Broseley Local History Society Journal No 8 1980



The Year's Activities (1978 - 79)

Programme of Events for 1979 - 80
















The Society was formed in 1972 to meet the demand for an organisation to preserve the material and documentary evidence of Broseley's industrial past. Since an important part in this industrial past was played by John Wilkinson, who lived for a time at "The Lawns", it was decided that the organisation should be known as The Wilkinson Society.

The aims of the Society are :  

(i)                   to act as custodian of any relevant material and information and to make such material and information available to interested individuals and organisations ;

(ii)                 to promote any relevant preservation activity and to assist individuals or organisations in such activity where deemed appropriate ;

(iii)                to provide a link with the community of Broseley for individuals or organisations undertaking local historical research.

Any available material will be added to the existing collection of Broseley and Wilkinson relics at "The Lawns", Church Street, Broseley. This collection is (was) open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays between Easter and September, from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., or at other times by appointment.

Administration of the Society is by an annually elected committee.

Membership is open to anyone interested in the Society's aims and activities. These activities include illustrated lectures, social evenings, researching and exhibiting the collection, field trips and coach tours. Members are kept informed by newsletters, and this annual Journal presents articles on the history of the Broseley area, John Wilkinson, and industrial archaeology in general.


The Year's Activities (1978 - 79)

The sixth Annual General Meeting was held at the Cumberland Hotel, Broseley on 27th October, 1978.  At this meeting Mr. N.J.Clarke indicated that he would wish to retire from the Chairmanship at the end of the season. The existing committee was re-elected for a further year. In order to simplify the annual subscription system, the Adult Subscription was fixed at £1 per head, uniformly, and the Junior Subscription was raised to 50p. After the close of business, Mr. John Cragg gave a most, interesting talk on "The Broseley Association for the Prosecution of Felons".

The next meeting was on 10th November, 1978. Mr. W. Smith, of The Polytechnic, Wolverhampton, gave an illustrated lecture on "The Bradley Ironworks of John Wilkinson". After the meeting Mr. S. Smith, Deputy Director of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum, showed members an 18th century oil portrait of John Wilkinson recently acquired by the I.G.M.T.

The joint meeting with the Friends of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum took place on 8th December, 1978 at the Severn Warehouse, Ironbridge. The subject was "Thomas Telford, the Uncommon. Genius". Members enjoyed particularly an amateur colour cine film made on the Caledonian Canal in the late 1930's.

The usual Social Evening was held at "The Lawns" on 9th February, 1979. The theme was "Decorative Tiles", and some very unusual specimens were brought along by members for our inspection.

The next indoor meeting was to have taken place on Friday, 16th March, 1979, at "The Lawns". Mr. Ernie Harris, a member of the Society, intended to speak on "Broseley as I remember it". Unfortunately, there was very heavy snow in the Broseley area on the day, and when 4 feet had accumulated the meeting was postponed at extremely short notice using the members grape-vine as far as was possible.

As an experiment, the Summer Excursion was planned as a joint venture with the Friends of the I.G.M.T. on Saturday, 21st July 1979, to the Piece Hall, Halifax, Shibden Hall and the Wainhouse Tower.

The fifth annual Celebrity Lecture took place on 31st August 1979, at "The Lawns". Mr. W.K.V.Gale gave "A lateral look at Iron and Steel" which was much appreciated by a somewhat smaller audience than usual. ( It appears that this event might be better served by arranging it for a date in early July. - Sec.)

The Ironbridge Bi-centenary celebrations were held during the week commencing 2nd July, 1979; and although the Society did not participate formally, many members, including the Chairman and the Treasurer, took a very active part in the celebrations at the Broseley end.

In addition to the above, Committee Meetings were held at "The Lawns" on 6th October, 1978 and 6th July, 1979.

Programme of Events for 1979 - 80

12th October :      Seventh A.G.M., followed by a talk - "Broseley and the Iron Bridge" - by Mr. Ralph Pee.

9th November :    "Broseley as I remember it" - talk by Mr. Ernie Harris (postponed from last March).

13th December :   Joint meeting with the Friends of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum at the Severn Warehouse - film evening.

15th February :    Members' social evening at "The Lawns".

