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Baptist Mills Brass Works

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Baptist Mills Brass Works at Bristol

On July 25th, 1700, the Company petitioned the Privy Council for a Charter of Incorporation and declared their interest to produce brass - a request which was denied.

1702 The works were eventually established at Baptist Mills, some two miles East of Bristol, and were in use as early as 1702. The Baptist Mills Brass Works were set up by Bristol Quakers on the site of an old grist mill on the River Frome. The original partners, who put in the necessary capital, were: Edward Lloyd (cider maker), Benjamin Coole (Merchant), Arthur Thomas (Pewterer) and John Andrews (Merchant and Vintner, his sister was married to Edward Lloyd). John and Thomas Coster, copper manufacturers who were familiar with Dutch brass foundry techniques, also joined the Company. Nehemiah Champion II (a Merchant from Stapleton) also joined to complete the Company. Abraham Darby (1678-1717) can be seen as the innovative manager of the Brass Works.

Baptist Mills was chosen for the site of the manufacturing company because there was water-power from the River Frome, both charcoal and coal were available locally, it was close to the City and Port of Bristol, there was room for establishment and expansion, a copper works had been established on the River Avon at Conham in 1698 and Calamine (zinc) was available from the Clifton Downs and the Mendip Hills.

The Baptist Mills works were to be the company's most important site for Brass and Copper production for the next 25 years until it started to decline in relative importance to other Keynsham, established by this rapidly expanding, young and innovative concern.

1703 Abraham Darby started a pot foundry in Cheese lane (near Temple Meads), Bristol. He was interested in casting pot-bellied iron pots in sand.

1704 Darby tried to produce cast-iron pots and failed. He went to Holland (Stolberg in the Rhineland?). Here he spied on the industrial techniques of coal-fired furnaces and the production of large brass pots and he recruited a number of skilled Catholic workers, some with their families, who came over to Bristol to work at Baptist Mills and, later, at the Company's Keynsham works. The Catholic workers were skilled in creating 'battery' ware. 'Battery' is the process of beating cold brass into different shaped vessels using water-powered hammers. These Catholics refused to come to Protestant Bristol unless they were guaranteed freedom of worship. A room was provided for them at a Catholic Chapel at the bottom of Ashley Hill.

With help from the new Dutch workers Darby experimented in casting iron by using sand moulds instead of moulds made of loam. They were already able to cast brass in sand but they proved unable to cast iron in the same way. Their experiments were proving expensive and, as the sand moulds exploded, also dangerous. It appears they got little support from the partners in the company who wanted to concentrate on brass manufacture. Sand moulding required a large capital investment in patterns and the Company's partners refused to advance capital to Darby to finance his experiments with casting iron.

1706 Formation of a Joint-Stock Company with transferable shares (worth a total of £8,000). The company establishes two new Brass Mills at Keynsham - one on the River Avon and one on the River Chew. Abraham Darby visited Shropshire, possibly paving the way for his move to Coalbrookdale .

From January 1707, and with the invaluable assistance of the Welsh-born Quaker, John Thomas, Darby finally managed to cast 'a pot of iron' in a sand mould, thus paving the way for the mass production of affordable cast iron holloware and the establishment of the British iron trade. Not only did the casting of iron in sand moulds enable mass production but it also allowed the production of more complex shapes and was an important factor in the development of parts for future steam engines and engineering products. The new technique also enabled the production of iron pots which were lighter (by about a third in weight) from their predecessors.

So commercially important was this discovery that it was carried out in the utmost secrecy - even the keyholes of the building were stopped up to prevent others spying on their work - at this time there was the most fierce competition for these new discoveries and industrial processes.

It is recorded that other industrialists tried to poach John Thomas and offered to double his wages if he left Darby's employment. An article of Agreement lasting three years was drawn up between Darby and Thomas which increased Thomas' wages and guaranteed his board and lodgings providing that he did not divulge 'to any other person on or about casting Iron Potts nor will disclose the method to anyone'. Darby and Thomas had built upon the expertise of 'casting in sand' which already existed not only in Holland but in Bristol and elsewhere in England at that time. What they did was use a synthesis of the limited expertise of iron founders who were making simple shapes (e.g. rollers and thimbles) with the skills of brass founders who could cast complicated shapes (e.g. pot-bellied pots). As well as using the skills of Thomas Lloyd, Darby also learned from the brass founder, Roger Downes. Both of these men were soon to join Abraham Darby at Coalbrookdale.

