Having no Truck with it


Oh look, there are corner pieces and edging. Remarkable. Limestone or otherwise, this one photo is provoking more debate than any other picture in the history of this blog. Scan from Coal Mining in Walsall Wood, Brownhills and Aldridge by Brian Rollins.

There’s recently been debate here about why the Wesley Church in Walsall Wood was apparently, and uncharacteristically for the area, made from stone – most think it was limestone, but even that statement has proven contentious.

The young David Evans recently wrote an article in which he speculated the material for the church – were it made from limestone – might have come from the limestone mines of Rushall and north Walsall, via the Daw End canal. As I expected, this has attracted the interest of Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler, whose research is turning up some interesting things.

As usual, the thread is departing at a number of tangential angles and here is the wonderful result of one of them – the connection between the church and a rather odd character that owned Pelsall Ironworks, whose boiler explosion Peter did so much work to document here a few years ago.

Peter has always been very concerned with the accurate understanding of working conditions of our forefathers and this is a wonderful addition for a fine cannon of work.

Thanks to Peter, as ever, and if you wish to have your say, please feel free: comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.

Remember, this round of debate started precisely over the identity of a large lady in the original photo. Sometimes, I really wonder how we got here…

Peter wrote:

The image above is taken from the wonderful Pelsall History site, and is a painting from the photographic record by Steve Dent. The Pelsall History site has this to say: ‘The painting shows Pelsall Iron Works as it would have looked when it was a going concern in the 1860s, with a locomotive crossing the bridge , horse drawn Shropshire Union barges and furnaces burning bright.The scene is set towards the end of a cold December day after a few light snow flurries, the sun going down and the full moon on the rise(signifing the end of an era).With not much to go on in the way of photographs I had to use my imagination somewhat, anyway I hope it will keep an important and almost forgotten part of Pelsall history alive for a while longer’. I realise this isn’t where the accident occurred, but it’s the same company, and not many folk know about the history of the foundry.

Boaz Bloomer and Sons, and the Pelsall Ironworks

In the young David’s search for the reason why the Wesleyan Chapel of Walsall Wood was built in limestone he went back to the mention, in the Lichfield Mercury, of the laying of the foundation stone. J Brewer had presented Mrs Bloomer, of The Grove, Pelsall, with a silver trowel and a mahogany mallet when she was invited to lay the stone.

There is a J Brewer who was, amongst other things, a lime master, however I have doubts as to whether it was Brewer who supplied the limestone. So what of Mrs Bloomer? Well she did not provide David’s answer but led to a tale of financial intrigue, perhaps some wrong assertions, and involving some worthies that have already been mentioned on the Blog.

Mrs Bloomer turns out to be Emily Treffrey, the second wife of Boaz Bloomer (1810-1874) who he married in 1852; summarising the information about Boaz Bloomer Snr from Wikipedia, and Pelsall Ironworks from the History of Walsall

Boaz Bloomer (1801-1874) JP was a prominent industrialist from Holly Hall in Dudley. His family is believed to have worked in the Iron industry for several generations. He had eight children in total and he married his second wife in 1852, Emily Treffey.

His first involvement with Pelsall Ironworks was in 1846 in partnership with Davis. He purchased the ironworks from Mr. Richard Fryer, a Wolverhampton banker and MP who died in 1846; he also invested in several coal mines. In 1865 he bought out Davis’s share of the company, and ran the business with his son, Boaz Bloomer Jr, as Boaz Bloomer and Son.

The Bloomer family were strong Methodists and benefactors. They were greatly involved in the building of the Methodist Chapel in 1858, and the Wesleyan day school in 1866. In the 1860s Boaz Bloomer opened a room at the works where daily newspapers and periodicals were available for employees to read.

In the late 1860’s Boaz Bloomer introduced a scheme to help employees pay for their children’s education. Boaz Bloomer believed so strongly in the need for education that, following the success of his scheme, by 1868 he had made it a condition of employment that all of an employees children received schooling.

The Ironworks had a Tommy shop in Wood Lane near the canal bridge, where the employees could exchange the tokens (that were given as part of their wages) for all kinds of goods. After the closure of the firm, the Bloomers moved away from the area, but left a lasting impression on the local community. The chimney stacks, the last remaining part of the factory, were demolished in the 1920s.

Boaz Bloomer Snr (1801-1874)
Son, Caleb Bloomer (1827
Son, Boaz Bloomer Jnr (1828
Son, Benjamin Giles Bloomer (1843
Son, George B Bloomer (1832

The first thing that puzzles me here is, how if you are a staunch Methodist, can you reconcile the use of the Truck System? It can be seen that the family were very active on the Methodist circuit. Boaz Snr had donated the land and contributed to the Pelsall Wesleyan Chapel, and became the Treasurer. He also laid the foundation stone for Bloxwich Chapel in 1864. Boaz Jnr was trustee for Smethwick Chapel; Caleb and Benjamin also get a mention.

