter company in 1706. London Lead Company or The Quaker Company or The London (Quaker) Lead Company was less of a mouthful.
Chester, then Frodsham and Sankey were initially export shipping ports but from 1500 and the voyages of discovery, the deep water docks at Liverpool became busier and busier ... by 1715 imports were flowing bigtime ... it seemed the odds were stacked against The London Lead Company ... but at least in the early years it was a very profitable business.
Initially the smelting impetus came from local coal but this immediately produced a sulphur pollution problem, and how the local community suffered ... but eventually ingenuity turned acid rains into valuable by products as the early pioneers solved the problems of pollution by profitable production of sulphuric acid which began to power much of the chemical industry.
When the South Sea bubble burst in 1720 a perverse consequence was that The Royal Mines Copper was forced to justify their charter. That was easy. The London Lead Company was not a speculative con trick, they had real assets, making real money, through successful patentable technological innovation ... they survived all slumps in good nick, and investors queued up to join the action!
In 1728 Edward Wright died and a generation of successful enterprise came to an end. James Creed took over on Wright's recommendation. James had impeccable credentials, a fellow of The Royal Society and a Director of The East India Company. The Barker family, as on site managing agents, were superb. Good staff were always an essential part of enterprise. The Barkers were not Quakers but they were paid well, they were efficient managers. Their accounts were 'audited' by a trusted Quaker, Abraham Watson who managed the northern mines. The agent/principle problem always needed constant attention. In 1728, when starvation was a real threat after poor harvests, the London investors shipped in food supplies ... corn, barley, wheat, and oats were available for the smelters in Gadlys. Starving miners were no use to man nor beast, this was good business practice.
In the early 1730s fortune began to turn, business was a constant struggle. Creed was replaced and a new General Court of shareholders was elected. Old man Thomas Barker died in 1725 and the competent sons took over a thriving business but growth had bought more complexity and the mines proliferated and inevitably became deeper and further removed from Gadlys ... diminishing returns set in ... labour became expensive ... thieving was rife ... more collieries were added and more shareholders were pressing for more growth ... balancing the accounts became too complex for Thomas Barker and delayed reporting meant delayed dividends ... nothing specific just difficulties ... problems of success and the essential need for ongoing technological innovation in the face of competition ... lawsuits and the blame game followed ... reports were now full of the glowing prospects for next year rather than the previous catalogues of last years successes ... competitive advantage was always slender and temporary ... and when Thomas Barker resigned in 1733 claiming gout and a sore throat, the extent of his private competitive interests were uncovered, including involvement with the famous Cheadle Brass & Copper Company in partnership with Thomas Patten of Warrington. However it seemed relationships with Gadlys remained good and some contract work followed. Thomas' young brother Anthony took over Gadlys in 1733.
Flooding of the mines was perpetual and investment in Newcomen's 'fire engines' started in 1733. The engines arrived in Trelogan and Gadlys from London at considerable expense, but they were considered a 'life saving' investment.
Transport was difficult. The mine at Llangunog was an impossible 40 miles from Gadlys and capital was 'wasted' on a new smelting works at Coalbrookdale ... in 1735 Llangunog was closed ...
The baleful influence of taxation continued ... unintended consequences of a canalised Dee resulted in a levy on Bagillt lead which did not need access to Chester ... the lead brokers had found a profitable distribution niche using lead as ballast on the Parkgate cheese ships ...
Eventually the Irish silver mines were closed in 1738 in an atmosphere of retrenchment.
In 1739 the company won a court case against the estates of the old Court of Assistants for 'unwarranted' loans by the Company to individual investors in the South Sea Bubble. From this windfall the company recovered its poise and paid continuous dividends from 1743 to 1800. In 1731 John Freame became Deputy Governor, John was a financial wizard ... he invested in gilts during good times and borrowed to pay the divi in bad times ... the London Lead Company became a gilt edged stock. Silver 'cakes' were refined to purity, John Freame knew about bullion! John died in 1745 but his son Joseph kept the bandwagon rolling.
Wars were again disruptive for trade ...
Diversification into mines in Derbyshire at Brassington were tried and fresh attempts to mine in the Isle of Man came to nought. Repeating Edward Wright's success proved impossible and in April 1772 The Duke of Atholl generously purchased some of the Company's interests ... more accounting foibles at Gadlys were revealed and John Freame would have been clear; the capital employed would have been better invested in securities on the market exchanges in London!
Gadlys had started smelting with reverberatory furnaces from 1704, robust production lasted until 1786. In 1796 Thomas Pennant reported that the furnaces at Gadlys were pulled down in 1786 and production moved to the Alfred Courage site at Upper Mills Bagillt, built by Messrs Smedley on the bank above the Dee? There the lead was desilverised and processed into sheets, pipes, litharge and red lead which still found ready markets through the brokers in Liverpool ...
The mines in Wales were sold on the 13th of September 1792 to a Mr John Griffiths for a modest £700 ... the affair was finally settled in 1799 ... hopes were higher on Alston Moor? ...
For sure many others had a go at making things work, and many were profitable ... folk like William Champion and John Budd continued to innovate and their zinc technology gave the industry a fillip ... James Watt's improved engines helped keep the mines dry and great technology bored the Milwr Tunnel to the Dee at Bagillt ... but as Liverpool thrived, slowly comparative advantage ebbed away from Flintshire and more and more lead was imported from abroad in exchange for the new technology of engines and tunnels which was more productively employed overseas ... and above all bankers like john freame earned the trust and capacity to deploy capital where ever and when ever profitable opportunities arose ... and that was no longer in Flintshire ... such was the relentless change associated with Ricardian comparative advantage and Darwinian adaptation ...
Copper & Holywell ...
Copper was a useful metal malleable, good electrical & thermal conductivity, resistant to corrosion & fatigue, ideal for coinage & drawing and it took an attractive polish. However smelting was more difficult than lead as it involved a higher temperatures and investment in large furnaces ... the location had to be critically near the ore and the fuel source ... and ware power was needed for batteries for higher value artefacts ... investment funds were needed ... it was no coincidence that the Quaker pioneers in Bristol and Thomas Patten in Warrington accumulated capital from their trade in sugar & tobacco (see below) .... particularly sugar refiners where copper vessels for concentration of syrups were highly valued and much superior to iron ...
Bronze an alloy of copper & tin (88/12) was known in Cheshire from around 1500 BC. Copper ores were found in abundance in Parys Mountain, Anglesey from the 1770s and some in the Great Orme. Cassiterite, tin oxide, SnO2 made Cornwall famous but copper was also there in abundance. Copper & tin were amongst the first metals to be exploited because their extraction from their ores was relatively easy. The ores could be smelted with wood and charcoal at relatively low temperatures, copper at 1083°C, tin at 1200°C. Bronze had a significant impact on history because it could take an edge and was hard enough to make weapons which were heavier, stronger, and more resistant to impact damage than their wood, bone or stone equivalents. It was also used for all sorts of tools and household utensils - chisels, saws, nails, shears, knives, needles, pins, jugs, pots, cauldrons, mirrors, horse harnesses and much more.
Interestingly the Cornish tin mining took off early as the rich ores were found in the top 50 fathoms of strata, whereas the copper ores were generally more inaccessible at 100 fathoms and required greater skills in 'hydaulicks' and 'mechanicks' ...
Brass a mixture of copper & zinc (70/30) was smelted by the Romans from mixed ores and was known to Babylonians and even zinc metal was made in India way back. The Romans used brass for the production of 'gold' coins and the especially prestigious golden coloured helmets.
Pewter was also around an alloy of tin, lead (3.5%) & small amounts of copper 1.5%.
The copper mining centres were in Cornwall & later Anglesey, with a significant concentration of smelting in Swansea, where good quality coal was at hand.
bristol became a centre for 'calamine brass' in the early 18th century. In Flintshire after extraction of the more valuable lead, brass was obtained from calcining the residual zinc blende ores and heating the mixture with copper and charcoal to produce the alloy.
