Historical info on  the Warmley zinc and brass industry

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Introduction

It was at Warmley that William Champion (1709-89) first pioneered the commercial production of zinc in Europe. Today the site is the only remaining 18th century integrated industrial complex in the country to have encompassed a full range of industrial processes from the smelting of metal to the production of finished goods.

In addition to the zinc and brass mill (windmill tower, ranges and ice house) and clocktower, the estate also comprises Champion's former home - Warmley House and surrounding gardens. The garden is a rare example of an 18th century industrialist's garden and includes many unusual features, some of which are constructed using recycled waste from the works. These features include the grottos, echo pond, former 13 acre lake, statue of Neptune, the mound, chequered walled garden, boathouse and summerhouse.

History (detailed timeline):

1737 William Champion a skilled metallurgist who made numerous improvement in brass manufacture, patented a production method on the preparation of Zinc from ore, which he had developed at Hanham. He was the first man to make zinc in Britain and established an important industry.

This was an important development as zinc prices were rising extremely fast. However, due to importers over-importing zinc to take advantage of this high price, the price of Zinc dropped dramatically. Champion was left with 200 tons of high quality zinc produced by his newly patented method.

He is thought to have lost about 4,000 in this venture. His appeals to the House of Commons for compensation were turned down through the combined opposition of rival traders and merchants.

The Company established a brass warehouse in central Bristol. This was near St Philip's Church and backed onto old Queen's Street. Thus, the company had access to shipping and barge traffic. One of the numerous names given to the Company was 'The Brass Warehouse Company', it was also spoken of locally as 'The Brass Wire Company' or just BWCo.

1746 Champion leaves the BWCo to set up a new Company at Warmley to make 'copper and brass, spelter (zinc) and various utensils of copper and brass'. He had been dismissed by the BWCo and felt a bitterness towards it which increased over the following years.

His partners in the new concern were, once again, Quaker families and bankers, inc. -  Gouldney , Lloyd, Crosby, Harford. This company employed about 800 people making it one of biggest industrial concerns of its time.

1749 A modern steam engine was installed at the brass works. Everything was done on one site, from smelting to beating out pots and pin-making. Investors in the works included members of the Goldney and Harford families, local families with many financial and trading interests.

The company exported "Guinea" cooking pots. The outward trading voyages from Bristol were made with trinkets, beads, copper rods, cotton goods, guns and alcohol (and the pots) which were traded for slaves off the coast of West Africa.

Men employed were receiving wages of 50p a week for melters with some of the more skilled men receiving 75 - 90p a week.

It was reported in 1754 that the Warmley works of Champion had '15 copper furnaces, 12 brass furnaces, 4 spelter or zinc furnaces, a battery mill, rolling mills for making plates, rolling and cutting mills for wire, and a wire mill both of thick and fine drawn kinds'.

At this time it was producing about a quarter the amount of copper as the BWCo.

1760s Value of the Company is put at 200,000 with a profit of 8,000 annually.

1767 The Warmley Company faces financial collapse. It is undertaking brass pin making on a considerable scale. It tried to make a massive expansion in its capacity which would seriously threaten the Bristol Brass Company's existence and also that of pin makers in Gloucester.

The BWCo, now called 'The Brass Battery, Wire & Copper Company of Bristol', along with three other brass producers and manufacturers challenge this expansion stating that the ensuing monopoly and the massive extension of debt involved would threaten this vital industry should the Warmley site collapse financially.

In March 1768 the Brass Battery, Wire & Copper Company of Bristol wins its case before the Lord's Committee of the Privy Seal. Champion is dismissed from the Warmley Company by his partners (he was discovered trying to get out his financial share of the company because he expected the inevitable collapse).

Champion is declared bankrupt.

1769 The Warmley works put up for auction and purchased by the Brass Battery, Wire & Copper Company of Bristol but never reaches its old level of output again.

Around this time in Gloucester a child pin maker of 9 to 11 years of age earned 1p a day. Journeymen (those who had completed their apprenticeship) were paid 35 - 40p a week while a few skilled men received 50p- - 75p a week. The rates at Warmley were about the same.

 

 

 


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