« ForrigeFortsæt »
across the road, where they poured it into moulds. But "about 1748, or perhaps a little later, they built or purchased the iron furnace and forge at Wilson House, near Lindal, in the parish of Cartmel, intending to smelt there the rich hæmatite ore of Furness with turbary or peat moss, large tracts of which at that time were on every side nearly of the furnace." Into this turbary he dug a canal, and in order to bring the peat along this canal to the furnace, he made, acting, it is said, on a suggestion of his son John, a small iron boat, "the parent ", as Mr. Stockdale says, "of all the iron ships that have ever since been built." The many experiments made by the two with the object of smelting iron ore with peat moss proved, however, unsuccessful, and they had to revert to the use of wood charcoal. Nevertheless, they here invented and patented "the common box smoothing iron, even to this day but little altered." (Stockdale.) Soon after, John Wilkinson left his father and got employment, first at Wolverhampton, and then at Bilston, Staffordshire, where, after ten years he "succeeded in obtaining sufficient means to enable him to build the first blast furnace ever constructed in Bilston township, which he called "Bradley Furnace," where he ultimately, after many failures, attained complete success in substituting mineral coal for wood charcoal in the smelting and puddling of iron ore. It is probable that in achieving this result he owed more to the Darbys and Reynoldses of Coalbrookdale, and to others, than he ever seems to have acknowledged.
Convinced of the applicability of iron to almost every purpose for which stone, brick, or wood had hitherto been used, and desirous of pleasing Thomas Jackson, one of his foremen at Bradley, he presented the Wesleyans of that place with what was called "a cast iron chapel" and pulpit. Talking with Jackson about the Sunday School connected with the chapel he advised that the children be
employed in writing and arithmetic", and then, added he, "you will do something to keep the devil off them all their lives. If that don't increase the number of saints it will decrease the number of fools."
"Very good, sir; but who is to pay for pens, ink, and paper the children will spoil long before they can make decent pothooks and hangers; and where's the desks to come from they must have to write on ?" "Bah! We can do without pens, ink, and paper, and desks. Give them plenty of iron and a little sand!" "Iron !" exclaimed Tom, stretching his eyes and his mouth as though they could compass the width of his shoulders, and trying all the while to look as though he did not think Mr. Wilkinson was iron mad. "Yes, iron! Look here, you make a pattern for a square box of thin cast-iron without a top, the sides rising only an inch or so, and the whole no longer than a boy can hold on his left hand and forearm, or rest on his knees as he sits. Let that box be filled with the fine sand to be found about here, the surface of the sand made even and then with a skewer of iron, fashioned like a pen if you like, let the boy learn to make his figures and his straight strokes and round O's in the sand. He can't use up that copybook very fast; and the pen will never want mending. You get the patterns ready, Tom, and we will soon have a cast-iron school as well as a cast-iron chapel. Come, I must be off to Wednesbury. Lend me your pony, Tom."
These cast iron copy books and pens were still in use long after John Wilkinson's death, and I believe the old pulpit is still preserved in the Wesleyan Chapel at Bradley which has been erected on the site of its predecessor.
Meanwhile Mr. Isaac Wilkinson heard of the Bersham Iron Furnace, and determined to lease it. Hither, therefore,
1 My authority for this conversation (which I have copied exactly), is an article by Mr. Alfred C. Pratt, in The Midland Counties Express. Mr. Pratt drew on the recollections of old people at Bradley. Mr. Stockdale says that this chapel was at Bilston, which is close to Bradley, and the form of his remarks suggests that the building, though known as "Wilkinson's cast-iron chapel," was not actually built of cast-iron but merely furnished by John Wilkinson with " pulpit, window frames, pillars, and many other things" of cast-iron. The two accounts supplement and correct each other.
he came with his wife, his sons, William and Henry, and at least two daughters, and after a while rented of Squire Yorke the fine old house in Esclusham Below, now pulled down, called "Plas Grono." His eldest son John, although he still kept on his furnace at Bradley, seems to have somehow co-operated with his father's venture at Bersham, for in 1756 he had a house in Wrexham Fechan, and when his first wife, Ann, died 17 Nov. 1756, at the age of 23, leaving him, "inconsolable," she was buried in Wrexham Church, where a tablet to her memory still remains. This lady, according to Mr. Randall, was a Miss Mawdsley, by whom he had a daughter who died young. In 1763, according to the same authority, he married a Miss Lee of Wroxeter. Of the two younger sons of Isaac Wilkinson, Henry was the elder. He was born in 1730, died at Plas Grono, June 26, 1756, and was buried in the Dissenters' Graveyard, Wrexham, where his tombstone may still be seen. One of Isaac Wilkinson's daughters, Mary,' married at Wrexham Parish Church, June 23, 1762, the Rev. Joseph Priestley. Another daughter, apparently, married a Mr. Jones, and had a son, Thomas Jones," who afterwards assumed the name "Wilkinson", and lived, it is said, in Manchester.
