A sight for sore eyes living amid the murky atmosphere
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