Labour History Review

A skilled workforce during the transition to industrial society: forgemen in the British iron trade, 1500-1850

Labour History Review (1998), 63, (2), 143–159.

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For example, A. Randall, Before the Luddites: Custom, Community and Machinery in the English Woollen Industry 1776-1809, Cambridge, 1991, or M. Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750, Cambridge, 1987 Before the Luddites: Custom, Community and Machinery in the English Woollen Industry 1776-1809 Google Scholar

N. F. R. Crafts, British Economic Growth during the Industrial Revolution, Oxford, 1985, is the key text here Google Scholar

See the discussion in P Joyce, ‘Work’, in F. M. L. Thompson (ed.), The Cambridge Social History of Britain, 1750-1950. Vol. 2: People and their Environment, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 131-94 The Cambridge Social History of Britain, 1750-1950. Vol. 2: People and their Environment 131 94 Google Scholar

K. Bruland, ‘The transformation of work in European industrialization’, in P. Mathias and J. A. Davis (eds), The First Industrial Revolutions, Oxford, 1989, pp. 154-69 The First Industrial Revolutions 154 69 Google Scholar

M. Berg, The Age of Manufactures, 1700-1820: Industry, Innovation and Work in Britain (1994), especially chapter 7 Google Scholar

C. Behagg, Politics and Production in the Early Nineteenth Century, 1990; D. R. Green, From Artisans to Paupers: Economic Change and Poverty in London, 1790-1870, Aldershot, 1995; I. Prothero, Artisans and Politics in Early Nineteenth-Century London: John Gast and his Times, 1981; L. D. Schwarz, London in the Age of Industrialisation: Entrepreneurs, Labour Force and Living Conations, 1700-1850, Cambridge, 1992 Google Scholar

P. D'Sena, ‘Perquisites and casual labour on the London wharfside in the eighteenth century’, The London Journal, vol. 14, no. 2 (1989), pp. 130-47; P. Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century, 1991; W. M. Reddy, Money and Liberty in Modern Europe: A Critique of Historical Understanding, Cambridge, 1987; M. Sonenscher, ‘Work and wages in Paris in the eighteenth century’, in M. Berg, P. Hudson and M. Sonenscher (eds), Manufacture in Town and Country before the Factory, Cambridge, 1983, pp. 147-72; C. A. Whatley, ‘"The fettering bonds of brotherhood": combination and labour relations in the Scottish coal-mining industry c. 1690-1775’, Social History, vol. 12, no. 2 (1987), pp. 139-54; A. Wood, ‘Social conflict and change in the mining communities of north-west Derbyshire, c.1600-1700’, International Review of Social History, vol. 38, no. 1 (1993), pp. 31-58 ‘Perquisites and casual labour on the London wharfside in the eighteenth century’ The London Journal 14 130 47 Google Scholar

The technology of the industry is described in H. R. Schubert, History of the British Iron and Steel Industry, from c.450 B. C. to A. D. 1775, 1957. Technological change is dealt with in C. K. Hyde, Technological Change and the British Iron Industry 1700-1870, Princeton, 1977. There is no social history of the industry, but see the survey in C. Evans, ‘Die sozialen Grundlagen der Eisenverhüttung in England und Wales (1500 bis 1800)’, in D. Ebeling and W. Mager (eds), Protoindustrie in der Region. Europäische Gewerbelandschaften vom 16. bis zum 19. Jahrhundert (Studien zur Regionalgeschichte, Bd. 9), Bielefeld, 1997, pp. 359-80 Google Scholar