The Germanic cultures in Germany, Sweden & the Netherlands led the way with expertise in metallurgy but the Industrial Revolution took off in Britain with the establishment of diverse individual freedoms to accumulate trade surpluses and invest such profits in large scale production in centralised manufactories ...
Thomas Patten (1690-1772) established a family copper smelting works at Bank Quay, Warrington in 1717 bringing copper by boat from Ireland and Cornwall directly to the works. The Patten family had arrived in Warrington in 1536, and by the middle of the 17th century had settled in Patten Lane, off Bridge Street, as merchants dealing in a wide range of commodities including tobacco, sugar and tea.
Patten was also involved with a brass foundry in Cheadle on the Staffordshire coalfields. The Cheadle Company originated in the Brookhouses area of Cheadle in 1719 and Thomas Patten formed The Cheadle Brass & Copper Company in 1734. Thomas Patten & Co transferred production to the Oakamoor area 100 years later.
Thomas Barker (-1739), a Holywell man, probably alerted Patten to the attractions of Greenfield as Barker was a partner in the Cheadle activities before he left Gadlys in 1733. Maybe it was the potential of this company to participate in the rise of the Liverpool slave trade which led him to leave lead for brass & copper?
From 1750 zinc ores were engrossed at Holywell and in 1765 calamine was processed to service the brass industry in Cheadle (and Macclesfield).
In 1755 much the same partners founded the 'Warrington Company' to operate battery factories in Greenfield. In 1765 the company opened the first and the biggest mill site in the Greenfield Valley when they opened The Battery Pool and four brass & copper mills.
By 1772 the company opened a new smelter at Stanley, St Helens, and in 1790 they set up a smelting works on the coalfield between Swansea and Llanelly at Penclawdd. They were followed into Swansea 5 years later by the famous Bristol Brass & Copper Company.
In 1851 the Patten company was purchased by Thomas Bolton of Birmingham. In 1892 Bolton’s opened a factory at Froghall, in North Staffordshire for the production of high conductivity copper for telegraphy and electrical generators. The Oakamoor works were eventually closed in 1963.
The Pattens realised the importance of the river Mersey and were responsible for making it navigable from Runcorn to Bank Quay, enabling Warrington to be used as a key distribution point for inland trade. The proximity of the Lancashire coal fields was also relevant - 1 ton of copper required 10 tons of ore and approximately 30 tons of coal ... Cheadle, St Helens & Swansea were all close to coal ... factory smelting location became a 'no brainer' ... but the Greenfield site was attractive for water power for the battery mills and also proximity to the Liverpool trade, and not because of Flintshire coal which was relatively expensive; small deep seams and liable to flooding ... sea and canal transport costs were constantly in the Patten calculations which involved Anglesey ore, St Helens coal, Greenfield batteries and Liverpool trade ...
This trade was so successful that by the mid 18th century the local merchants had become important members of the landed gentry. By 1750 Thomas was able to commission James Gibbs to build the fine country house in Warrington - Bank Hall.
The Patten fortune was largely built on the infamous slave trade as their works produced copper bangles & nicknacks which traded for slaves in Africa and also the great coppers used to boil sugar and distil rum in the West Indies.
Thomas Williams (1737-1802) of Llanidan was even more successful than Patten and became the World No 1 in copper. His copper was originally mined in Anglesey and in 1774 he founded the Parys Mine Company, a vertically integrated company which involved taking the ore to Swansea and Ravenhead, St Helens for smelting.
Thomas saw the advantage of water power in the Greenfield Valley and, of course, the Holywell stream already hosted several extensive copper mills.
In 1781 Thomas established his manufacturing operations in the valley, The Greenfield Copper & Brass Company, the first copper forge, wire & rolling mill was erected for rolling sheet copper.
In 1783 they erected another, a hammer mill, the Greenfield Battery Mill, for the manufacture of copper vessels, sheets, pots & pans.
In 1787 The Meadow Mill produced rolled copper sheets for the Williams companies.
The copper ingots came to the valley to be made into items for the slave trade, but more importantly, into copper sheets and bolts. The sheets were famously used for cladding wooden ships and prevented the torada worm from eating into the hull and causing the bottom of the ship to fall out. Corrosion problems with iron bolts was the spur for Thomas to invent special copper bolts to secure the sheets to the hulls of the ships. The bolts were made to a secret formula and manufactured under a patent which many countries tried to steal. Both the Royal and merchant navy had copper bottomed ships and it was suggested that this practice made the ships faster and more manoeuvrable at Trafalgar, giving Nelson his victory. The royal dockyards were supplied with copper sheathing and rudder bands, prior to the establishment of similar works by government at Portsmouth. Copper sheets from the hull of HMS Victory can be seen at the museum in the Greenfield Heritage Park.
By 1785 it was clear that Williams was extraordinarily successful. Technical expertise, aggressive selling, diversification, rationalisation and a stream of innovative products ensured continuing success after the African trade was pulled. The works of Thomas Williams were the only ones to come close to fulfilling all three smelting criteria of ease of access to ore, coal and the consumer ... he mined close to the Amlwch Port, he smelted on the coalfields, he manufactured by water power, he shipped via coast, river and canal to his customers in Liverpool without transhipment ...
In 1785 Thomas Williams set about securing his dominant position in the industry when he formed a new group of companies which included The Greenfield Copper & brass Company which purchased the existing copper processing operations of The Warrington Company. A significant partner was John Wilkinson, from Bersham, who started to supply robust iron water wheels for the Greenfield mills.
Thomas also bought into the mines on Parys Mountain owned by Nicholas Bayley, Lord Uxbridge, half of which was operated by Charles Roe and The Macclesfield Copper Company. Thomas formed the Mona Mining Company in 1785. Bayley was in financial difficulties as a result of Thomas' competitive success and no doubt welcomed him as a partner.
A second smelting operation at Stanley, St Helens resulted from a take over the Warrington Company ... more incestuous intrigue amongst these pioneers ...
The St Helens smelters at Ravenhead and Stanley were increasingly cost effective once calcining was done at the Anglesey mines
Later in 1774 after Patten's death, Thomas purchased the Cheadle Brass & Copper Company ...
The successful near monopoly of the copper trade appeared to be a case of 'the second mouse getting the cheese'. Thomas Patten and Charles Roe pioneered businesses which, after their deaths, became parts of the williams empire. T C Barker explained Williams' dominance of the industry in 1954.
In 1787 the new Meadow Mill was erected by The Greenfield Copper & brass Company. An extensive building which also manufactured copper cylinders under a patent, which after being engraved with various patterns were used in the printing of calicos & muslins. This was the technology which was under competitive threat in 1835 from John Budd's zinc cylinders which were manufactured at Acton Bridge, on the River Weaver ...
In 1806 a new mill was erected for drawing copper wire, which was manufactured into copper nails and spikes for the government. But there were changes in production techniques as power hungry battery of copper & brass was replaced by the introduction of casting. By 1815, some 13 years after Williams' death the two copper smelters at St Helens were closed down as a result of the decline in output from the two Anglesey mines, and competition from South Wales as Swansea began to specialise in shipment of imported ores from Chile. There was also trouble with the Dee silt and the Greenfield wharf became problematical for 40/50 ton vessels at a time when bigger vessels were increasingly used. And on it went, the collieries were flooding, steam engines became an economical source of power and Muntz metal from Birmingham was a better bet for the sheathing of ships ... and after the defeat of Napoleon even the navy order book declined. The Williams works changed hands and persevered but the halcyon days were over ... the Williams family finally withdrew in 1825 as John Bibby, Sons & Co and Chilean imports became unstoppable ...
These several mills of the Greenfield Valley, all of which were worked by the same stream, formed conspicuous and extensive structures throughout the valley, in their prime more than 1000 tons of copper were annually manufactured and more than 100 persons were constantly employed.
There were, of course, also mills for rolling sheet lead and for casting and drawing patent lead pipes, and for the manufacture of white and red lead ...
The copper mills were eventually closed but somewhat later than the cotton mills ...
Cotton & The Greenfield Valley ...
