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Wilden Works History

Wilden Works in 1854

Wilden Works in 1854

Timeline of the Land at Wilden Works

  • 1669 - Record of Wilden Forge owned by Foley's
  • 1692 - Forge uses more river pig iron than others
  • 1812 - Forge sold to pay Baron Foley debts
  • 1840 - Baldwin's own Wilden Iron & Tin Plate Co.
  • 1879 - Alfred Baldwin is benefactor to Village
  • 1888 - Aged 21, Stanley Baldwin joins company
  • 1892 - Alfred Baldwin is elected to Parliament
  • 1908 - Alfred Baldwin dies
  • 1908 - Stanley Baldwin is elected to Parliament
  • 1923 - Stanley Baldwin becomes Prime Minister
  • 1945 - Baldwins Ltd. & Richard Thomas merger
  • 1958 - Closure of Wilden Works announced
  • 1964 - Malcolm Lee & Harold Pearson buy site
  • 1964 - The Wilden Industrial Estate established
  • 1984 - Malcolm Lee buys out Pearson family
  • 1993 - Malcom Lee dies
  • 1993 - Kelvin Lee takes over industrial estate
Stanley Baldwin

Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin was born in Bewdley on 3rd August 1867.

In 1906 Baldwin was elected as Conservative MP for Bewdley. In 1916 he became Private Parliamentary Secretary to Andrew Bonar Law, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the government led by David Lloyd he served as Junior Lord of the Treasury, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and President of the Board of Trade. In 1922 Baldwin organised the plot that ousted David Lloyd George as Prime Minister of the coalition government. The new Prime Minister, Andrew Bonar Law, appointed Stanley Baldwin Chancellor of the Exchequer. When ill health forced Bonar Law to resign in 1923, Baldwin became the new Prime Minister.

Wilden Works had dominated this small Worcestershire Village for over three hundred years. Being one of 17 varying types of mills powered by the waters of the Stour, the original mill was built in 1511 by William Baylly, a fuller, so it was presumably a fulling mill. In 1633 it was bought by Richard Foley and converted to include a slitting mill. It subsequently passed to Richard Foley's son Thomas and in 1647 he built a finery forge there. In 1669 Wilden Forge was recorded as being well established on the site and operating a slitting mill when it passed along with Thomas Foley's other Midlands ironworks to his son Philip.

In 1679 the forge was leased to Richard Avenant and John Wheeler who had previously been managers. In 1692, it is recorded - “held by the Foley Partnership for 13 years, Wilden Forge uses a greater proportion of river pig iron then other Stour forges”. This was probably due to easier navigation on the lower reaches of the Stour and the nearby iron stores on the banks of the Severn near Redstone Caves. Between 1692 and 1707, Wilden Forge received 5,543 tons of Forest Pig, 342 tons from Hales and Grange Furnaces and 45 tons from elsewhere, including Willey.

In 1692 a new partnership, “Ironworks in Partnership” was formed between Philip Foley, his brother Paul Foley, Richard Avenant, John Wheeler and his brother Richard Wheeler with John Wheeler as Managing Partner. The Partnership lasted until 1705 when the Lease was transferred to Richard Knight of Bringewood for its final years. When the Lease expired in 1708 the Forge was taken over by the Landlord, the third Thomas Foley of Great Whitley, who was created Lord Foley in 1712 to enable Robert Harley to have a majority in the House of Lords. His son Thomas Foley, 2nd Baron Foley operated the Forge until his death in 1766, when it passed along with the rest of the Great Whitley estates to a distant cousin, Thomas Foley of Stoke Edith, who was created Lord Foley in 1776, the year before he unfortunately died. Before the end of the 18th Century the River Stour boasted a greater number of industrial works on its 24 miles than any other river in England.

It is believed that Lord Foley probably leased the forge to Thomas Hill & Co. from Michaelmas 1776. In 1791, it is recorded that Wilden Forge was occupied by Thomas Hill, but still owned by the Foley family. On a map of this date, Thomas Hill is recorded as occupying a tin-mill.

In 1812, a description of Wilden Forge was given when the Iron Works was sold “part of lots” at the Stourport Inn (Tontine), 13th March, 1812, by W. Handy & Co.

“Lot X1: All those valuable Iron Works, called and known by the name of Wilden Forge, with Charcoal Barn, Timber House, Tenement and Garden and Piece of Land, occupied by the principal Clerk; likewise a large Reservoir of Water, situated in the Parish of Hartlebury, in the aforesaid County of Worcester, within one mile of the River Severn, and worked by that never-failing Stream the Stour, forming together one of the most powerful and complete Works of the kind in the Kingdom; now let to Thomas Hill Esq. Under Lease granted Michaelmas, 1801, for 21 years.”

Wilden Forge was just one of the many properties that was lost by the Foley family due to the extravagance of the 3rd Baron Foley. Following the sale, a Mr.Farmer owned Wilden Forge and it became a wire-works run on waterpower.

By 1830 it had been taken over by a Mr.Lewty who traded under the name of “Wilden Iron and Tin Plate Co.” Mr.Lewty employed about fifty men and in 1832 a friendly society was set up, caring for workers in sickness and for holidays, but demanding strict standards of behaviour, both in and out of working hours.