Mr. Isaac Wilkinson, and his wife, were Presbyterians, doubtless with a tendency towards Unitarianism, and became members of the Presbyterian (now Congregational) Chapel, Chester Street, Wrexham. William Wilkinson, one of the sons, after he returned from France, became also a member of the congregation, and so
1 Mr. Stockdale strangely calls her name "Sarah," but in the entry of her marriage to Mr. Priestley in the Wrexham parish registers, her name is given as Mary."
2 This Thomas Jones calls himself John Wilkinson's nephew, and therefore I suppose his mother was one of John Wilkinson's sisters.
continued until his death. John Wilkinson, on the other hand, went to Church, when he went to any place of worship, but in general stayed away from both Church and Chapel, and showed a disregard for certain accepted maxims of morality, which made the hair of good quiet people stand on end; and not without cause.
The iron-stone, or a large part of it, smelted at Bersham, was, as I have already intimated, obtained from Llwyn Enion, and I have seen a lease for forty years, dated June 9, 1757, to Mr. Isaac Wilkinson, of all the coal and ironstone to be found under any part of the estate of Cae Glas in Esclusham Above, near Llwyn Enion. The lease was from Mr. John Hughes, who had recently become the owner of the estate, and to whom Mr. Wilkinson was to render "a sixth part of all the coal, kennel and slack, that shall be raised or gotten out of the said premises, and also two shillings a dozen farme [that is, royalty] for every dozen strike, or measure, of iron-stone that shall be raised out of the said premises," and a rent of twenty-four shillings an acre yearly. On the other hand, Mr. Wilkinson was to have the liberty of "laying rails or making a railroad to the pits from the main or great road," and also another railroad over Mr. Hughes' lands from the Ponkey. At the Ponkey (Poncau: the Banks) was a colliery which, I believe, belonged to Mr. William Higgons, of Llanerchrugog Hall, and which, at a later date, the Wilkinsons leased.
Mr. Isaac Wilkinson smelted iron at Bersham, but I do not know whether he forged it there also. He made, however, all sorts of cast iron articles-heaters, waterpipes, and the like, and even began to manufacture cannon. In fact, though he himself appears to have failed at the Bersham Works, he pointed out and prepared the way to success. It was about the year 1761 that Mr. Wilkinson
was obliged to bring his operations at Bersham to a close; he then went to Bristol, where he also failed in business, and became ultimately wholly dependent upon his two sons. Of these, John Wilkinson, trading at first under the name of "the New Bersham Company", then took the Bersham Works in hand, and speedily made a great success of them. It is possible that others, besides John Wilkinson, had a share in the new undertaking, but if so they were afterwards bought out, and it is clear that it was John who from the beginning was chiefly interested in the concern. I once saw "the New Bersham Company's" first ledger, which has since been destroyed, and which began to be kept in the year 1762. From this ledger it appears that they made, at that time, box-heaters, calendar rolls, malt-mill rolls, sugar rolls, pipes, shells, grenades, and guns. Under date May 28, 1764 "the Office of Ordnance" is charged with 32 guns, value £238 12s. 9d., and there are also many other items relating to charges for guns consigned to ships in the ports of Liverpool and London. The shells mentioned were 4 inches diameter. Royalties were paid for coal and ironstone to various persons. To Wm. Higgons, Esq., royalty was paid for coal from Ponkey Colliery at the rate of 1s. 4d. a scare, and there appear to have been reckoned four piches' to every scare. To Richard Myddelton, Esq., Simon Yorke, Esq., and Miss Esther Jones, a royalty was paid of 8d. a course for coal, and 28. a dozen strikes (= bushels) for iron-stone. It appears from one item that £18 was received as "a year's rent for Ruabon furnace." Under -date March 25, 1765, the following entry also occurs:"William Higgons. Profit and Loss per so much due from him for furnace sold him this day, £6,050." There
1 The i here has the sound of i in wine, and the ch that of ch in church.