Category Archives: Industrial history

Hidden Holt: An illuminating must-visit exhibition currently at Wrexham Museum

Cover of the free English/Welsh booklet accompanying the exhibition published by Wrexham Heritage Service, 2021.

My thanks to Brian Payne of the Holt Local History Society for alerting me to the fact that the Hidden Holt exhibition has been launched at the Wrexham County Borough Museum, running until 29th January 2022.  I went last week my father, and we were both bowled over by how good it was.

The exhibition introduces the Roman tile, brick and pottery works that were spread across a number of fields to the northwest of Holt, next to the river Dee.  It uses an excellent combination of original artefacts, video,  information boards and both old and new photographs and diagrams to track the twin stories of the site itself and the history of its discovery and excavation.  Holt Local History Society has a long-standing interest in the Roman works, and commissioned the most recent geophysical survey work at the site, so it’s great to see their contribution to the story being celebrated.

The exhibition (free to enter) is in Gallery 3, to the left as you move beyond reception and the café to enter the display areas.  I’ve given an overview below, but I seriously recommend that you just go – it is a tremendous, professionally-produced and beautifully designed little exhibition with some superb objects on display and some excellent information boards that explain what you are looking at.  You won’t regret it.  If you’re in the mood, the café serves a great coffee and what looks like a rather delicious lunch 🙂

Survey and excavation

Arthur Acton –  page 5 of the booklet accompanying the exhibition.  Source: Wrexham Heritage Service, 2021

The story of how the site was recognized and investigated begins in the early 1600s when landowner Thomas Crue of Holt Hill suffered repeated damage to his plough on broken brickwork and eventually discovered a series of fifty 2ft-tall posts and recorded this in a letter now in the British Museum.  The letter was mentioned in the book Roman Cheshire by W. Thompson Watkins (1886).  Retired chemist and keen amateur historian Alfred Neobard Palmer read the book, and in 1905 decided to hunt for the remains that Crue had found.  He tracked down the original letter and accompanied by local vicar Jenkyn Jones, and with the permission of the landowner Mr Beard, he engaged in a series of fieldwalking expeditions that found plenty of fragments of Roman bricks, roof tiles and pottery over an area of some 20 acres.

Fold-out plan of the kilns at Holt, published by Grimes in 1930. (Scanned from my copy of “Holt, Denbighshire”)

Palmer was not an archaeologist, and the task of excavating the site was taken on by Wrexham solicitor and amateur archaeologist Arthur Acton.  Work began in 1907,  in Wall Lock Field, and continued until 1915.  Although he lectured prolifically about the site, Acton never published his work.  Fortunately some of his records survived, and he sold the finds to the National Museum of Wales.  After five years of admirable work, the Assistant Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum, William F. Grimes who was better known as a prehistorian, published a comprehensive 235-page report on the site, complete with site plans, photographs and object illustrations.

Photograph and logo from the Archaeological Survey West website: http://www.archaeologicalsurveywest.co.uk/

Work did not stop there, and during the 1970s Geoffrey Bevan conducted both field walking activities and an excavation, finding Roman material that filled dozens of boxes, which were donated to the Grosvenor Museum in Chester.  Most recently, Holt Local History Society commissioned Archaeological Survey West to carry out a geophysical survey of the site,  to accurately fix the positions of the known buildings and to identify any unexcavated and previously unknown structures.  This was successfully completed in 2018, and demonstrated that the Holt complex was even bigger and more complex than Grimes, via Acton, had been able to determine.  There is, of course, the potential for future field research.

The exhibition

Piece of a colander manufactured at Holt, on display at the exhibition

The exhibition is based mainly around discoveries made during the Acton excavations, using the Grimes and later reports to explain what was found and what has been discovered since.  Between them, Crue, Palmer, Acton, Grimes, Bevan, Holt Local History Society and Archaeological Survey West have produced a history of what lies beneath those lush green fields, and this is what the exhibition introduces.

As usual usual the exhibition’s narrative is arranged in a clockwise direction, so turn left as you walk in to Gallery 3.  The exhibition begins with a video that explains the history of survey and excavation and then talks about the site itself.  It is well worth taking a seat and watching.  It lasts about 15-20 minutes and is chock-full of information with some terrific photographs, diagrams and artist impressions of what various structures may have looked like.   The technique of superimposing building plans over a modern aerial view of the fields is particularly useful for understanding how the site was composed and what each element consisted of.   From there, the excellently designed displays take the visitor through the site’s history.

Site plan of the Roman tile and pottery work displayed in the exhibition. Also in the excellent booklet accompanying the exhibition, full details in Sources below. Click to see a bigger version with fully legible text.  Source: Wrexham Heritage Service, 2021

The site was more elaborate than I realized, composed of a number of buildings as well as the kilns.  The image on the right is shown at full size in the exhibition, and shows how big a complex the Holt tile, brick and pottery works actually was.  This is a bang-up-to-date site plan, combining the information provided by Grimes in 1930 with the details obtained by Archaeological Survey West in 2018. What this and a lot of Acton’s photographs makes clear, is that the site was a fully integrated operation combining industrial, public and domestic architectural components. A senior manager had his own house, complete with hypocaust (under-floor) central heating, there was a public bath house, presumably for workers, a series of kilns for the manufacture of mainly tiles and pottery, and a barracks that may have housed workers, or alternatively a detachment of the Roman army based at Chester at this time.  The features shown in blue are unrecorded / unexcavated.  Those in dark brown are the building locations fixed in 2018, and those in paler brown those estimated by Grimes based on Acton’s work.

The main kiln plant at Holt, published by William Grimes in 1930. Scanned from my copy.

Although now the archaeological remains are covered with fields, Acton used photography extensively, and his site plans were detailed, many published by Grimes, and used in the exhibition to reveal and explain the different components of the site.  This is very helpful not only for understanding how the site worked as an end to end operation, but is invaluable for putting the objects into context.  Objects on their own tell a limited story, but when contextualized in terms of the buildings in which they were produced and used, come to life.  The exhibition does this brilliantly.

It was a good location for a tileworks.  Building stone was available in the immediate locality thanks to the Bunter sandstone, alluvial clay was available locally, woodlands were present for the provision of fuel to feed the kilns, and the river Dee provided direct access to Chester, 12 miles / 19km away, passing the civic settlement at Heronbridge.  The generally flat environment meant that building of roads was not particularly laborious.

The visitor is taken step-by-step through the production process, explaining how the kilns and drying sheds  were built and how they functioned. The kilns formed two main units, a larger (139ft / 52m long, consisting of a row of six kilns) and smaller twin-kiln built on the natural bed-rock.  Each kiln was rectangular and tile-lined with an arched stoke-hole for access.  A round pottery kiln was also located on the edge of the main kiln complex.  The oven floor was fascinating, consisting of a raised floor of tiles plastered with clay that were pierced with holes that acted as vents.  I was fascinated to see that the drying shed was provided with a hypocaust, better known as the under-floor heating system that was used in villas and bath houses.  These, like the kilns, were stoked and kept hot to ensure that the tiles, pottery and bricks were dried through after firing.

