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British Industrial History

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Charlestown Foundry

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Exhibit at the China Clay Country Park in Cornwall.
Exhibit at the China Clay Country Park in Cornwall. 35ft water wheel.
Exhibit at the China Clay Country Park in Cornwall.
A flat rod tunnel at the China Clay Country Park in Cornwall.
Exhibit at the China Clay Country Park in Cornwall. A smaller wheel still in operation.
Small waterwheel at the Tregargus Valley. Used at the Wheal Arthur Works. Made at the Charlestown Foundry.
Charlestown Foundry works badge found on the smaller wheel in the Tregargus Valley.
3-inch high pressure water monitor manufactured at Charlestown Engineering Co and which were operated by pit operatives for English China Clays.

Charlestown Iron Foundry and Ironworks Co was sited higher up the hill from Charlestown Harbour, on Charlestown Road, St. Austell, Cornwall. [1]

Probably founded in 1827. An advert in November of that year stated that 'J. and R. Michell have established a Brass and Iron Foundry at Charlestown .... N.B. the Foundry and Hammer-Mill at Redruth will be carried on as usual by J. and R. Michell.

1829 Sale of foundry advertised 'consequent upon the decease of Tobias Michell'.

1835 Foundry taken over by John Thomas (originally from Redruth).

1854 John Thomas's sons Edwin Thomas and James Thomas entered the business.

Under the Thomas family, large pumping engines were constructed, including: a 50" engine for Bodmin Wheal Mary Consols (built (1851) and a 70" engine for Mount's Bay Consols (1852), which was subsequently re-erected at Wheal Caroline.

The above information is taken from 'The Cornish Beam Engine' by D. B. Barton, 1966.

1877 'Sale — On Thursday the premises known as the Charlestown Foundry were put up by auction at the White Hart Hotel, but a sale was not effected. The bidding was very slow, the highest being £1,504, offered by Capt. Kessel, and the property was withdrawn, although Mr. Kessel increased his offer to £2,000. On Friday Capt. Kessell made another offer of £3,000, which did not secure the property.'[2]

1884 Incorporated as the Charleston Foundry and Iron Works Company. Directors were T. Martin, James Barratt and R. H. Williams, C.E.[3]

1885 Advertisement. 'CHARLESTOWN FOUNDRY AND IRON WORKS COMPANY (LIMITED). ENGINEERS AND IRONFOUNDERS, CHARLESTOWN, CORNWALL. Best Makers of Horizontal and Beam Engines, Cornish and other Boilers. Mining and Claywork Machinery, Waterwheels, specially Chilled Railway and Tram Wheels, Hammered shafts of first quality iron for Mines, Clayworks, and Steamships; Tin Dressing Machinery.....'[4]

Charlestown Foundry made the enormous 35ft pitchback water wheel, which was in production at Wheal Martyn by 1884. It was used to pump clay slurry up to the surface from the bottom of the china clay pits. The power from the wheel had to travel large distances via the ingenious system of connecting rods made of iron called flat rods. They travelled uphill for over half a mile and through narrow tunnels on a system of pulleys.

At some point between 1870 and c 1900 it provided at least one, but probably several waterwheels to the Tregargus Valley China Clay Works of Wheal Arthur, near St. Stephens.

Inhabitants of St. Austell and district were painfully shocked on Thursday to hear that Frederick Wallace Gaved (19), second son of Mr. A. E. Gaved, had been killed at Charlestown Foundry and Ironworks, while working at a planing machine.
Mr. Gaved, senior, in addition to being secretary to the Foundry, where deceased was apprenticed, is secretary to St. Austell Public Rooms Co., Ltd., joint secretary of the Fat Stock Society, and otherwise prominently associated with town affairs. In business he is a general merchant.
The inquest was held on Friday, at the house, Hillcrest, Watering-hill, St. Austell, by Mr. John Pethybridge, county coroner. There were present Mr. C. H. Morris, H.M. inspector, Plymouth, and Mr. H. W. Higman, St. Austell, solicitor, representing the .Company.
In expressing the Company's regret at the occurrence and their sympathy with deceased's family, Mr. Higman said Mr. Gaved, senior, was an old and valued servant of the Company, and deceased was a young and promising lad. The Coroner said they all agreed with Mr. Higman's expression of sorrow, and extended their sympathy with the family. Mr. A. E. Gaved said his son had been apprenticed to the Company nearly four years. Although deceased suffered no physical disability, he was not very robust, and was rather of a neurotic temperament. Witness was not sure that deceased, had good sight, but he wore glasses. Witness had no complaint make of any kind, neither had deceased made complaint about the difficulties of his work. Deceased was one of the leading apprentices.
Fellow Apprentice's Discovery.
William Stafford Symons, another apprentice, said he was working the planing machine next deceased's. Witness went over to deceased to borrow a spanner used on both machines, and found deceased stooping between the machine and the wall. His head was not visible. No conversation took place, witness simply taking the spanner. Returning the spanner in about two minutes he found deceased in the same position, and then realised that he was caught in the machine which had stopped through pressing against deceased's head. Witness had not heard the slightest noise from deceased. His head was jammed between the upright of the machine and clamp. The head was badly injured on the right side, and was bleeding profusely. Asked as to how deceased came to be in such a position, witness said deceased must have been reaching for something. He was inside the plane, where he was not supposed to go without permission from the foreman, or person in charge. The plane could be stopped from outside by two handles. Deceased's oil can and cap were found under the machine, but witness did not think deceased went inside to reach his cap, for he could have reached it from outside. Witness could not account for deceased being in that position. He understood deceased had good sight.
William John Penberthy, Lelant, now residing at Mount Charles, foreman, said deceased was under his supervision. He was a capable apprentice, and witness had no fault to find with him. He was planing by witness's orders.
The Coroner: Can you give any idea how this accident happened ?
Witness: None whatever; it is a mystery to me. Answering further questions witness said deceased ought not to have gone where he was found without witness's permission, unless he had first stopped the plane. Deceased was a very steady young fellow, and always carried out witness's wishes.
The Coroner : Do you find that the men take these risks?
Witness: Very seldom, perhaps once in a while. Replying to Mr. Higman, witness said he did not see how the machine could be better protected. Speaking generally, the rules were obeyed.
Shocking Injuries.
Dr. Jeffery, St. Austell said he arrived a few minutes after the accident, and found that death had taken place. Deceased had sustained compound comminated fracture of the skull, the right side being crushed in and the brain severely lacerated. The head must have been crushed in the advancing plane, and death must have been instantaneous, it did not seem to witness that any provision could be made to prevent such accident. The machine seemed very simple.
The Coroner said there could be no question that deceased met his death by accident and it might be some small consolation to know that there was no prolonged agony. There were always great risks in workshops containing heavy machinery in motion, and always a certain amount of risk which all workmen had to run. It might that deceased, with his experience, thought it safe enough do some odd job. and so met with this accident.
The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental Death." and considered that no blame attached to anyone.'[5]

See Also


Sources of Information

  2. Royal Cornwall Gazette - Friday 01 June 1877
  3. Royal Cornwall Gazette - Friday 06 June 1884
  4. Western Morning News - Saturday 21 November 1885
  5. West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser - Thursday 17 October 1912