7th March :          Illustrated talk - "The work of Thomas Farnolls Pritchard in Shropshire" - by Mr. J.B. Lawson.

27th April :          Annual summer outing - joint visit with the Friends of I.G.M.T. to the model Industrial Village of Styal, Cheshire, and the Anderton Boat Lift.

July                    Sixth Annual Celebrity Lecture (details to be announced).

The Journal

Our "Iron Bridge Bi-centenary Number" devoted to the life and work of John Wilkinson (Journal No.7, 1979) appears to have been well received and we had requests for it from near and far. In our present issue we revert to our standard format, with three major articles, two shorter notes and a lengthy correspondence section.

Further copies of the Journal and back numbers can be obtained from the Secretary, Maurice Hawes, 18, Salop Street, Bridgnorth, price 40p each (including postage). Contributions to future issues would be welcome, and should be sent to the Editor, N.J. Clarke, "Cranleigh", Little Wenlock, Telford


The 1979 Celebrity Lecture.

In a stimulating and provocative lecture Mr. W.R.V. GALE selected some of the major developments in the history of iron and steel and tried to relate them to the events of the present. In particular, he pointed out the economic folly of regarding any raw material as inexhaustible - be it coal iron ore or oil! He gave as an example of wasteful exploitation by the iron industry of his own native Black Country; and it is this part of Mr. Gale lecture that we have pleasure in publishing in this issue of the Journal.

"In the first half of the 19th century the iron trade of the Black Country grew at a remarkable rate and for a time it was the biggest iron producer in the world. It had every possible advantage. At very shallow depths all over the area there were vast quantities of coal, ironstone, limestone clay and sand - everything in fact that was needed to build and operate blast furnaces, ironworks and associated iron-using factories.

The famous Thick Coal or Ten Yard seam which was 30ft (9 m) thick and yielded, even allowing for the wasteful method of working at times, 20,000 tons to the acre. Ironstone was less abundant, the seams providing about 1,200 tons to the acre. The other minerals, which were needed in much smaller quantities, were more than sufficient for the industry's needs

Working the Thick Seam was difficult. Because of its thickness it was not possible to use the longwall system (or Shropshire system) which took out virtually the whole of the seam. The Thick Coal was worked by the pillar and stall method, which took, on the first (or whole) working, about half the coal. A second working (the broken) should, in theory, have enabled second half of the coal to be won. In practice this often failed and half or more of the seam was lost for ever.

The problem was that the market only wanted lump coal and all the slack produced in winning the seam was very nearly unsaleable. So most of it was left behind; its only useful purpose being to act as a platform for the miners to stand on while they worked the upper part of the seam. Black Country Thick Coal has a high sulphur content and as the air could get at the piles of slack they often caught fire by spontaneous combustion. Such a fire could never be put out - not that anybody tried very hard. So the slack, the pillars left for the second working, and often enough large areas of virgin coal were destroyed. The fire simply burnt on until it reached a worked out or waterlogged area or a natural fault. It is impossible to say how much coal was lost in this way but it was probably millions of tons. The 'Fiery Holes' public house, in Great Bridge Road, Moxley, Bilston, marks the site of one of the worst areas but there were many others.

It is easy - in fact it is now fashionable – to blame our forefathers for our present troubles. But while they certainly wasted irreplaceable fuel by bad methods of working that the situation was unprecedented. They found themselves in trouble and had no past experience to guide them. They did the only thing they could. They abandoned the burning areas and opened up new ones. The coal was still cheap and - here we come across a word which had great currency in the 19th century and which we hear even now - there was so much of it that it was 'inexhaustible', or so people said. What we have learnt from their experience is another matter.

In time, of course - and sooner than some people expected - there were signs that the raw materials for ironmaking were not inexhaustible at all. Iron ore was the first to cause trouble. By the 1840s some of the seams in the older part of the Black Country were worked out and ore had to be transported from the newer, western, part of the area. Coal, for the time being, was still abundant though a few more farsighted people were beginning to realise that the supplies were finite. By the last decade of the 19th century the end was in sight for the Black Country. The iron had gone and the amount of coal that remained was too small to be of significance. Of course, this was inevitable. Use any finite natural material and it is bound to be worked out sooner or later. My point is that by using it wrongly, the end comes much sooner than it need.