The exhibition displays a number of artefacts, including a roof tile, a brick and a triangular atefix tile marked with the letters LEGXXVV, an abbreviation for the twentieth legion, known as Valeria Victrix (valiant and victorious).  The antefix tile, one of which is shown in the exhibition (photo left and illustration below) also shows Legio XX’s dramatic running boar symbol.   Legio XX was stationed at Chester from AD87, and the Holt works appears to have been established shortly afterwards, reaching its peak output at around AD135, and falling out of use in the mid 3rd Century.

Antefix tiles from Holt. Source: Grimes 1930

A display board shows the vast range of products that were made at the site, including floor and roof tiles, and a variety of different pottery forms.  There is a good explanation of how the roof tiles, called imbrex and tegula (plural imbrices and tegulae), worked.  A good memory for me – I dug up a lot of these tiles at my first ever dig in Silchester.  The arched imbrices, sit snugly over the upright edges of two facing tegula tiles, as shown in the above photograph, and the the triangular antefix tiles were placed to cover the ends of the imbrex.

Green-glazed ware found at Holt. Source: National Museum of Wales

Examples of the pottery found at the site are on display, with some really fine examples, including ollae (jars), urcei (jugs), lagenae (flagons), cattili (plates), calices (drinking bowls), and testa (lids).  I particularly liked a partly preserved ceramic colander and a mortarium (the latter working like a modern mortar, but with bits of stone embedded into the interior base of the pot to create a rough surface for grinding spices and seeds).  Green-glazed pottery, a luxury ware that I had never come across before, was also made at the site.  It is rare in Britain, so it was excellent to see examples of it on show.  A photograph of the green glazed pottery found at Holt (from the National Museum of Wales website) is shown below.

The workers also turned their hands to other types of objects made from clay – one cabinet shows a marvellous piece of shaped water pipe that was manufactured at the site.

Section of water pipe manufactured at Holt

All of the output manufactured at the works was sent by boat downriver to Chester, the exhibition suggests that a short may have been dug out at Holt in order to make loading the ceramics easier, its course marked today by annual floodwaters that, as they recede, leave a line of floodwater in what could well be a Roman channel.

Samian pottery found at Holt. Source: Grimes 1930

Interestingly, the exhibition shows that even though huge amounts of pottery was being made on-site, there were particularly favoured types of ceramic being imported.  Samian (terra sigillata), a truly gorgeous luxury dark red ware that has moulded decoration on its lustrous surfaces, was found in surprising quantities.  This was usually imported from south-eastern Gaul (France); a Roman experiment with samian production in southern England produced inferior pottery and was very short-lived.

Imported black-burnished ware was also found at Holt, which the exhibition explains was made in Dorset.  At sites in southern England it is common (we found bucket-loads of it at Silchester), but when found at northern sites, it was probably imported to fulfil a particular need or desire.  The works manager might have wanted high-status ceramics, and any soldiers at the site may have craved the comforts of home, but another option is that it was being imported for use by a nearby settlement.  One of the findings of the 2018 geophysical survey was the presence of a possible Roman fort or marching camp to the west of the site, suggesting that the site may have been on the edge of an unidentified vicus settlement, or village.

Coins on display in the exhibition.

The coins at the site are invaluable for their contribution to creating a timeline for development of the site, but are works of art in their own right.

The exhibition provides another insight into the inhabitants of the site by displaying some of the other objects they owned, like small pieces of jewellery made of bronze, manicure equipment, a beautifully crafted needle and a delectably delicate silver spoon.  These are objects that people chose and kept on them, intimate reminders that these were real people who lived complicated lives in which personal appearance had an important role.

Silver spoon from Holt on display at the exhibition. Source: Grimes 1930

A map at the end of the exhibition was riveting, showing how widespread Roman presence in northeast Wales actually was, showing everything from single find-sites to industrial sites like that at Holt, the settlements at Heronbridge and Plas Coch, and the villa at Rossett, the latter two sites both recent discoveries.  It looks as though there will be more Roman discoveries in the future, filling out a picture not merely about the activities of Romans in Britain, but on their interactions with local communities, something which remains poorly understood.

Museum details

The museum is an excellent resource, a small but modern with excellent displays and a lot of great information on professionally produced display boards into context. At the time of writing (August 2021) masks must be worn and you need to leave your name and telephone number with reception.  For opening days and times, plus directions, see the Wrexham County Borough website:
http://old.wrexham.gov.uk/english/heritage/wrexham_museum.htm

A booklet accompanying the exhibition is available both in the museum foyer and under the video screen in Gallery 3.  The cover and some of the pages from the booklet are shown at the top of the post, and full details are in Sources, below.   A leaflet, Holt: Legacy of the Legions, is also available from the museum, or can be downloaded.

It is a real shame that the Hidden Holt gallery is only a temporary feature, but Wrexham Museum has a lot more to see, and I will be posting about some its permanent displays in the future.

Sources:

Books and papers

Grimes, W.F. 1930.  Holt, Denbighshire:  Twentieth Legion at Castle Lyons.  Y Cymmrodor.  Society of Cymmrodorion.

Ward, M. 1998. A collection of samian from the legionary works-depot at Holt.  In (ed.) Bird, J. Form and Fabric.  Oxbow Monographs 80.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333155555_A_collection_of_samian_from_the_legionary_works-depot_at_Holt

Ward, M. 1998. Some finds from the Roman works-depot at Holt.  Studia Celtica 32:43-65
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311789557_Some_finds_from_the_Roman_works-depot_at_Holt

Booklets / leaflets

Wrexham Heritage Service 2021.  Hidden Holt.  The Story of a Roman Site.  The Discovery of a Roman Legionary Tile and Pottery Works at Holt, near Wrexham.  (Booklet accompanying the exhibition in both English and Welsh)

Holt Castle Conservation and Interpretation Project.  Holt. Legacy of the Legions.  An introduction to the history of the Legionary Works Depot at Holt. (Leaflet, including site plan, available from the museum)
http://old.wrexham.gov.uk/assets/pdfs/heritage/holt_castle/holt_legacy.pdf

Websites

Hidden Holt
Wrexham Museum
https://www.wrexhamheritage.wales/?exhibition=hidden-holt-the-story-of-a-roman-site

Hidden Holt – Roman history revealed in a new Wrexham Museum exhibition
Wrexham Council News
https://news.wrexham.gov.uk/hidden-holt-roman-history-revealed-in-new-wrexham-museum-exhibition/

Holt Local History Society
https://holtlhs.weebly.com/

National Museum of Wales
https://museum.wales/

Roman Glazed Pottery from North Wales
National Museum of Wales
https://museum.wales/articles/1327/Roman-glazed-pottery-from-North-Wales/

The Pottery Kilns of Roman Britian by Vivien Swan (database)
https://romankilns.net/

History in my garden: A bottle by J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd. (Wrexham)

Damaged J.F. Edisbury bottle found in my garden

Last week I posted about a Chester Lion Brewery Co. bottle that we found in the garden, dating to the final years of the 19th Century, one of two bottles that were found in a part of the garden that was completely invisible beneath a tangle of dead trees, shrubs and weeds.  On the right is the second one that we found, labelled J.F. Edisbury and Co. Limited, Wrexham.

