The Industry & Railways of the South West Black Country



Ironfounders, Iron Merchants and Engineers

Brierley Foundry, Brierley Hill, and 81, Bankside, London, S.E.

This well-known firm has been in existence since the end of the eighteenth century, but they did not at that time carry on operations at the works at Brierley Hill, where the manufacturing part of their business is now concentrated. In the first instance their general foundry was in London in immediate proximity to Blackfriars Bridge. Mr. Crawshay Bailey one of the partners in the firm, came of a Welsh family, and was a brother of Sir Joseph Bailey. Mr. Samuel Pegg, the other partner, was the more active element of the works, which had a large output, the distribution of which was facilitated by the London foundry being alongside the great waterway of the Thames. A very large order which the firm received for shot and shell about the year 1820 was one of the causes why the manufacturing part of the business was brought down to the Black Country. Mr. Pegg visited Brierley Hill, and took premises where the present works are situated. Here the manufacture of shot, shell and guns was in due time vigorously prosecuted, as, although the Brierley Hill foundry was started principally for the manufacture of shot and shell, the manufacture of cannon was afterwards add, these being made of cast iron and bored out of the solid. The cannon that were cast at the works had a reputation which is shown sufficiently by the fact that not one of the many guns that Messrs. Bailey, Pegg and Company for the Government ever failed to pass the test, to which they were put at Woolwich Arsenal. As to the calibre of the guns, they range from 32 pounders down to small swivel guns for merchant ships, and for signalling. Mortars were also manufactured at the works, these reaching up to a bore of fifteen inches. A large amount of ordnance of this size was made for Sardinia, and at one time the firm used to send a great many of the guns made at the works abroad. The old mode of transit was usually and almost necessarily by canal, a slow but sure way of getting goods across the country. At the present time, it may be noted that goods sent by canal take a week to reach London, an this indicates what was the usual minimum time in pre-railway days.

The guns from the firms foundry found employment among other places, in the Crimea, during the Russian war; and it may be recalled that within very recent memory an old cannon made by the firm did noble service for the defenders of Mafeking during the memorable siege of that place by the Boers. Very general interest was aroused in this particular gun from the accounts the went the round of the newspapers regarding it, and which were accentuated by the illustrations given in the pictorial journals. It is worth repeating what was published at the time regarding “Skipping Sally,” which was the name the gun got at Mafeking during the siege. The gun, the story goes, was in the possession of two Germans in South Africa some forty years before the war, and then passed into the possession of a native tribe. What the Germans bartered it for is not known, but when it again changed ownership, and another tribe acquired it, they paid twenty-two oxen for it as the purchase money. After this, it gravitated from some cause to Mafeking, and it was said, it was occasionally trotted out during tribal fights for a little exercise. At last came the Boer war, and with it an opportunity for the ancient gun from Messrs. Bailey, Pegg and Companies foundry to show “their was life in the old dog yet.” We believe the gun got its name of “Skipping Sally” from its skittishness at times when discharged, but how well it assisted the plucky defenders of Mafeking goes without saying.

The interest which the circumstances excited in the public mind will be well remembered, and, it may be added, that Messrs. Bailey, Pegg and Company subsequently gave a similar gun to the town of Brierley Hill, were it stands on Church Hill, and another one to Bromsgrove. The identity of the Mafeking gun as being one of the firms make is fully established by the lettering upon it. on all the guns that they cast were the letters “B. P.” which stood for “British proof.” The B.P. is to be seen on some old guns still in their foundry yard, and it is rather a singular coincidence that the letters also are also the initials of Baden Powell, the defender of Mafeking. Besides the letters and crown cast on, Messrs. Bailey, Pegg and Company used to cut B.P.&Co. on the surface of their guns.

The changes made in the manufacture of modern ordnance left the old type of guns obsolete, except for such purposes as use on merchant vessels and for signalling. Mr. Pegg was pressed to put down plant for making steel guns of the new type, but he decided not to do so, and as the foundry had plenty to do in other kinds of work, the gun trade was gradually abandoned. The business of the firm had, been, steadily increasing in the production of goods for peaceful times and uses, rather than for naval military purposes. The foundry produces pipes and connections of all kinds for gas, water, steam, heating, and other purposes. One development of this part of the pipe business is the manufacture of cable pipes for laying down of telegraph, telephone, and electric wires. The breakdown of over-head telegraph wires during heavy snow storms has been one cause contributing to the demand for pipes for these purposes.