1707 Thomas Goldney (father of Thomas Goldney) became a backer of Darby at Cheese Lane, St Philips, Bristol. Darby established a foundry there using pig iron from the Forest of Dean. Here was the first known use of a reverberatory furnace in the iron industry thus making coal a fuel which could be used by iron founders. What he learnt here he applied in the blast furnace at the Coalbrookdale site the following year.

1709 Abraham Darby moved to Coalbrookdale where, with two new partners and financed by Goldney, he had bought an unused iron furnace and forges. Here Darby eventually established a Joint Works - running copper, brass, iron and steel works side by side hoping to achieve maximum efficiency and cross-over of techniques, understanding and resources. He also attempted to establish vertical integration of all these operations (mining of ores and fuels, processing and distribution).

His finance for his ambitious programme came from his established network of interlocking Quaker connections and a complicated arrangement of loans and mortgages. The Bristol Brass and Wire Co, as it came to be called, came increasingly under the control of Nehemiah Champion III - a Quaker Merchant whose family was already involved in different aspects of the metal trades. Nehemiah Champion III's brother, Richard, was for a while a financial backer of Darby's Coalbrookdale works and his father, Nehemiah Champion II, was trading with Darby's new Coalbrookdale venture. Nehemiah Champion III was not a strict Quaker, he was wealthy and had numerous financial interests including part-ownership of armed merchant ships; the 'Severn', 'Lucea', 'Townsend' and 'Hawke'.

The Bristol Brass and Wire Company began to expand and took up leases of copper mines in Cornwall. Cornwall was the main source of copper for the Works although considerable amounts of copper was imported from the Schuyler mine in New Jersey, America. The Company is said to have invested much money in trying for copper ore in the American Colonies The combination of Quaker capitalists was making the Company and Bristol the biggest manufacturer and maker of brass battery in England. The Bristol Brass Company was using around 250 tons of coal a year (44 horse-loads a week) around this period.

1709 saw the Company merge with the Brass Wire Works in Esher, Surrey. The joint Company was valued at £16,000. Brass production was concentrated in Bristol where the emphasis was on the production of 'battery ware' - i.e. pots, pans and kettles (large pots) made by beating flat sheets of cold brass with powerful water-powered hammers.

1710 Darby's foundry at Cheese Lane was valued at £1,738. This compared with the value of his acquired Coalbrookdale works of £1,060.

1711 The Bristol Brass and Wire Company, with other brass producers, petitioned Parliament against the importation of foreign brass and brass ware from Holland. They claimed that they were providers of employment of the poor in England and users of British copper and Calamine to produce Brass. They protested against laws which protected imports from Holland - laws which came from a time when there had been no English Brass Industry. They were also Petitioning to say they were being denied equal access to the growing export opportunities which the slave plantations in the West Indies and elsewhere were providing. This petition was denied by Parliament which had set up a Committee of Enquiry to investigate the claims of the English producers and the Merchants who imported and re-exported foreign brass.

Around this time the Company built its own Copper Works on the Avon at Crew's Hole under the control of John Coster and his son Thomas.

By 1712 Arthur Thomas said that the company's two copper works were using 2,000 horse-loads of coal a week. There is evidence to suggest that the brass produced by the Company had increased in quality over the previous two years. Arthur Swab from Sweden estimated that the production levels of brass in Bristol was between 400-533 tons a year. He reported that there were 25 furnaces at Baptist Mills which used 200 tons of copper a year and estimated it produced some 250-260 tons of brass a year. The previous difficulties of using fossil fuel in furnaces (the sulphur made the copper brittle and the resulting brass was unable to be used in further processing) had obviously been overcome by this time.