The J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd bottle is made of clear green-tinted glass, with seam lines running up each side.  The text “J.F. EDISBURY & CO. LIMITED WREXHAM is embossed in raised glass on one side of the bottle, as is the trademark, consisting of two crossed foxes within a frame in the shape of a shield.  The shield shape was a traditional frame for displaying the name of ingredients on jars that lined the shelves of pharmacy shop interiors.  The base has some slight damage, obscuring some raised text, but appears to end in the numbers 80 (or to start with the numbers 08).  Opposite it, on an undamaged section of the base, more raised text is clearly visible, and appears to read, C.S. and Co. Ltd. on one side of the base, perhaps a reference to the bottle manufacturer.  Unlike the Chester Lion Brewery bottle, for which I could find no duplicate online, there are plenty of examples of Edisbury bottles of this type, with long necks.

James Edisbury , father of James Fisher Edisbury

The Edisbury family has a long connection with the Wrexham area, and the name pops up repeatedly, mainly because of Josiah / Joshua Edisbury, High Sheriff of Denbighshire, who was responsible for building the earliest version of Erddig Hall c.1684 overlooking the river Clywedog.  He went bankrupt in the process of building it.   The Dictionary of Welsh Biography says that Edisbury’s brother John Edisbury (c.1646 – 1713), ruined himself by misappropriating funds to help his brother. In 1716 Erddig was sold to a successful London lawyer Sir John Meller who bought out the mortgage and debts that Edisbury had incurred, finished the work and added two wings that remain today.

Bersham Hall, Wrexham, which is still standing. Source: Francis Frith Collection

The owner of J.F. Edisbury Co. Ltd., to whom the bottle belonged, was James Fisher Edisbury,  born in 1837.  His father James was very commercially successful first as a retailer in Holywell and then in Wrexham as an auctioneer.  James Edisbury senior was born in 1803, and in 1829 married Elizabeth Walker Ratcliffe, eldest daughter of the late Henry Walker Ratcliff, a grocer.  She died in 1832 and James was remarried in 1834 to Sarah Ratcliffe.  In the 1835 North Wales Directory for the Holywell & Bagillt areas,  James Edisbury is listed as “High St. Grocer &/or dealer in sundries, and tobacconist:  Tallow Chandler, Wine and Spirit merchant.”  A daughter, Emily Walker Edisbury, was born in 1834  and James Fisher Edisbury was born in 1837.  Emily died in 1839  and Sarah died a year later in 1840.  James Edisbury had more than his fair share of loss.  At some point before 1855, when he is next recorded, he made the decision to move to the outskirts of Wrexham, purchasing Bersham Hall in 11 acres of land.  In 1857 he decided to move into the town for business reasons, letting out Bersham Hall. He appears to have had a major career change, becoming an auctioneer and appraiser, living and working at Brook Street in Wrexham.  He died on 21st September 1859, leaving Bersham Hall to his son James Fisher Edisbury.

The pharmacy business in the 19th Century

Jacob Bell, founder of the Pharmaceutical Society in 1841. Source: Pharmaceutical Journal.

Pharmacies began to rise in importance in local communities as scientific research into the relationship between diseases, ailments and potential treatments began to make real improvements to medical knowledge in 19th century Europe.  The Pharmaceutical Society was established in 1841, which moved to establish schools to standardize training and to regulate the sale of pharmaceuticals, but apprenticeship remained the principal form of learning until the end of the century.  Synthetic drugs were being developed, but traditional remedies based on herbal preparations were still dominant.

Pharmacists combined the roles of chemists, health consultants and dispensaries.  They worked alongside and often in competition with physicians to develop treatments for an enormous range of real and imagined conditions, frequently undercutting their more formally trained and qualified colleagues.  As the adverts on this page demonstrate, the public were becoming increasingly interested in their own symptoms and any treatments that might alleviate them.  Ailments at all levels of society represented lucrative business opportunities.

A recreation of a 19th Century chemist at the York Castle Museum’s “Kirkgate Victorian Street,” York. Source and copyright: Crinoline Robot, Miriam McDonald

Every town had at least one pharmacy, sometimes more.  For example, as well as J.F. Edisbury and Co., another Wrexham pharmacy Francis and Co., with premises at 53 Hope Street and 22 Town Hill in Wrexham.   The shops were lined with shelves and cabinets that held clearly labelled glass and ceramic jars full of the raw materials for the manufacture of pills, potions, gels, ointments and medicines, looking much like a traditional sweet shop.  A workshop in the rear usually contained the equipment for assembling these products.  The above photograph by Miriam McDonald shows a recreation of an actual pharmacy in contemporary York, giving an excellent idea of what sort of experience a customer would have had when they walked through the door of a British pharmacy in the 19th Century.

James Fisher Edisbury, chemist and pharmacist 

In this 1916 family photograph published in the Wrexham Leader, James Fisher Edisbury is at far right, four years before his death. Source: Wrexham History website

Top: 3 High St, Wrexham. Bottom: 4 Grosvenor Road. Source: Google Maps.

James Fisher Edisbury established himself as a pharmacist at 3 High Street, Wrexham.  The building is a remarkable survivor sandwiched between two deeply unattractive modern buildings.  By 1861 he is recorded as a master chemist and pharmacist in Wrexham.  James Fisher Edisbury married Harriet Jones in 1863.  She gave birth to a stillborn child in May 1864 and died herself two weeks later.  James Fisher remarried, to Minnie Jones, in 1867 and the couple lived in Bersham Hall, now sitting in only in 4.5 acres of land.  Like James Senior, they moved their home to Wrexham for business reasons, letting out Bersham Hall and settling at 4 Grosvenor Road.   In total they had seven children, one of whom died, and Minnie herself died at the age of 35 in 1882.   

I have never had much of an interest in family history, but what these two generations of family history do say is that the risk of death for mother and child during childbirth, and the ongoing risk for babies and toddlers was very high, and that medical assistance was very much required.  For a long time it had been little better than the provision of quackery, but during the 19th Century health care was developing in new and more scientifically exacting directions.

(Thanks to Annette Edwards for her article on the Wrexham History website for the information about two generations of the family’s history – please see that page for more James Fisher Edisbury’s family details).

James Fisher Edisbury’s business interests were embedded in the pharmaceutical industry, and he was a Member of the Pharmaceutical Society, (M.P.S.). The fascinating advert to the left gives a very comprehensive idea not just of the products that he was selling but the high quality of customer service that he offered to his valued customers.   The pharmacy offered a 24 hour service.  Although the shop was shut at night, those in need could obtain the services of the pharmacist by ringing the doorbell.  I don’t know what Chinese Floating Soap might be, but I want some!