The Greenfield Valley runs a mile or so from St Winifred's gushing well in Holywell to the Dee estuary at Greenfield. The monks of Basingwerk were the first to harness the water power of the great stream and after the dissolution milling continued and by 1700 the mill count was 3 corn, 2 fulling & 2 snuff with a lime kiln and malt kiln also operational. Through marriage, purchase and, no doubt, intrigue the land ownership from Holywell to Bryn Celyn was consolidated into the estate of the Pennants of Bagillt and the remainder down to Greenfield was owned by the Mostyns of Talacre. There were three summaries of the remarkable histories of the Greenfield Valley, one penned by Thomas Pennant himself - 'The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell' by Thomas Pennant, 1796. A flintshire historical society publication; 'The Cotton Spinning Factories of Flintshire: 1777-1886' by Edward J Foulkes, 1964 and a later thesis from 1986 by Kenneth Davies.
As early as 1590 a lead smelting works had been established in the valley by a couple of London merchants, Samuel Fleet & William Radcliff. But this led to foul fumes and acid decimation of the local vegetation and an angry mob closed down this initial foray of foreign capital into idyllic Greenfield. The return to relative tranquillity was tempered only by the presence of the inevitable iron forge. As at Acton Bridge, among the first to welcome water power were the local blacksmiths.
From the early days of industrialisation the reliable water flow powered a variety of mills, with a series of dams stepping down the steep sided valley enabling the factories to tap the available perpetual motion ... and with the help of flushing pools, the focused flow formed a natural creek through the silts of the Dee for shipping ...
By 1710 a red lead mill was operating in the valley, and then came a flood of outside investors; Robert Piggot (Earl Grosvenor's Steward), Benjamin Perrin & Robert Smedley were all involved. Thomas Hart of Newcastle under Lyme opened a wire mill. The Barkers and James Creed from Gadlys, Jonathan Robinson from Chester and John Hall owner of the old forge were all associated with a range of factory operations involved in wool, lead, copper, brass, wire, pins ... and cotton & paper ...
Interestingly in 1730 lead smelting once again generated confrontations with the local landowners as the Mostyns tried to retrieve the green leaves from their trees & vegetation via the local courts.
Pennant detailed the early investments in the 18th century which climbed up the valley, 11 sites & falls in total -
10½ft above the marsh - Parys Mine Company - copper forge - the ancient corn mill of the Abbey became a paper mill
21½ft - Greenfield Copper & brass Company - old copper forge Greenfield - originally an iron ore mill became Smedley's white & red lead works.
21½ft - Parys Mine Company -
a tilting mill and iron wire mill of Hart & Co of Yorkshire. By 1764 a
second iron mill passed to the Chambers family and became a steel wire mill,
'a pin mill, and then a coarse paper mill warehouse. By 1783 it was in the
hands of the cotton company.
The oldest snuff mill of Edward Jones joined the old corn mill which the Twist Company demolished.
1787 - Greenfield Copper & brass Company - Thomas Williams 'The Meadow Mill'
23ft - Parys Mine Company - copper rolling mill - 1766 Mr Patten. 'The Upper Paper Mill' before ownership went to The Parys Mine Co.
28ft - Cotton Twist Company - Lower Cotton Mill - 1785 Daniel Whittaker et al.
21½ft - Greenfield Copper & brass Company - copper rolling mill
23½ft - Greenfield Copper & brass Company - brass battery mill - originally two snuff mills established by Peter Parry, a tobacconist, were demolished to give the battery mill a larger head.
13½ft - Cotton Twist Company - Crescent Cotton Mill
11½ft - Cotton Twist Company - Old Cotton Mill - prior to 1733 an old smelting works of Madam Kay & Co did great damage to the Mostyn woodland. Passed to Mr Champion and operated by the Bristol Company calcining 'Black Jack'
20ft - Cotton Twist Company - Upper Cotton Mill - 1777 Mr Smalley.
7½ft to springhead - Cotton Twist Company - corn mill erected as a replacement for the old corn mill
Total fall 202½ft
The Greenfield Valley was attracting entrepreneurs and capitalists like a magnet. The overall ambiance was one of investment risk & rewards from an incestuous groups of outside entrepreneurs, many of them Quakers, all wheeling and dealing for mutual advantage but many of them experiencing the heartbreak of the all too regular bankruptcies. The same names crop up again and again ... there was money to be made in the Greenfield Valley and it was easy to see why -
- water power from a fall of over 200 ft in 1½ miles
- Liverpool was only 2½ hours sailing time away and Africa & America beckoned
- Bristol, Plymouth, London & Ireland were within reach directly from the Dee wharfs
- lead, silver, zinc, lime and coal were all close at hand
- a community of London merchants and Quakers provided a trusting network of fellow investors, typically the Liverpool merchants went into Lancashire coal and Cheshire salt ...
John Smalley (1729-1782) from Preston, went in cotton big time, he was a banker and backer of Richard Arkwright himself ... also from Preston. John was originally a liquor merchant and house painter and he advanced nearly all the money required for Arkwright's initial experiments on his water frame. Fearing Luddite destruction in the Lancashire cotton towns he moved to Cromford, Derbyshire with Arkwright but the partnership crumbled after Smalley ran out of money and they quarrelled as ambitious Arkwright found richer backers in Messrs Need of Nottingham and Strutt of Derby, both prosperous hosiery manufactures. John Smalley left Arkwright in 1775 and with him, of course went the secrets of the water frame! In 1777 he moved to Holywell and went into partnership with John Chambers who ran a coarse paper mill and a wire mill in The Greenfield Valley with his mother. The Chambers building by the torrents was site of the old corn mill of the monks of Basingwerk. The valley had magnificently powerful waters, was within easy reach of Liverpool and had an established factory environment. There in 1777 they built the first cotton mill in the valley, 'The Yellow Mill', a three storied building constructed with stones from the ruins of Basingwerk Abbey with a 15ft wheel and a fall of 11ft 6in.
In 1782 after being sued by Arkwright for infringing his patents John died at the young age of 53. Chambers went bankrupt around the same time. Cotton was about to boom with the expiry of the Arkwright patents and his widow Elizabeth Smalley continued the business with her son Christopher. Elizabeth Smalley was not short of investment partners, but partners had to be chosen with care, trust and management skills were essential complements to capital.
The Upper Mill was built in 1783 and the Lower Mill in 1785. The Lower Mill was the grand cotton mill, powered by the waters of St Winifred, which attracted the investment attention of Daniel Whittaker in 1785 ... a much better bet than Acton Bridge ... and what an investment!
The Flintshire Record Office, D/DM/299/6, detailed an important cotton project from 1785 -
Co-partnership indenture 1 January 1785
(i) Thomas Douglas of Grantham, co. Lincoln, esq.
(ii) William Douglas of Pendleton, co. Lancaster, merchant.
(iii) Daniel Whittaker of Manchester, co. Lancaster, merchant.
(iv) Elizabeth Smalley of Holywell, co. Flint, widow.
(v) Peter Atherton, late of London, but now of Holywell, merchant.
Assignment by (i) - (iv) to (v) of one fifth share in messuages, cottages, lately erected cotton mill, lately erected corn mill and other buildings and lands, weirs, mill-ponds, banks, mill-races, streams and watercourses, and one fifth share in buildings formerly called the Upper Paper Mill, and in land called the lower part of the Long Meadow, and an 18 ft fall of water, and in a lately erected skin house and yard, all in Holywell, for the residue of several terms of years affecting them; assignment from (i) - (iv) to (v) of four fifth shares in the sites of the lowest corn mill and of the 'Black Jack' works and messuages and lands in Holywell for the residue of a term of 99 years; terms, conditions and covenants specified.
The Cotton Twist Company of Holywell was born Thomas Pennant described the scene -
'At a small distance to the south of the manufactory of brass wire of every denomination, a most magnificent cotton works soars, like the tower of Babel, above all the lower buildings. I shall here only say, that about 10 weeks before its completion, nothing but a void appeared before me. At the expiration of that space, in another ride I took, I cannot express my astonishment at feeling the enormous mass risen, as if by magic, out of the ground. It was erected in the summer of 1785, it is 36 yards long, 10 yards wide and 6 stories high, and is worked with a water wheel 18 ft high and 7 feet wide with a fall of water of 16 feet ...'