The lessons learned by Abraham Darby in his development of the Baptist Mills Brass Works were to be developed further when he moved to Coalbrookdale. One of the managers (possibly the first?) of these works was Roger Downes from whom Darby had learned so much of brass moulding in sand. Downes had been in the Shropshire area since about 1695. He later became manager of the iron works and was replaced by Jeffrey Pinnell.

Before the establishment of a British brass industry, calamine ore (Zinc) was exported to the Low Countries from mines in the Mendip Hills. By 1720 this ore was being supplied to the Brass Works at Baptist Mills. The Swedish Mine Official, Henric Kahlmeter, (Sweden was worried about the metallurgical advances being made in Britain - this was threatening their export trade) who successfully discovered the industrial processes in use at Baptist Mills reported that in the early 1720s there were 36 furnaces for making brass at the site. He reported that the copper works of Bristol and Redbrook (over the Severn) were the 'most considerable' in England. Ten years later Swedenborg described Baptist Mills as 'the principal place where English brass is made'. During this period around 300 tons of brass was being produce each year from furnaces in 6 Brasshouses. Each of these Brasshouses will have had about 6 furnaces. The Brasshouses were topped with large cones similar to those used in the glass industry.

The total output of brass by the Company at this time was around 570 tons per annum. The Company's 'coalition' with its previous suppliers of copper brought a government enquiry under the Bubble Act (legislation which had resulted from the South Sea Bubble financial disaster). The Company's affairs were found to be in order and was allowed to continue trading. However, 15 other concerns were found to violate the Act. Detailed recording, accounting and strict business methods of the Quakers concerned had been an important factor in the Company's survival. The setback for some of its rivals meant the Company found that its standing in the industry was greatly improved.

1722 A second Petition to Parliament (Jan 8 1722) was made complaining about the unfair duties system for foreign brass. This time the brass and copper manufacturers were joined by the mine owners of Devon and Cornwall. Merchants (including ones from Bristol who exported foreign and Bristol brass and brassware to Africa and the colonial plantations) complained and, although a Committee of Enquiry recommended changes to the duty system, Parliament voted against change. But such were the continuing technological advance in brass manufacture in Bristol that by 1740 there was no need to fear competition from abroad. Thomas Coster, the eldest of the three copper manufacturing brothers, was elected Bristol's MP in 1734. This factor which must have strengthened the area's brass and copper manufacturing interests in London.

1721 The Company erected 'copper works' at Saltford - four miles from its Keynsham concern - here it is believed there were battery mills working brass and copper into hollowware. Around this time they had established a works at Weston, west of Bath.

By 1724, Nehemiah Champion III possessed Patent No 454 which concerned the techniques and methods which the Baptist Mills concern had developed concerning the manufacturing of brass. The processes which the Patent contained were to have a lasting effect of the method and efficiency of brass production. This process involved the creation of copper granules - an idea which was itself developed from Bristol's lead shot industry. The technological innovations and increasing chemical understanding of the chemical processes involved in the making of brass ensured that the Company which originated at Baptist Mills would have commercial success for some 50 years. Amongst its achievements this innovative Company established one of the earliest known materials testing laboratories where a host of experiments were carried out.

1725 the Crew's Hole Copper works employed 33 men who were paid 6/- a week. Henric Kahlmeter described the 'copper granulation' method in his report sent to Sweden.

By 1725 Crew's Hole was producing some 150 tons of copper a year for the Brass Works from 24 furnaces. Most of its output went to Baptist Mills. Copper from works at Conham (30 furnaces in 1720) also went to Baptist Mills, the Company's production headquarters, where it was smelted.

In the 1730's Woodborough Mill, at Compton Dando on the River Chew, was leased by the Company and started producing battery-ware.

1734 The company took over the copper company of John Coster at Upper Redbrook on the Wye. The Company is then said to have destroyed these works through neglect. This was one of two means of ensuring copper supplies. The other was purchasing copper from Robert Morris' works in Swansea (yet another being the collusion with other purchases of copper to keep prices down). The Bristol Brass Company also owned mines in Cornwall. When it took over the Redbrook works the Company's name became The United Brass Battery, Wire and Copper Company of Bristol, Esher, Upper Redbrook and Barton Regis.