According to his advertising, at some point in the late 1870s or early 1880s J.F. Fisher  and Co. became the proprietors of the North Wales Mineral Water Factory at Horse Market, Wrexham and seem to have owned the Penadur Spring Works also in Wrexham, perhaps towards the end of the century.   The company may  have bought the business from R. Evans and Co., as one advert refers to “J.F. Fisher and Co. (Late R. Evans and Co.)”.

By 1881 the company was producing mineral waters in Llangollen in a building adjoining the Cambrian Hotel, a coaching house in Berwyn Street, called the Mineral Water Manufactory.  Late Victorian Llangollen was enjoying an economic boom building on its existing stone and slate quarrying, manufacture of woollens and fabrics and tourist industry.  The canal network, the arrival of the railway and the construction of Telford’s Holyhead road all contributed to the success story, The Mineral Water Manufactory was a soft drinks business, which produced  aerated (fizzy) versions that were something of a late 19th Century novelty.  Edisbury bought the mineral drinks operation from Zoedone, together with nine vans, which delivered throughout Wales and had depots at Chester, Oswestry, and Birmingham.  In 1903 the Cambrian Hotel, Cambrian House and the mineral water factory premises were sold at auction in Llangollen but I do not know what happened to the drinks business, which may have moved elsewhere or have been absorbed into one or other of the Wrexham operations.

Back in Wrexham, adverts placed in various newspapers indicate that James Fisher Edisbury had a cure for just about every ailment from corns, warts and bunions to shortness of breath, bronchial problems, nervous afflictions and neuralgia.  An advert dating to 1883 indicates that he had also diversified into animal cures as the agent for a farm suppliers:  “IMPORTANT TO FARMERS. -J. F. EDISBURY is the authorised agent for the Pix Compo, Down’s Farmer’s Friend, and manufactures the celebrated Wheat Dressing for destroying slug, grub, and wire worm, and preventing the ravages of birds, 3, High-street, Wrexham.”  He also sold personal grooming and bathing products, such as hair brushes, tooth brushes, nail brushes, sponges and sponge-bags.  In one 1885 advert advertising sponges and gloves, there was also the mention of Cyprus Insect Powder as “the best exterminator of moths, beetles, fleas, &c.-non- poisonous and effectual, in Id, 2d, and 3d, packets, 6d and 9d tins.”  Another advert lists the “paints, oils, colours and varnishes” available to purchase from 3 High Street.

In 1887 J.F. Edisbury and Co. purchased a ginger beer company, A1 Stone Ginger Beer.  On last week’s post about the Chester Lion Brewery the topic of trademark infringement came up in connection with beer sales, and here is a similar example, with the company placing a notice in a local newspaper warning that the firm’s bottles were being used to pas off “very feeble and unpalatable imitations.”  A reward was offered to anyone bringing examples of such fraudulent products to the factory for testing.

In 1895 Ellis and Son from Ruthin ran a large advert in the Wrexham Advertiser and North Wales News advertising their own mineral waters.  They were mainly advertising their own operation in Ruthin, but in smaller letters also featured J.F. Fisher and Co. as an outlet for their products.  In the same newspaper, and next to the Ellis and Son advert, J.F. Fisher and Co. also had a large advert, focusing on their North Wales Mineral Water Co, which sold Penadur Spring Waters.  The latter advert mentions that the water had been exhibited in the Paris Exhibition and the London International Exhibition of 1891, reinforcing the sense of high-tech novelty.  At the same time, it emphasizes that this new product was very accessible, available not only via retail outlets, but also at railway station buffets at Chester, Birkenhead, Chester and Ruabon.  By diversifying, Edisbury may have been looking for a competitive edge to consolidate his position as he was not the only pharmacist operating in Wrexham in the late 19th Century.

Edisbury was also involved in the Aerated Water Manufacturing Company, which appears to have been another profitable Wrexham-based business.  The company’s Third Ordinary General Meeting in 1891 was held at the Wynnstay Arms, a few doors down from Edisbury’s premises at 3 High Street, and was reported in the Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser and Cheshire Shropshire and North Wales Register.  It was announced that the company was doing well. “On the year there was an increase, and due care having been exercised in the matter of expenses the net profit had proved to be in excess of what was stated in the prospectus. . . . That would be satisfactory to the shareholder.”  At the same time, it was revealed that “the Company had commenced the manufacture of British wines under Mr Hutchinson, who had special experience in the work, and he thought the wines produced were of high quality.”  These wines were medicinal rather than epicurean.  By 1895 James was selling the wines in his Wrexham premises:  “MEDICATED WINES.  J. F. Edisbury, M.P.S., 3, High-street, Wrexham. Coca Wine @ 2s 6d per bottle; Extract of Meat. and Malt Wine, ls 6d per bottle.”

James Fisher had a very strict record system for the supply of bottles of his products to customers, some of which were very expensive to manufacture, as explained in the second page below, taken from a J.F. Edisbury Co “pass book.”  The first and last pages of the pass book provided details of some of the company’s products, and the rest of it was a record of a customer’s account, tracking product deliveries and returns. You can flip through the pages of the book on the Internet Archive website here.  The outer envelope and cover of beautifully preserved pass book from the National Trust’s Erddig is shown below.

This sort of bottle return policy operated by Edisbury and other drinks suppliers probably accounts for why only two 19th Century bottles have so far been unearthed in my garden.

Green leatherette account book in a red leather-covered cardboard case. The account book is marked dated on the first page 1871.  Source: National Trust Collections

There are plenty of references to James Fisher Edisbury in the Wrexham local newspapers in the context of a number of civic activities.  He was a Justice of the Peace, was on a committee to organize the planning and building of a new retail arcade, which still stands, and was a Provincial Grand Officer of the Freemasons.   As well as a successful business entrepreneur and a Member of the Pharmaceutical Society, (M.P.S.), with fingers in several pies, he was clearly a solid and influential pillar of the Wrexham community.  James Fisher Edisbury died on 20th October 1920 at the age of 83.

Back to the bottle

J.F. Edisbury and Co trademark.

The bottle from my garden was unlikely to have been used for one of the aerated drinks, because these, being fizzy, had special storage requirements.  They were delivered in bottles with pointed bases that had to be laid horizontally, ensuring that the liquid inside would prevent the cork from drying out, ensuring that the gas was retained in the bottle.

This bottle, with its flat base, was not one of those  and could have contained any number of other J.F Edisbury products.  A the moment there it has not possible to narrow down which of the various wines, oils, medicines, tonics, and other potions that it may have contained.  Nor has it been possible to narrow down a date for the bottle.

Markings on the base of the bottle

There are still several other questions that have yet to be answered.  The crossed foxes trademark is very distinctive and appears on many of J.F. Edisbury and Co. bottles and jars, but I have been unable to find out where it came from or what, if anything, it refers to.  I have also been unable to find out anything about the markings on the bottom of the bottle, but hope that information on the subject will eventually come to light.  It is possible that the markings on the base refer not to Edisbury’s various enterprises, but to the bottle manufacturer.  The shape of the bottle, the presence of the cross-foxes trademark and the quality of the glass itself might help to narrow down a date for the bottle.  I do hope that some of these details will eventually emerge, and if you are reading this and have more information please get in touch.