No doubt by 1785 this 'magnificent' mill took advantage of all the recent technical & organisational innovations from around Manchester which spearheaded the textile industry and the industrial revolution -
1733 John Kay and his flying shuttle
1738 Lewis Paul & John Wyatt and their spinning rollers
1769 Richard Arkwright and his water powered frames
1770 James Hargreaves and his spinning jenny
1779 Samuel Crompton and his mule
1785 Edmund Cartwright and his power loom
The Lower Cotton Mill in The Greenfield Valley was a culmination of all this luxurious exuberance ... however the mill was a spinning mill and not involved in weaving ...
The new 1785 partnership included brothers Thomas & William Douglas and Peter Atherton in addition to Daniel Whittaker and the Smalleys, their ambition was unbounded and in 1790 a fourth six story mill was added, 'The Crescent Mill'. The mills collectively were known as The Cotton Twist Company of Holywell. 'The Upper Mill', worked 12,218 spindles, 'The Lower Mill', 7,492 spindles and 'The Crescent Mill', 8,286 spindles. 26,096 pounds of thread were produced in an average week, furnishing employment for nearly 1000 persons. In 1792 there was a warehouse in Sussex Street, Manchester and in 1796 Back Square, Manchester.
In 1793 The Manchester Mercury announced The Cotton Twist Company of Holywell 'was put and End to, on the twelth Day of November one thousand seven hundred and ninety' ...
Elizabeth Smalley's will of 1796 indentifies many of the partners and businesses ... An Iron Works in Merioneth. A Wire Mill and a Tilt Mill in Greenfield, Holywell. Several Cotton Mills and a Water Corn Mill in Holywell. The Holywell Cotton Twist Company. The Highest Cotton Mill, Holywell.
Christopher Smalley withdrew from the Holywell company in 1828. He also left a will in 1829 but it adds little to the story. He did venture into banking with Douglas, in Holywell & Mold. They were not successful.
Christopher had two younger brothers William (1858-) and John (-) who ran the Greenfield Wire Mill and a Tilt Mill which moved to Caerwys in 1795 but went bankrupt in 1806.
After the wars with France the cotton industry declined as the terms of trade changed and steam engines provided more flexible ... by 1841 The Holywell Twist Company went into liquidation and was sold. It was the turn of the flannel industry ...
(In 1840 there were reports of Smalleys selling cotton the
the Czar in Russia, perhaps a last attempt to keep the mills in business??
Robert Smalley (-), a cotton manufacturer, married Emma Lee (1818-73) from Hunslet, Leeds in St
Petersburg in 1840 and died sometime before 1851??
A John Whittaker (1827-), son of Robert, a tailor, had a joinery business in Oulton in partnership with George Lockwood. The business was dissolved in 1850s and John Whittaker left his wife Emma Lee, daughter Anne Whittaker (1854-) and step daughter Jane Lee Smalley (1841-) (daughter of Robert Smalley & Emma Lee) and went to India. John Whittakker and widow Emma Lee Smalley were married in Rothwell, Yorkshire in 1852.
... it is unclear where this lot fit in??).
Peter Atherton (-1799) was a machine builder and clock maker from Warrington who also helped Arkwright in the early days. Clock makers were clearly important in the development of the larger mechanical machines. Atherton diversified his interests and in 1783 he had joined William Douglass in a cotton venture in Pendleton. He was subsequently attracted to the success of the Smalleys in Holywell and took over the Holywell Cotton Twist Company. The firm also traded as Peter Atherton & Co.
Atherton later developed a merchanting business in Liverpool and invested in a cotton mill in Mold. By 1800 there was a mill on the River Alyn above Mold but by that time Atherton had died and the names associated with this 'Holywell look alike' were Hodson & Leigh ... cotton spinners from Manchester & Stockport ... and sold on to Thomas & William Bateman and Samuel & Thomas Knight ... the mold cotton twist company ... there were a lot of Manchester men interested in North Wales around the end of the 18th century!
In the 1790s Peter Atherton became a partner in Philips & Lee of The Salford Engine Twist Company. Atherton left in 1794 and established a cotton spinning company in Liverpool until his death in 1799.
Thomas Douglas (1732-87) and William (1745-1810) were brothers, sons of John Douglas (1707-62), an innkeeper in Hyde Park Road.
Originally cloth merchants they made a name in cotton manufacture.
Thomas was High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1776 and student of the turf, with estates all over the place Cambridge, Cheshire, Flint, Lanark, Lincoln, Middlesex and more cotton mills in Lancashire.
Brother William his business partner. He had his own company, William Douglas & Co, cotton spinners & merchants. He was Constable of Manchester in 1780.
These Lancashire merchants were an incestuous lot, the same names cropped up again and again ... but together they built the backbone of the industrial revolution and transformed Flintshire ...
The Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery holds an intriguing relic of this transformation ... a silver 8 reale stamped with the letters 'HCTCo' ... could this be The Holywell Cotton Twist Company on a Mexican silver dollar?
In 2005 Eric Hodge wrote a fascinating summary of the cotton twist activities in The Greenfield Valley which was published in The Numismatic Circular. The article develops the important insight that these industrial pioneers were not only wrestling with new technology but also confronting the interminable problems of trust in the frenetic atmosphere of burgeoning economic exchange activity in a wage economy.
The historians of the industrial revolution have clearly recorded the break though benefits of innovative technology in manufactories and the associated problems of congestion, pollution & squalor ... but far less well understood were the innovations in credit, banking & specie which made it all possible ...
The wool merchants in the West Riding of Yorkshire were wrestling with the same problems of how to finance the industrial revolution ...
Iron & Bersham ...
Bersham iron working had a long prehistory. Iron gave its name to an 'age' from 500 BC when the smelting of iron became an option using higher temperatures of 1535°C from forced draughts.
The first iron 'factories' were forges. bloomery furnaces processed magnetite by roasting and smelting with charcoal and silicate rock to form a 'bloom', a mix of iron & slag. In the spongy mix the iron was not molten and carbon did not dissolve in it. Wrought iron was produced by hammering out the slag, and this 'working' of the bloom resulted in residual 'fibrous' inclusions of slag which gave the wrought iron its malleable properties. Water wheels provide power for trip hammers and bellows. These forges ceased to be economic once pig iron was available.
abraham darby (1678-1717) laid the foundations for the mass production of iron at Coalbrookdale in 1709.
At Coalbrookdale Darby secured two technical breakthroughs -
a green sand casting method enabled pots to be made which were thinner though substantial and used less material. Green sand casting involved a mould cavity formed in the sand with wooded patterns and sand cores to form the internal passages.
coke replaced scarce charcoal as the fuel for the blast furnaces which produced the cast or pig iron at a third of the cost. Coal itself was unsuitable for smelting as the sulphur contamination rendered the iron brittle.
Abraham Darby II (1711-63) was the son and in 1750s he bagged another major breakthrough -
the use of coke iron in the forges enabling blooms to be produced which were malleable for forging and not 'cold short'. This significant breakthrough involved careful selection of iron ore and coal quality ...
These developments led to divergences in the iron industry. One blast furnace output was now substantial and could supply several associated forges ...
Ironworking first started at Bersham, near Wrexham in Wales around 1640. From 1717, the works were in the hands of Charles Lloyd who established the Bersham links with Coalbrookdale. This link led in 1721 to Bersham furnace becoming the first blast furnace in Wales to use 'coakes for potting’ cashing in on Abraham Darby's success. Following Lloyd's bankruptcy in 1727, the Coalbrookdale connection continued when Abraham Darby's son-in-law, John Hawkins, acquired the Bersham works. An agreement between the two works, resulted in Bersham concentrating on pot founding, which left Coalbrookdale free to produce castings for Newcomen steam engines. This led to the expansion of the ironworks with an air furnace and moulding room being added in 1733 with money provided by the Coalbrookdale Company.
In 1753, the Cumbrian pot founder, Isaac Wilkinson, leased the works which were taken over by his sons John and William in 1763 as the New Bersham Company. Family quarrels and litigation started as early as 1762, and in 1763 Isaac moved to Bristol and eventually John ended up as the owner of the Bersham works. The works then entered their most successful phase.
