The Hyde Mill

Less than one hundred and fifty years ago Kinver possessed a flourishing iron industry with major ironworks at Lower Whittington and at the Hyde.

Both these enterprises owed their existence to Hyde Mill, the iron slitting mill which Richard Foley built in 1629 and generally accepted as being the first commercially successful slitting mill in England. This was a time when three quarters of all iron produced in the country was used for making nails.

Before the introduction of the slitting mill iron, from the forges, had to be rolled and then slit by hand using chisels in order to render it suitable for nailmaking. Foley's process, after rolling the reheated bar, was to pass the resulting plate between sets of meshing cutting discs. working rather in the manner of the cutting discs of a modern geared can opener. The mill was powered by the River Stour and here there is conjecture that there may have been two water wheels on the site to drive the two shafts of the mill machinery.

The existence of the mill site at the Hyde is undisputed for there is documentary evidence to support the claim. Indeed, in the first year of its operation, the mill was the subject of a protracted lawsuit whereby Foley's neighbours sought compensation for flooding caused by damming the Stour and the damage to the land from the passage of carts to and from the mill. Most of the supplies of bar iron at that time came from forges to the north of Kinver, on the Smestow, from Myddleton Forge in Shropshire and iron delivered from Bewdley. Accounts exist for the output of Hyde Mill in the 1670 s detailing the tonnage's of iron supplied and slit. Later, when the so-called 'Ironworks in Partnership", a consortium of Stour Valley ironmasters founded by the Foleys in 1692, became dominated by the Knight family, iron supplies to the mill came from other sources. Whittington forge supplied up to 1735, together with Cookley Forge who continued to supply Hyde Mill until 1776. That year accounts record a dramatic drop in tonnage slit, down to 50 tons from a previous record of 890 tons, caused by the Whittington Forge possessing their own slitting mill and thus able to process their own forged iron.

The introduction of Henry Cort's process in 1784, to produce small diameter iron rod by rolling instead of slitting, saw the demise of slitting so far as Hyde Mill was concerned. By 1791 it too was rolling iron bar.

The economic decline, following the Napoleonic Wars, brought further changes and by 1828 Hyde Mill, Hyde House (originally built by the Foleys) and a corn mill adjacent to the slitting mill, were leased to Joseph and Thomas Parkes who were spade manufacturers. Later, in 1865, the mill was again leased to another Thomas Parkes also making spades and shovels . After a period of uncertainty Hyde Mill was taken over in 1888 by Isaac Nash & Sons, the well known scythe and edge-tool makers of Belbroughton in Worcestershire. The mill survived as a spade works until about 1912 and the buildings became derelict.

It is the footings of these structures and the boundary walls fronting the lane, leading from the Hyde to Hyde Lock, which are visible today. Behind them, on private property, are the dangerous overgrown remains of culverts and sluices which powered and controlled the water-driven tilt hammers and the spade works. The course of the River Stour at the Hyde was possibly changed: on a map of 1820 (drawn for the sale of the estate), today's course, rushing over a weir under the bridge, was marked as Back Brook. The main flow of the river fed the mill and with the sluice controlled overflow, passed into the channel that is now a tributary rejoining the Stour below Hyde Lock.

Of the larger ironworks at the Hyde, making wrought iron, with its ultimate total of 21 puddling furnaces, steam driven hammers and rolling plant, hardly anything remains. We can however gain a good impression of the works from an engraving published in Griffith's 1873 "Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain' and the 25 inch Ordnance Survey map of 1882. The site was completely razed in 1901 when the Kinver Light Railway was built, crossing the site and using the furnace slag heaps for track ballast.

The expansion of the works dates back to 1789 when the Homfray family of Gothersley acquired lands from the Dunsley estate and erected furnaces and forges. By 1797 the Homfrays had installed Kinver's first steam engine to operate a trip hammer.

In 1809, on the death of Francis Homfray, the ironworks was put up for sale but in the event it was purchased by his heirs. By 1819 the business was failing and Thomas Homfray was declared bankrupt.

The outcome of the sale of administration was for the business to pass to the bankers who in turn leased out the various operations. They also lent considerable sums for the renovation of furnaces, machinery and the purchase of new equipment. A detailed inventory of the ironworks property was drawn up in 1831 from which some idea of the scale of operations can be assessed. The works by this time was employing several hundred men.

The tenancy changed in 1838 to Bolton and Lee who continued to expand the facilities with more puddling furnaces, rolling plant and a canal wharf. By 1862 the works was entering its busiest period but gradually the competition from cheaper steel began to bring the inevitable decline and by 1888 it was forced to close.

Surprisingly its near neighbour Hyde Mill as a spade works, was able to survive for another 25 years.

Thus ended a significant chapter in Kinver's history which, in its time, embraced one of the important landmarks in the advance of British ironmaking.

A more detailed study of the subject is contained in M V Cooksley's paper "The Iron Industry of Kinver", published in 1976 and available in Kinver Reference Library,

© Kinver Historical Society