B. G. Awry, ‘The continental origins of Wealden ironworkers, 1451-1544’, Economic History Review, vol. 34, no. 4 (1981), pp. 524-39; J.-E Beihoste, Y. Lecherbonnier, M. Arnoux, D. Arribet, B. G. Awty, and M. Rioult, La métallurgie normande XIIe-XVIIe siècles. La révolution du haut fourneau, Paris, 1991: ‘Liste des ouvriers du fer normands ayant émigré en Angleterre’, pp. 297-99 ‘The continental origins of Wealden ironworkers, 1451-1544’ Economic History Review 34 524 39 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Russell moved between the following sites: Flaxley (Gloucestershire) pre-1784, Lydney (Gloucestershire) 1784, Cradley (Worcestershire) 1784, Wren's Nest (Staffordshire) 1786, Benthall (Shropshire) 1786, Wednesbury (Staffordshire) 1787, Lye (Worcestershire) 1788, The Level (Staffordshire) 1807, Titton (Worcestershire) 1807, Nine Locks (site unidentified) 1808, Rea (Warwickshire) 1815, Flaxley 1816, Pontymister (Moumouthshire) 1817, Brierley Hill (Staffordshire) 1817, Rea 1817. Information from a memorandum book kept by Russell. This is amongst the archives of the Folkes Group plc, Lye, West Midlands. I am grateful to Mrs Anne Sturman, the Chairman's Secretary, for making this item available to me. See J.-F. Belhoste, ‘Dynasties of ironmasters and iron workers (1600-1800). Origins, renewal and their role in the transfer of techniques’, in G. Rydén (ed.), The Social Organisation of the European Iron Industry 1600-1900, Stockholm, 1997, pp. 17-32, for a discussion of ironworkers' mobility in France Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

This statement rests upon work-in-progress upon family groups active in the iron industry of south-east Wales in the later-eighteenth century. I have been greatly influenced here by the more detailed research on life cycle and work presented in G. Rydén, ‘Iron production and the household as a production unit in nineteenth-century Sweden’, Continuity and Change, vol. 10, no. 1 (1995), pp. 69-104. See C. Evans and G. Rydén, ‘Kinship and the transmission of skills: bar iron production in Britain and Sweden, 1500-1860’, in M. Berg and K. Bruland (eds), Technological Révolutions in Europe: Historical Perspectives, Cheltenham, 1998, pp. 188-206, for a fuller comparison between Britain and Sweden. See also D. Woronoff, L'industrie sidérurgique en France pendant la Révolution et l'Empire, Paris, 1984, pp. 162-5, for a discussion of occupational endogamy among ironworkers in France ‘Iron production and the household as a production unit in nineteenth-century Sweden’ Continuity and Change 10 69 104 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

For estimates of bar iron output see S. Pollard and R. S. W. Davies, ‘The iron industry 1750-1850’, in C. H. Feinstein and S. Pollard (eds), Studies in Capital Formation in the United Kingdom 1750-1920, Oxford, 1988, pp. 73-104, especially pp. 82-91, and P. Riden, ‘The output of the British iron industry before 1870’, Economic History Review, vol. 30, no. 3 (1977), pp. 442-59 Studies in Capital Formation in the United Kingdom 1750-1920 73 104 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

To be accurate, Crawshay's interest in puddling was many faceted. He was also interested in the possibility it held out of producing a high quality coal-made bar iron that could evict the best grades of Swedish iron from certain niche markets that were closed to British ironmasters. See C. Evans, ‘Iron puddling: the quest for a new technology in eighteenth-century industry’, Llafur, vol. 4, no. 3 (1994), pp. 44-57 ‘Iron puddling: the quest for a new technology in eighteenth-century industry’ Llafur 4 44 57 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Samuel Griffiths, Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain, 1873, p. 270 Google Scholar

See M. Chase, ‘The implantation of working-class organisation on Teesside, 1830-1874’, Tijdschrift voor Sociale Geschiedenis, vol. 18, nos 2/3 (1992), pp. 191-211, for the influx of Welsh puddlers into the new production centres in the north-east of England in the mid-nineteenth century ‘The implantation of working-class organisation on Teesside, 1830-1874’ Tijdschrift voor Sociale Geschiedenis 18 191 211 Google Scholar

John Percy, Metallurgy: Iron and Steel, 1864, p. 656 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Dudley Archives, Z121, Cradley forge stock and yield accounts 1805-12. See C. Evans, The Labyrinth of Flames: Work and Social Conflict in Early Industrial Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff, 1993, for a general consideration of coal-based technology in one of its most important centres The Labyrinth of Flames: Work and Social Conflict in Early Industrial Merthyr Tydfil Google Scholar

