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British Industrial History

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French Wall's

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French Wall's iron works, of Smethwick

The French Walls estate lay by the Birmingham Canal, close to the Soho Foundry.

There was an estate in Smethwick called The French Walls from at least 1660.

In 1771 Sir John Peshale sold the estate to John Turner, merchant of Birmingham, and a lease was granted to John Jennens.

1790s A gun manufactory was operated at French Walls in Smethwick. John Whately ordered a 20 h.p. engine in 1791, to power the forge and the gun barrel grinding and boring mill. However it appears that the engine was not erected until late 1795/early 1796, when his brother Henry was running the works [1].

1796 Henry bought a 9 h.p. engine from Cox and Hall of Nottingham to power the forge, leaving the 20 h.p. engine to power the grinding and boring mill. The engines were placed in an unusual side by side arrangement, both connected to a large drum, which appears to have been connected to the forge apparatus. Both engines were fed from a common boiler, although a second was added in 1799 [2].

The property was passed before 1798 to Henry Piddock Whateley. He granted a lease to Edward Croxall of Shustock (Shustoke) county of Warwickshire, and Joseph Gibbs, a button maker of Birmingham for the French Walls property, and a farm, and land in Harborne and Handsworth.

In 1810 part of French Walls farm was advertised to let in "Aris's Birmingham Gazette".

1812 When the land was mortgaged to Isaac Spooner and Matthias Attwood, the property included a mill and a steam engine in Smethwick.

In 1815, "All those substantial and excellent buildings known as the French Walls Flour Mill" were auctioned. They were described as three miles from Birmingham on the banks of the Birmingham Canal. There were twenty dwelling houses in the lots of sale, and among these were three houses, described as having been the out buildings that used to belong to the homestead of French Walls Farm.

1816 James Watt the younger bought the French Walls mill [3] including the 2 engines.

1820 Watt leased the mill to Henry Downing, lending him the money necessary to convert it into an ironworks [4].

1824 The partnership between Richard Hooton and Henry Downing of Birmingham, iron manufacturers, was dissolved [5].

1829 Henry Downing went bankrupt. Watt then leased the property to the Bordesley Steel Co, which was still running it in the mid 1830s [6].

1836 Patent granted to Alexander Stocker of Bordesley Iron Works, Birmingham and Henry Downing of French Wall's iron works, Birmingham (gentlemen) for improvements in manufacturing rivets, screw blanks, and other articles [7].

Mid 1830s James Watt (Junior) took the French Wall's Works into his own hands and ran it in conjunction with the Soho Foundry, though as a separate concern, until old age forced him to give it up in 1842 [8].

The French Walls works provided the Soho Foundry with boiler plates and uses (semi-finished forgings for engines) as well as turning out merchant iron and steel. Scrap from the Foundry was returned to the French Walls for reworking [9].

1842 The French Wall's Works was bought by G. F. Muntz [10], inventor of Muntz metal, an alloy of copper and zinc, who needed more room than his works in Birmingham provided [11]

1849 Patent Metal Co listed as metal rollers, proprietor George Frederick Muntz, French Walls, Smethwick [12]. Another metal roller company was G. F. and P. H. Muntz of Water Street[13].

1850 A further 6.5 acres were acquired to the west, divided from the original site by the Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Stour Valley Railway [14]

1857 Muntz died and the business was carried on by his eldest son, G. F. Muntz the younger [15]

1864 business sold to the newly formed Muntz's Metal Co Ltd [16].


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Archives of Soho, held at Birmingham City Archives [Ref. MS3147/Portfolio/5/77]
  2. Archives of Soho, held at Birmingham City Archives [Ref. MS3147/Portfolio/5/77]
  3. Victoria County History, History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part)
  4. Victoria County History, History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part)
  5. The Morning Chronicle 14 January 1824
  6. Victoria County History, History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part)
  7. Manchester Times and Gazette January 7, 1837
  8. Victoria County History, History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part)
  9. Victoria County History, History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part)
  10. 1851 Great Exhibition: Official Catalogue: Class VIII.: George Frederick Muntz
  11. Victoria County History, History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part)
  12. History and Directory of Birmingham, 1849: Metal Rollers
  13. History and Directory of Birmingham, 1849: Metal Rollers
  14. Victoria County History, History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part)
  15. Victoria County History, History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part)
  16. Victoria County History, History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17: Offlow hundred (part)