  • "Every member claiming sick benefit must produce a certificate, signed by a surgeon, to show that the illness was not a result of intoxication or other misconduct".
  • "After the expenses of the club are paid, the surplus money is to be divided and returned at Christmas in proportion to each member's contribution".
  • "If any man shall make an ill-natured reflection, or pass censure on another, on account of his religion, or curse, swear, or use abusive or profane language he shall for every offence forfeit 3d".
  • "Any man seen to throw anything at another, he should forfeit 3d and if any man strike another while on the premises the forfeit shall be 2s 6d".
  • "If any man is trifling or lounging away his time, in the shop or place belonging to another, the forfeit 3d".
  • "Any man excusing or screening any one from any fine shall pay the fine himself with addition of 1s".
  • "If any man came to work on Monday morning without being newly shaven and having a clean shirt, shall forfeit 6d".

This friendly society was to run continuously at the works until 1912 when the National Health Insurance came into force. Mr.Lewty introduced a steam powered beam engine, but unfortunately the new technology did not pay for itself and the firm came to grief with Mr.Lewty being made bankrupt in 1840.

Stourport Ironmaster, George Pearce Baldwin took over the Wilden Iron and Tin Plate Co in 1840. George originated from Broseley in Shropshire and moved to Worcestershire at the turn of the 19th Century. He had 12 children, the youngest of which, Alfred was bourn 4th June 1841, eight months after George died 1st October 1840.

Following George's death, his brother Enoch Baldwin ran the business with two of George's sons, Pearce and William trading as “E.P. & W. Baldwin of Wilden”. The family also ran Baldwin Brothers, Worsted Spinning Mills at Stourport, a carpet manufacturing company at Bridgnorth and a tinplate works at Wolverhampton.

Alfred Baldwin started work under his brothers, half-brothers, uncle and cousins. In 1866 Alfred married Louisa MacDonald and a year later their son Stanley was born. In 1878 the company won the only gold medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition, for tin plate and sheet iron, however in 1879, Alfred and his brothers dissolved the partnership. Alfred moved into Wilden House and took over the Wilden Works, changing the name of the business to Baldwins Limited. The firm employed some-40 – 50, men and produced: 75,000 boxes of Tin plate and iron sheet, using 5,000 tons of pig iron, 150,000 bushels of charcoal and 21,000 tons of coal per year. The works was devoted mainly to the manufacture of charcoal and coke tin-plates and terne-plates.

It is recorded that in the rolling mills there was “a great helve hammer”, driven by a 50hp steam engine and another powered by “a 20 foot diameter water wheel doing the shingling”. There was also a tin refinery, a puddling forge containing 4 puddling furnaces capable of producing 11 tons per day. The charcoal forge had two large fires producing 1,000 tons of wrought bloom. These were hammered with the steam helve, then cut into blooms, then heated again on a hollow fire, where the fuel did not touch the blooms. They then went to the rolling shops which had five mills, three rolling up to 16 inches wide and two rolling from 20 to 26 inches wide.

Wilden Works had it's own canal and towpath. The key to the Wilden system was Platts Wharf or Pratt's Wharf, half a mile upstream, built by Isaac Pratt from Henwick, Worcester in 1835. It was from here that the Stour could be purposely flooded linking the Works with the Worcestershire and Staffordshire Canal. This allowed horse-drawn canal barges to reach the works for distribution of the company's products by the national canal network. The river then passed under the works, powering the water mill before joining the River Severn in Stourport. The Works also had its own 6,000,000gallon reservoir, known as Wilden Pool. This also served the community as a place of recreation with paddling, swimming, ice skating and fishing. Apparently there was even a sandy beach.

On May 3rd 1879, Alfred Baldwin laid the Foundation Stone for Wilden Church, which he generously built for the community at a cost of £3,000. He also built the village hall and the school, which was formally opened on November 13th 1882. Playing fields were also provided where the Baldwin Works' cricket team played, and most employees lived in company houses.

In 1888, following an education at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, Alfred's 21year old son Stanley joined the company as a partner, starting in the forge breaking up pig iron and quickly working his way up to the position of Financial Director. He was to spend twenty years in the business before following his father into politics and ultimately becoming Prime Minister (1923,1924-29,1935-37).

Stanley Baldwin gave a very human picture of the kind of place that Wilden Iron Works was in those days when he wrote: "It was a place where I had known from childhood, every man on the ground, where I was able to talk to men, not only about troubles at home, where strikes and lock-outs were unknown and where the fathers and grandfathers of men worked and their sons went automatically into the business”. Legend has it that nobody ever had the sack from Baldwin's, older men were given light duties such as maintenance of the water mill.

When Alfred Baldwin was elected to Parliament as Conservative MP for Bewdley in 1892, Stanley Baldwin who was just 25 years old and recently married took full control of running the company. In 1900 he completed the first phase of a new office block development at the works, the second and third phases being completed in 1902 and 1907 respectively (this building still survives today and is known as The Baldwin Centre) and the company continued to expand.

Alfred Baldwin died 13th February 1908 and Stanley Baldwin was elected to take his seat in Parliament, however he continued to take a keen interest in the welfare of his former employees. When Parliament was in recess, Stanley Baldwin would often return to Wilden and visit the elderly folk in their homes, occasionally having a cup of tea with them. He would pass the time of day with anyone he met in the village and he was renowned for remembering everyone's name.

Baldwins Limited continued to operate under Baldwin family control, expanding through acquisitions in South Wales and the Midlands. In 1945 the company merged with Richard Thomas & Company, creating an organisation of some 27,000 employees and the largest producer of flat rolled steel in the UK. The majority of the material produced at Wilden was know as “Backplate” and used in various forms in the electrical industry.

Two hundred employees worked at the Wilden site in 1958 when Richard Thomas & Baldwin Limited announced its plans to close the works on economic grounds. Although some were relocated to the company's plants at Cookley and Brierley Hill, unfortunately many were made redundant and this bought devastation to the tight knit community of Wilden.

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