A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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Wrockwardine Wood was probably identical with the woodland 1 league long and ½ league broad recorded in Domesday. (fn. 1) Referred to as the king's wood c. 1130, it was claimed in 1235 to be well stocked with oaks and underwood. (fn. 2) It was within the royal forest of Mount Gilbert or the Wrekin. By c. 1290 assarting had begun, and it may have increased following disafforestation in 1301. (fn. 3) Pigs were pastured in 'Kingshay' in 1397-8 and 1413-14. (fn. 4) The area was still known as King's wood c. 1577. (fn. 5) Much of the surviving woodland was probably cleared in the century after 1650 as mining expanded. A great deal of timber was sold to the Coalbrookdale Co. for the building of the Horsehay ironworks in 1754. (fn. 6) The woodland then remaining, at the Nabb and on Cockshutt Piece, was coppiced (fn. 7) but by 1847 virtually no woodland remained. In the later 19th century, with the decline of mining, woodland began to reappear on Cockshutt Piece, which was partly wooded in 1982. (fn. 8)
In 1650 almost 38 per cent of the township was let to 16 tenants in 14 holdings; three were of 60 a., 50 a., and 30 a., the rest varying between 14 a. and 4 a. Thirty-two cottages (three of them divided) were occupied by 35 cottagers, 12 of them at Pain's Lane. By the early 18th century smallholdings probably occupied most of the northern half of the township. Yeomen, colliers, and labourers all engaged in mixed farming, and there was also some small-scale textile production. (fn. 9) In 1847 about half the land north of the Shropshire Canal was under arable cultivation, while some pasture and meadow lay at either end of the township. (fn. 10) Agricultural land shrank as housing expanded in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1891, however, c. 240 a. remained under arable cultivation with a further 330 a. under grass. (fn. 11) After the First World War house building south of Trench Road further reduced those totals, and building by the district council and private developers in the 1970s took most of the remaining agricultural land.
Between 1818 and 1821 a partnership was formed to mill, bake, and deal in grain, and a four-storeyed brick steam mill was built in 1818 on the north bank of the Shrewsbury Canal. The mill, generally known as Donnington Wood mill, closed in the 1970s. (fn. 12)
Coal and ironstone.
The township's mineral resources were exploited in the Middle Ages; an iron ore mine was noted in 1324. Regular extraction, however, probably began in the early 17th century. (fn. 13) In 1650 a coal delf was noted; (fn. 14) it was probably an opencast mine extracting coal, and almost certainly ironstone too, from the Middle Coal Measures that lay near the surface over most of the southern half of the township. (fn. 15) In 1767 the traveller Joseph Banks described a pit in the Wrockwardine Wood area where there were three layers of ironstone between the coal beds. Uppermost were smooth ironstone balls about the size of potatoes, next a regular stratum of stone, and below that large lumps of ironstone weighing up to ½ cwt. set in blue clay or shale known as 'crows' or 'hatter's blocks'. (fn. 16)
Sir George Saville, one of the lords of Wrockwardine manor, sold his third interest in the Wrockwardine Wood mines to Francis Butler in 1660. At the same time he sold his interest in various holdings in Wrockwardine and Wrockwardine Wood to the ground tenants, omitting to reserve the mineral rights. Ownership of the rights was at once disputed and similar problems arose several times over the next two centuries. (fn. 17) In 1673 Butler sold his third interest in the mines to Francis Charlton, who leased the adjoining Lilleshall mining rights next year. (fn. 18) The Charlton mines were leased to, or operated by, the Pitts family, whose rights were challenged in 1696 when several independent charter masters began mining. (fn. 19)
Underground mining probably began about then. Lord Gower's agent William Cartwright had apparently worked the mines on his own account after Francis Charlton's extraction of most of the easily available surface coal, and in 1699 he reported that he had found a potentially good mine 22 yards deep. (fn. 20) The industry was still small in scale: Richard Vickers of Wrockwardine Wood (d. 1705) made part of his living carrying coal on two pack horses and part from working a smallholding. (fn. 21) In 1715, however, large stocks of coal lay unsold at Donnington Wood and Wrockwardine Wood. (fn. 22)
