A sight for sore eyes liv­ing amid the murky at­mos­phere

Black Country Bugle - - YOUR LETTERS - By JOHN WORK­MAN

IT is hard to imag­ine such a huge iron works ex­ist­ing to­day near where peo­ple live, where chil­dren go to school and where Black Coun­try folk go about their daily rou­tine.

All sorts of cam­paigns would be or­gan­ised to pre­vent such a mon­ster be­ing built in their back yard. But back in the early days of the 19th cen­tury, the ground upon which the Black Coun­try in­fra­struc­ture was built con­tained min­eral riches be­yond com­pare that would pro­vide jobs and a cer­tain amount of se­cu­rity for the work­ing classes and ul­ti­mately wealth for the iron mas­ters, en­abling them to ex­pand their busi­ness and main­tain a high de­gree of em­ploy­ment.

In 1800 a lease of land was granted by Lord Dud­ley to Thomas Attwood and he pro­ceeded to erect blast fur­naces at Corn­g­reaves in Cradley Heath. Cradley Heath it­self was just a small col­lec­tion of ham­lets and cot­tage in­dus­tries, but the prom­ise of jobs in the iron in­dus­try wit­nessed an in­flux of able bod­ied labour who in turn brought with them their fam­i­lies to sub­stan­tially in­crease the size of Cradley Heath vir­tu­ally overnight. Attwood’s works were taken over in 1825 by Small, Shears and Tay­lor, who traded as the Bri­tish Iron Com­pany. But due to a law­suit by 1850 the firm was re­con­sti­tuted as the New Bri­tish Iron Com­pany.


Within al­most a stone’s throw of the huge 45 acre site the NBIC had ac­cess to its own iron­stone, coal and lime­stone sup­plies. It had blast fur­naces, wrought-iron works and rolling mills, and from 1884 its own open-hearth steel­works. Thirty miles of rail­way track con­nected it to six nearby col­lieries. At its height of pro­duc­tion the NBIC at Corn­g­reaves had six blast fur­naces in two groups, four old ones be­ing 47 feet high and two new ones at 54 feet high. There were also sixty pud­dling fur­naces with waste­heat boil­ers.

This huge in­dus­trial site must have been a sight for sore eyes for all those who either worked within its con­fines or lived close by. There would have been a dingy hue over ev­ery ob­ject vis­i­ble, a murky at­mos­phere at the best of times with great vol­umes of dense smoke is­su­ing forth heav­ily from a mul­ti­tude of tall chim­ney stacks leav­ing a black­ened en­vi­ron­ment. Through­out the wider Black Coun­try the sit­u­a­tion was re­peated. Nine thou­sand acres of land had been scarred and pit­ted by quar­ries and mines, or smoth­ered by spoil­banks and tips.

The smoke pall was a com­bi­na­tion of soot and tarry glob­ules dis­charged from do­mes­tic chim­neys, fac­tory stacks and rail­way en­gines and would un­doubt­edly have made our an­ces­tor’s eyes smart.

The Corn­g­reaves Iron & Steel Works cov­ered 45 acres be­fore its demise and clo­sure in 1895. Here it is shown sur­rounded by the six pits that sup­plied its coal

Sketches from tested pieces of “Corn­g­reaves” Iron made in Cradley Heath circa 1870

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