1737 William Champion, son of Nehemiah Champion III, and a skilled metallurgist who made numerous improvement in brass manufacture, patented a production method on the preparation of Zinc from ore, which he had developed at Henham (Hanham) near Bristol. He was the first man to make zinc in Britain and established an important industry. This was an important development as zinc prices were rising extremely fast. However, due to over-importing of zinc to take advantage of this high price, the price of Zinc dropped dramatically. Champion was left with 200 tons of high quality zinc produced by his newly patented method. He is thought to have lost about £4,000 in this venture. His appeals to the House of Commons for compensation were turned down through the combined opposition of rival traders and merchants.

The Company established a brass warehouse in central Bristol. This was near St Philip's Church and backed onto old Queen's Street. Thus, the company had access to shipping and barge traffic. One of the numerous names given to the Company was 'The Brass Warehouse Company', it was also spoken of locally as 'The Brass Wire Company' or just BWCo.

1746 William Champion, the grandson of Nehemiah Champion II, left the Company to set up a new Company at Warmley to make 'copper and brass, spelter (zinc) and various utensils of copper and brass'. He had been dismissed by the Company and felt a bitterness towards it which increased over the following years. This company employed about 800 people making it one of biggest industrial concerns of its time.

1747 Abraham Darby died

1749 the Bristol Brass Company was in difficulties with Bristol's City Council for dumping Brass waste on the banks of the River Avon. It overcame some of this problem by re-smelting the slag and moulding it into copper slag building blocks. There are some scattered examples of these blocks being used in walls in Easton but by far the biggest local use was the creation at Arnos Court of the Black Castle built by William Reeve in the 1760s. Another solution to the problem was in using clinker as facing materials for buildings - a local example of this is Globe House in St Jude's.

By 1750 the Company had taken over the copper works at Conham which had been owned by the Elton family.

During the 1750s the company faces serious rivalry to its predominant position when William Champion developed 'the most up-to-date and most efficient works in the country' at Warmley.

1754 Reinhold Angerstein reported seeing that the Company (which he referred to as 'the Great Brass Co') had re-built the Conham Copper Works which had 17 furnaces. While at the same time the Crew's Hole Works increased to 49 furnaces. Men employed were receiving wages of 10/- a week for melters and some of the men receiving 15 - 18/- a week.

Angerstein also reports that the Warmley works of Champion had '15 copper furnaces, 12 brass furnaces, 4 spelter or zinc furnaces, a battery mill, rolling mills for making plates, rolling and cutting mills for wire, and a wire mill both of thick and fine drawn kinds'. At this time it was producing about a quarter the amount of copper as the Bristol Company.

1758 John Champion, eldest son of Nehemiah Champion III, obtained Patent No 726 for the 'sole preparing, vending and selling of spelter or brass made from a mineral which has not hitherto been made use of for such purposes'. This mineral was Zinc Blende or Black Jack, the sulphide of zinc which was more plentiful than Calamine. A similar Patent is taken out by his brother, William, in 1767.

Harford's and the Bristol Brass Company bought Thomas Coster's Copper Works in South Wales (presumably this was Melincryddan?) - it is not known if they continued smelting at Conham and Crew's Hole.

1760s the Stock value of the Company was put at £200,000 with a profit of £8,000 annually.

1762 Mark Harford junior (1738–1798) of Stoke Bishop married Sarah (d. 1798), daughter of Samuel Lloyd. Mark was son of Mark Harford (1700–1788) who had married Love Andrews, granddaughter of one of the founders of the Bristol Brass Company. This marriage therefore increased the Harford's stake in the company, and later Mark became its leader.

