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British Industrial History

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Warmley Brass Co

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Map of the factory site based on an 1840 map (on display board in the grounds at Warmley)
Warmley Tower
Base of tower and adjacent building featuring copper slag blocks
Clock Tower building
JD Warmley5.jpg
William Champion's house, now Warmley House Care Home
JD Warmley10.jpg
JD Warmley13.jpg
Wall composed of rough slag and stone
Rough copper slag capping, perhaps pre-dating the introduction of copper slag blocks

Of Warmley, Siston, South Gloucestershire (part of the Bristol conurbation)

Note: This entry covers all the copper, zinc and brass related activities at the Warmley site, not just those under the auspicies of the Warmley Brass Co. A concise account of the site is available on the Historic England website[1]. This source states that the complex was founded in 1743.

1738 William Champion patented an improved process for the production of zinc (used in making brass).

1746 The Warmley Brass and Copper Company (Siston) was founded by William Champion and partners drawn from the old Bristol Brass Co in response to complaints about the smoke from his Bristol furnaces. A large integrated works was built at Warmley, outside the city, on an 80-acre site purchased by his father, Nehemiah Champion III. This incorporated the smelting of copper, together with brass production and manufacture. The output consisted mainly of hollow ware and wire.

A Newcomen Engine was used for pumping, the first example of one being used this way in a manufacturing process. See below.

1767 'Thursday a fire engine of a curious construction was set a going at the brass-works at Warmley, which is thought to be the largest in Europe ; it throws up 20 hogsheads of water at a time, and eight times in a minute.'[2]

Zinc production proved less profitable than expected, especially when the patent rights were not extended. Champion expanded the premises, plant, and processes, adding brass pin manufacture.

By 1761 Champion was seeking new partners to provide additional capital to expand the works; he persuaded three local colliery owners, Norborne Berkeley, Charles Whittuck, and Charles Bragge to enter into partnership, reserving their coal for the Warmley Company.

1762 The new partnership was formed.

By 1765 the business was still expanding, although Champion was forced to borrow heavily, and personal losses occurred after the failure of his dock improvements in the port of Bristol.

1767 Champion registered patent no. 867 for manufacturing brass and brass wire

1767 'Thursday a fire engine of a curious construction was set a going at the brass-works at Warmley, which is thought to be the largest in Europe ; it throws up 20 hogsheads of water at a time, and eight times in a minute.'[3]

1767 The need for new capital, due to expansion, caused the partners to seek a charter of incorporation but this was defeated by strong opposition from other major brass and copper concerns. Lord Botetourt had lent the company £12,000 in 1767-8;

1768 Champion was accused of embezzlement and mismanagement and was dismissed. Lord Botetourt lent the company £12,000 in 1767-8; Charles Bragge also lent money.

1769 Following the bankruptcy of Champion, the works were offered for sale by auction and were eventually purchased by the old Bristol Brass Company. Charles Bragge's schemes for saving the company proved ineffective.

1789 William Champion died in Bristol.

The Site Today

Fortunately, a number of features of the extensive 18th century works have been preserved, the most distinctive being 'Warmley Tower', built as a windmill. The 13-acre reservoir has been filled in and the reclaimed land is partly occupied by an estate of 'park homes'. Many of the boundary walls, and various other walls include copper slag blocks. The site includes the Kingswood Heritage Museum.

The prominent Bristol brass historian, Joan Day, published a paper in 1988 which includes plans of the layout of the works at Warmley and interpretion of the remains.[4]

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] Historic England listing - Brass works at Warmley
  2. Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette - Thursday 19 March 1767
  3. Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, Thursday 19th March 1767
  4. [2] The Bristol brass industry: Furnace structures and their associated remains by Joan M Day
  • Warmley Brass and Copper Works [3]
  • Biography of William Champion, ODNB [4]