Brymbo Iron and Steel WorksBrymbo, United Kingdom
Brymbo Iron and Steel Works was the first steelworks in the UK.
One of John ‘Iron Mad’ Wilkinson’s original blast furnace stacks still remains on the site!
Brymbo Iron and Steel Works dates from 1796 and was developed under ownership of John Wilkinson, until his death in 1808. John ‘Iron Mad’ Wilkinson pioneered the manufacture of cast iron during the Industrial Revolution. He invented a precision boring machine that could bore canon and cast iron cylinders, such as those used in steam engines of James Watt and Matthew Boulton.
Wilkinson’s boring machine has been credited as being the world’s first machine tool!
– nothing boring about that! *apologies
He also improved the efficiency of blast furnaces, and led the early development of the world’s first metal single span bridge – the ‘Iron Bridge’ – in Shropshire.
The pioneer industrialist, had owned the nearby Bersham Ironworks jointly with his brother William. He purchased Brymbo Hall and its 500-acre estate from the Assheton-Smith family in 1792 for the sum of £14,000, with some borrowed money from Boulton and Watt – (allegedly)!
The estate was rich in coal and ironstone deposits, with several small coal pits already on the go.
By 1796 Wilkinson had erected the first blast furnace on the site, east of the Hall and 884 tons of iron were produced in the first year. The initial furnace worked continuously until 1894 when it was finally ‘blown out’. It still was found to be useful as a sand hopper though!
From 1805 a 2nd furnace was brought into production.
John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson died in 1808 and family disputes were the ruin of the company, as John had created it.
It was restarted as an iron works several times in the early 19th century and comprehensively modernised in the early 1840s by Henry Robertson. Probably because Robertson engaged William Henry Darby and Charles Edward Darby, grandsons of Abraham Darby III of Coalbrookdale, to manage the works.
After the deaths of William and Charles Darby in 1882 and 1884 respectively, the business was incorporated as Brymbo Steel Co. Ltd.
They trialled steel-making using the open-hearth process, and by January 1885 Brymbo had produced its first steel in a plant – which was the first of its kind in the UK to do so!
It started steel production in 1885.
It only closed for a couple of years during the depression of the late 1920s, but otherwise was in continuous production until 27th September 1990.
Key buildings remain, including a blast furnace, cast house and pattern shop. The site also has a colliery complex from the 1890s and a 1920s steelworks-era Machine Shop!
The Brymbo Iron and Steel Works has just been successful (2017 – check out the press release) with a major Heritage Lottery Fund bid to restore key buildings to serve as major visitor attraction, learning centre and small business hub, led by a local community group called Brymbo Heritage, who hold regular open days and events. See their website for more info – HERE!
Check out the Heritage Project Facebook page – HERE!
Beyond the industrial heritage story of the last two hundred years, the site also contains a fossilised forest and coal measures dating back 300 million years, geology that made the industrial growth possible all those years later.
The Brymbo Fossil Forest was discovered in 2005 and contains a wealth of fossilised trees, stems, seeds, roots from the late carboniferous period 280 to 320 million years ago. These were found within 100 metres of the iron works and show how the botany and climate of the time combined to lay the coal seams that led directly to the UK’s industrial growth.
Along with Wilkinson’s story and the plant fossils, Brymbo Heritage Area will tell the tale of the later steelworks and its impact on the local area – delicious!