There was an important theme running through the evolution of iron technology; the successful technologies were not only based on the difficult chemistry of iron/carbon alloys but also only the vital matter of scale. To feed the industrial revolution with iron large scale mass production was needed which involved new technology and new capital.
The English iron scene benefited from three 'made in England' breakthroughs. Firstly the general switch to the use of coal by blacksmiths, glassmakers, dyers, brickmakers, salt refiners et al, secondly the Coalbrookdale breakthrough where coke was used in the blast furnaces and thirdly the 'potting' process established by John Wood in 1761/3 and superseded in 1784 by Henry Corts' puddling & rolling processes. These technologies solved the big problems of shortages of wood for charcoal and the impossibly brittle quality of iron when smelted with sulphurous coal ... and scale.
John Wilkinson (1728 - 1808) became a famous eighteenth century ironmaster inventor and entrepreneur. He was know as 'Iron Mad Jack' because of his obsession with iron, first at Coalbrookdale, Broseley, Shropshire in partnership with his dad Isaac and then at Bersham.
John himself went on be the envy of the world, particularly the envy of the perennial English foes, the French; he invented the first machine to accurately bore cannon. Although the New Bersham Company manufactured a variety of products, the main product was cannon ... originally the quality of the iron and accuracy of the bore had always been difficult to accomplish, and cannonballs often became stuck in the barrel, leading to fractures and explosions of the castings. In 1774 John Wilkinson patented his method of casting and boring cannon from the solid and he became a major manufacturer of cannon for the government, many being supplied for the Seven Years War and the American War of Independence. Bersham established itself as the world leader in the field of iron technology.
From the cannon boring technique Wilkinson developed a method of boring cylinders for James Watt's new improved steam engine. A double whammy as from 1775 the production of engine components became increasingly important. After the end of the American War in 1783, ordnance production virtually ceased, allowing Wilkinson to concentrate on the engine branch of operation. Bersham Ironworks became the centre for engine cylinder production.
The English were not only winning wars but powering the manufactories. However the transfer of technology was not a facile process, as the Bourbon wannabes in France and Catherine the Great in Russia, found out ... it was difficult because the science, which always seemed to follow the technology, had not yet been understood ... and the funding was unreliable ... as Lavoisier discovered to his cost! It seemed that the trial & error learning could not be packaged & handed over, it needed honed skills & hard work, 'there was no substitute in this era for men who knew how things worked' ... and the only reliable funding was from reinvested profits ...
The increasing success of the Bersham works led to a drastic expansion to the south and east of the early eighteenth century site, now known as Mill Farm. By 1795, the ironworks consisted of cylinder and gun foundries, boring mills, rolling mills where boilers were manufactured, the Bersham old furnace, and joiners’ and turners’ shops. In 1793 the space to expand at Bersham had run out, and Wilkinson needed to move on.
He purchased the nearby Brymbo Hall estate where he established an ironworks which later became the Brymbo Steelworks. Brymbo had several advantages over the Bersham site and the decline of Bersham ensued. By the time of John's death in 1808, iron production at Bersham had ended.
Wilkinson also developed associated sites ... at the Minera Lead Mine he built a smelting pit.
mathew boulton (1728-1809), James Watt's partner at Soho, was Bersham's most profitable customer.
The 1843 the tithe maps of Cheshire show a 'zinc works' at Acton Bridge owned by a john budd. Why was there a 'zinc works' in the middle of rural Cheshire?
And in 1842 an renowned London gambler invested in zinc smelting in Greenfield. What was a student of the turf doing in Flintshire?
The answer to these intriguing questions involved the foibles & fortunes of two unordinary guys, William Champion and William Crockford ...
Zinc smelting was a problem. Zinc ores occur relatively abundantly in the earth's crust as sphalerite (Zn/Fe)S, blende ZnS, zincite ZnO2, and smithsonite or calamine ZnCO3. Predominantly in Flintshire's carboniferous limestone the zinc blende usually occurred mixed with ores of lead, copper & silver. Zinc was difficult to extract because of the mixed nature of the metal ores.
william champion (1709–1789) was credited with patenting a process in Great Britain to distil zinc from calamine using charcoal in a smelter at Bristol in 1750.
Thomas Pennant records that in 1758 in the valley from Holywell to the sea 'Edward Pennant Esq granted a lease of it to Mr Champion, partner in the Warmley Company of Bristol, who there calcined 'Black Jack'. He was the first who engaged in such a concern in this country, which carried on under the protection of a patent'.
So what attracted William Champion to Flintshire?
He was clearly after calamine or 'Black Jack' for his smelters, either mined or from the accumulated spoils heaps from centuries of lead mining. '2000 Years of Zinc and Brass' by Paul T Craddock, 1998 confirmed that John Champion built a brass mill in Greenfield in the 1760s.
Lead mining was diffuse throughout the UK and throughout the carboniferous limestones of North Wales but eventually the smelting and manufacture became concentrated in Flintshire close by the coalfields and the Dee wharfs. In 1849 one quarter of all lead mined in the UK was smelted in reverberatory furnaces in Bagillt, Flint and Llanerch. Lead ore was brought in from the Halkyn mines by horse carts and tramways to smelters close to the wharfs on the Dee. These wharfs were also conveniently used for importing ores from elsewhere in the UK and from overseas where they went direct to the adjacent smelters or were auctioned to the highest bidder at the regular Flint and Holywell markets.
Clearly and unsurprisingly in a free trade economy lead metal production was almost constantly under threat from foreign imports. The continental export trade was lost during the wars, cheap Spanish imports were booming and the industry was under further pressure from Germany. From the early 19th century lead smelting was in trouble ...
Lead and zinc ores were found together in the Halkyn veins and the Holywell commons as galena (PbS) and sphalerite (ZnS), and the local practice through the centuries had been to discard the non-lead wastes from mining and smelting. Sphalerite often called zinc blende, was a pain for the lead miners, an interminable nuisance referred to in derogatory terms as 'mock lead', 'false galena' and 'Black Jack'!
Thus, zinc rich ores had accumulated in old underground workings, where sphalerite had been left in place, and spoil heaps, where it had been thrown away. When Champion's technology became available these accumulations were reworked. It was John Champion's patent No 726 of 1758 which was important in Flintshire, this patent involved 'Black Jack' which was plentiful and hitherto useless. Confusingly William also patented a similar process in 1767. Raw ores from Halkyn wastes were converted in the special furnaces into zinc metal ingots giving much needed work to the redundant souls of the old lead mines. With cheap waste as input and the valuable zinc output it was a successful business. The mining and preparation of zinc thus provided fruitful employment for capital which had ceased to be profitable in the lead industry itself.
Furthermore better quality brass was not the only use for zinc, in 1837 galvanising was invented. Roofing, bath tubs, pails, stamped ornaments, castings ... zinc as a material for the sheathing and protecting of ships' hulls was patented in 1805, by 1850 there had been 300 ships sheathed in British ports, and in 1852 to upwards of 1000, it worked. Clearly all these vessels were of wood as galvanic action was a problem when zinc was in contact with other metals.
Zinc oxide was a brilliant white and was used from early times as a pigment.
Zinc rolling mills seem to have been first appeared in 1834 in Kent, the machinery was made by Hall, a well known engineer.
Zinc was everywhere ... for brass 19%, galvanizing 47%, other alloys 14%, chemicals 9% & die casting 8% ... and in the 1840s two new zinc works were opened up in Greenfield & Bagillt ... and one was owned by William Crockford ...
William Crockford (1775-1844) was the youngest son of William, a humble London fishmonger from Temple Bar. William senior died when young William was a 'mere youth' but he helped his mum, Mary Ann, and the business grew comfortably. But at heart young William was an entrepreneur & risk taker and he made some considerable money on the side from gambling in the London clubs ... and then diversified his investments which included trying his hand at commercial projects in Flintshire.
