Foreign assets


An advert for the ironworks, from 1873. Image from ‘The Story of Walsall’.

I know this isn’t immediately local to Brownhills, but it’s such a remarkable description of industry at the time that I couldn’t ignore it. Marvel, if you will, at the white heat of technology…

This auction advert is from the Birmingham Journal of Saturday, 22 June 1867. It details the sale of Birchills Ironworks and Collieries, which remained extant until the 1930s. Marvel at the description of the machinery, the transport arrangements and mineral resources.

I’d like to know what ‘Copyhold’ is, and maybe help decoding what some of the names of the Ironstone measures indicate. Any contributions on the technical or transport details are welcome. I’m looking at you chaps – Ian Pell, Dave Moore and Andy Dennis!

Note also that Birchills Ironworks was host to one of the industrial tragedies that made Sister Dorothy Pattison such a well-loved figure. There was a dreadful explosion here in 1875, which killed three men outright, and wounded twelve others. Dora’s care for these wounded men is legendary, and recorded in one of the reliefs in her statue in the centre of Walsall.


Sister Dora must have seen some dreadful injuries. Her service to the wounded foundry men of Birchills is recorded in this relief from her statue. Image from The Story of Walsall.

Cheers to Peter for the spot, and I typed this one up myself, so sorry for any errors…


BY Mr. HENRY FARRINGTON, at the George H0tel, Walsall, on MONDAY. the last day of July next, at Four o’clock in the afternoon, in one lot, without any reserve  –

The very valuable Freehold. Copyhold, and Leasehold IRONWORKS and MINERAL PROPERTIES, known as the ‘BIRCHILLS IRONWORKS AND COLLIERIES,’ situated in the Foreign of Walsall, in the county of Stafford.

The Works, which are erected on the Freehold part of the Estate, comprise five Blast Furnaces with two Steam Engines and Blowing Apparatus of great power and modern construction; Hot Air Stoves and Steam Boilers and Inclined Planes (worked by a separate engine) for the conveyance of materials from the Bridge Houses to the tops of the furnaces.

Mine Kilns and Coke Hearths adjoin the Furnaces, and a Siding from the Cannock Branch of the South Staffordshire Railway runs mto the Bridge Houses, by means of which Limestone and ‘foreign’ ores may be delivered at the foot of the inclines or to the kilns.


From the Birmingham Journal, Saturday 22nd June 1867. Click for a larger version.

The Manufacturing part of the Works consists of two Forges with Puddle Bar Rolls, worked by efficient and powerful Engines, with four supplemental Steam Boilers.

There are twenty-eight Puddllng and Mill Furnaces, with vertical Steam Boilers attached all in good condition; and provision is made for the erection of a greater number of Puddling Furnaces.

The Mills consist of three Sheet Mills, two 10 inch- Hoop and Merchant Iron Mills, one 8-Inch ditto, and Guide Mills, with Shears, Bundling Benches. &c.. all complete.

There are nine Mill Furnaces with Boilers, and two Annealing Furnaces; a powerful horizontal Engine, driving one of the merchant iron and guide mills; and a large pair of patent shears.

The Weigh-bridges and Offices, the Store Rooms, Stables, Smithies, Carpenters’ Shops, &c., are conveniently situated for the purposes of the respective departments; and there is a Foundry, with cupolas &c. on the ground.

Pipes from the Walsall Gas Works are laid to the whole, and the requisite fittings are made.

The Collieries are in working condition, with Engines erected and Shafts sunk, and well-constructed Tram and Rail Roads convey the Produce of the Mines for consumption at the Works or to the Canal Basin, or elsewhere for Sale.

The Coal Seams, already proved. are the Yard Coal, the 4-feet coal, the Fire-clay Coal, and the 4-yard coal.

The Ironstone Measures are the New Mine, the Brown Stone, the Rough Hill White Stone, the Gubbin Stone, the Blue Flats, the Silver Thread, and the Diamond Stone, all of excellent quality.

Limestone is believed to exist under the whole Estate, and there are excellent Beds 0! Fire Clay and Common Brick Clay.

The Area is as follows:-


Freehold.            Copyhold.          Leasehold.
139A. lR. 36P.    11A. 3R. 23P.     64A. 3R. 15P.

Total Area of Surface, 216A. 0R. 34P.


Freehold.             Copyhold.          Leasehold.
152A. 2R. 16p.     11A. 3R. 23P.     73A. IR. 29P.

Total Areaot Mines, 137A. 3R. 28P.

The reservations in respect of the Leaseholds are very trifling, consisting of surface rents only.

The Property Lies within halt a mile of the town of Walsall, and is divided by the Cannock Branch of the South Stafiordshire Railway before alluded to. In addition to this, the Wolverhampton and Walsall Railway, now in the course of construction, will run through the Estate, which is already traversed by the Wyrley and Essington Canal, and the Turnpike Road from Walaall to Stafford.

The Houses on the Estate, and the other part of it in the occupation of tenants, produce an aggregate rental of £327. or thereabouts per annum.

