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A Short History of the Baptist Mills Brass Works
Part Two: Expansion to Closure 1720 - 1830

1720s: Expansion & Nehemiah Champion III

Before the establishment of a British brass industry calamine ore (Zinc) was exported to the Low Countries from mines in the Mendip Hills. By 1720 this ore was being supplied to the Brass Works at Baptist Mills. The Swedish Mine Official, Henric Kahlmeter, (Sweden was worried about the metallurgical advances being made in Britain - this was threatening their export trade) who successfully discovered the industrial processes in use at Baptist Mills reported that in the early 1720s there were 36 furnaces for making brass at the site. He reported that the copper works of Bristol and Redbrook (over the Severn) were the 'most considerable' in England. Ten years later Swedenborg described Baptist Mills as 'the principal place where English brass is made'. During this period around 300 tons of brass was being produce each year from furnaces in 6 Brasshouses. Each of these Brasshouses will have had about 6 furnaces. The Brasshouses were topped with large cones similar to those used in the glass industry.

These cones (chimneys) were probably developed to create the draft needed to obtain high temperatures and enable the use of coal. The total output of brass by the Company at this time was around 570 tons per annum. The Company's 'coalition' with its previous suppliers of copper brought a government enquiry under the Bubble Act (legislation which had resulted from the South Sea Bubble financial disaster). The Company's affairs were found to be in order and was allowed to continue trading. However, 15 other concerns were found to violate the Act. Detailed recording, accounting and strict business methods of the Quakers concerned had been an important factor in the Company's survival. The setback for some of its rivals meant the Company found that its standing in the industry was greatly improved. A second Petition to Parliament (Jan 8 1722) was made complaining about the unfair duties system for foreign brass. This time the brass and copper manufacturers were joined by the mine owners of Devon and Cornwall. Merchants (including ones from Bristol who exported foreign and Bristol brass and brassware to Africa and the colonial plantations) complained and, although a Committee of Enquiry recommended changes to the duty system, Parliament voted against change. But such were the continuing technological advance in brass manufacture in Bristol that by 1740there was no need to fear competition from abroad. Thomas Coster, the eldest of the three Copper manufacturing brothers, was elected Bristol's MP in 1734. This factor which must have strengthened the area's brass and copper manufacturing interests in London.

The continuing success of the Company brought about expansion with the development of a network of mill sites along the River Avon and its tributaries.

1721 The Company erected 'copper works' at Saltford - four miles from its Keynsham concern - here it is believed there were battery mills working brass and copper into hollowware. Around this time they had established a works at Weston, west of Bath.

By1724, Nehemiah Champion III possessed Patent No 454 which concerned the techniques and methods which the Baptist Mills concern had developed concerning the manufacturing of brass. The processes which the Patent contained were to have a lasting effect of the method and efficiency of brass production. This process involved the creation of copper granules - an idea which was itself developed from Bristol's lead shot industry. The technological innovations and increasing chemical understanding of the chemical processes involved in the making of brass ensured that the Company which originated at Baptist Mills would have commercial success for some 50 years. Amongst its achievements this innovative Company established one of the earliest known materials testing laboratories where a host of experiments were carried out.

1725 the Crew's Hole Copper works employed 33 men who were paid 6/- a week. Henric Kahlmeter describes the 'copper granulation' method in his report sent to Sweden.

By 1725 Crew's Hole was producing some 150 tons of copper a year for the Brass Works from 24 furnaces. Most of its output went to Baptist Mills. Copper from works at Conham (30 furnaces in 1720) also went to Baptist Mills, the Company's production headquarters, where it was smelted.

1730s: Ensuring Copper Supplies & William Champian

In the 1730's Woodborough Mill, at Compton Dando on the River Chew, was leased by the Company and started producing battery-ware.