Thanks to research by Cairn Crockford & John Crockford-Hawley some of the shenanigans of this remarkable family have been traced and recorded ... and what a fascinating record ... as Cairn said, 'you gotta love these guys' ... they tried hard ... and then tried again!
William Crockford was 'a great fact' and a biographical sketch 'Crockford and Crockfords' from Richard Bentley's Miscellany published in 1845 makes an interesting read. A poor boy with a sharp mind made good as he enjoyed the risk & rewards of the hazard tables & the turf ... and commerce. William never lost his business credit at the gaming tables; was he lucky? Perhaps William Crockford was the source of the aphorism, 'the harder I practice the luckier I get'! ... William was a student of the turf; he studied and importantly he knew when to quit ...
An article in sporting world from 1845 adds some more detail on 'Crocky' and his perspicacity ... he was well aware of the odds on the bankers & the bookies and the odds against the punters ... he became a 'banker' and was involved with partner's in a gambling club, Watier's, on Piccadilly ... but tumultuous risk ridden fortunes ended in quarrels and William withdrew from the partnership ... leaving with a big bankers winning bonus!
In 1827 William invested his extravagant accumulations from banking at Watier's in a luxurious gambling house at 50 St James's Street, London. With considerable panache he organized it as an exclusive club, 'Crockford's Club', and it quickly became the rage as every social celebrity and every distinguished foreigner visiting London hastened to become a member. 'Hazard' was an Old English game played with two dice; everyone who was anyone wanted to play ... 'common' gambling houses were illegal but, of course, there was nothing 'common' about Crockford's ... it was rumoured that at this swish club the venerable Earl of Sandwich invented the 'sandwich' ... afraid to leave the gaming to go to the dining room for food, he requested some slices of cold meat between two slices of bread be brought to him at the tables ... the first 'sarnie'!
William soon graduated to horse racing; he loved the turf. He purchased a palatial house at Newmarket close to the races; Panton House, in the High Street, with 50 acres of land. And it was horse racing that first took him to Flintshire.
Genealogists Cairn & John have found 5 children from William's first wife Mary Wood - William (1799-); George (1802-69), Edward (1804-75); Mary Ann (1806-74) & Priscilla Eliza (1809-53). Then on 20th May 1812 he married Sarah Frances Douglas (1790-1865), 'a lady of refined manners and amiable disposition' ... and a further 10 children appeared - Rev William John (1813-50), Fanny (1815-1905), Julia (1816-86), Henry (1817-1901), Lieut Col Charles (1819-72), Elizabeth (1820-98), Frederick (1821-98), Rose Maria (1823-1908), Harriet (1824-1918) and Felix (1826-96). All Sarah Frances' children were born at Newmarket apart from William John and Felix, who were born in London.
The family can be traced through the censuses.
In 1841 just before father William died Henry was staying in the Inn on the High Street in Holywell with 'mein hosts' John & Catherine Marsden.
The rest of the family, William aged 60, with Charles (1819-72), Frederick (1821-), Fanny (1821-), Julia (1821-), Elizabeth (1826-) and Rote (1826-) were in luxury at Arlington Street, St George, Hanover Square, Mayfair. In 1842 William bought a grander house at 11 Carlton House Terrace, London.
In 1851 Henry was at Dollys House, Llanidloes, Montgomeryshire, with wife Emma and young son Henry James. Henry was grandly styled 'Fund Holder & Mine Proprietor'. Charles still unmarried was staying with his sister Julia at 6 Boyne terrace, Kensington.
In 1861 Henry & Emma had moved back south to recline as Gentleman farmers living on Main Road, Peasmarsh, Sussex with kids Fanny, Julia & Felix J ... no sign of Henry James, he was staying with his Aunt Fanny in Guernsey at Fermain Road Le Bocage, St Peter Port.
There was no sign of Charles in the 1861 census but Sarah Frances, and unmarried Frederick were at 14, Queens Gate, St Mary Abbotts Kensington, Kensington, London, with a hoard of servants.
In 1871 Charles was busy attending to his businesses in Flintshire. At the time of the census he was staying with at The King's Head, in the High Street, Holywell. He described his occupation as a Manufacturing Chemist. Also staying at the hotel was a 36 year old Scotsman, Alan Dick, Superintendent of a Lead Smelting Works? Thomas Smedley was 'mein host' and housekeeper, 45 year old Mary Davies was in charge.
By 1871 Sarah Frances had died and the unmarried girls Julia (1816-86), Fanny (1815-1905), Elizabeth (1821-98) & Harriet (1824-1918) were at De Crespigny Park, St Giles Camberwell, London, Surrey.
Undoubtedly William made his fortune from his gambling club but he continually diversified his investments. After the death of his father, the original fish business prospered, but apart from the club he also ventured into a thoroughbred stud at Newmarket, a piggery, a bazaar in St James's, a wine merchants business, palatial properties in Newmarket, Regents Park and Hanover Square ... and he also followed in the footsteps of rich men he knew of, perhaps even idolised ... people like John Freame, the Quaker banker, and Earl Grosvenor, the owner of St James's ... they all went into Flintshire ... we can imagine the talk around the hazard table was of opportunities in the Greenfield Valley? And, of course, there was the big attraction of the Holywell Races!
Flintshire and Greenfield in particular, enjoyed a long history of financial investment from outside the region, and confirmed the industrial revolution in North Wales required the impetus of capital investment - A H Dodd, ' Everywhere the prime obstacle to advance was lack of capital investment. The 'Bill on London' was in fact the only credit instrument in general vogue' ... it seemed William Crockford's projects in Flintshire followed a well trodden path of some giants ... they all looked like promising investments ... and some of them were -
1601 - lead mining - Sir Richard Grosvenor of Eaton Hall, Chester (1585-1645), the 1st Baronet, started to acquire leases to mineral rights from intermediaries of the Stuart kings who were always desperately seeking funds for their wars. William Ratcliffe of London sold his mineral rights of Coleshill, which included Halkyn, in 1601. By 1634 the Grosvenors had gained ownership rights to the lead and from then on most mining was carried out by leases issued by the family. The Grosvenors originally used Halkyn Hall as their North Wales base and built Halkyn Castle to replace it in 1824. It is the grandest house in Halkyn. Halkyn was successfully mined for lead by the Grosvenors for over 300 years. The Grosvenors had a knack of marrying well - the 1st Baronet's mum was a daughter of Richard Brook of Norton Priory, his 1st wife was a big land owning Cholmondeley; Sir Richard, the 2nd Baronet, married a Mostyn, who owned big estates in Flintshire and Sir Thomas, the 3rd Baronet married Mary Davies, who owned some swamps on the outskirts of London which became Mayfair and the West End ...
1704 - lead smelting - john freame invested at Gadlys.
1743 - copper batteries - thomas patten & thomas williams favoured copper at Anglesey, St Helens, Greenfield and the Liverpool slave trade.
1787 - cotton spinning - daniel whittaker investigated opportunities at Northwich & Acton Bridge before backing the Greenfield valley & the luxurious water power availability.
1820 - paper making - water, Fourdrinier machines, esparto grass & access to Liverpool.
1823 - gas making - coal & 'the extension of daylight'.
1830 - limestone & cement - Halkyn quarries and local construction in Liverpool.
1842 - zinc refining - cheap segregated ores and available technology.
1848 - wool flannel - first power looms successfully used in the Welsh woollen industry, a trained supply of hands & access to Liverpool.
1864 - railways - Holywell Railway Company.
Following the gaming success in London the Crockford investments were legion as William diversified and indulged in his passions. After William's death the family continued to managed existing projects and ventured into new ones with persistence. The 2nd generation Crockfords may have lacked their father's flare for exploiting the riskier rewards of life ... but no doubt William's genes were still active ... all the many projects were risky ventures and inevitably enjoyed varying success.
There were 12 projects of interest -
1 Lead Mining - in the 18th & 19th centuries lead mining in Flintshire seemed to be perpetually troubled by imports, flooding, Dee silts and old workings but before its final demise A H Dodd records that there were two rallies; one in the 1840s, the 'zinc opportunity', and the other in the 1870s, the 'speculation' which followed payment of French war indemnity to Germany ... enter the Crockfords ... John R Thomas, 'one of the many speculators to try their hand locally was one William Crockford' ... in 1986 kenneth davies produced an erudite thesis on the industrial activities in the Greenfield valley and the Crockford 'speculations' ...