In 1731 Richard Hartshorne (d. 1733), the leading Shropshire coal entrepreneur, had a lease of the Charlton mining interests, and new pits were being sunk in Wrockwardine Wood. In 1736-7 the mines were let to Walter Stubbs of Beckbury. By then there were mines at the Nabb and the Moss; a third group, possibly distinct, was known as the 'little pits'. (fn. 23) By the 1750s colliers who had earlier worked farther south in the coalfield were finding employment in the Wrockwardine Wood mines. (fn. 24)
Extraction was stimulated by the expansion of Shropshire's coke-iron industry. In 1757 the township's mines began to supply ironstone to the Coalbrookdale partners' works at Coalbrookdale, Horsehay, and Ketley, and in the next three years it amounted to some 2,000, 5,000, and 4,300 dozens of 'black' and 'bald' ironstone. In 1761 Richard Reynolds of Ketley began to work the mines on the Charlton estate, including those in Wrockwardine Wood, on his own account. Thereafter most of the ore was sent to Ketley where Reynolds held larger interests than in the other works. (fn. 25)
Ironstone made greater profits than coal for landlord and tenant alike. In 1758-9 St. John Charlton received £232 as his share of the royalties: £199 for ironstone and £33 for coal. (fn. 26) In the years 1748-54 Earl Gower invested an average of £1,714 a year in mines in the township, averaging 14 per cent profit. (fn. 27) Between 30 and 100 dozens of ironstone a month were raised in 1764-5. (fn. 28) The Gower interest increased, the 2nd Earl Gower buying land in 1771. By 1780 ironstone production was running at nearly 300 dozens a month, (fn. 29) and in the 1780s Joseph Rathbone and Richard Reynolds's son William took an under-lease of ironstone mines from Earl Gower & Co., who between 1781 and 1783 had obtained the lease of all the township's minerals. Rathbone and Reynolds sent the ore to be smelted in their Donnington Wood furnaces, blown in in 1785. (fn. 30) During the 1780s ironstone production rose to over 400 dozens a month, and in 1782 a pumping engine was installed, probably at the Nabb. (fn. 31)
Between the mid 18th century and the mid 19th virtually all the land south of the Wombridge Canal was covered by mines, tips, and houses. There were steam-wound deep pits on Cockshutt Piece. Mining was almost monopolized by the Lilleshall Co. (fn. 32) On the disentanglement of the Reynolds interests from the Coalbrookdale partners' concerns the leased Wrockwardine Wood mines (and Donnington Wood ironworks) were given up and taken over by John Bishton the elder and his partners in 1797. Those interests of Bishton's were put into the Lilleshall Co. in 1802. (fn. 33) The Lilleshall Co. worked the minerals bought in 1822 by Lord Granville from Lord Berwick. (fn. 34)
Between 1805 and late 1807 approximately 400 dozens of ironstone a month were still being raised from the Wrockwardine Wood mines by about nine charter masters. Production fell to half that level by early 1810, to a quarter by mid 1812. In the summer of 1813 only 90-100 dozens monthly were produced by two or three charter masters. The decline heralded the general recession in the Shropshire iron trade after the boom it enjoyed during the early years of the Napoleonic wars. (fn. 35) In 1854 the Lilleshall Co. leased the right to mine coal between the two canals, except tops and clods, to John Bennett. (fn. 36) In 1865 his lease was extended to include the ironstone rights. In 1900 there was still some commercial mining in the parish, but it had ceased by 1908. (fn. 37)
Iron and steel.
In 1801 John Bishton, lessee of the Wrockwardine Wood mines and the Donnington Wood ironworks, (fn. 38) built two blast furnaces on the west side of what was later known as Moss Road. In 1802 he took them into the newly formed Lilleshall Co. The furnaces were closed down in 1826, about the time that the Donnington Wood Old Lodge furnaces were blown in. (fn. 39)
In 1861 the Lilleshall Co. began to build the Phoenix Foundry, an engineering works that replaced the Donnington Wood Old Yard works and soon became known as the New Yard. (fn. 40) Engineering rapidly became as important to the company as its coal, iron, and brick production, and it was well enough established by 1862 to allow the company to exhibit and win prizes at the London International Exhibition. From the start locomotives and blowing engines were manufactured, largely from the company's raw materials, and production in general was centred on the needs of the iron and coal industries. From c. 1870, after doing similar work on its own plants, the company began to modernize blast furnaces and construct new ones for other firms. Those, like most of the company's products, were for both the home and export markets.
