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Willenhall in 1873

[Description from Griffith's Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain (1873)]


Willenhall, the real seat of the lock, door-bolt, and latch manufacturers for the world, is a township in the parish of Wolverhampton, and is connected with it by two lines of railways, viz. the old Grand Junction line, and one recently opened, the Wolverhampton and Wallsall line. Willenhall being just three miles from either town, now contains about 20,000 inhabitants, a complete hive of industry.

We believe there are some five to six hundred separate manufactories (of course some only small concerns) of rim, mortice, drawback, dead, cupboard, drawer, box, and pad locks; all kinds of latches and door bolts; currycombs, grid-irons, box-iron stands, and skewers; horse scrapers and singers; carpet-bag frames and locks; box corners and clips; keys of all descriptions; and stampers of an endless variety of articles for the gun, steel, toy, and other trades carried on in neighbouring towns. There are also Ironfounders, brassfounders, and wrought Iron works, blast furnaces and collieries in abundance. To these mainly must be attributed the rapid growth of this industrious town.

The writer can well remember when three to four thousand was the extent of its population. In those happy old days of the past there was one church, with a blaspheming drunken parson, who spent six times more of his time in the public-house than in the church, the only one the place possessed.

In those times there was no Methodist or Dissenting resident minister; and what is more, no magistrate, no lawyer, no police, and not an inhabitant (except the parson) but what was engaged in some kind of business.

At the present time the township of Willenhall contains four churches, five Wesleyan chapels, four Baptist chapels, five Methodist chapels of various denominations, and one Roman Catholic chapel, which represents one place of worship for every thousand of the population, a fact few towns can boast of; with good school accommodation, British, National, and Wesleyan, and a literary institute of no mean pretensions, having its reading, recreation, and class rooms, a good lecture hall, and a well-furnished library.

On visiting some of the manufactories of Willenhall, we found the Albion works one of the most prominent, employing some hundreds of work-people. The business carried on here was established in the last century by the father of one of the present proprietors; and one of the principal branches of the trade, that of door bolts, was extensively carried on by the grand-father of the other more than eighty years ago. At these works we find manufactured rim, dead, and mortice locks; spring, rim, night, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Lancashire thumb-latches, in various ornamental designs; door-bolts in prodigious quantities. When in full employ they can produce 120 gross per week of this one article, aided by steam stamps, Nasmith's steam hammer, and steam presses for forming the various parts of the bolt, and piercing the holes in the plates; also pulleys for every conceivable purpose; sash, signal, and sliding doors; hat and coat hooks; door buttons, and black ironfoundery generally. We also find a large quantity of door-lock knobs, sold principally for export, called 'Harper & Co.'s patent mineral lock furniture.' At the time we write, they are engaged on orders for nearly 100,000 brackets, made of malleable cast Iron-these are for various telegraph lines, both for home and abroad. In this branch the Messrs. Harper & Co. excel. Our pen would fail to write the variety of purposes to which the malleable castings are now applied; suffice it to say, their patterns consist of more than three thousand different kinds and sizes.

The largest lock manufactory here, and perhaps one of the oldest, is Carpenter & Tildesley's, well-known in England and all the Colonies for their locks of various kinds, particularly 'rim' locks. They are the largest lock and curry-comb makers in Willenhall, and employ the greatest number of hands in lock and key making of any house in Willenhall, having especial machinery for this purpose. This firm stamp their own keys. Mr. James Tildesley is son-in-law to the late Mr. Carpenter, and is the proprietor of these ingenious works. This is a highly respectable firm, and capable of executing orders to any extent of all kinds of locks.