Final Comments

This is a rather different story from the one I told last week about the Chester Lion Brewery bottle, and not merely because of the contrast between health drinks and beer.  Last week’s bottle was the story of big factory-style breweries, big investments in future technologies and large ambitions, and even a case of minor trademark fraud.  The Edisbury bottle, by contrast is the story of high street retail where success was achieved by offering wide product ranges and providing excellent customer service.  James Fisher Edisbury’s advertising speaks of a man who was highly organized, ambitious and driven to look for new ways to use his skills to find new markets, or to find new products for existing markets.  Where expedient he joined forces with other companies to retail their products and he invested in new infrastructure when required.  He saw the potential for health drinks and invested heavily in providing this to families who wanted to improve the quality of their lives and their overall well-being, and were attracted by novelty.  Looking around today at the proliferation of health-food stores and the growing interest in vegan diets, it is a far from unfamiliar story.

Sources:

Books and papers

Robinson, J. 2016. Looking back at 175 years of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. The Pharmaceutical Journal April 15th 2016, Vol. 296, No.7888, p.296
https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/feature/looking-back-at-175-years-of-the-royal-pharmaceutical-society

Wilson’s Trades Directory of Wales, 1885. William Wilson & Sons.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/community.30136288

Cadw 2016. Llangollen. Understanding Urban Character.

Websites

Wrexham History, founded by Graham Floyd
James Fisher Edisbury, by Annette Edwards, August 2019
https://www.wrexham-history.com/james-fisher-edisbury-2/ 
Francis The Chemist by Annette Edwards, October 2018
https://www.wrexham-history.com/francis-chemist/ 

The Internet Archive
The North Wales Mineral Company. Pass Book
https://archive.org/details/b3047775x/mode/2up

The National Trust
Erddig, The Whole Story
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/erddig/features/erddig-the-whole-story

Welsh Newspapers Online.  National Library of Wales
https://newspapers.library.wales/

History Points
Former Cambrian Hotel, Berwyn Street, Llangollen
https://historypoints.org/index.php?page=former-cambrian-hotel-llangollen

The Dictionary of Welsh Biography
EDISBURY family, of Bedwal, Marchwiel, Pentre-clawdd, and Erddig (Denbighshire)
https://biography.wales/

Gravestones.info
J.F. Edisbury and Co.
https://www.gravestones.info/data/edisbury-j-f-co/ 

Center for the History of Medicine
Jars of “Art and Mystery”:  Pharmacists and Their Tools in the Mid-Nineteenth Century 
https://collections.countway.harvard.edu/onview/exhibits/show/apothecary-jars

 

History in my garden: A late 19th Century Chester Lion Brewery Co bottle.

It has been a family tradition to collect bits of broken china, metal and glass that have turned up in our various gardens over the years.  Since buying the house in Churton, which included a large and very neglected garden, we have done a massive amount of digging, resulting in the excavation of staggering amounts of rubble and general rubbish.  As well as all the stuff that was thrown in a large skip, fragments of pottery, glass and metal were retrieved and retained.  This little collection consists mainly of little sherds of blue and white china in all sorts of designs, but there are other fun odds and ends too. I’ve written more about these fragments and why I collect them on the Garden page.  Most of them are too uninformative to talk about, but one or two objects are worth comment, of which a broken green bottle is one example, shown to the right.

This green bottle (found by my gardener Joe, who manages to dig astoundingly large holes in my garden in a matter of minutes), is a remnant of the “Chester Lion Brewery Company”  The bottle is made of thick-walled green glass, and the text is picked out in raised lettering, reading “This Bottle [missing text] . . . Chester Lion Brewery Company of Chester and Seacombe.”  There are no markings on the base.  The other half of the bottle was not found, but this piece contains all the information needed to pin down a date range for its production, and the story has a nice link to the former brewery on Churton Road in Farndon, now Brewery Motors.

The fabulous Lion Brewery Co trademark lion, before it was removed from the Lions Brewery building in 1968, immediately prior to the demolition of the building.

The Lion Brewery Company was located at no.26 Pepper Street in Chester, with entrances  opening on to Park Street, very near to the Newgate, just within the city walls.  It was demolished in 1968 to make way for a particularly nasty multi-storey carpark, one of  a number of unfortunate architectural monstrosities imposed on Chester at that time.  Today, the building’s exterior would probably have been preserved and the interior converted into high-end apartments, which would have been a rather better use of it.  The trademark of the brewery was a lion, and a stone lion stood at the top of the brewery’s tower, now on top of the multi-storey carpark’s stairwell tower.  It makes my teeth itch to see it in such an inappropriate context, particularly as most people don’t even know that it is there, but at least it is relatively safe.

The Lion Brewery until 1893

John Lightfoot Walker, who owned the brewery in the 1880s, claimed that the brewery was founded in 1642, but what grounds he had for this belief is unclear.  The BreweryPedia page for the Lion Brewery states that in 1768 a Mrs Wilbraham took over the business following the death of her husband.  Paul Hurley in his book Cheshire Brewing adds that it was run by the partnership Whittle and Jones in 1846 and was sold to another partnership, Walton and Clare, in 1873.  It is unclear where these details come from, as neither source provides references.

By the late 19th Century there was certainly a brewery of this name on the site.  From contemporary advertising for the brewery it seems to have been in the hands of a G.F. Clough, who entered into partnership with Liverpool architect Thomas Henry William Walker, an architect from Liverpool, and his brother John Lightfoot Walker sometime around 1882 . In 1885 G. F. Clough withdrew from the partnership.  In December 1888 the Liverpool Mercury reported that the remaining partnership in The Lion Brewery was dissolved when Thomas Walker retired and John Lightfoot Walker (1851-1925) was left in sole charge.  

Chapter heading from Alfred Barnard’s “Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland” volume IV, 1891

In 1891, volume 4 of Alfred Barnard’s Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland was produced, and he describes the brewery in great detail, an invaluable source of information.   He himself describes his four volumes as “a tourist’s description” (his italics) but he was obviously highly knowledgeable and having produced three previous volumes was very familiar with all aspects of the brewing process.  Barnard visited when the brewery was owned by John Lightfoot Walker, whose grandfather, according to Barnard, had been an eminent brewer.   The date of 1642 for the establishment of a brewery on this spot clearly comes from Walker, because he included the date on his adverts, and this is repeated by Barnard.

