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Tipton iron workers married in Paris in the 1820s

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 05, 2013

By Dan Shaw

The Aaron Manby, the world's first steam-powered iron ship

The Aaron Manby, the world's first steam-powered iron ship

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MANY Bugle readers enjoy genealogy and we are always happy to share the interesting stories they uncover in researching their family trees. Janet Dugmore has sent in this story, about her husband's ancestor, an ironworker from Tipton who got married in Paris in the 1820s.

Janet writes, "I found out my husband's great-great-grandfather William Southwick, born in Tipton in 1801, got married at the British Embassy, Paris. His wife Mary Trueman was also born in the Black Country and I could not understand how they came to be in France.

"I looked through military records thinking this was the solution but had no luck there. After many months of research I came up with the answer, which astounded me. They say truth is stranger than fiction and the following story shows Black Country industry at its best.

"Aaron Manby was a Black Country ironmaster, born in Albrighton on 15th November, 1776. He ran the Horseley Ironworks in Tipton.

"In 1822 he fabricated an iron steamboat at the Horseley ironworks. The various parts of the vessel were sent down to the Thames and assembled by Manby at Rotherhithe before being demonstrated on the river between London and Battersea bridges in June 1822.

"The pioneering steamship was named Aaron Manby, it was 106 feet in length and fitted with a 30 horsepower engine and Oldham's propelling oars.

"A few days later it left the Thames, en route for Paris, carrying a cargo of clover seeds and iron. It completed the journey in 55 hours.

"The Aaron Manby's voyage created a great deal of interest at the time. The French were very interested as their iron industry was less advanced than that of the British. Manby set up an ironworks at Charenton, Paris, and to get the best out of out of the plant and machinery he needed a highly skilled workforce, so he lured British ironworkers, mostly from Staffordshire, with promises of high wages.

"The venture was a great success and he soon opened a new iron works at Chaillot.

"So the mystery of why so many Tipton men were in Paris was solved. Not only was my husband's great-great-grandfather working in Charenton, so were his brothers Joseph Southwick and Thomas Southwick, who also married at the British Embassy. They earned enough to pay for their sweethearts to travel from Bilston and Tipton to join them and get married.

William's first two children, William and Phoebe, were born in Paris, and Joseph had a son, Edward, born in 1826.

"I'm not sure what date they all returned to England but I have found them all on the 1841 local census for Tipton.

"All of the above Southwicks were iron moulders.

"I have been doing family history and local history research since 1987 and I never fail to be amazed at what I find."

Many thanks to Janet for sharing the fruits of her research.

Aaron Manby is an important figure in the history of the Black Country. He was born at Albrighton, near Shrewsbury, in 1776, the son of Aaron Manby of Kingston, Jamaica, and Jane Lane.

He had a son, Charles, by his first wife, Julia Fewster, but she died in 1807. Later that year he remarried, to Sarah Ann Haskins and had a further four sons and a daughter. Four of his five sons followed him and became civil engineers, with Charles Manby achieving the greatest acclaim.

In 1812 Aaron Manby was part owner and manager of the Horseley Coal and Iron Company in Tipton. Under his guidance the business diversified into civil engineering. In 1813 Manby took out a patent for casting building blocks from furnace slag and in 1815 his firm built its first cast iron swing bridge.

Manby was commissioned to build the first iron steamboat by its designer Captain (later Admiral) Charles Napier. He is one of the most celebrated figures in 19th century naval history. Not only did he pioneer iron vessels but he also fought in the Napoleonic wars, the War of 1812 against the USA, and commanded the Royal Navy's Baltic fleet in the Crimean War.

As Janet says, Manby and Napier's revolutionary ship proved a success and it was Manby's eldest son Charles who acted as engineer on her voyage to France.

Manby's partner in the Charenton ironworks was an Irish chemist, Daniel Wilson, and Manby and Wilson was one of the largest British companies operating in France at that time, although their business was severely curtailed by the revolution in France in 1830.

Meanwhile, his Horseley Ironworks went from strength to strength, building many bridges on Britain's canals. Some notable examples in the Black Country are the Engine Arm Aqueduct, built in 1825 near Smethwick, and the roving bridges at Smethwick Junction, built in 1828.

In 1845 Aaron Manby sold the Horseley Ironworks to John Joseph Bramah and he died at his home on the Isle of Wight five years later.

Were any of your ancestors employed at the Manby and Wilson ironworks in France? Or maybe you have uncovered your own fascinating story in researching your family tree. Contact dshaw@black countrybugle.co.uk or write to our address on page 2.

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