In the early 20th century railway engine manufacture ceased, but large gas engines began to be produced to the ürnberg design. German engineers in general played an important part in the company in the decade before the First World War. By 1904 at the works there were pattern shops, a foundry capable of making castings weighing up to 60 tons, a smithy with steam and pneumatic hammers, and machine, fitting, erecting, structural engineering, and boiler shops, all equipped with overhead electric travelling cranes. The entire plant was powered by its own generating station. About 1912 the works reached a peak in the range of products manufactured and the number of workers employed (c. 4,000).
Munitions were produced during the First World War but thereafter a period of unprofitability began; the plant was old, and there were difficulties in getting, and then fulfilling, orders. The works closed in 1931. From 1937 the buildings began to be let out in sections to other companies, and it remained in multiple occupation in 1982.
In 1764 Richard Jones, a Wellington brick and tile maker, took the lease of a clay mine in Brick Kiln field in order to make bricks and tiles. John Jones made 209,000 bricks in 1783 at the Moss, and by 1793 a group of kilns at the Nabb and the Moss was supplying the Donnington Wood industries. (fn. 41)
Bricks were probably produced in the township throughout the 19th century, the Lilleshall Co. owning a brickworks there by the 1850s. In 1882 a brickworks stood between Lincoln Road and Cockshutt Piece and there was also a kiln at the Nabb. The brickworks had apparently closed by 1902. (fn. 42)
The establishment of a glassworks, often known as the Donnington Wood glassworks, on the north bank of the Wombridge Canal in Wrockwardine Wood (fn. 43) was one of the few attempts to expand the coalfield's range of industries. (fn. 44) Glass had been produced in the coalfield in the late 17th century but there is no evidence that its manufacture continued into the 18th century.
In 1792 William Reynolds, the Ketley ironmaster, and his brother Joseph agreed with William Phillips to construct a glassworks. In 1796 the glasshouse was being managed by Richard Mountford, and between 1800 and 1803 its ownership passed to a partnership of Mountford, William and Henry Cope, and John Biddle. All were connected with glasshouses in the Birmingham and Stourbridge areas. William Cope left the partnersip in 1814 (fn. 45) and the firm traded under the name of Biddle, Mountford, & Co. The glassworks, like the whole east Shropshire coalfield, was badly affected by the post-war depression and closed for a time in late 1816. (fn. 46) It closed finally in 1841, after Mountford's death, as a consequence of the Glass Duties Act, 1838. (fn. 47) Only eight glassworkers then lived in Wrockwardine Wood: six blowers, a packer, and a labourer. (fn. 48)
Production may have started before the end of 1792 when a circular glasshouse was shown on a map. (fn. 49) In 1794 Stourbridge clay was apparently used for crucibles, while refractory bricks came from Horsehay, and slag for the glass itself from the nearby Donnington Wood blast furnaces. In 1805 'black rock stone' was brought from Lord Craven's land in Little Dawley. By 1833 two English glass cones were operating, and there were two glasshouses at closure. (fn. 50) A cone illustrated on a bill of 1840 from Biddle, Mountford, & Co. may have been a standardized representation. (fn. 51) The principal products were crown glass and dark green bottles for the French wine trade. Some table ware was also manufactured as well as fancy goods such as rolling pins, walking sticks, and buttons. A 70-gallon bottle blown at the works was reputedly displayed at Reynolds's house.
In the 1790s a manager's house was built south of the canal. It later became the rectory. Glasshouse Row adjacent to the works was built c. 1800, perhaps by the owners to house the workforce. In 1856 the glass furnaces themselves were converted to working class housing known as Glassworks Square. (fn. 52)