The Black Country was the first area to get into trouble in a way which has since become familiar. With the exhaustion of the Black Country natural resources the iron trade simply moved on to places where it could still get cheap raw materials and energy. Teeside was a particularly favoured area and from the 1850s onwards the iron industry developed there in much the same way as it had done in the Black Country half a century earlier.

It is true that more efficient ways of making iron were developed but the goal was always either increased production or lower costs - or both. Nobody gave any real thought to the idea of using less raw materials or energy simply because they were still thought to be inexhaustible."





(from photographs in the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Collection)

The Ironbridge Gorge Museum's collection of photographs now contains a considerable number which depict boat types formerly in use in the Gorge, few of which have been published. The more important items are cited at the end of this note, which also draws upon some of the better line drawings. They reveal almost without exception a type of barge unnoticed by historians. The better known version of the Severn Crow (as in 'crow'; c.f. Shropshire trow as in 'cow') is conspicuous only by its absence. While this is not unexpected, granted the probable dating of the collection (1860 - 1900 say) and the economies of transport at that period, it is remarkable how quickly the old up-river boats disappeared from the collective memory of maritime writers.

This occurred to such an extent that a renowned scholar could write in questioning terms of, for example, trow topmasts being set up behind the main masthead - as clearly seen in many eighteenth century drawings. This is indeed an unusual feature, but a photograph now vindicates the accuracy of some drawings, at least. This feature also serves to indicate the great differences which occurred between the up-river boats of the late nineteenth century (themselves remarkably like, but more heavily built than, the boats of the lower river in the eighteenth century) and the popularly received connotation of trow as an estuarial and coastal vessel, fore and aft rigged, 'carvel' built, often 'boxed', and of considerable draught and solidity. Since most features of the up-river trows are different from their estuarial descendants, I shall not attempt to compare them directly in this note. (The classic source for more general information is Grahame Farr's "The Severn Trow", in Mariner's Mirror Vol.32, 1946, pp.66 - 95. Earlier items in Mariner's Mirror are regrettably unreliable - describing, for example, the great traffic down the Severn from the coalmines of Worcestershire in the century before the opening of the canals, and locating the Bower Yard at Shrewsbury or if you prefer, Bristol !)

The photographs show a class of boat which from other evidence may be "barge: rather than "trows" (there is no satisfactory definition to distinguish how many vessels registered at Gloucester after 1850 under local owners are "barges", and these were arguably among the larger craft in use. Those photographed are demonstrably of the order 65 - 70 feet long, 14 - 16 feet wide and all very shallow (Registered lengths were up to 80 feet, and depths were frequently less than three feet). They are clench built, and the individual strakes are exceptionally wide - the width after cutting to shape as much as 16 inches, with bevels of about 30 degrees on the plank edges at bilge, also unusual. The hulls are clearly round-bilged, and parallel-sided for most of their length. Their stems are perhaps straighter and more vertical than drawings suggest; their transoms are upright and a very shallow "D" in elevation. The sterns are formed without a concave tuck but with a skeg formed in the deadwood. There are mouldings as rubbing strakes; capping rails; and small washstrakes at stem and stern. All have completely open holds (with in one case side cloths rigged); there are the usual short working decks fore and aft, perhaps fifteen feet long. The bulkhead at the forward end of the hold, at least, is not complete; there are small hatches on each deck; and in several cases a suggestion of a stove chimney.

The shape of the hull leads to conjecture about the run of the planking: the Hartshorne drawing in the collection and some folklore from down-river boats suggest that the floors could have been laid with carvel planking, merged into clinker planking on a different alignment at the bilge, to get round the, problem of the planking runs at the very full, shallow bows. It would certainly be reasonable to employ flush planking on the flat floors in such shallow, rocky stretch of river.

Rudders are massively constructed, and because the barges were operated primarily by towing from the banks, at low speed and often shallow draft, they are very long - possibly as much as eight feet. The tillers are correspondingly long to reduce the effort and were evidently cut from carefully selected timber to elegant curves. The top edge of the rudder blade was also curved, in an "S" from. The sheer size of the rudder makes it unwieldy, and problems must have arisen in eighteenth century locks.