1767 The Warmley Brass Co faced financial collapse. It was undertaking brass pin making on a considerable scale. It tried to make a massive expansion in its capacity which would seriously threaten the Bristol Brass Company's existence and also that of pin makers in Gloucester. The Bristol company, now called The Brass Battery, Wire and Copper Company of Bristol, along with three other brass producers and manufacturers (John Freeman and Copper Co of Bristol; Thomas Patten and Co of Warrington; and Charles Roe and Copper Co of Macclesfield), and six other industrial concerns challenged this expansion stating that the ensuing monopoly and the massive extension of debt involved would threaten the existence of this vital industry should the Warmley site collapse because it could not finance the debt it would incur to finance the necessary expansion (the Patten and Roe companies were developing 'rapidly at this time').

In March 1768 the Bristol Company won its case before the Lord's Committee of the Privey Seal. Champion was dismissed from the Warmley Brass Co by his partners (he was discovered trying to get out his financial share of the company because he expected the inevitable collapse). Champion was declared bankrupt in 1769 and the works are put up for auction. It was finally purchased by the Bristol Company but never reached its old level of output again.

By the 1770s there was business collaboration and price setting agreements between Bristol Brass Co, Patton's sister company in Cheadle and the Macclesfield Copper Co (formed by Charles Roe & partners in 1758). Roe and Co started to make a number of important financial and industrial decisions which were to end the Company's dominance of the brass industry. They started to exploit the copper deposits in Anglesey - large deposits of copper ore were found in 1768. Their Macclesfield works were used to produce brass and copperwares while the copper smelting was done in Liverpool.

The Bristol Brass Company and Harford's Company involve themselves in a network of, mainly, Quaker copper smelting and copper ore dealing firms in South Wales. The Quaker families of Harford, Champian, Goldney and Darby were all involved in a complex network of partnerships.

1780 The 'Forest Copper Works' are seen as being owned by a partnership of Quakers who dominated the Bristol Brass Company and the Tin Plate concerns of West Wales. Through different combinations of names this partnership was also deeply involved in the important iron industry in Coalbrookdale and the iron trade of South wales and Bristol.

By 1780 the consumption of brass by the industries of Birmingham was 1,000 tons p. a. This demand was satisfied by Bristol, Cheadle and later Macclesfield. The brass manufacturing combination increased its prices to Birmingham customers by 15% (from £72 to £84 a ton).

On 18 August 1780, 19 Birmingham businesses met at the 'Swan' in Bull St, Birmingham, to protest against this increase and called for a breaking of the monopoly. The result was the formation of a Birmingham owned business. Each firm present at the meeting agreed to put in £100 so that they 'may no longer under ye arbitory hand of the Bristol company.' There then followed a period where the new firm gathered information on the business practices, methods and means of production of the Bristol company.

April 1781 they established the Birmingham Metal Co with a capital of £20,000 in 200 shares with no one owning more than 4 shares. The first co-operative company of this kind to come into existence. The new Company decided to build its new concern in Birmingham and take advantage of the new canal developments in the region. It joined with Parys Mine Co to work outside the older companies association. Each member of the company had to purchase 200 tons of brass per annum - this helped the new company fight off the price war with the old association which followed. Although some firms (outside the new co-operative company) still bought brass from the old companies the monopoly of trade was broken.

1781 By this year the Bristol Company had moved its copper smelting operations to Warmley where it took advantage of being closer to its supplies of coal.

By 1782 the Macclesfield Co had profits of £15,000 per annum. Thomas Williams developed copper smelting works in Ravenhead, Lancs.

From 1785 a pricing agreement was reached between the copper mining operations of Cornwall and Anglesey whereby copper would be offered at the same price through joint warehouses in Bristol, London, Liverpool and Birmingham. But mistrust, deceit and different economic realities facing the different mining areas meant this agreement to prevent undercutting each other was a failure within a few years.

1786 Saw the Bristol company under increasing financial and trading pressure as old trading arrangements were deteriorating and it put some of its shares up for sale. At a meeting of its shareholders in its warehouse in Queens St, St Philip's all its members decided, 'That it appears impracticable for the said company to carry on their trade any longer and the same should be dissolved and terminated.' At this point the management of the company was by a committee consisting of nine people, five of whom were members of the Harford family. The company being referred to quite often as 'Mark Harford & Bristol Brass Co'. The family had connection with John Andrews one of the founder members of the company, through marriage. Also by marriage into the Lloyd family - Edward Lloyd was also a founder member.

