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134-year-old document saved from the skip

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: September 01, 2014

  • Above: The Articles of Agreement that could possibly have been hand written with a quill pen. Below: The Alma, a steam engine of the age

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SINCE the birth of the steam engine in the early decades of the 19th century, heavy industrial plants like those found in the Black Country had been keen to use the new transport system as a way to speed up the delivery of raw materials from the collieries to the iron works, and then send the finished product to destinations world wide in a much more efficient and convenient way.

As the years progressed railway networks expanded and the Round Oak Steel works was renowned for its complex rail system that incorporated the Pensnett Railway and extended from Ashwood Basin to the west of Kingswinford all the way to Cradley Heath, crossing at least two main passenger lines along the way. The railways had become an industry within an industry, especially at the places like the Round Oak Works.

In recent weeks we have featured items of historical importance that were saved from destruction by a couple in Kingswinford, and perhaps the most valuable rescued artefact was an "Articles of Agreement' of A3 dimensions written in freehand in ink perhaps by a quill pen on a material not dissimilar to velum. Included in the agreement on a separate sheet but attached to the articles was a map describing at a glance what the document was all about.

It is beautifully worded, although typical of all legal documents there is a lot of repetition and precision in its detail. We therefore felt it best to copy the first two paragraphs word for word to convey a feeling of just how old this document was.

"Articles of Agreement made the twenty eighth day of December one thousand eight hundred and eighty between the Right Honourable William Earl of Dudley for and behalf of himself and the trustees and other parties interested under the last will of the Right Honourable John William Earl of Dudley deceased of the one part and the Great Western Railway Company of the other part.

Whereas by 'The Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway (Improvements and Branches) Act 1855', reciting among other things that the construction of the works therein mentioned including a siding to communicate with the Woodside Iron Works in the Parish of Dudley, would tend to the advantage and convenience of the public and of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway Company, the same company were in empowered among other things to make and maintain a siding or communication from the main line of their railway commencing at or near the point where the Pensnett Railway crosses the same and terminating at in or near the works known as the Woodside Iron Works."

Maps surveyed just five years after the Articles of Agreement for the Woodside Iron Works siding was drawn up, clearly show its existence, and this document is now safely stored at the Dudley archives for anyone to view in the future.

A report in Grace's Guide for 1856 describes a day at the Woodside Iron Works, and although it is twenty-two years before the Articles of Agreement was drawn up, it creates a good impression of how the local environment and surrounding area appeared at that time: "A sunny day at Woodside would naturally suggest mossy banks, whispering leaves and twittering birds, but the pleasant day spent at Woodside recently revealed a place that was black, grimy and smoky. "A few years ago it was indeed a veritable wood-side, but now tall chimneys stand for trees, the snort of the steam engine endlessly greets the ear instead of the cheery whistle of the plough boy, and rows of iron pipes take the place of waving corn. Underlying the black dust, and those dark sheds full of grumbling weeds, are beauty and poetry requiring a subtler intellect and liner taste to perceive, but on that account having a higher value in the category of mental luxuries and pleasures.

"At this Woodside there now stands the great ironworks of Messrs Alex Cochrane & Company. When in full work some six miles of piping are turned out from these works in a week. Here were cast the first pillars for the Crystal Palace in 1851. The Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway, running for a considerable distance alongside of these works, drops down into their midst the green sand for the moulds, the Staffordshire ironstone, the unctuous red haematite from Cumberland, the limestone for the flux and the Derbyshire cokes. The coal is raised from pits on the premises, and in very few hours the raw material thus handed on the one side may be smelted, converted into pigs, cast into pipes, proved by the hydraulic press, smoothed, cut and drilled by machines of singular ingenuity and power, and shipped at the other side of the works on the canal, then to the river and onwards to the sea and customers the other side of the world."

In 1856 Alex Cochrane & Co at the Woodside Iron Works was a company on the up and expansion and better transport facilities were inevitable. It would therefore have come as no surprise for the need of a siding or sidings away from the main railway line, to meet the increased level of production, for both the delivery of the raw materials and the export of finished goods.

To be given the opportunity to see and handle this important historical document was a wonderful experience which would never have happened had it not been for the diligence and care shown by fellow historians back in 1982, and for that we are very gratefu1.

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