But did Boaz Snr use the Truck System? Well in 1838 there was a meeting in Dudley of nailmakers where they pledged to try to put down the truck system, and, “to employ such workmen as will lay information against their masters for paying them in truck, or who shall be discharged for refusing to take truck”….one of the signatureies was Boaz Bloomer Snr. Again he is mentioned in the 1842 Select Committee report on the payment of Wages as one of those who will “use every effort to put down a Truck System.

Were the family benefactors mostly to the Methodist community, and what was the ideology behind their thoughts on education? They contributed to Chapels, libraries at the works and Wesleyan schools. In 1868 they appeared in the National Press as an example of…”Advantages of Compulsory education at Ironworks”… the employer deducts 1.5d in the £1 from wages every week and the firm guarantees school fees. In Pelsall at Boaz Bloomer and Sons, there is a very considerable increase in school places and regular attendance, so satisfactory that Boaz Bloomer and Son now make it compulsory.

As with housing rents for the ironworkers, the money would be deducted from the wages before they are issued. Another way to shackle the workmen?

“After the closure of the firm, the Bloomers moved away from the area, but left a lasting impression on the local community.” I’m not sure that this is entirely correct.

Boaz Bloomer Snr and his partner Thomas Davis acquired the Pelsall Ironworks from Richard Fryer in 1846, Boaz later bought out Davis in 1865 and traded under the name Boaz Bloomer and Son. In Wikipedia it states that they changed the name to the Pelsall Coal and Iron Company, but the name change took place in 1873 and was actually a new share issue with a capital of £240,000 in shares of £20. It was formed to acquire Boaz Bloomer and Son, as “on the advance of age of the senior partner who desires to retire.” But was this the real reason?

In March 1872 Boaz Snr’s son Caleb Bloomer (described as a chain and anchor manufacturer from West Bromwich, Leadenhall Street London, Glasgow and Birkenhead) is filing a petition for liquidation in the London Bankruptcy Court, with liabilities of around £79,000. A certain William Henry Duignan [1], the Walsall solicitor and antiquarian, represented a large number of the creditors. Caleb’s difficulties began in 1864 and had become heavier in 1866. If he had been prepared to accept the losses in the first instance he would not have ended up in the position. Duignan recommended that he should go into liquidation and not bankruptcy as he had high respect for his honesty and his family connections. Relatives had very heavy claims but would not proceed with those claims, and may buy the works and operations, and under certain circumstances Caleb could retain some business operations.

Three months later the liabilities turn out to be £135,000, and his father Boaz Bloomer Snr undertook to pay all costs of the liquidation. There was some discussion respecting the withdrawal of a sum of £2,000 a brief time before the failure in order to pay, it was alledged, premiums upon policies taken out on the life of Boaz, father of the debtor, in order to secure a sum of £7,000. His dealings were strongly condemned as being far from straight forward and businesslike.

Boaz Snr did retire to Kensington but died in 1874, before the problems for another son, Benjamin Giles Bloomer of Pelsall, consulting engineer, machinery and general broker. In 1875 Benjamin filed for bankruptcy with liabilities of £7,500, and was represented by a solicitor from WH Duignan’s firm.

He had begun a business in 1873 and difficulties began when he entered into an agreement with others to take the Glincliff Colliery in South Wales. Before he consented to join he did not know they were not worth sixpence, he thought, from 25 years knowledge that they were men of solidity. One of them was a Thomas Davis Jnr, who could well be the son of the Thomas Davis the original partner of Boaz Snr. One of others was a chap named Bedlow who made a bolt for America.

In 1877 Boaz Jnr was Chairman and Managing Director of the Pelsall Coal and Iron Company, but the shareholders were not happy with the way the Company was being run, and called for an investigating committee to be set up. The Committee recommend the removal of MD and two other directors, and they called for £3 per share. Boaz Bloomer Jnr MD issued counter report on which a discussion ensued. Boaz would not accept the office of manager, but was re-elected as a director. Directors fees were reduced and a further 10 additional directors elected.

From 1877 onwards there does not seem any mention of Bloomer in the dealings of the Company, but up North in 1879 the papers note that “Boaz Bloomer Jnr, until 1877 Chairman and MD of the Pelsall Coal and Iron Co, acquires Team Valley Ironworks at Gateshead.” In 1880 there was a strike at Team Valley Ironworks, some of workforce were brought before magistrates for refusing to work, thus causing breach of contract.

In December 1882 Boaz Bloomer Jnr files a petition in Newcastle Bankruptcy Court under the style or firm of Boaz Bloomer and Son. Liabilities estimated to be £14,000.

In November 1883 at the London Bankruptcy Court is failure of Caleb Bloomer, of Mansion House Chambers, Queen Victoria Street, iron merchant. No accounts were filed, but proof of debts amounting to £24K were admitted.