W Truran, The Iron Manufacture of Great Britain Theoretically and Practically Considered, 1855, p. 134. See R. Fremdling, ‘The puddler: a craftsman's skill and the spread of a new technology in Belgium, France and Germany’, Journal of European Economic History, vol. 20, no. 3 (1991), pp. 529-67, for the heightening of workloads in the course of the nineteenth century Google Scholar

Percy, Metallurgy, p. 656. Information about the weight of iron charged into the puddling furnace during each ‘heat’ in the early days of puddling is scarce. However, the burden seems to have been markedly lower than that of the mid-nineteenth century: the French engineer de Bonnard reported that 3 1/2 cwt of metal was consumed per heat at the Bradley works in Staffordshire in 1802: ‘Sur les precédés employes en Angleterre pour le traitement du fer par le moyen de la houille’, Annales des Arts et Manufactures, vol. 23 (1805), p. 236 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

D. W. Crossley, ‘Medieval iron smelting’, in idem (ed.), Medieval Industry, 1981, pp. 29-41, especially pp. 35-6 Google Scholar

This conclusion accords with some of the studies gathered in C. Lis, J. Lucassen and H. Soly (eds), Before the Unions: Wage Earners and Collective Action in Europe, 1300-1850 (International Review of Social History Supplement 2), Cambridge, 1994, which emphasise the capacity of pre-industrial skilled workforces to sustain collective organisation over a wide area Before the Unions: Wage Earners and Collective Action in Europe, 1300-1850 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

J. S. Jeans, ‘On the consumption and economy of fuel in the iron and steel manufacture’, Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute, 1882, p. 144. See Evans, ‘Iron puddling’, for a more extended discussion of this ‘On the consumption and economy of fuel in the iron and steel manufacture’ Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute 144 Google Scholar

W. Bridges Adams, ‘The Bessemer Iron’, The Engineer, 19 September 1856, p. 519 ‘The Bessemer Iron’ The Engineer 519 Google Scholar

It is instructive to read the American literature on the transition from bar iron making to steel manufacture. This is far more developed. It is also more controversial, being polarised between those who associate steelmaking with de-skilling and those who see workers' bargaining power as undiminished in the steel age. See K. Stone, ‘The origins of job structures in the steel industry’, in R. C. Edwards, M. Reich and D. H. Gordon (eds), Labor Market Segregation, Lexington, Mass., 1975, pp. 21-84; B. Elbaum, ‘The making and shaping of job and pay structures in the iron and steel industry’, in P. Osterman (ed.), Internal Labor Markets, 1984, pp. 71-107; M. Nuwer, ‘From batch to flow: production technology and workforce skills in the steel industry, 1880-1920’, Technology and Culture, vol. 29 (1988), pp. 808-38; D. Jardini, ‘From iron to steel: the recasting of the Jones and Laughlins workforce between 1885 and 1896’, Technology and Culture, vol. 36 (1995), pp. 271-301. But both sides of the debate take it as axiomatic that bar iron making was an artisanal craft over which puddlers and rollers exercised sovereign control. What they differ on is the extent to which skills and intra-works authority was carried over into the steel era. As this article suggests, however, bar iron manufacture should not be seen as a craft in any simple sense Labor Market Segregation 21 84 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

For example, A. Randall, Before the Luddites: Custom, Community and Machinery in the English Woollen Industry 1776-1809, Cambridge, 1991, or M. Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750, Cambridge, 1987 Before the Luddites: Custom, Community and Machinery in the English Woollen Industry 1776-1809 Google Scholar

N. F. R. Crafts, British Economic Growth during the Industrial Revolution, Oxford, 1985, is the key text here Google Scholar

See the discussion in P Joyce, ‘Work’, in F. M. L. Thompson (ed.), The Cambridge Social History of Britain, 1750-1950. Vol. 2: People and their Environment, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 131-94 The Cambridge Social History of Britain, 1750-1950. Vol. 2: People and their Environment 131 94 Google Scholar

K. Bruland, ‘The transformation of work in European industrialization’, in P. Mathias and J. A. Davis (eds), The First Industrial Revolutions, Oxford, 1989, pp. 154-69 The First Industrial Revolutions 154 69 Google Scholar

M. Berg, The Age of Manufactures, 1700-1820: Industry, Innovation and Work in Britain (1994), especially chapter 7 Google Scholar

