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February 2, 2015 / Apley Estate - Hamiltons

Ironbridge archives

Horsehay Furnace, 8 June 1905, by Albert Way

Horsehay Furnace, 8 June 1905, by Albert Way

Last year, a local historian Stephen Dewhirst, attended the launch of my second Apley Archives Exhibition & spotted a unique sketch (copied here) by Albert Way in 1905 of the Horsehay furnaces in 1 of our albums I’d put on display for the evening, from the Hamiltons’ private collection.

Resulting from that, Dr Ben Simpson MBE, a retired member of staff on an Oxford college, wrote to me asking for permission to use the Albert Way watercolour to illustrate the family history he was writing, to go alongside his great grandfather’s vivid description of the area, which he has recently donated to the Ironbridge Trust Museum Archives.

Dr Simpson wrote to me: “My great grandfather Joseph Simpson worked for an iron merchant in Liverpool, and in 1854 wrote a 13 side [letter] to his younger brother concerning a visit he made to the blast furnace and coalmine at Horsehay/Madeley.  Incidentally, his son, my grandfather, also Joseph Simpson, was Chairman of the Horsehay Works after the Simpsons purchased them from the Coalbrookdale Company”.

Dr Simpson also appended a transcript of the section of his great grandfather’s letter of 1854 that refers to the visit to the blast furnace:

They then went to the Horsehay works…where our [Thomas Robinson, iron-merchants of Liverpool] Bar Iron and Boiler Plates are made.  It was a grand sight on that dark night.  From the bellowing noise of the blast engine and the working of the steam hammers you might fancy you were in the region where the old gentleman makes his chains!  We saw the ironstone as it is taken from the earth, then in the shape of pigs,[1] then in big round lumps of white hot metal, then undergoing the ‘shingling’ operation,[2] then rolled into bars suitable for use.  I think I enjoyed my visit to Horsehay better than any other place, for it was to see this process that I was to go to the Dale.  Some of the men who work here are splendidly made, we saw one man who might have been a young Hercules.  The shinglers are stripped down to the waist, the heat is too much for them with their clothes on; their feet and legs are guarded from the hot iron by iron coverings like hessian boots, and taken altogether they have a most curious effect upon a stranger, who, unless he be careful, may come in for some very unwelcome white hot scales when the iron is being subjected to the steam hammer...”

Isn’t that the most amazing first hand account of what Ironbridge was like in 1854. How different it is now, only 161 years ago & some of the vocabulary too. The Fosters bought the Apley Estate in 1867, having also made their money in iron.

[1] The name reflects how the iron is run into moulds in sand beds fed from a common runner. The row of moulds was said to resemble a litter of suckling pigs, hence the individual ingots were referred to as pigs and the runner was called the sow.


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