The Property may be viewed on application to Mr. George Williams, Mine Agent, at the Works.

Particulars and plans, and any further information, may be obtained in London, of Mr. W. H. Duignan, Solicitor, 57, Chancery Lane; in Walsall, of Messrs Duignan, Lewis, and Lewis, Solicitors; or the Auctioneer; and in Wolverhampton, of Mr. Thomas Bolton and Messrs. H. and J. E. Underhill, Solicitors. Particulars and plans may also be obtained at the principal Hotels in Walaall, Wolverhampton, and Dudley; and at the Offices of the Midland Counties Herald, Birmingham.

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12 Responses to Foreign assets

  1. Ray Wall says:

    G’day from Sydney, Re : Copyhold. This comment can be short or long, but I’ll make it short because in my Lord Jowitt’s Dictionary of English law, the Copyhold entry is over 2000 words! Lands forming part of a manor, originally granted by the lord for tenancies at will merely, which by immemorial custom became converted into estates independent of the will of the lord in everything but name, and of various degrees of duration, according to the custom of the particular manor. Hence, copyhold was a customary tenure. Copyholds were so-called because the evidence of the title to such lands consists of copies of the court roll of the manor, in which all dealings with the land were entered. Copyhold tenure was abolished by the Law of Property Act 1922, and existing copyhold enfranchised. Post 1925, copyhold and other customary tenures were converted into a qualified form of freehold or leasehold; land formerly copyhold being in any event still subject to certain rights of the lord of the manor, in regard to which the parties were free to make their own terms. The lord retained rights (if any) to mines, minerals, limestone, clay, stone, gravel pits or quarries, and royalties or privileges in respect of fairs, markets, fishing, hunting, et al. At one time, copyholds were forfeited to the lord of the manor, and not to the Crown unless by the express words of an Act of Parliament, by the tenant’s loss of rights through felony or treason.The tenant forfeited his estate by attempting to alienate it by any mode contrary to custom, or committing waste, disclaiming the tenure, or refusing to perform the service. There is much more, but I hope this fragmentary outline may trigger further study in regard to Birchills Ironworks. In my practice of the family law downunder, ‘copyhold’ has no place, but I do hope the above comment may be helpful. Regards to all. Ray

  2. morturn says:

    Puddling is one part of the iron making process. It was developed as a method of making iron without the use of charcoal; by the mid ninetieth century, most of Britain had been deforested.

    Puddling was a highly skilled process, where pig iron was melted in the bottom of a refractory furnace (perhaps this is why its called puddling) and then stirred with rods for four or five hours. They did this until the iron congealed into a mass, which they pulled out of the furnace and stamped it solid under a blooming press.

    It was forged into a billet and passed through several set of puddling rollers to shape and consolidate the iron bars (there are some of these at the Black Country museum).

    This of course is a very simplified explanation, metallurgy is a complex process and required highly skilled people. But it possibly explains the grown of the iron industry in the Black Country, why the Back Country produced some of the finest ironwork in the world.

    Because puddling did not use charcoal, it enabled iron making to be completed right near the source of the fuel and raw materials, iron stone and lime stone, all abundant in the Black Country.

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    what a super “spot” by Pedro …and thanks for transcribing this. In todays Walsall, where were the foundry and the gas works, please?

  4. David Oakley says:

    Hi Bob,
    After leaving Walsall some years ago I had need to consult Google Earth to discover what now lay in places once familiar to me. The Ironworks in question was approximately between the land now occupied by Cable drive and TJK Processing Centre, on the right-hand side of Green Lane, opposite the entrance road to Beechdale estate via Stephenson Avenue.
    For some years, this land was occupied by Walsall Transport Department who had recreational facilities, football pitch, cricket ground and a social club fronting Green lane, The land was bordered on the north by the old Talbot Stead factory. A glance at any old map showing canals and railways would show the precise site of the ironworks, stretching from the canal on the south side
    to the railway sidings on the north side. As stated in the Sale notices the railway ran directly between two elements of the works, near the northern boundary.
    Regarding the Gas Works, at the time of the sale, the gas works were housed almost opposite Smith’s Flour Mill, in close proximity to the canal, after moving from Arboretum Road in 1849.
    the gas works remained there until 1877 until a move to Pleck.
    There was a Gas Holder in Darlaston Road and in the small hours of April 12 1970, I and my
    young family were awakened by the police and warned that the gas holder was in imminent danger of explosion. 1000 people were roused from their beds that night, told to dress, hurriedly, and make their way to the police canteen in Green Lane. I had seven youngsters at the time, so you can imagine my panic. Happily, no explosion, although we did get front-page headlines in the Express and Star !!

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  12. Pedro says:

    I can’t see the following disaster mentioned in any of the articles concerning Birchills Ironworks. From the new book by Paul Robinson, Tales from Four Towns there is a piece from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 17 May 1880…

    A 30 ton egg-ended vertical boiler measuring some 30 feet by 8 feet exploded killing 30 men and injuring 60 others.

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