The single masts, usually with one square-sail yard, are set up by simple rigging: two shrouds and a relieving tackle (set up for alternative use as a cargo gear ?) each side is typical, all necessarily led aft of the tabernacle (of which little can be seen). No ratlines can be seen : largely superfluous if the whole mast can be lowered (at least if there is no topsail fitted), but nonetheless are seen in several drawings. There is no evidence that the heels of the trows' masts were counterbalanced (as for instance in wherries) and the load in the stayfall tackle is consequently of the order of half a ton when the masthead is lowered - heavy work, and the forestay has massive sister blocks leading to a simple timber-framed winch on the foredeck (there is also a heavy timber windlass in the eyes of the vessel for handling an anchor or warps). Backstays and running rigging to the yard appear from what evidence there is to run to timber-heads set on the quarters: but it must be said that the rigging is not generally clear - and only two photographs actually show sails, which are not set. The standing rigging in at least two photographs is seen to be formed of a long-link chain, which Stuart Smith considers to be colliery winding chain - doubtless near the end of its life!

One photograph and several excellent drawings show topmasts, set up behind the lowermast, probably to gain a couple of feet clearance under old stone arch bridges, which would often have to be negotiated in high water conditions; but possibly for other reasons also. For example, to facilitate the lead of the mast-head tow ropes, led high to allow the rope to clear obstacles and scrub on the river bark (the heavy tree growth in the banks: along the old towing paths cannot be a long-standing feature!), or to be able to lower the topmast without first lowering the main yard. The topmasts could be struck independently of the lowermasts, perhaps to reduce the load on the stayfall tackle when raising the masts, or for clearances again.

The square sail yard is slung centrally and is generally seen stowed fore and aft between the shrouds, rather than crossed. This might indicate several things: habit formed of long necessity when lying against warehouses or other vessels, clearance on bridges, general disuse of sails, or normal use of the spar as cargo gear. Again there is too little evidence. Strangely the topsail yard is stowed in a similar fashion, but below the main yard, which would have called for some intricate handling to get it across the forestay: even the main yard would require some direct handling to stow it between the shrouds.

Little can be seen of internal structures: the floors would be ceiled (certainly, except that one drawing shows two barges both with unceiled holds and a heavy sheer-clamp can be distinguished. There is no ceiling between the bilge and the clamp and the frames are seen in the gap. These are single timbers regularly spaced in the hold.

All else is conjecture: a light keel-plank, massive keelson, and framing on a largely ad-hoc basis, probably. Some at least of the later down-river trows were also lightly built; although the planking was flush-laid in these latter boats, it is quite clear that the frames were not pre-erected as in strict "carvel" fashion: much of the framing was fastened only to planking which must have preceded it. The frames were single, and (away from the crutch and cant timbers at bow and stern) comprised floors cut from straight timber with only slightly up-turned ends, futtocks to form the bilge, and top-timbers from there to the capping rail, with timber-heads and rail stanchions added separately. As the size and range of trows increased the frames and fixings became correspondingly heavier, up to double frames in the style of large ships. Examples of various styles can be seen in hulks-in the Lydney - Sharpness reach.

The following is a note of the more important items in the collection. A word of caution is necessary: many photographs are clearly different views of the same barge; the number of different barges represented is unknown. Few can be dated with any confidence.

Science Museum 33/39. Barge and Iron Bridge. Bow view with considerable detail.   (Seen from a different angle in A1476 and probably in A902).

A9.      "The last Severn trow" ("William", of Broseley), with a punt.

A fine study from the port quarter, seen opposite Coalport. The punt is of the old Severn style, having deep sides, marked sheet, and undecked – the type can still be seen in Gloucestershire. The barge is also seen broadside-on in A623.

A11. Coalport ferry. Appears as a small flush-decked barge, and in A116 with curious repairs to the clinker hull. Also seen in A569, and A627, and in a poignant distant view in A1481.

A282. View of a barge at Ludcroft Wharf, from Benthall Edge.

A352. The classic view of the Severn Warehouse with three large vessels and a punt. The nearest is of much larger burthen than the other vessels seen in the collection; one of the barges is completely unrigged.

A696. Fine view of three barges at Ludcroft Wharf, with considerable detail.

A706. Intriguing view of a barge with a bulky cargo contained by hurdles supported on spare sweeps.