Barnard describes the guided tour of the brewery on a floor by floor basis, and it is a real insight into late 19th Century brewing to follow his journey.  The brewery had been substantially rebuilt in 1875, when it was provided with a state-of-the-art tower brewhouse.  Tower breweries were innovated in Germany, combining the benefits of well ventilated higher floors, the use of gravity to move liquid between processes, and a cost-saving smaller geographical footprint.  Accompanying the tower, which was “fully equipped with modern plant” and new offices, were various ancillary buildings arranged around a courtyard approached through an arch onto Pepper Street, at the centre of which was a well with a pumphouse over the top, which took water into the brewery.  An even deeper well was being planned to ensure a “practically inexhaustible” supply.  Barnard was greatly impressed by the modern features and fittings, the cleanliness, comfort and the fireproofing of the building and the personal interest that Walker took in his employees and their welfare.

Etching of the Lion Brewery from Alfred Barnard’s noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland volume IV, 1891 (p.262)

Walker started Barnard’s tour at the top of the five storey brewhouse, where there were malt stores and two cast iron tanks for storing 2000 gallons of brewing water that was supplied by the well in the yard.  The first part of the brewing process, taking place in the well ventilated top of the tower, was to soak barley grains to start germination.  They were then dried  a kiln to prevent further growth and to add flavour and colour, a process known as malting.  On the same floor there was a steam hoist for loading grain from the yard, and in the floor was a hopper for feeding the mill below.  The mill itself and the steam engine that drove the mill machinery were on the fourth floor.  The mill was fitted with a patent malt screen “for thoroughly cleaning the malt before it reaches a pair of steel rollers, which crush it at the rate of fifteen quarters per hour.”  The result was grist, which went on to be mixed with water.  On the third storey was the head brewer’s shiny new office, next to the mashing room, which contained a 12ft diameter oak mash tun fitted with draining plates.  Grains were taken away by means of a chute into the yard, where it was taken away by farm wagon.  The liquid extracted from the mashing process, called the wort, was run through copper pipes heated by steam coils into the “copper” or brew kettle for heating.  The wort was then cooled, having been delivered via other filters and presses, in a horizontal refrigerator and run into “capacious fermenting squares, the newest among them being made of white cedar wood and fitted with tinned copper attenuators and patent rousing apparatus.”  The rousing apparatus helped to suspend the yeast and improve the  rate of fermentation and was driven by “a wheel of great diameter” housed in the cellar, itself driven by waste water from other parts of the brewing process.  From there the beer was carried by copper pipes to the racking house, a paved room some 50ft long, where it was stored in kegs.  There’s an excellent animated graphic of a similar operation on the Hook Norton Brewery website: https://www.hooky.co.uk/our-beers/brewing-process/

Barnard describes how various cellars and ground level storage rooms contained different beers (stout, porter and public house ales) at different stages of readiness.  The yard contained stables, harness rooms, hay and corn lofts, dray sheds, a cask-washing shed and a repairing cooperage.  The obligatory sampling produced positive remarks about the bitter ales, the brewery’s speciality (“a bright and nourishing drink”) and the tenpenny ale (“a delicious beverage, clean to the palette and well hopped.”   As well as the brewery itself, the company owned more than 20 public houses, and they made an additional, important income from supplying hotels and private families in the city and suburbs. Barnard concluded that “it is quite evident that Mr Walker means to wipe out the opprobrium attached some time ago to ‘local ales’,” and predicted that the Lion Brewery would become “one of the largest and best patronized breweries in this part of the country.”

1882 and 1885 adverts for the Lion Brewery Co.

There are a number of adverts for the Lion Brewery under John Lightfoot Walker, describing the company as a “Brewers and Maltsters.”  The adverts say that the company sold ales, stouts and porters.  As well as brewing their own beers, they were agents for other breweries as well.  The adverts above, both of which state “families supplied” corroborates Barnard’s comment that the Lion Brewery supplied private homes as well as public houses and hotels.

Thomas Montgomery, the Chester Lion Brewery and the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon, 1893 – 1902

The brewery prior to its demolition in 1968/9. Source: A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester website

The brewery changed hands in 1893, with the appearance on the scene of entrepreneur Thomas Montgomery of Liverpool, who purchased the Lion Brewery in July of that year and incorporated it as The Chester Lion Brewery Co. Ltd in 1896.  It seems surprising that John Lightfoot Walker sold the business, as he was still investing in new equipment in the late 1880s, and Barnard gives the impression that he had ambitions to continue growing the business.  Perhaps he over-extended himself with his programme of modernization, as well as his architectural projects in Hoole in Chester.  He was only 42 at the time, so was not yet due for retirement, and did not die until 1925.

Thomas Montgomery seems to have made his fortune as a house painter and licensed victualler before diversifying and purchasing several public houses, as well as the New Brewery in Stone in the Midlands. Thomas Montgomery was clearly no angel and was taken to court for trademark infringement, attempting to pass his own beers off as  those produced by well-regarded Stone brewers John Joules and Sons.

According to Paul Hurley, the Chester Lion Brewery purchased the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon in 1898, which is during the period when the Chester Lion Brewery was still owned by Montgomery.  The Joseph Salmon Brewery, on Churton Road, a converted red sandstone tithe barn shown on the 1735 tithe map, is today the garage Brewery Motors.

In 1902 the New Brewery in Stone the Chester Lion Brewery and the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon were bought from Montgomery by Bent’s Brewery, a Liverpool-based company established in the 1790s.  The Stone brewery continued to operate but the Chester brewery closed shortly afterwards, perhaps because it was purchased as part of a job lot of Montgomery’s holdings but was unwanted.  After being offloaded by Bent’s, the building was used for other purposes.

The Seacombe connection

Grosvenor Brewery, Seacombe. Source: CAMRA What Pub? website

The reference to Seacombe on the bottle’s raised script was something of a puzzle at first, but provides an interesting narrowing of the date to within a year-long period.  Seacombe is a district of Wallasey on the Wirral, overlooking the river Mersey.  The former Grosvenor Brewery on Victoria Road (now Borough Road) at Seacombe was purchased by Montgomery in 1889, although the previous ownership is a bit of a tangle and it is unclear if he bought the business as a going concern, or whether it had ceased operating for a period.  Here’s what CAMRA’s What Pub website has to say on the subject:

“The brewery was owned/ operated by John Hall Wright & co in 1860 with various owners over the years (P Evans & Co, then with Octavius Leatham as a partner, Hamer & Co, John Cattle, Leatham & co, Montgomery & Co). Enlarged and rebuilt in 1876 by its then owner, Paul Evans. In 1883 it had 11 pubs. Aldous & Bedford were registered owners from May 1895 but the company wound up in December 1897 at which time the brewer appeared to be John W. D. King.”

Thomas Montgomery business card. Source: BreweryPedia

The brewery’s 1876 make-over in had transformed it into a state of the art operation, something that seems to echo the investment made at Lion Brewery in Chester.  Montgomery appears to have had a particular interest in businesses that had invested in modern infrastructure.  Even 15 years on, this brewery was probably still a desirable purchase, even if just to obtain the equipment.  Surprisingly, Montgomery sold the Grosvenor Brewery at auction in 1899, just a year after purchasing it, for reasons unknown.