1731 Thomas Gouldney dies.

1734 the Company took over the copper Company of John Coster at Upper Redbrook on the Wye. The Company is then said to have destroyed these works through neglect. This was one of two means of ensuring copper supplies. The other was purchasing copper from Robert Morris' works in Swansea, (yet another being the collusion with other purchases of copper to keep prices down). The Bristol Brass Company also owned mines in Cornwall. When it took over the Redbrook works the Company's name became, 'The United Brass Battery, Wire and Copper Company of Bristol, Esher, Upper Redbrook and Barton Regis.' (Barton Regis was an old manor and hundred of Bristol.)

1737 William Champian, son of Nehemiah Champian III, and a skilled metallurgist who made numerous improvement in brass manufacture, Patented a production method on the preparation of Zinc from ore, which he had developed at Henham (Hanham?) near Bristol. He was the first man to make zinc in Britain and established an important industry. This was an important development as zinc prices were rising extremely fast. However, due to importers over-importing zinc to take advantage of this high price, the price of Zinc dropped dramatically. Champian was left with 200 tons of high quality zinc produced by his newly patented method. He is thought to have lost about £4,000 in this venture. His appeals to the House of Commons for compensation were turned down through the combined opposition of rival traders and merchants.

1740s: The Warmley Works Established, Darby Dies

The Company established a brass warehouse in central Bristol. This was near St Philip's Church and backed onto old Queen's Street. Thus, the company had access to shipping and barge traffic. One of the numerous names given to the Company was 'The Brass Warehouse Company', it was also spoken of locally as 'The Brass Wire Company' or just BWCo.

1746 William Champian, the grandson of Nehemiah Champion II, leaves the Company to set up a new Company at Warmley to make 'copper and brass, spelter (zinc) and various utensils of copper and brass'. He had been dismissed by the Company and felt a bitterness towards it which increased over the following years. His partners in the concern were, once again, Quaker families and bankers, inc. -  Gouldney , Lloyd, Crosby, Harford. This company employed about 800 people making it one of biggest industrial concerns of its time.

1747 Abraham Darby I dies

In 1749 the Bristol Brass Company was in difficulties with Bristol's City Council for dumping Brass waste on the banks of the River Avon. It overcame some of this problem by re-smelting the slag and moulding it into building blocks. There are some scattered examples of these blocks being used in walls in Easton but by far the biggest local use is the creation of Arnos Court - the Black Castle built in the 1760s. Another solution to the problem was in using clinker as facing materials for buildings - a local example of this is Globe House in St Jude's.

Crews Hole Copper Works, Ind. Arch. remains

Copper slag copping blocks used on the Greek Church, Baptist Mills

By 1750 the Company had taken over the copper works at Conham which had been owned by the Elton family.
 
 

1750s & 60s: The Rise & Fall of the Warmley Works

During the 1750s The Company faces serious rivalry to its predominant position when William Champion develops 'the most up-to-date and most efficient works in the country' at Warmley.

1754 Reinhold Angerstein reported seeing that the Company (which he referred to as' the Great Brass Co') had re-built the Conham Copper Works which had 17 furnaces. While at the same time the Crew's Hole Works increased to 49 furnaces. Men employed were receiving wages of 10/- a week for melters and some of the men receiving 15 - 18/- a week.

Angerstein also reports that the Warmley works of Champion had '15 copper furnaces, 12 brass furnaces, 4 spelter or zinc furnaces, a battery mill, rolling mills for making plates, rolling and cutting mills for wire, and a wire mill both of thick and fine drawn kinds'. At this time it was producing about a quarter the amount of copper as the Bristol Company.

1758 John Champian, eldest son of Nehemiah Champian III, obtained Patent No 726 for the 'sole preparing, vending and selling of spelter or brass made from a mineral which has not hitherto been made use of for such purposes'. This mineral was Zinc Blende or Black Jack, the sulphide of zinc which was more plentiful than Calamine. A similar Patent is taken out by his brother, William, in 1767.

Harford's and the Bristol Brass Company bought Thomas Costers Copper Works in South Wales which produced until about 1820 - it is not known if they continued smelting at Conham and Crew's Hole.

