The Industry & Railways of the South West Black Country



Iron and Steel Manufacturers

The firm of Messrs. Roberts and Cooper, whose head office is a Brierley Hill, is in close touch with the important and typical industries of the Black Country, and they are not only largely interested in the iron trade, and in colliery enterprise, but their timber business in itself is a very big undertaking. Their Brettell Lane Iron Works came into their possession about twenty-two year ago, and were previously worked by Messrs. Thomas Webb and Sons, who were proceeded in their ownership by Mr. John Wheeley. The name of Wheeley is still well remembered in the district. Mr. Brooke Robinson, M.P., for Dudley, was the actual owner at the time Messrs. Roberts and Cooper made the purchase, but he had never worked them himself.

Then came the acquisition of the Bromley Iron Works, which formerly belonged to the late Mr. John Raybould, and were afterwards carried on by his executors, from whom Messrs. Roberts and Cooper purchased them. These works have been considerably improved and enlarged, giving a much increased output. Among other things they are noted for is the production of slit rods for nail making.

The introduction into England of the first machinery for making these rods other than by hand was due to the ever remarkable exploit of Fiddler Foley, in the 17th. century. Determined to acquire the secret of how the Swedish iron makers slit their rods for nail making, he went off to Sweden, ingratiated himself with the workmen by his fiddling, and took careful note of the machinery used for the slitting of rods. He returned to this neighbourhood, capitalists found the money, and he set up works for doing the work, but to his dismay it was unsuccessful. Suddenly he disappeared and his friends thought it was from chagrin at his failure.

But Foley was not done with. He made his way back to Sweden with his fiddle and a good stock of determination this time to find the missing link, The forgemen were only too glad to see him, and enjoy his music, and they kept him domiciled in the works where he enlivened their toil with his harmony.

Nothing better could have suited Foley’s purpose. without doing anything to excite their suspicion, he scrutinised the machinery so closely that he saw how the failure arose in that which he had erected. In the end the iron workers again lost him, and he came back to Stourbridge, and this time was able to bring to a successful issue the rod-slitting process. It had a grand effect upon the fortunes of the district as well as upon Foley’s own fortunes.

Besides the works already named, Messrs. Roberts and Cooper took to the works of the Great Bridge Steel and Iron Company, Limited, at Tipton, Staffordshire. This was in March, 1898, and they were the successors of Mr. Solly in these important works, which have a reputation far and wide.

Messrs. Roberts and Cooper’s latest acquisition in the iron industry was that of the well known Leys Iron Works at Brierley Hill, formerly carried on by Messrs. Brown and Freer. These works have long been famous for the production of merchant iron generally, and of hoop iron in particular. This iron has a world-wide name, and finds employment for almost hundreds of purposes in which quality is an essential.

The various manufacturers of the firm are of very large compass, and they include the following:- The manufacture of bars, angles, tees, channels, boat guards, boat knees, half-rounds, convex, oval, thimble, iron and steel bucket handle iron, pan stails, tyre bars, round and square edge flats, fullered horseshoe, sash iron, O.G. mouldings, bevels, fender mouldings, colliery rails, slit rods of the best quality, hoops and strips, best fitting and socket iron, and sections of great variety. New rolls can be turned when the quantity is sufficient for this to be undertaken.

Messrs. Roberts and Cooper are contractors for Government iron. The goods they supply include ball furnace, scrap bars, puddled bars, and billets.

The brands associated with the different works are as follows:-

Great Bridge Iron and Steel Works, Tipton, Staffordshire, Brands: S.S. (Crown) Best, Best Best, Treble Best.
Brettell Lane Iron and Steel Works, Brierley Hill, South Staffordshire, Brands: R.C.B.L. (Crown) Best, Best Best, Treble Best, and Best Best (Horseshoe (rotated left))
Bromley Iron and Steel Works, Brierley Hill, South Staffordshire, Brands: Leys (Crown) Hoops.

Telegrams: Solly, Great Bridge; Timber, Brierley Hill; Woody, Hull.

Their Telephone Numbers are: 22 Tipton, for Great Bridge ; 15 Brierley Hill, for Timber; 16 Brierley Hill, for Brettell Lane; 17 Brierley Hill, for Bromley; 37 Brierley Hill, for Leys; 143 Hull, for Timber; 3196 Birmingham.

© Tom Cockeram 2000