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Safes, coffee mills and japanning – town trades from a guide of 1871

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 05, 2014

By Gavin Jones

  • Vaughan and Browne, japanners and Tin-platers

  • A fine array of products from Ready & Son

  • An ornate steel mill from William Corns and Son

  • The Star and Garter, one of the town's best known hotels

  • A rock-solid George Price safe

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WHEN the publishers of local town guides and directories put their annual publications together, they wouldn't have considered the fact that they were inadvertently capturing a time and a place for posterity between those thick board covers.

Copies of those little books which have survived long past their intended sell-by date are a fascinating time capsule to their modern-day readers, and Walsall historian Ian Bott has loaned us a particularly fine example: Steen & Blacket's Original Illustrated Wolverhampton Guide and Visitor's Handbook. Priced at One Shilling, it was sold from the publishers' office in Queen Square and also available from W.H. Smith & Son, from Railway Stations, and other booksellers in the town.

This little survivor was printed in 1871, and features among its pages some beautifully illustrated old adverts for long-gone firms which flourished at the height of Wolverhampton's industrial hey-day. We begin our random selection of some of the most interesting with one placed by William Corns & Son, of the Snowhill Mill Works. Established in 1790, the firm was almost eighty years old by the time of this advert, and had made its name as makers of steel mills, for 'Grinding Sugar, Tea, Coffee, Wheat, India Corn, and all other seeds, either by Hand, Water, or Steam Power'. The ornate example in the illustration looks like a moderately sized, hand-cranked mill, probably designed to sit on a counter or table top.

A few pages on we have an example of one of Wolverhampton's most famous trades. George Price was in the business of 'Fire-Resisting & Burglar-Proof Book & Plate Safes, with case-hardened Drill and Wedge-proof Doors'.

Price's were offering their Deed and Bullion Chests, Strong Room Doors and Frames, Cabinet, Rim & Mortice Locks and Night Latches, but were also in the business of machine-made washers, axle plates, box clips, bucket ears, machine chain and 'every description of Pressed Work'.

Price's were based at the Cleveland Works in Cleveland Street, right in the middle of the town.

Just around the corner in Bilston Street was Ready & Son, maker of 'Gas Fittings, Chandeliers, Brackets, Sun & Star Lights, Coronas, Garden Engines, Syringes, Hose Pipes & Fittings, High-Pressure Water Cocks, Ball Valves, Gun Metal Steam Engine fittings, Lift and Force Pumps, Beer Pumps and Engines, and Water Closets of Every Description.'

There are six lovely illustratons, including a four-pump beer engine at top right and a chandelier at top left, though what the top middle one is we can't guess.

Our next selection is a name which extended well into living memory; the Star & Garter Royal Hotel on Victoria Street. Proprietor Arthur R Britton offered billiards, an omnibus to meet every train from the station, and a night porter.

There are several Japanners advertising in the guide; that curiously named trade which found itself a home in Wolverhampton and Bilston. Basically a varnishing process which aimed to recreate traditional Asian lacquering, Japanning became hugely popular among the wealthy in the late eighteenth century, only beginning its gradual decline around a hundred years on. Many of the companies involved produced Japanned ware and Tin-plate side by side, and Vaughan & Browne (originally Addison & Vaughan) did just that, at their Pountney Pool Works.

Other Japanners who placed full page adverts in the guide included G.H. Alcock; John Marston; John Stewart; Knowles & Co; Thomas Jones; Jones & Bird, and William Thrustans & Co.

Do you have any old trade directories from Black Country towns that you'd like to share with Bugle readers? Write in to the usual address and let us know, give us a call, or email gjones@blackcountry bugle.co.uk.

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