1760s the Stock value of the Company is put at £200,000 with a profit of £8,000 annually.

1767 The Warmley Company faces financial collapse. It is undertaking brass pin making on a considerable scale. It tried to make a massive expansion in its capacity which would seriously threaten the Bristol Brass Company's existence and also that of pin makers in Gloucester. The Bristol company, now called 'The Brass Battery, Wire & Copper Company of Bristol', along with three other brass producers and manufacturers (John Freeman & Cooper Co of Bristol; Thomas Patten & Co of Warrington; and Charles Roe & Copper Co of Macclesfield, [Patte and Roe companies are developing 'rapidly at this time'] and six other industrial concerns) challenges this expansion stating that the ensuing monopoly and the massive extension of debt involved would threaten the existence of this vital industry should the Warmley site collapse because it could not finance the debt it would incur to finance the necessary expansion. In March 1768 the Bristol Company wins its case before the Lord's Committee of the Privey Seal. Champion is dismissed from the Warmley Company by his partners (he was discovered trying to get out his financial share of the company because he expected the inevitable collapse). Champion is declared bankrupt in 1769 and the works are put up for auction.

It is finally purchased by the Bristol Company but never reaches its old level of output again.

1768 In Gloucester a child pin maker of 9 to 11 years of age earned 2 to 3d a day. Journeymen (those who had completed their apprenticeship) were paid 7s - 9s a week while a few skilled men received 10 - 15s a week. The rates at Warmley were about the same.

1770s: The Start of Midland Competition

By the 1770s there was business collaboration and price setting agreements between Bristol Brass Co, Patton Sister Co in Cheadle and the Macclesfield Copper Co (formed by Charles Roe & partners in 1758). Roe & Co started to make a number of important financial and industrial decisions which were to end the Company's dominance of the brass industry. They started to exploit the copper deposits in Anglesey - large deposits of copper ore were found in 1768. Their Macclesfield works were used to produce brass and copperwares while the copper smelting was done in Liverpool. By 1782 the Macclesfield Co had profits of £15,000 per annum. Thomas Williams develops copper smelting works in Ravenhead, Lancs. By 1790 and had annexed the smelting operations in Swansea and had a copperware plant in Flintshire this company's rapid expansion shook loose the control of the existing copper smelters association with whom Williams refused to co-operate. Smelters had to purchase Williams' ore at a price which suited him.

1750-1800. The Bristol Brass Company and Harford's Company involve themselves in a network of, mainly, Quaker copper smelting and copper ore dealing firms in South Wales. The Quaker families of Harford, Champian, Goldney and Darby are all involved in a complex network of partnerships. 1780 The 'Forest Copper Works' are seen as being owned by a partnership Quakers who dominate the Bristol Brass Company and the Tin Plate concerns of West Wales. Through different combinations of names this partnership is also deeply involved in the important iron industry in Coalbrookdale and the iron trade of South wales and Bristol.

In the 1770s the price of ore from Cornwall increased sharply thus effecting the competitiveness of Bristol brass & copper manufacturers.

1780 Sees the Crew's Hole and Conham operations leased to various businesses.

1780s: Loss of Dominance - Rise of Birmingham

By 1780 the consumption of brass by the industries of Birmingham was 1,000 tons pre annum this demand was satisfied by Bristol, Cheadle and, later, also Macclesfield. The brass manufacturing combination increased its prices to Birmingham customers by 15% (from £72 to £84 a ton). On 18 August 1780 19 Birmingham businesses met at the 'Swan' in Bull St, Birmingham, to protest against this increase and called for a breaking of the monopoly. The result was the formation of a Birmingham owned business. Each firm present at the meeting agreed to put in £100 so that they 'may no longer under ye arbitory hand of the Bristol company.' There then followed a period where the new firm gathered information on the business practices, methods and means of production of the Bristol company. Much industrial espionage took place concerning reports of conversations, observations of production methods, latest information on the details of contracts being agreed to by the Bristol company, poaching of staff from Bristol, availability of raw materials and the amounts required to maintain full production. In April 1781 they established the Birmingham Metal Company with a capital of £20,000 in 200 shares with no one owning more than 4 shares. The first co-operative company of this kind to come into existence. The new Company decides to build its new concern in Birmingham and taking advantage of the new canal developments in the region. It joins with Parys Mines Co to work outside the older companies association. Each member of the company had to purchase 200 tons of brass per annum - this helped the new company fight off the price war with the old association which followed. Although some firms (outside the new co-operative company) still bought brass from the old companies the monopoly of trade was broken.