The decline of brewing in Chester

According to Lewis and Thacker, brewing almost disappeared from Chester in the late 19th century.  In 1871 there were thirteen breweries in Chester, of which seven appear to have been public-house breweries but most had closed by 1892 and only one, the Northgate Brewery, survived beyond 1914.  They put this decline down to “the elimination of public-house breweries and the concentration of ownership among the commercial brewery companies.” The three largest commercial breweries were Edward Russell Seller & Co. (sold to the Albion brewery in 1889 and closed shortly afterwards), the Lion Brewery (sold to bent’s in 1892, closing in c.1902-1903), and the Northgate Brewery.  The authors conclude that the history of brewing  in Chester “illustrates a wider transition in the economy from small-scale production to business concentration and industrialized methods. The trend weakened the city’s manufacturing base and was only partly offset by developments in the limited number of modern industrial concerns.”

Back to the bottle

The bottle clearly belongs to that short period when Montgomery held the Lion Brewery in Chester, 1893-1902, because the bottle is clearly marked The Chester Lion Brewery Co, rather than simply The Lion Brewery.  However, the Seacombe connection narrows the date even further to between 1889 and 1899, the brief period during which The Chester Lion Brewery owned the Grosvenor Brewery at Seacombe.  It is rare to be able to obtain a date so precise for a piece of garden refuse, and that’s really rather fun.  At this time, Montgomery’s Chester Lion Brewery apparently owned the Joseph Salmon Brewery in Farndon, so this bottle may have been purchased from there.

It would be fascinating to know which company made these thick-walled bottles and where that factory was located.  Perhaps those details will eventually come to light.  Only two 19th century bottles have come to light in the garden to date, both broken.  I wonder whether the bottle deposit scheme applied to many local bottles at this time, a system whereby the price of a bottle containing a drink included a deposit, which was returned to the customer when the bottle was returned to the point of purchase.  There are many examples of this during the 19th Century.  This would account both for the low number of bottles in my garden and the fact that the only two so far found were broken; Broken bottles could not be returned.

This broken bottle has taken me on a splendid journey.  The people who lived in my house at the turn of the 19th/20th Centuries will have bought the bottle for its contents, probably with no knowledge of the complex network of activities and commercial deals that produced it, much as I have no idea what sort of commercial history and technical innovation has gone into a bottle of Aspall dry cider.  Once simply a vessel for a drink, my broken green bottle has become a piece of data, a footprint of history found discarded as rubbish in my back garden.  If the bottle was capable of having a viewpoint on the subject, I am sure it would be very surprised to find itself featuring as the star attraction on a blog post.  A very happy find.

A second late 19th Century bottle was also found in the garden, and is described here, this time from a Wrexham pharmaceutical company called J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd.

Post URL: https://basedinchurton.co.uk/2021/05/05/a-late-19th-century-bottle-in-the-garden-the-chester-lion-brewery-co/

Sources

Books and papers:

Barnard, A. 1891. The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, volume IV, p.264-267. Sir Joseph Caston and Sons
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nnc1.0035544031&view=1up&seq=272&q1=lion

Hurley, P.  2016. Brewing in Cheshire. Amberley Publishing.

Latham, F.A.  1981. Farndon. The History of a Cheshire Village. Local History Group

Lewis, C.P. and Thacker, A.T. (eds.) 2003.  Late Georgian and Victorian Chester 1762-1914: The economy, 1871-1914, the limits of reorientation. In A History of the County of Chester: vol.5 part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography, p. 185-199.  Available at British History Online:
http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/ches/vol5/pt1/pp185-199

Pearson, L. 2019. The Brewing Industry.  A report by the Brewery History Society for English Heritage, February 2010. Historic England
https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/brewing-industry/bhs-brewing-ind-shier

Websites:

A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls
Vanished Pubs of Chester, by Steve Howe
https://chesterwalls.info/lionbrewery.html

BreweryPedia
History of Bent’s and Montgomery’s Breweries, Stone
http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=History_of_Bent%27s_and_Montgomery%27s_Breweries,_Stone
Montgomery and Co.
http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=Montgomery_%26_Co
Montgomery’s Brewery Company and Bent’s Brewery Co. Ltd. of Stone, Staffordshire, by Philip A Talbot

http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=History_of_Bent%27s_and_Montgomery%27s_Breweries,_Stone
Chester Lion Brewery Co. Ltd.
http://breweryhistory.com/wiki/index.php?title=Chester_Lion_Brewery_Co._Ltd

Liverpool Mercury, Friday, 17th December, 1875:
New Grosvenor Brewery, Seacombe
http://hiddenwirral.blogspot.com/2013/09/wallasey-news-19th-century.html

WhatPub?
Grosvenor Brewery, Seacombe
https://whatpub.com/pubs/WIR/831/grosvenor-brewery-seacombe

Hoole Road – South Side
Hoole History and Heritage Society
http://www.hoolehistorysoc.btck.co.uk/StreetsofHooleNewton/HooleRoad-LightfootStreettoShellGarage

Eaton Hall Bridge (Iron Bridge) at Aldford, built by William Hazledine to a Thomas Telford design

An idyllic section of the river Dee passes through the Eaton Hall estate, itself part of the Grosvenor estate, with Eaton Hall one side of the river and Aldford on the other.  Connecting the two parts of the estate across the river is the Grade-1 listed Eaton Hall Bridge (otherwise known as Iron Bridge), built in cast iron by William Hazledine (1763–1840) to a design by Thomas Telford (1757–1834).  Like Aldford village itself, also part of the Eaton Hall estate, the bridge and its immediate surroundings are manicured, coiffured, and meticulously polished.  Funny to think of the gracefully decorative bridge as a direct outcome of the innovative Industrial Revolution, one of the dirtiest, noisiest and most polluting episodes in history.  

The first Marquis of Westminster, Robert Grosvenor.  Source:  Wikipedia

A public footpath crosses the bridge from the south and continues to follow the river north on the western bank towards Chester (a few days ago, I described a walk to the bridge along the footpath from Churton, heading north along the eastern bank of the Dee). The bridge is still used for road traffic today, but because it is on a private estate, the daily load has always been very limited, and the bridge had remained in good condition since it was completed in 1824.  Repairs were required in 1980, when some of the iron struts (load-bearing beams) were replaced with steel.

The Eaton Hall Bridge was commissioned by the Marquis of Westminster, Robert Grosvenor who reinvented Eton Hall in an imitation and extravagant Gothic style (by William Porden) and simultaneously restored the gardens and driveways.  It seems surprising that he chose a traditional aesthetic for his house but a modern iron bridge to connect the two parts of the estate, and that may account for the ecclesiastical-style ornamental flourishes that embellish the bridge’s design, also derived from Gothic architecture.

Model of Craigelachie Bridge at the National Museum of Scotland, Source: Grace’s Guide

The Eaton Hall bridge was modelled not on Thomas Telford’s more ambitious suspension bridge projects over the Menai Straits and Conwy river, but on his earlier Bonar (completed 1812) and Craigellachie (completed 1815)  bridges.  It was a formula that worked, and was used again after Eaton Hall Bridge had been completed, with Telford’s Mythe and Holt Fleet bridges.