A598. Barge at Ironbridge.  An exceptionally clear view of a barge loading a cargo of bricks.

A2312. Three barges aground at the Bower Yard, including the only topmast in a photograph.

There are also several valuable drawings in the collection, including :­

A1911. A sketch showing Ludcroft Wharf, Bower Yard and two barges. Hartshorne drawing c.1858, from Northants CRO, of barges and boats at Bower Yard." Finely drawn, showing repair work. A small boat is shown fitted with a large winch, for no obvious reason.

A56. River scene, 1804. The finest of all trow drawings, it is from an original at Tewkesbury, where the scene is set. It epitomises the river prior to canalisation.

J. Fidlor's "Ironbridge", c.1850. Apart from the interesting details of the barge in this view, there is an intriguing variation of the "traditional" Ironbridge coracle.

We are clearly left with many unanswered questions and a long way from producing a reliable, comprehensive, drawing of a barge or trow of this period. Internal structure, underwater shape and details of rigging are matters largely of conjecture. The latter is profusely represented in countless drawings in the Museum's collection and elsewhere, but is generally of doubtful reliability and presents more questions than answers. If we accept the ratlines of Fidlor's "Ironbridge", for example - which certainly shows the topmast abaft the lower mast, should we not also accept the tumble-homed, circular coracle : We must re-write the history of the Ironbridge coracle, too.

There is a distinct gap between the light and lively eighteenth and early nineteenth century vessels with their distinctively spoon-shaped bows and the barges of these photographs; just as there is between the clinker barges and the later trows of the canalised river. There is also a marked lack of rigging in these tethered Shropshire barges compared with those of the Tewkesbury drawing, indicating a gross difference in usage. The conclusion has to be, in fact, that these barges are the last few dinosaurs from a past age, effectively stranded by the unimproved shallows above Stourport, and finally displaced by the warm-blooded railway.

One final thought: just how significant is it that the known photographs of these large clinker barges are virtually all confined to the Gorge ?



As briefly mentioned in Journal No.6 (1978), the wrecks of no less than eight vessels resembling narrow boats were found that summer in the River Severn at Coalport by Mr. Ray Pringlescott and fellow-members of the R.A.F. Cosford Sub-Aqua Club. In an effort to solve the mystery of these wrecks, they were examined in some detail and an account of the survey was to have been given in this issue of the Journal. We have since acquired more information, making the publication of these details unnecessary.

It now appears that the wrecks were in fact of pontoons built sometime between the wars to act as a retaining wall for the river bank just above the Half Moon public house. With hindsight, this appears a particularly abortive effort in civil engineering, not only because the stone filled pontoons are now some distance downstream but also because the movement of the bank into the river in that area seems almost irresistible. Rows of cottages have disappeared, and iron piles used as the pontoons can now be seen in the middle of the river, having turned right over in their journey from the bank

One interesting piece of information came to light during the investigation. The public house which stood almost opposite the lower end of Coalport China Works was the 'General Gordon' and nearby the remains of a quay can still be seen.






Further to the article in Journal No.7 (1979), trying to compare the numbered shafts on the plan of 1809 with those on the section of 1812 reveals some surprising conclusions. The section is purely diagrammatic, since the numbered shafts do not appear in a line on the plan. I believe that the line of section was zig-zagged through the shafts, either because chronologically that is how they had been numbered, or geologically to give a more horizontal strata. There are very few instances where features on the plan fit in with features on the section . I have visited the sites of most of the shafts over the years and agree that they have either been quarried or tipped over; evidence of the shafts remain, but structures have gone except, as you stated, the Water Engine remains, which still existed last time I was there.

Dr. I. J. Brown, Wakefield (Aug. 1979)


With reference to the article in Journal No.4 (1976), I have a theory backed by some evidence about the names of the first four boats listed on P.7 which I should like to offer as food for thought :­

"BROTHERS", 1789:   John and William Wilkinson ?

"JOSEPH", 1790:   Dr. Joseph Priestley ?