1781 By this year the Bristol Company had moved its copper smelting operations to Warmley where it took advantage of being closer to its supplies of coal.

From 1785 a pricing agreement was reached between the copper mining operations of Cornwall and Anglesey whereby copper would be offered at the same price through joint warehouses in Bristol, London, Liverpool and Birmingham. But mistrust, deceit and different economic realities facing the different mining areas meant this agreement to prevent undercutting each other was a failure within a few years.

1786 Saw the Bristol company under increasing financial and trading pressure as old trading arrangements were deteriorating and it put some of its shares up for sale. At a meeting of its shareholders in its warehouse in Queens St, St Philip's all its members decided, 'That it appears impracticable for the said company to carry on their trade any longer and the same should be dissolved and terminated.' At this point the management of the company was by a committee consisting of nine people, five of whom were members of the Harford family. The company being referred to quite often as 'Mark Harford & Bristol Brass Co'. The family had connection with John Andrews one of the founder members of the company, through marriage. Also by marriage into the Lloyd family - Edward Lloyd was also a founder member.

1787 Saw advertisements appear in newspapers across the country advertising the sale of 'All the Works, Mills, Estates and Utensils of the United brass Battery, Wire and Copper Company of Bristol'. By March that year the company had been sold for just £16,000. Through an complicated system of purchase the company reorganised with a very similar ownership as before with the company under the direction of Mark Harford and five others of his family and four other stock holders. The 'new' business was named 'Harfords and Bristol Brass & Copper Company'.

This new company starts to take interest in copper smelting in South Wales by purchasing part ownership of works at Upper Forest and running down if not finishing with its copper smelting operations in Bristol.

1790 - 1840: Decline & Sale of Baptist Mills Works

1790 The Birmingham manufacturers set up the Birmingham Mining & Copper Company on similar lines to the Birmingham Metal Company, with smelting works at Swansea.

By the 1790s the Wooborough Mill at Compton Dando is abandoned.

1796 Mark Harford dies and the company is called the 'Joseph Harford & Bristol Brass Company'. Joseph Harford of the banking firm Harford's was also in partnership with Ames, Cave & Company. All the other Harfords who were shareholders in the Brass Company were connected with Harfords Bank.

1799 There was a Government inquiry into the running of the copper industry with Thomas Williams' activities coming under increasing scrutiny and from complaints of midlands manufacturers and users of copper. Williams was running a virtual monopoly of smelting copper which forced down the price paid to mining operators but forced up the price paid to copper purchasers.

1799 The company sells its Conham site to a chemical business.

1799 It is known that a dozen children from Sissons poorhouse are producing brass pins at Baptist Mills.

1800-1814 Quaker partnerships develop in copper and iron smelting and engineering industries in Neath. The Birmingham Company continues to expand and the Bristol and Cheadle operations are on the decline its production methods proving to be traditional and slow.

Parts of the works and machinery at its Warmley site are sold or leased.

The Conham smelting works are sold off.

1811/12 The Battery Mills at Weston change hands.

1814 The Baptist Mills site is abandoned and its work is transferred to Keynsham.

1820 By this time the company has ceased producing copper at Swansea - this is the end of the company's involvement in the copper smelting business.