Like its predecessors, Eaton Hall Bridge was made of cast iron that was produced in William Hazledine’s iron foundry at Plas Kynaston at Cefn Mawr before being sent by canal to Chester and down the Dee to Eaton Hall.  Hazledine and Telford had met when Hazledine had a small foundry in Shrewsbury.  Telford arrived in Shrewsbury to become county surveyor for Shropshire, responsible for all public building works, and the two men, both Freemasons, became friends and professional collaborators.  Hazledine trained as a millwright, but  his family owned a small foundry  and Hazeldine went on to grow his iron casting business with the large Coleham Foundry at Shrewsbury.  He established the Plas Kynaston foundry to service the construction of the Pontcysyllte aqueduct (1794-1805), thereafter taking advantage of the canal network to carry his cast iron in segments to be transhipped by river or sea to where it was needed.  The civil engineer and surveyor for the Eaton Hall Bridge job was William Crosley (b.1802-d.1838), a well-respected canal and railway engineer who is not recorded as a contributor in previous Telford-related projects. The construction of Eaton Hall Bridge was supervised by Hazledine’s right hand man, William Stuttle, who implemented most, if not all, of Hazledine’s works on behalf of Telford.

The bridge consists of a single 150ft (46m) arched span, the same as that of the Bonar and Craigellachie bridges, formed of four ribs (30 x 2 ft / 9.15m x 62cm) that were cast in seven sections.  The ribs are connected with wrought iron bolts and braced by transverse plates.  It has open spandrels (the roughly triangular sections between arch and bridge top) featuring lattice bracing.  Over the top of the arch, the bridge is fitted with cast iron deck plates, which support the metalled roadway.  These are bolted together and lie over the full width of the bridge, 17ft (5.2m) wide.

The stone abutments at either end are made of plain, pale yellow ashlar sandstone, and curve outwards to meet the river bank. At the entrance to the bridge at either end, and on both sides, are short octagonal posts.   These posts are consistent with other Telford bridges, most of which have some sort of carved stonework detail flanking each end of the bridge, usually considerably more elaborate.

The Bonar, Craigellachie and the later but very similar Mythe and Holt Fleet bridges were elegant but rather plain.  At Eaton Hall bridge a lively ornamental element was added.   The spandrels, spandrel struts and outer arch ribs were provided with decorative cast iron motifs that give it a slightly frivolous edge, consisting of trefoils, quatrefoils and mouchettes.  Cast iron fretwork  (a repeating design of interlaced linear elements) is also bolted to the outer bracings, something that was done at other bridges but generally with a much simpler motif.   I don’t know what the original colour arrangement was supposed to be, but today it looks excellent in light blue and white.  The build date is cast into a the crown of the arch on the south side.  

None of Telford’s earlier or later bridges have this delicate ornamentation.  The only exception of which I am aware is Waterloo Bridge at Betws y Coed (1815), which has themed ornamental components in its large corner panels, as well as a bold statement spanning the full arch, commemorating the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.

The gently arching road crossing the bridge is flanked with lovely white cast iron railings with short “dogbar” intervals between  decorative features and decorative details beneath the rail adding real elegance to the overall impact.  At the apex of the bridge are a pair of cast iron double gates made to the same design, that today are usually kept open.  The railings terminate in the octagonal sandstone pillars.

Gates at the crown of the bridge.

It seems clear that although it was built to a Telford design, Telford himself was so busy with other projects that he was not involved with the contract.  William Hazledine presumably took responsibility for the job, using the designs for Bonar and Craigellachie bridges, for which Hazledine had cast the iron and implemented the build.  Hazledine himself was probably also rather busy on Telford projects at this time, and the work itself seems to have been carried out by the civil engineer William Crosley, who performed the essential survey work, with William Stuttle, Hazledine’s trusted Clerk of Works and Stuttle’s son William Westaby Stuttle helping to implement the build. Being  experienced in the building of this type of bridge, Hazledine and the Stuttles would have needed minimal input from Telford.  

Telford’s workload was certainly immense at this time.  Just a few of these projects include ongoing on the Mythe Bridge over the Severn at Tewkesbury (started 1823 and completed 1826), the reinvented 3000 yard / 2743m Harecastle canal tunnel (started 1822 and completed 1827) and the Holyhead road (started 1810 and completed 1829) that included Holyhead harbour and two fabulous suspension bridges crossing the Conwy and Menai Straits.  He was also involved in a number or road and railway surveys.  Hazledine’s foundry provided the cast iron and the construction expertise for these as well.  This probably accounts for the presence of William Crosley, who was not usually employed by Hazledine and seems to have been brought in specially for this job.

By this point in both Telford’s and Hazledine’s careers, Eaton Hall Bridge was a very small  private project, but its decorative flourishes means that it stands out from other Telford and Hazledine bridges for its fragile beauty.  That it was the subject of much pride by those most closely involved with its construction is indicated by the incorporation of the names of its key builders  into the bridge’s design, preserved in raised cast iron lettering in the far corners of the delicate ironwork:  “William Hazledine Contractor” (in the northwest corner), “William Stuttle, Founder” (in the southwest corner), “William Crosley Surveyor” (at the northeastern corner) and “William Stuttle Junior Founder” (southeastern corner).  Unfortunately, apart from one corner that is clearly visible from the footpath (William Stuttle Junior), the other three are partially concealed by tree branches, so I was unable to get clear photographs.  The absence of Telford’s name in these credits also suggests that Telford was not directly involved in the construction of the bridge.

Next to the bridge and to its south, on the west bank of the river is Iron Bridge Lodge, a typically polished Grosvenor Estate building.  It was commissioned by the first Duke of Westminster, designed by the Chester firm of architects Douglas and Fordham and completed in 1895.  The plastic-topped black shed next to it doesn’t contribute anything positive to the aesthetic, but I assume that it is only temporary, and the Lodge is an otherwise very attractive addition to the bridge and its surrounding scenery.  There is a full description of it on the Historic England website.

View from the bridge to the north


Sources: 

Books and articles

Ching, F.D.K. 1995. A Visual Dictionary of Architecture. John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

Glover, J.  2017.  Man Of Iron.  Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain. Bloomsbury

Rolt, L.T.C. 1958, 2007.  Thomas Telford. The History Press.

Pattison, A.  n.d. William Hazledine (1763-1840): A Pioneering Shropshire Ironmaster.  West Midlands History https://historywm.com/articles/william-hazeldine-1763-1840  (Pattison’s full 278-page M.Phil, on which the article is based, is available here: https://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/3358/1/Pattison12MPhil.pdf )

Website resources

Grace’s Guide
Eaton Hall Bridge https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Eaton_Hall_Bridge
William Hazledine https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/William_Crosley_(1802-1838)

Historic England
Eaton Hall Bridge
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1129943 
Iron Bridge Lodge
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1138387

Engineering Timelines
Eaton Hall Iron Bridge
http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=785