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Restored Black Country building that has played an important role in railway history

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: April 26, 2014

  • The recently opened Lion Health Centre in Stourbridge

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THE historic Foster and Rastrick foundry, that gave birth to the famous Black Country locomotives "Stourbridge Lion" and "Agenoria", has been saved from ruin and redeveloped into a medical centre that is one of the biggest of its kind in the country.

The new £8.5 million Lion Health Medical Centre covers 30,000 square foot and opened on Monday April 14. It will eventually cater for up to 25,000 patients, and as a state-of-the-art facility comprises 36 consulting rooms, a nursing suite, a minor injuries unit, physiotherapy suite and gymnasium, pharmacy, dental practice, lecture theatre and teaching facilities.

Before the new medical centre was even thought about, the Bugle had the opportunity to see for itself the site where so much Black Country history was made at the beginning of the 19th century. On the first occasion we got permission from the then incumbent firm of Sidney Smith & Sons of Stourbridge, manufacturers of manhole covers, to have a look around, and with men still working in the ancient building, managed to experience a little of the atmosphere of the foundry that may have existed one hundred and seventy years before.

The fabric of the building was in a bad state of repair and it wasn't long before the Grade II listed building became vacant and at risk of terminal damage by vandals. The second visit was a more sobering experience, with the machinery and any semblance of a working environment removed, leaving just the ghosts of the past behind. It was probably the wind whistling through the ever-increasing gaps in the roof, but just for a brief moment it sounded like the Agenoria's whistle or the Stourbridge Lion letting off some steam.

In 1800 John Bradley & Co was formed, establishing an ironworks to the north of the River Stour in Amblecote. By 1820 it was reputed to be the largest ironworks in the Midlands, but this fame was soon to be overshadowed locally by the foundry built by James Foster in partnership with John Urpeth Rastrick, just to the south of the river. It was here in 1828/29 that two locomotives, the Agenoria and the Stourbridge Lion, were built, the Agenoria going on to serve the local Shutt End Railway in Kingswinford, and the Stourbridge Lion making history by becoming the first locomotive to run on a railway in North America.

In 1802 a "Deed of Co-Partnership" was drawn up between John Bradley, Thomas Jukes Collier and the children of Henry Foster, and when Bradley died in 1816, it left James Foster in sole control of John Bradley & Co.

By 1832 the company owned the following establishments. Stourbridge Old Works; Stourbridge New Works; Stourbridge Foundry (Where the new medical centre is today); Shutt End Colliery; Brierley Hill Iron Works; Scotts Green Colliery; Baptist End Colliery; Eardington Works; and Hampton Lode Works.

James Foster died unmarried in 1853, and the company passed to his nephew, William Orme Foster, under whose leadership it continued to expand, and by 1869 John Bradley & Co was once again one of the largest iron manufacturers in the Midlands. But the depression of the late 19th century began to put the brakes on further development and by 1900 only the Shutt End Colliery and Stourbridge Ironworks remained active.

The Shutt End Colliery was eventually sold in 1913. Then just after the First World War the last piece of the jigsaw that comprised John Bradley & Co was sold to Edward J. Taylor Ltd, which subsequently was bought out by John Bagnall & Sons (later to become part of the F H Lloyd Group of companies) in the post Second World War era. The F H Lloyd Group collapsed in 1982 and the foundry premises was sold to Sidney Smith & Sons of Stourbridge.

This potted history of the site, reaching back over 200 years, runs almost parallel with the development of the Black Country as the industrial hub of the nation, and now the foundry building has been saved, albeit as a working medical centre, its historic relevance will hopefully be enjoyed by many generations to come.

This story would not be complete without a visit to the new Lion Health Centre, and we were delighted when Dr. Carol Griffiths took a few minutes out of her busy day to show us various features of the building which have been retained and others that have been added that empathise with the history of the ancient structure.

The old foundry interior has been transformed with the wide open space divided up to accommodate the reception area, waiting room and pharmacy, etc. In 1820 the single span wrought and cast iron support in the roof was the largest in the world, and this can now be observed to great effect from the first floor. A meaningful stained glass window has been made by Ruskin Glass and is situated above the main entrance, and there is also a sculpture depicting men at work at the foundry that can be seen best from the waiting area.

Dr. Griffiths told us, "We have tried to include different types of industries that made Stourbridge famous, not just the locomotives that were built here, but because the name lion has been used in the name of the health centre the locomotives tends to dominate."

Because the Lion Health Centre is such an important historical site, not only for the Black Country, but also for the history of railways, we asked Dr. Griffiths if she was prepared to accept visits from historians, independent of health issues. "Yes of course we are", she told us, "but our priorities will always be with our patients. However, if history societies organised themselves into groups and forewarned us of their interest, I'm sure the practice would try to accommodate them."

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