1825 The Bitton Battery Mills change hands and becomes a paper mill.

1828 The company sells it's Crew's Hole abandoned business site for £1,880.

1830 The Baptist Mills site is described as 'not fit for manufactory' in a surveyor's report. the site covers some thirteen and a half acres.

1830 Sees Robert Charlton, a Quaker who lived at Ashley Hill, open his brass pin works at Two Mile Hill. Employing 110 women and 50 boys as well as 500 women and child outworkers.

1831 The Baptist Mills site is offered for sale but no buyer is found.

1832 The Warmley site is sold to the leaseholder who continue to produce pins and smelt zinc on the site.

1836 On 4th June the Baptist Mills site is put on the market, 'All those valuable Mills, and works called Baptist Mills, herefore used as a Brassworks, having good waterpower, and extensive and substantial buildings capable of being applied to any manufacturing purpose. Also twenty Dwelling-Houses and cottages, and sundry Plots of building ground.'

1836-1840 The Baptist Mills site is sold off in plots. James White buys the old melting and charcoal houses and establishes his pottery on the site.  Another part of the site becomes a tannery.

1836 By this time 'Harfords & Bristol Brass & Copper Company' has ended its role as being directly a manufacturing concern. Rather it leased premises to one of the company's partners; Charles Ludlow Walker at a rental of £500 per annum. Ludlow starts a building & new plant programme at Keynsham including, it is thought the introduction of steam power (rather than water-power). Parts of the land at Keynsham and Saltford is sold to GWR and stations are built near each mill. By this time there are only three working mills left; the Chew and Avon Mills and the battery mill at Saltford. It still owned the lease of the Kelston Mills (near Saltford) which had been acquired by the Warmley company. This was the remnants of what had been the largest brass works in Europe just 30 years previously.

1840 - 1920s: Final Years of the Company

The company continues trading as 'Harfords & Bristol Brass Company'.

Brass production in the Bristol district came to a close with the closure of the Keynsham factory in June 1927. The names of the last two men who ever made Brass Battery pans in Britain were Thomas R Shellard of Saltford and George Brimble of Keynsham.

At Saltford the Company produced five main types of pans; Neptunes, Milk Pans, Lisbon Pans, Kettles and Hand-bowls (also called Compass Bowls). Neptune Pans were extremely shallow (3 - 3.5ins deep) and about 3' diameter with a wide rim and of thin metal. They were exported to West Africa were they were used for making sea-salt through evaporation of sea water in them. When the water had evaporated the pans could be rolled up and carried under one's arm.

Lisbon Pans were used in Portugal in the manufacture of crystallised fruit.

Milk Pans were used for general purposes and in Farm Houses for the separation of cream.. They came in 9, 20 & 36 Gallon sizes.

Kettles were straight-sided pans. they were said to have been used in Guinea for the collection of latex (juice from the rubber tree).

Hand Bowls were 9 - 12" in diameter for domestic use.

Sources

Radstock, David & Charles Quakers in Science & Industry, (Holdings) Ltd, 1968

Bristol's Urban Ecology, Proceedings of the Bristol Naturalists Society, Vol. 48, 1988 pp100-103

Jenkins, Rhys, The Copper Works at Redbrook and at Bristol,, Bristol & Glos Arch Soc, Transactions for the Year 1942 pp145 - 167

Buchannan & Cossons, Industrial Archaeology of the Region of Bristol

Trustram, Mary, Pin Money, ,Placards & Pin Money, Bristol Broadsides

Street, Doreen, Not Worth a Pin: Pinmaking in the Kingswood Area, Kingswood History Project.

B De Soyers, Bristol Brass Battery Process,

Day, Joan, Bristol Brass: The History of the Industry,

Cox, Nancy, 'Imagination and Innovation of an Industrial Pioneer: the First Abraham Darby', Industrial Archaeology Review, XII, 2, Spring 1990, pp 127-144

Jones, Donald, Captain Woodes Rogers' Voyage Round The World 1708 - 1711, Bristol Branch of the Historical Association, Local History Pamphlets, 1992