"WILLIAM", 1794:   William Wilkinson

"JOHN AND MARY", 1795: John Wilkinson and his second wife, Mary Lee

As evidence it should be noted that

(i)         all these boats were built within Wilkinson's time in this area;

(ii)        there are other cases of Wilkinson using family and works names for his vessels - e.g. the brig 'Bersham' and the sloop 'Mary' (Journal No.3, 1975, p. 8);

(iii)       the 'Trial' of 1787 was built by Wilkinson's carpenter John Jones, alias John o' Lincoln, perhaps the same man who built the 'Joseph' three years later.

So may I suggest that these are fair reasons to assume that the four boats listed may have been built for John Wilkinson or a company in which he was a partner. Furthermore, if these assumptions are ever proved correct, it would surely place Wilkinson in the big league of ship owners and add another interesting facet to his varied career.

H. Waterhouse, Manchester (Sept. 1979)


Further to the article in Journal No.7 (1979), I enclose some notes on the Wilkinson family and its connections, and a correction.

John Wilkinson's father, Isaac (died 1784), of Clifton, near Workington, was a small farmer and also a pot founder with Backbarrow Company, Colton in Furness.  He was described as "shrewd and intelligent" - this is illustrated both by the patent he took out for a laundress's box iron, and by his sending John to be educated at a dissenters' academy at Kendal, run by Caleb Rotherham, D.D.(Edinburgh).  Rotherham (1694 - 1752) was born at Great Salkeld, near Penrith, and became the friend and correspondent of Dr. Joseph Priestley. These two dissenting divines would obviously greatly influence Wilkinson's well-known heterodox beliefs.

Miss Jessica Lofthouse,in 'The Curious Traveller through Lakeland', states that John built or bought his own little forge and furnace down the Winster river at Wilson House, near Lindale. From the Winster mosses he dug peat to use in smelting haematite ore.  For ease in transport he cut a canal into the turbary and used a shallow turf-carrying boat. Tradition says he made an iron boat, the first of its kind, for this work. One was seen to sink in Helton Pool, a small tarn in which, they say, the "first iron ship was tried out". But when 'The Trial' was launched on the Severn in 1787, the Winster folk who had jeered "How dosta think iron'l1 float?" were silenced.

John's brother, William (1743 - 1808), was educated at the Unitarian academy in Warrington where Dr. Priestley was a tutor.  He too became an ironmaster.

Their sister, Mary (1744 - 96), married, in 1762, Joseph Priestley, LL.D. (Edinburgh), F.S.A. (1733 - 1804), who was born at Fieldhead, near Leeds. He was a dissenting minister, and a man of science who discovered oxygen. Mary has been described by one authority as Isaac's only daughter, but there seems to have been another, Sarah (1745 - 1808), who married Thomas Jones, a surgeon of Leeds; John's nephew and appointed heir was presumably their son.

In 1755 John married Anne (1733 - 56), daughter of the Rev. Thomas Mawdesley of Mawdesley Hall, Croston (Lanes), and Margaret (nee Godsalve), whose grandfather was a merchant of Amsterdam. Anne's sister, Margaret (1753 - 1812), married John Wilson,Robinson, Mayor of Kendal, 1756/7. Anne dying at the early age of 23, John later married Mary Lee, of Wroxeter (1723 - 1806). He had a daughter by his first wife but no issue is recorded of his second marriage. However, by Ann Lewis, his housekeeper, John had three illegitimate children - Mary Anne, Johnina and John. These three later assumed by Royal Licence the name Wilkinson, and in 1808 were granted arms as follows :-

Mary Anne : gules a fess cowpony azure and argent cotised between 3 unicorns passant of the last, in centre chief point the chemical character of Mars (i.e. Iron) or; a bordure wavy ermine;

Johnina :   as above, but the bordure erminois;

John :   as above, but the bordure gold.

The Crest in each case was - a mount vert theron a greyhound sejant argent collared cowpony azure and argent, the dexter paw resting on a bezant charged with the chemical character of Saturn (i.e. Lead) sable.

With reference to Wilkinson's arrival in this area in 1757 (p.2. paragraph the lease on a furnace site at Willey was taken out from George Forester, E: (1735 - 1811), the 'Bachelor Squire' whose exploits were recorded by John Randall in 'Old Sports and Sportsmen, or the Willey Country'. George's cousin Cecil Forester inherited the Willey estate, taking the surname Weld-Forester, and was created the first Baron Forester in 1821.

