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1920 aerial view of Old Hill Ironworks

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 13, 2013

By Stuart McMaster

  • In this old Hingley catalogue, a bit of artistic license has been employed to show the Netherton works (left) and Old Hill works (right) next to each other

  • Old Hill Ironworks from the air, almost a hundred years ago.

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THE NAME of Noah Hingley was made famous via the huge Netherton Ironworks which once dominated a huge area of that town, and which we viewed from the air in last week's Bugle.

But a short distance away was another large ironworks belonging to Hingley's, down the road at Old Hill, and here we have another rare aerial image of that works, which nicely illustrates the size of that works.

Old Hill Ironworks was a relatively large industrial plant that produced over 18,000 tons of pig iron per annum which was destined to be converted into 15,600 tons of wrought iron bars of differing sections and length. These bars were then reworked to produce a variety of high quality products, such as chain-cables, anchors, railway couplings and draw-gear, crane hooks, horse shoes and corrugated sheets, and numerous other products.

The manufacturing plant at Old Hill comprised two blast furnaces with open-air foundry for producing pig iron, puddling-ball and reheating furnaces, steam hammers and rolling mills for converting the pig iron into wrought iron products. The aerial photograph reproduced here, dated 1920, provides an idea of how large the iron works was in terms of the area of land that it occupied. The ironworks is at the centre of the photograph.

On the right-hand side is the junction of Powke Lane, Moore Lane and Garrett's Lane. Today the junction is a traffic island. Powke Lane runs from right to left (passing over the Dudley No2 Canal via Powke Lane bridge and cuts through the centre of the ironworks. The green fields to the right of Moore Lane and above the short section of Powke Lane are today occupied by Powke Lane Cemetery.

In simple terms the peripheral boundary of the works can be identified as follows:

Starting at the works' bridge located immediately to the left of the end-of-terrace white painted building (The Two Furnaces Inn located on Powke Lane) move diagonally to the right of a pithead winding gear A-frame and small building nearby, towards the bottom right-hand corner of the photograph stopping at the edge of the GWR Dudley Blowers Green to Old Hill & Halesowen line.

At this point move right to left passing what is believed to be the works limestone processing plant and associated spoil-banks. Continuing from right to left the railway line begins to curve away from the GWR main line, passing between blast furnace slag-banks on the right and GWR's Old Hill Sidings on the left.

These blast furnaces, one behind the other, are located just beyond the slag-banks and a railway incline; left of each furnace are two vertical cylindrical structures; they are two hot blast stoves used to pre-heat pressurised air prior to it being blasted into the furnace. To the right of both furnaces is the open-air foundry used for casting pig-iron.

Moving past the sidings in a diagonal direction the boundary continues towards Powke Lane having crossed over the works railway incline. This incline was used for moving railway wagons from the sidings up to and around the works and vice-versa using a 0-4-0 ST shunting steam engine named Elfin, which belonged to the works.

Upon reaching Powke Lane, bear right passing an embankment wall to reach the elevated road bridge that provides access to the works canal basin and ultimately access to the No2 Canal and nearby Hollis bridge, which today connects with Dudhill Road.

Where the basin connects with the canal, turn right across the basin using the canal tow-path which, although unseen in the photograph, passes behind the works leading eventually to a triangular shaped canal basin. The part of the works sandwiched between the canal and Powke Lane was known locally as Old Hill Mill and it was the Mill that housed the furnaces, hammers and rolling mills that were used to convert pig iron into wrought iron (the blast furnaces on the other side of Powke Lane were known as Old Hill Furnaces).

Upon reaching the triangular basin, turn sharp right away from the canal tow-path, moving parallel to a high retaining wall, to reach the works bridge located left of the Two Furnaces Inn.

Old Hill Ironworks is believed to have been established in 1848. The blast furnaces were closed down in 1924, though the mill continued to produce wrought iron till it too was closed down in 1932. The whole works then stood complete but un-maintained and as a consequence plant, equipment and buildings began to deteriorate. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the whole works was dismantled for much -needed scrap.

Other buildings and works seen in the aerial photograph, that are not related to Old Hill Ironworks, are identified as follows:

One of the terraced houses attached to the Two Furnaces Inn was home to a Mr Jimmy Russen; the large detached house to the right of the terraced houses was home to Mr Chambers, a local farmer.

Continuing along Powke Lane, the last building on the left hand side before reaching Powke Lane bridge was The Neptune Inn, the building still exists today. Located behind the terraced houses, Mr Chambers' house and the Neptune Inn, is a triangular shaped canal basin/wharf which clearly serves what is believed to be the brick works of Partridge Guest (formerly known as Partridge Guest & Raybould) manufacturers of blue bricks, red bricks and tiles.

It is assumed that the brick works was established in the first half of the 19th century since the works is listed in Jones's Mercantile Directory of the Iron District published in 1865. Just beyond and to the right of the brick works are the workings of a large marl hole which was probably created following the extraction of clay used for making bricks. The identity of the works with tall chimney, located in front of the Neptune Inn and the canal bridge, is as yet unknown.

Stuart and the Bugle would like to thank English Heritage for their permission to publish the aerial photograph of Old Hill Ironworks.

Do you have past associations with, or an interest in Old Hill Ironworks? Both Stuart and the Bugle would be interested to hear from you. Call in at our office, phone us, write in or send an email to gjones@black countrybugle.co.uk

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