C. Behagg, Politics and Production in the Early Nineteenth Century, 1990; D. R. Green, From Artisans to Paupers: Economic Change and Poverty in London, 1790-1870, Aldershot, 1995; I. Prothero, Artisans and Politics in Early Nineteenth-Century London: John Gast and his Times, 1981; L. D. Schwarz, London in the Age of Industrialisation: Entrepreneurs, Labour Force and Living Conations, 1700-1850, Cambridge, 1992 Google Scholar

P. D'Sena, ‘Perquisites and casual labour on the London wharfside in the eighteenth century’, The London Journal, vol. 14, no. 2 (1989), pp. 130-47; P. Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century, 1991; W. M. Reddy, Money and Liberty in Modern Europe: A Critique of Historical Understanding, Cambridge, 1987; M. Sonenscher, ‘Work and wages in Paris in the eighteenth century’, in M. Berg, P. Hudson and M. Sonenscher (eds), Manufacture in Town and Country before the Factory, Cambridge, 1983, pp. 147-72; C. A. Whatley, ‘"The fettering bonds of brotherhood": combination and labour relations in the Scottish coal-mining industry c. 1690-1775’, Social History, vol. 12, no. 2 (1987), pp. 139-54; A. Wood, ‘Social conflict and change in the mining communities of north-west Derbyshire, c.1600-1700’, International Review of Social History, vol. 38, no. 1 (1993), pp. 31-58 ‘Perquisites and casual labour on the London wharfside in the eighteenth century’ The London Journal 14 130 47 Google Scholar

The technology of the industry is described in H. R. Schubert, History of the British Iron and Steel Industry, from c.450 B. C. to A. D. 1775, 1957. Technological change is dealt with in C. K. Hyde, Technological Change and the British Iron Industry 1700-1870, Princeton, 1977. There is no social history of the industry, but see the survey in C. Evans, ‘Die sozialen Grundlagen der Eisenverhüttung in England und Wales (1500 bis 1800)’, in D. Ebeling and W. Mager (eds), Protoindustrie in der Region. Europäische Gewerbelandschaften vom 16. bis zum 19. Jahrhundert (Studien zur Regionalgeschichte, Bd. 9), Bielefeld, 1997, pp. 359-80 Google Scholar

B. G. Awry, ‘The continental origins of Wealden ironworkers, 1451-1544’, Economic History Review, vol. 34, no. 4 (1981), pp. 524-39; J.-E Beihoste, Y. Lecherbonnier, M. Arnoux, D. Arribet, B. G. Awty, and M. Rioult, La métallurgie normande XIIe-XVIIe siècles. La révolution du haut fourneau, Paris, 1991: ‘Liste des ouvriers du fer normands ayant émigré en Angleterre’, pp. 297-99 ‘The continental origins of Wealden ironworkers, 1451-1544’ Economic History Review 34 524 39 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Russell moved between the following sites: Flaxley (Gloucestershire) pre-1784, Lydney (Gloucestershire) 1784, Cradley (Worcestershire) 1784, Wren's Nest (Staffordshire) 1786, Benthall (Shropshire) 1786, Wednesbury (Staffordshire) 1787, Lye (Worcestershire) 1788, The Level (Staffordshire) 1807, Titton (Worcestershire) 1807, Nine Locks (site unidentified) 1808, Rea (Warwickshire) 1815, Flaxley 1816, Pontymister (Moumouthshire) 1817, Brierley Hill (Staffordshire) 1817, Rea 1817. Information from a memorandum book kept by Russell. This is amongst the archives of the Folkes Group plc, Lye, West Midlands. I am grateful to Mrs Anne Sturman, the Chairman's Secretary, for making this item available to me. See J.-F. Belhoste, ‘Dynasties of ironmasters and iron workers (1600-1800). Origins, renewal and their role in the transfer of techniques’, in G. Rydén (ed.), The Social Organisation of the European Iron Industry 1600-1900, Stockholm, 1997, pp. 17-32, for a discussion of ironworkers' mobility in France Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