Perhaps William's first foray into Flintshire was in partnership with a chap claiming all manner of expertise in the treasured black ores of lead and zinc; the two of them went into mining. The partnership failed to deliver the expected profits; the returns were no match for those he had been used to from the Hazard tables of St James's. The partnership was dissolved in 18??. It was rumoured the distress of the losses contributed to William's death ...
2 Holywell Races - How much did William invest in the Holywell races?
The local gentry; the Mostyns, the Pennants, the Grosvenors and the Denbighs, were all passionate about horseracing and formed a society called the Holywell Hunt in 1767. They built the Holywell Racecourse at Gorsedd on land owned largely by the Earl of Denbigh and Lord Mostyn, there they held annual autumn races. As the races grew in popularity, a starting tower and grandstand were erected and purpose built stables were added later. It’s hard to imagine this peaceful area as it must have looked during race week, with bookmakers, sideshows and spectators lining the course! One filly, the Queen of Trumps, trained by Lord Mostyn, won the Holywell Champagne Stakes in 1834 and went on to win the prestigious St Leger and The Oaks! The Piccadilly Inn in Caerwys, is said to date from 1662. The inn was owned by Lord Mostyn, who had a racehorse named Piccadilly. The horse won a race on the old Holywell Racecourse, near Babell, and in recognition of the win Lord Mostyn gave the inn to his jockey, giving the pub it's present name.
William died in 1844 on Oaks day. He had just survived the Derby Day debacle of Running Rein's win over his own nobbled second favourite Ratan ... a story which has recently been superbly researched and recounted by tony byles.
Holywell races were inaugurated in 1763 and in 1843, just a year before William Crockford's decease, sporting intelligence reported their demise ... the last recorded races were held in 1842, the year before autumn racing began in Chester ... this was a probable factor in their demise as they were subsumed by the races at Chester where the gee-gees (the racing was sponsored by Mayor Henry Gee) on the Roodee (Rood Eye; island of the cross) had been at it since 1537 ... like many Holywell projects, the races were good while they lasted?
3 Gas Production - there was a flurry of activity in coal gas production in the 1820s and no doubt William Crockford was well aware of the possibilities but this was a project which did not appear to attract William's funds. In 1825 The British Gas Company opened its 'Gas Works' exploiting the coals found in the Flintshire seams. The streets of Holywell were lit by gas from 1824. William Murdock working with Boulton & Watt in Soho amongst the steam engines was the first to develop gas lighting. The first commercial use of gas lighting was in a Manchester cotton mill in 1805. Nearly 20 years before the Holywell lights. So Holywell was not the first, but it was one of the first, into gas lighting, which reflects its position as an important investment centre. Pall Mall was illuminated in 1807. London and Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company, was the first gas company in the world in 1812. The British Gas Company, established in 1824, also had a works in Broad Street, Ratcliff Highway, London. The gas industry prospered because of the considerable commercial benefits of 'extending daylight', but there were considerable health, safety, pollution, insurance and storage problems to be solved. However the process by-products - coke, tar, sulphur, creosote, phenolic disinfectants, aniline dyes, Bakelite, ammonia - were often just as valuable as the gas. Every town had it gas plant, but it was the land by the gas works in Greenfield which attracted William Crockford's most ambitious investment, not in gas but in zinc.
4 Zinc Smelting - in 1842 shortly before he died William opened his zinc venture in Flintshire, a new spelter process at Greenfield. With John Langthorpe as manager and William Reid as superintendent, the works was described as the most modern in Britain. The spelter production site at Greenfield with its 150 foot chimney had direct access to the Dee wharf via a magnificent tramway. William was banking on a combination of the Champion technology and the Halkyn wastes to add to his fortune. No doubt this state of the art zinc production unit supplied the spelter of commerce to John Budd & Thomas Beavan, the Liverpool metal brokers ... and some would have found its way to John Budd's zinc rolling mill at Acton bridge ...
But in spite of the new galvanising technology in 1837 (and John Budd's 1835 printing cylinder patent) the price of zinc fell ... it was all too easy ... and then there were the imports ... spelter was spelter ... Crockfords invested in new plant & equipment but there were no dramatic breakthroughs, it was a short opportunity but sharp entrepreneurs like Crockford made money to fund their next project ... new technology and patents always seemed necessary for sustained profitability ...
The North Wales Chronicle commented on the Crockford resuscitation of trade in the area in 1843. William started in Flintshire with speculations before he moved to more reliable industrial activities ... but was he too late?
5 Coal Mining - William's sons Henry & Charles were both involved in the Flintshire projects. After Williams death in 1844 Henry took over the management of two collieries owned by Crockford & Co; Abbey & Dingle in Greenfield.
Charles with William's wife Sarah, and daughters Julia, Elizabeth, Fanny & Harriet retained interests in the businesses including the Greenfield Spelter Works.
In 1845 shortly after William's death, Sarah was defendant in a court case seeking £500 redress for encroachment on the South Mostyn seams owned by John Davies. The Abbey Colliery, it seemed, may have been over enthusiastic in the recovery of Flintshire coal!
6 Chemical Manufacturing - Charles was certainly busy around this time as he leased land off Sir Pyers Mostyn in 1850 and by 1860 he was developing a chemical manufacturing business exploiting the by-products from his smelting operation as his patented technology indicated.
Sulphurous vapours from the zinc blende were a significant environmental nuisance prior to the work of entrepreneurs like Crockford who recovered sulphur dioxide as condensate in his lead chamber. The acid was a significant raw material in the growing chemical industry. Once desulphurised Crockford's ores would then have been reduced to produce the zinc metal by Champion's process.
All was explained in - 'A Practical Treatise on Metallurgy' by Bruno Kerl, Sir William Crookes, Ernst Otto Röhrig, 1868. This was a monumental work on the 19th century technology. Calcining (carbonate to oxide and removes water) & Roasting (oxidation to the oxide) produced the ZnO which was then reduced and the metal condensed in the furnace ... a constant battle between reduction & oxidation ...
The zinc opportunities were seized, exploited with modern plant & equipment and innovative patented technology ... and eventually forgotten as in 1869 Charles filed for bankruptcy. The North Wales Chronicle suggested Charles overspent not on any personal extravagences but on perfecting his patents; he also lost some £1,000 of his own money No doubt he had had good years and bad years, probably paying his way handsomely; he had a mother and sisters to support! In the end he lost his investment which the Wrexham Advertiser reported was £10,000.
7 Limestone Quarrying, Crushing & Cement - The Crockfords first got into quarry tramways at the Point of Ayr and then there was a magnificent tramway from the Greenfield wharf, to the Spelter works by the gas plant and on past Basingwerk Abbey up the steep valley and on to the Grange Quarries. In 1994 John R Thomas kindled imaginations with his wonderful drawing of the tramway.
There were numerous quarries in the Grange area by the early 1800s and Charles Crockford purchased the Grange Limestone Quarry and tramway from William Parry. Quarrying of the local stone, particularly limestone, was important and limestone was extensively quarried underground in the Grange Caverns. It was particularly valuable as it produced cement which set under water, making it ideal for building docks, harbours and bridges. The lime product from limestone was produced by burning crushed limestone in limekilns. This was used for building mortar and as a fertiliser for acid soils. In 1830s Parry had started up a cement & limestone business, which unlike many of the Greenfield ventures enjoyed considerable success, thriving on the production of building materials for the Liverpool docks & wharfs and the local canals. Around 1848, the 'Holywell Lime Company' built a tramway so that stone could be transported more easily down the hill to Greenfield Dock. From there it was shipped further afield to meet the growing demand for building materials in the expanding towns and cities. Branch lines ran to all the quarries including an underground link to Aberdo Quarry. Local stone and lime was used in the building of Runcorn Bridge, Belfast Docks, the Weaver Navigation and Liverpool and Birkenhead Docks.