L.F. Peltor, Bridgnorth (Nov.1979)


With reference to your editorial in Journal No.7 (1979), I enclose a copy of the recently published 'Preliminary Report on the Kirklees Iron Bridge o 1769 and its Builder', which shows that an early iron bridge (since demolished) in the grounds of Kirklees Hall near Brighouse, West Yorkshire, pre-dated the Shropshire Iron Bridge by 10 years. The bridge, six feet wide and 72 feet in span, was built by Maurice Tobin, but its manner of construction and the type of iron used is still not clear.

R. Chaplin, Coventry (Dec. 1979)

(Note : Members can consult the Report in the Society's Museum at The Lawns It has also been published in the Spring 1980 issue of 'Industrial Past'. Ed.


Further to the article in Journal No.7 (1979), in which I found the letter: between Wilkinson, Boulton and Westwood of particular interest, I enclose an account which distinguishes between counterfeits and genuine issues.

The coin was first issued in 1787, with the bust of JW facing right and the legend JOHN WILKINSON IRON MASTER. The edge reading was WILLEY SNEDSHILL BERSHAM BRADLEY.

The first portrait is readily identified by the three buttons on his coat, issues of 1793 and 1795 having four buttons. The first reverse design was of the interior of a forge and was used for the issues of 1787, 1788, 1790, 1792, 1793 and 1795. In 1788 there were plans to produce a silver coin, value 3s 6d, and a design was produced with a barge and the words FINE SILVER on the reverse.  This was not produced commercially though 100 in silver and a few in copper were struck. Instead the design was used on the 1788 halfpenny token. The third design, of Vulcan seated at his anvil, was introduced in 1790 and repeated in 1791 and 1792.

And now for the forgeries.

75 varieties of the token are thought to be genuine and 57 are forgeries of varying quality. All tokens with WILKINSON misspelt are forgeries; also all tokens with edge readings other than WILLEY SNEDSHILL BERSHAM BRADLEY are probably forgeries or manufactured curiosities. The Wilkinson obverse also appeared with the following reverses and were either forgeries or mules (combinations of incorrect dies produced at the manufacturers for sale to collectors):

1.         Female seated with mining tools.

2.         Figure of Moneta seated with scales.

3.         Cypher H M Co. and legend CAMAC KYAN & CAMAC.

4.         Female seated with harp.

5.         Harp with crown.

6.         Britannia seated.

7.         Female seated and legend BIRMINGHAM MINING & COPPER CO.

The issue of tokens died out around 1797 when the well known cartwheel twopences and pennies (manufactured by Boulton) were issued, to be followed in 1799 by an issue of halfpence and farthings. The earlier cessation of the Wilkinson issue was probably due in part to a statement by the Shrewsbury Guilds, dated 9th June 1795, that they would only accept tower halfpence.

I add the following notes for anyone interested in buying examples of this handsome coin. The silver tokens are obviously very rare and may cost £200 or more in good condition. The ordinary barge issue is also very difficult to find, especially in good condition, and would cost £40-50. A recent sale in London of one of the largest collections of tokens to come on the market in recent years did not include genuine examples of either type. Of the other tokens large quantities were struck: e.g. 1790 Forge "several tons"; 1790 Vulcan 206,000; 1792 Vulcan 103,000; and it is possible to find reasonable examples for £5 or so.

P. Criddle, Shrewsbury (Feb. 1980)


I have been taken to task by Mr. R.A. Barker for my remarks on the use of sails on Severn barges in part 2 of my article in Journal No.6 (1977), p5. Mr. Barker maintains that the pictorial evidence (apparently some of it photographic) is too strong to be ignored and that sails must have been carried right up to the end of the barge era.

I can only conclude that the difference between the effort required to tow the lightly loaded passenger barges of my experience and that required to tow a fully laden barge of the period is very considerable and that any help was welcome. I must therefore concede that on very rare occasions a simple square sail would be of some help, but only to the extent where the tow rope was still the major means of propulsion and the barge still under the control of forces set up by the tow rope, the current and the rudder.   I am still of the opinion that free sailing barges as shown in various pictures and indicated by some writers are figments of the imagination.

R.C. Pee, Broseley (Feb. 1980)






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