The Pelsall Coal and Iron Co continued, but not without controversy, until 1891. At the July annual meeting it was stated that the original £20 shares were now worth £1 15s involving a loss of £200,000. No dividend had been paid since 1884. In August at the annual meeting, chaired by the director GW Hastings MP, it was proposed to go into liquidation and reconstruct as a coal company. December saw the arrest of Hastings MP for fraud [1]

In February 1892 the Collieries in Pellsall were acquired by the Walsall Wood Colliery Company; the whole of the shareholder’s capital of £200,000 now being absolutely lost.


[1] WH Duignan last years were overshadowed by the collapse of the Staffordshire Financial Company. He had been a founding director along with Caleb Bloomer.

[2] One of the directors of the Pelsall Coal and Iron Co was a GW Hastings. At the 1875 Annual Meetings Mr Hastings said, in connection with the strikes that had occued during the year…

He was quite sure that there were those to whom it was more unfortunate, and that was the misguided men who suffered themselves to be led into it. Having for may years past himself been interested in the condition of the working classes, and desiring that they should be independant, and having every shilling they were entitled to, he must express his deep regret, not only for the men themselves, but for the whole of the industrial classes of the country, that they should have suffered the effects of miss-representation and self-delusion.

George Woodyatt Hastings was born in 1825 in Worcester, and his father was Sir Charles Hastings was founder of what was to become the British Medical Association. His most famous ancestor was Warren Hastings the first Governer of India! He had his education at Christ College Cambridge, and was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1842 and called to the bar in1850.

He became a Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant, and Member of Parliament for Worcester East in 1880.

But the most interesting is that in December of 1891 he was arrested and charged with fraudulent misappropriation of several thousand pounds belonging to a trust estate of which he remained sole trustee. One witness asked why he invested as much as £15,000 in a Pelsall Company which was not proper debentures.

He was found guilty and sentenced to 5 years, and a few months after the sentence he appeared at a Bankrupcy Court. As he travelled from the Scrubbs and got off the train there was a large crowd who tried to catch a glimpse of him. One man shouted, “He’s the man who use to sentence others!”

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6 Responses to Having no Truck with it

  1. Thanks – what an intriguing piece. The issue around ‘truck’ is complicated, and I certainly would not seek to defend an iniquitous system. Yet it is easy to see how a certain type of paternalistic employer could believe that setting up a shop that sold food and other commodities in exchange for works tokens (especially in a remote area) might amount to an act of public benevolence consistent with religious belief. That isn’t to say that when it came to setting up Tommy shops, self-interest and self-deceit didn’t play their part. For what it’s worth, Gwyn A Williams, author of ‘The Merthyr Rising of 1831′ (Croom Helm, 1978, p38) offers an interesting slant on the issue, making the point that in the South Wales valleys of the 1830s, many workmen took a broadly favourable view of the truck system, seeing it as part-and-parcel with the housing, school, chapel, mechanics’ institute etc. provided up by local iron-master John Guest.

  2. Pedro says:

    Wiki say…..”The ironworks had a truck system, known as a ‘Tommy shop ‘in Wood Lane near the canal bridge, where the employees could exchange tokens for goods at a supposedly cheaper cost than in a regular shop.”

    As Boaz Snr was so outspoken about the Truck System, its highly unlikely that the shop was connected to the ironworks. Methodist or not, it was difficult to defend the Truck System as it was illegal.

    That is not to say the shop did not exist; there were collieries owned or leased to others in the area.

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    it is interesting to see how the original question, “why is the Wesley chapel built in stone?”, first asked in the blog article,, Mystery Solved, May 25 2011, has grown and developed in to this tour de force by dear Pedro in his amazingly thorough research. I believe there was a Tommy Shop, in Coppice Lane, Brownhills near some coalmines owned by Messrs Harrison.I am not aware of a Tommy shop having existed in Walsall Wood.
    Also of interest in this exposure is the reference to education for the workers’ children in Pelsall and I wonder if , at that time, this represented a pioneering venture by Messrs Bloomer/Wesleyan Church. I feel this thread has not run its full course yet..I hope so!
    My thanks to Pedro
    kind regards

  4. Graham says:

    Another explanation for the apparent contradiction of a tommy shop associated with the ironworks could be that, as Methodists, the Bloomers sought to ensure that all of their families were provided with sufficient food before any cash could be siphoned off for the demon drink. I have absolutely no historical evidence to support this supposition!

  5. Pedro says:

    Concerning the explosion at Short Heath in 1879 Wikipedia says…

    “On 12 November 1879 there was another explosion at the colliery which cost six lives following an issue with gas ventilation. Mr. J. Mottram, Q.C., Judge of the Birmingham County Court found the colliery manager, Michael Harle not guilty of gross negligence but instructed him to pay the cost of the inquiry. The Bloomers permitted him to keep his job.”

    This is true until the last few words “The Bloomers permitted him to keep his job.”

    In a report of the inquest it is added that since the catastrophe at the Pelsall Hall Colliery six years previously the company’s pits had been tolerably free of accidents. Previous to the Company being formed the works and collieries belonged to Messrs Boaz Bloomer and Son.

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