Crockford bought into the business in 1864 with a local quarryman Evan Evans as MD. The assets included the Greenfield mineral railway to the Dee wharf and other quarrying and mineral resources.
The North Wales Chronicle described the new railway in 1854.
Production expanded rapidly. In the ten years from 1869 to 1879 over 200,000 tons of limestone were taken by sea to be used in the building of docks at Liverpool & Birkenhead. When the Holywell Railway Company failed (see below) Evans bought the railway and renamed the company 'Holywell Railway & Limestone Company'. Later the business struggled and was repurchased by William Parry in 1876 but after further ownership changes was finally liquidated in 1892. Like so many Greenfield projects; the moment had passed.
8 Ireland Lead & Silver Mining - The Kilbricken lead & silver deposits were discovered by chance during the course of drainage works in 1833. The richness of sample material persuaded John Taylor & Co, the London based mining company, to take out and, operate a lease on the prospect, which they did until 1840s, before selling it on to Henry Crockford.
From 1846 to 1850 The Crockford family operated the deposits under the names of the Kilbricken Silver & Lead Company and the Clare United Silver & Lead Mines. The mines were sold onward for £1,500 in 1850, amidst suspicions about dubious share dealing transactions. In 1849 Henry announced his intention to wind up the investment in these difficult circumstances, as The Law Times reported in 1850. The matter was also reported in the Freeman's Journal.
Rather like the Flintshire mines the volume of water was a problem and mining was confined to the summer months when the water table was lower. The best prospect for profit was the silver content of the ores, but unfortunately the very high grade reported in the first phase of mining was not replicated subsequently.
From 1850 until 1855, new management maintained operations with modest production recorded annually from 1852 - 1855. This was not, however, sufficient to offset an accumulated deficit.
Consequently the mine was closed but it appeared the Chairman, a Mr Librii, had time to offload his share holding, and attached liabilities. The mine was sold for £825 in 1856!
9 South Wales Zinc Mining - in 1849 Crockfords also chased lead & zinc in South Wales. The Welsh Mines Society recorded that in 1849, the Esgair Llee Mining Company reopened the old workings east of the uppermost reaches of the Afon Castell, on the western slopes of Cripiau above the Wye Valley.
Smythe lists Esgair Llee, Esgair Mwyn and Nant-y-Creiau as spasmodically worked in the late 1840's.
John Salmon and his partner Crockford, of the gaming house, and their company 'Cardiganshire Crown Mines Co' appeared to have had extensive mining licences from the Crown at this time, and for some years raised a good deal of blende from Nant-y-Creiau, and had sunk the Pen-mynydd shaft at Esgair Mwyn.
The Crockford & Salmon partnership was dissolved when William died, and the mines were divided. Salmon, retained the newly equipped Esgair Mwyn mine whilst Nant-y-Creiau was relinquished to to the Crockfords who, of course, knew little of mining matters. May be the Castell, or Nant-y-Meirch mine, was also relinquished to Crockford. Williams executors probably assigned it to the Esgair Llee Company ...
A good move because by 1855 the Morning Post reported the Esgair Llee Mining Company 'had become embarrassed having expended upon the mine, £15,000 and upwards and in 1855 considered the propriety of dissolving the company which was sold by public auction' ...
10 Holywell Lead Mining - in 1851 The Holywell Level Lead Mine was reformed with more Crockford investment.
The original Holywell Level Company began mining the Great Holloway vein near Carmel & Gorsedd in 1773. The company was very profitable due to the relatively high proportion of silver and calamine in the lead ores. Dodd, 'The famous Holywell Level, which - after involving its proprietors with heavy losses for twenty years - was to become, by much one of the richest works in the county'.
The new entrance near St Winifred's enabled boat access to the veins easing the ore transport costs, rather like the worsley navigable levels, which made the Duke of Bridgewater his fortune. The mine produced lead, limestone, chert, calamine and zinc blende or 'Black Jack'. However the mines suffered horribly from Spanish imports and were prone to flooding and interruptions from old workings; cost did not respond sufficiently to the injection of capital and this turned out to be another relatively short lived project.
11 Wine Merchanting - After Williams death Frederick and Sarah Frances, along with Felix, for a while, operated as wine merchants. Cain Crockford explains, William had a wine cellar at Crockford’s Club the size of a football field. When the Club was running the holding was about 300,000 bottles of wine. In 1859 The Morning Post reported on the final bankruptcy of the Crockford foray into flogging wine to the British Army in the Crimea. What a story ?! Would you believe it?!
12 Holywell Railway - Charles & Frederick were involved in the Holywell Railway Company in the initial construction phase. In 1864 the Holywell Railway Company was authorised by Parliament to build a railway system from the wharf up the steep valley to Holywell, close to the track of the old tramway to the Grange Quarries. From the beginning there were problems as vested interests vied for satisfaction ... the established and powerful LNWR, different landowners, the Crockford tramway, Basingwerk Abbey ruins, 'The White Horse' a fine building of historic note, gradients in excess of the 1 in 27 limit for locomotives ... delays & procrastinations ... and as John R Thomas suggested 'with Charles Crockford in the background' ... eventually the first sod was cut in 1867.
After the 1864 Act Charles Crockford was one of four contracted to undertake the construction work and was allocated 3,000 shares in the company. Frederick Crockford was one of four directors of the Company protecting the interests of the contractors. During construction The Liverpool Marine Credit Company supplied credit lines which led almost inevitably to a fraught court case in 1870 as the network of interests became entangled ... exacerbated by the failure to generate profits ...
The railway was operated by the Lime Company responsible for most of the traffic which linked to the LNWR. Prompted by the pending insolvency of The Holywell Lime & Cement Company LNWR finally moved in 1891 to purchase the line ... more altercations and intrigue ... the crucial junction with the LNWR line was on land owned by the Crockfords ... the Crockford knew when to quit and they sold their land to J P Jones in 1903 when it still had a value ... Jones eventually capitulated and inevitably by 1912 the powerful LNWR had their way ... the line continued to operate until 1954 ... but was it ever a commercial success?
It was interesting to read in 1843 in The North Wales Chronicle that the opprobrium heaped on gambling at Crockfords was also compared to speculation in trade. The Crockfords were involved in both gambling & trade and well understood that there were two zeros on the roulette wheel which belonged to the banker not the punter and in trade there was on average 3% per annum compound growth which belonged to the punter. An important distinction; gambling and trade could not be compared! This was, of course the time of the repeal of the Corn Laws; David Ricardo and Sir Robert Peel had their hands full as they attempted to teach the electorate about the difficult economics of comparative advantage. Of course, the foreign corn was sold to finance the purchase of the Darby pot & pans and the Wedgwood pottery ... trade was win win!
Cairn Crockford summarised the family forays. It seemed Henry got out of the coal mining business and by 1857 he became a gentleman farmer in Sussex. Charles apparently focused all his energy and money on the development of his patents, but went bankrupt in 1869. Frederick, seemed to have had his hands in the construction of the Holywell Railway, and in some of Charles' ventures, but he went bust exporting champagne to the Crimea during the war in 1859! Frederick eventually ran off to France, and no doubt he retained the funds of a Gentleman. His last bankruptcy was reported in 1869.
Charles Crockford died on a visit to Ireland in 1872.
The halcyon days of the Greenfield investments were around 1780; were the Crockfords too late? Abolition of the slave trade, the silting of the Dee, the advent of steam power, the space constraints for large factories, the thin & broken coal seams, the incessant flooding, new flexible railway transport and cheap foreign imports all took their toll ...
However there were short opportunities which needed sharp entrepreneurs to exploit and in this way centuries of waste became usable. Profitable zinc could be recovered from waste dumps and profitable by-products recovered from smoke stacks ...
Similar economics were discovered at Acton Bridge with the multitude of profitable by products resulting from animal carcase waste ...
See the flintshireleadmining website by Chris Ebbs for lots of detail, packed with info, illustrations and photos ... well worth a visit ...
'The Milwr Tunnel: Bagillt to Loggerheads' by Cris Ebbs, 2008.
Any corrections and additional information gratefully received contact john p birchall
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