At the London warehouse of the firm at 81 Bankside, close to Blackfriars Bridge, a large stock of manufactured goods is kept, while the manufacturing process goes on at Brierley Hill. Here they have for a long period been able to keep their workmen regularly employed, without the fluctuations that sometime arise; the works indeed, being one of the most regular places of employment in the district. A walk through the premises brings home to the mind the variety of goods here produced. There are pattern stores with a prodigious number of patterns of all kinds, and covering the demands which have to be met during a long series of years. One of the pattern shops, a two-storey building, is about seventy feet long, and proportionately wide; and another of the stores on the other side of the canal appears to have still larger area.

Passing from among the patterns to the fitting shops are to found fitting, drilling, planing, slotting, and shaping machines, and turning and screw-cutting lathes with their powerful and ingenious mechanism. In some cases the casting itself revolves, and in others the machine attacks it at rest. Just outside this fitting shop is to be found the motive power of the works, and a fan providing blast for the cupolas whirls round, making 1,200 revolutions per minute. What is known as “THE OLD GUN MILL” is now fitted with lathes for boring or turning very large cylinders. Some of the cylinders we saw before us had a diameter of 6ft. 6in.

Out in the open the canal passes through the works, and is the most conveniently situated for loading and unloading purposes.

The raw material for the pipes, cylinders, and castings of various kinds mostly reaches the wharves by boat, and is taken by a steam hoist to a staging on a level with the mouth of the cupolas, were it is reduced to liquid metal. A fierce heat issues from the mouths of the cupolas as one passes in front and two of these are used alternately in preparing the metal for distribution in the foundries. Cylinders of very large size are made, some reaching as much as sixteen feet in diameter, but, in the case of these large cylinders, they are made in segments, and not all cast in one piece. The castings, whether small or large, have to be made from one simultaneous supply of liquid metal, so that the manufactured article shall be thoroughly homogeneous. One of the pipe foundries is sloping in its arrangement, and the liquid metal thus more easily fills the moulds.

The metal from the cupolas when wanted for the castings is run out from a small aperture into a large lined ladles which travel along on a tram line to the spot where the casting is to be made. Intense heat is, of course, thrown out from the great cauldrons of metal that the foundrymen push along. There is an ingenious arrangement for raising the vessel of metal to the required height for letting it into the mould, and this once safely done, the after part of the business is a matter of comparatively easy detail. When the castings are taken from the moulds they are carefully examined, and after any machine work required has been done they are distributed north, south, east and west to the consumer. Before they are dispatched from the works, however, they are in many cases dipped in heated tar, and so made better able to resist the wear and tear of the elements.

The patterns stored in the large pattern shops are some index of the variety of the productions which the firm lay themselves out for. The socket pipes and connections for gas and water alone make a long list, and it may be noted that all pipes are tested by water pressure before leaving the works. The socketed drain pipes and connections form another category, these being of various weights, including those specified by the London County Council. Retort settings, hydraulic mains, retort mouthpieces, sewer grates, manhole doors, and fire hydrants, well-boring tubes, cylinders, tank plates, hot water apparatus and coil cases come among the productions of the firm.

Besides the utilitarian side of these productions, some of the articles take also an ornamental form. Among these might be named coil cases for hot-water coils, ornamental gratings, ventilators, etc., columns and lamp posts, which now in many cases take a very ornate form. We should have to extent this list very much to attempt to particularise all the articles that the firm supply to consumers, with their ever-varying wants.

With regard to the personnel of the firm, we should add that succeeding the old firm, the business was conducted afterwards by Mr. William Petley, Mr. Henry Pegg Chappell, and Mr. Joseph Petley; and that the present firm consists of Henry Pegg Chappell, Mr. William Petley (son of the late Mr. Joseph Petley), Mr. Henry John Chappell, Mr. Harold Petley Parry and Mr. George Trotter.

© Tom Cockeram 2005