The Iron and Engineering Trades in Worcester

  • 17 Jan 2012
  • Archaeology
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Worcester has always been associated with the metal trades. In Roman times it was an important smelting centre. Their bloomery hearths leaving a field of rich iron slag from Broad Street to Pitchcroft, and from The Cross to the Severn. In the 16th and 17th centuries it became a centre of the arms trade, and in 1598 the Iron Masters were incorporated.

The Severn was the great highway of transport and as long as water-power was the chief source of power, and almost every stream used to drive hammers and bellows, Worcester continued to be a centre of the iron trade. When coal and steam power replaced waterpower the iron industry moved to the Black Country and the coal fields, but with the opening of the canals Worcester still remained important for transport, and because of its early banks, important in financing the iron trade. Thoughout the 19th century Worcester was an inland port, and it was believed that the Severn would give direct access to Bristol and beyond.

It was however, the building of the canal and the Port of Lowesmoor and the coming of the railway that greatly revived Worcester's engineering trades. The Vulcan Ironworks, Hardy & Padmore's Foundry, Larkworthy, and other smaller engineering firms crowded near the canal, but especially when the Oxford, Wolverhampton and Worcester Railway came nearby. After desperate problems, A.C.Sherriff was brought in and made the railway a going concern. Other local lines were incorporated, and the railway became the West Midland with Worcster the centre of works and engineering. Sherriff imported highly skilled men as top officials, and built up a large skilled work force.

When the G.W.R. took over the West Midland, and a great fire destroyed the Tolladine Works the G.W.R. removed the work to Swindon, Mainly to find work for his skilled men, Sherriff built the Worcester Engine Works in Shrub Hill Road, and others of his top men followed; Mackenzie & Holland's Signal Works, Thomas's Pump Works, for all were Sherriff's assistants. At a later stage, when the Engine Works failed, the fact that in Worcester was a pool of skilled labour; was a local financial centre, and above all, had good transport facilities for heavy goods by canal, river and rail, brought othetr engineering firms, such as Heenan & Froude's to the City.