1787 Advertisements appeared in newspapers across the country advertising the sale of 'All the Works, Mills, Estates and Utensils of the United brass Battery, Wire and Copper Company of Bristol'. By March that year the company had been sold for just £16,000. Through a complicated system of purchase the company reorganised with a very similar ownership as before but with the company under the direction of Mark Harford and five others of his family and four other stock holders. The 'new' business was named Harfords and Bristol Brass and Copper Co. This new company starts to take interest in copper smelting in South Wales by purchasing part ownership of works at Upper Forest and running down if not finishing with its copper smelting operations in Bristol.

By 1790 Williams had annexed the smelting operations in Swansea and had a copperware plant in Flintshire; this company's rapid expansion shook loose the control of the existing copper smelters association with whom Williams refused to co-operate. Smelters had to purchase Williams' ore at a price which suited him.

1790 The Birmingham manufacturers set up the Birmingham Mining and Copper Co on similar lines to the Birmingham Metal Co with smelting works at Swansea.

By the 1790s the Wooborough Mill at Compton Dando was abandoned.

1796 Mark Harford died and the company was called the 'Joseph Harford & Bristol Brass Company'.

1799 There was a Government inquiry into the running of the copper industry with Thomas Williams' activities coming under increasing scrutiny and from complaints of Midlands manufacturers and users of copper. Williams was running a virtual monopoly of smelting copper which forced down the price paid to mining operators but forced up the price paid by copper purchasers.

1799 The company sold its Conham site to a chemical business.

1800-1814 Quaker partnerships develop in copper and iron smelting and engineering industries in Neath. The Birmingham Company continues to expand and the Bristol and Cheadle operations were on the decline, its production methods proving to be traditional and slow.

1811/12 The Battery Mills at Weston changed hands.

1814 The Baptist Mills site was abandoned and its work is transferred to Keynsham.

1820 By this time the company had ceased producing copper at Swansea - this is the end of the company's involvement in the copper smelting business.

1825 The Bitton Battery Mills changed hands and became a paper mill.

1828 The company sold its Crew's Hole business site for £1,880.

1830 The Baptist Mills site was described as 'not fit for manufactory' in a surveyor's report. The site covered thirteen and a half acres.

1830 Robert Charlton, a Quaker who lived at Ashley Hill, opened his brass pin works at Two Mile Hill. Employed 110 women and 50 boys as well as 500 women and child outworkers.

1831 The Baptist Mills site was offered for sale but no buyer was found.

1832 The Warmley site was sold to the leaseholder who continued to produce pins and smelt zinc on the site.

1836 On 4th June the Baptist Mills site was put on the market, 'All those valuable Mills, and works called Baptist Mills, herefore used as a Brassworks, having good waterpower, and extensive and substantial buildings capable of being applied to any manufacturing purpose. Also twenty Dwelling-Houses and cottages, and sundry Plots of building ground.'

1836-1840 The Baptist Mills site was sold off in plots. James White bought the old melting and charcoal houses and established his pottery on the site. Another part of the site became a tannery.

1836 By this time 'Harfords & Bristol Brass & Copper Company' had ended its role as being directly a manufacturing concern. Rather it leased premises to one of the company's partners; Charles Ludlow Walker at a rental of £500 per annum. Ludlow started a building & new plant programme at Keynsham including, it is thought, the introduction of steam power (rather than water-power). Parts of the land at Keynsham and Saltford were sold to GWR and stations were built near each mill. By this time there were only three working mills left; the Chew and Avon Mills and the battery mill at Saltford. It still owned the lease of the Kelston Mills (near Saltford) which had been acquired by the Warmley company. This was the remnants of what had been the largest brass works in Europe just 30 years previously.

Brass production in the Bristol district came to a close with the closure of the Keynsham factory in June 1927. The names of the last two men who ever made Brass Battery pans in Britain were Thomas R. Shellard of Saltford and George Brimble of Keynsham.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • [1] Living Easton Web Site
  • Biography of the Harford family [2]