This statement rests upon work-in-progress upon family groups active in the iron industry of south-east Wales in the later-eighteenth century. I have been greatly influenced here by the more detailed research on life cycle and work presented in G. Rydén, ‘Iron production and the household as a production unit in nineteenth-century Sweden’, Continuity and Change, vol. 10, no. 1 (1995), pp. 69-104. See C. Evans and G. Rydén, ‘Kinship and the transmission of skills: bar iron production in Britain and Sweden, 1500-1860’, in M. Berg and K. Bruland (eds), Technological Révolutions in Europe: Historical Perspectives, Cheltenham, 1998, pp. 188-206, for a fuller comparison between Britain and Sweden. See also D. Woronoff, L'industrie sidérurgique en France pendant la Révolution et l'Empire, Paris, 1984, pp. 162-5, for a discussion of occupational endogamy among ironworkers in France ‘Iron production and the household as a production unit in nineteenth-century Sweden’ Continuity and Change 10 69 104 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

For estimates of bar iron output see S. Pollard and R. S. W. Davies, ‘The iron industry 1750-1850’, in C. H. Feinstein and S. Pollard (eds), Studies in Capital Formation in the United Kingdom 1750-1920, Oxford, 1988, pp. 73-104, especially pp. 82-91, and P. Riden, ‘The output of the British iron industry before 1870’, Economic History Review, vol. 30, no. 3 (1977), pp. 442-59 Studies in Capital Formation in the United Kingdom 1750-1920 73 104 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

To be accurate, Crawshay's interest in puddling was many faceted. He was also interested in the possibility it held out of producing a high quality coal-made bar iron that could evict the best grades of Swedish iron from certain niche markets that were closed to British ironmasters. See C. Evans, ‘Iron puddling: the quest for a new technology in eighteenth-century industry’, Llafur, vol. 4, no. 3 (1994), pp. 44-57 ‘Iron puddling: the quest for a new technology in eighteenth-century industry’ Llafur 4 44 57 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Samuel Griffiths, Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain, 1873, p. 270 Google Scholar

See M. Chase, ‘The implantation of working-class organisation on Teesside, 1830-1874’, Tijdschrift voor Sociale Geschiedenis, vol. 18, nos 2/3 (1992), pp. 191-211, for the influx of Welsh puddlers into the new production centres in the north-east of England in the mid-nineteenth century ‘The implantation of working-class organisation on Teesside, 1830-1874’ Tijdschrift voor Sociale Geschiedenis 18 191 211 Google Scholar

John Percy, Metallurgy: Iron and Steel, 1864, p. 656 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Dudley Archives, Z121, Cradley forge stock and yield accounts 1805-12. See C. Evans, The Labyrinth of Flames: Work and Social Conflict in Early Industrial Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff, 1993, for a general consideration of coal-based technology in one of its most important centres The Labyrinth of Flames: Work and Social Conflict in Early Industrial Merthyr Tydfil Google Scholar

W Truran, The Iron Manufacture of Great Britain Theoretically and Practically Considered, 1855, p. 134. See R. Fremdling, ‘The puddler: a craftsman's skill and the spread of a new technology in Belgium, France and Germany’, Journal of European Economic History, vol. 20, no. 3 (1991), pp. 529-67, for the heightening of workloads in the course of the nineteenth century Google Scholar

Percy, Metallurgy, p. 656. Information about the weight of iron charged into the puddling furnace during each ‘heat’ in the early days of puddling is scarce. However, the burden seems to have been markedly lower than that of the mid-nineteenth century: the French engineer de Bonnard reported that 3 1/2 cwt of metal was consumed per heat at the Bradley works in Staffordshire in 1802: ‘Sur les precédés employes en Angleterre pour le traitement du fer par le moyen de la houille’, Annales des Arts et Manufactures, vol. 23 (1805), p. 236 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

D. W. Crossley, ‘Medieval iron smelting’, in idem (ed.), Medieval Industry, 1981, pp. 29-41, especially pp. 35-6 Google Scholar

This conclusion accords with some of the studies gathered in C. Lis, J. Lucassen and H. Soly (eds), Before the Unions: Wage Earners and Collective Action in Europe, 1300-1850 (International Review of Social History Supplement 2), Cambridge, 1994, which emphasise the capacity of pre-industrial skilled workforces to sustain collective organisation over a wide area Before the Unions: Wage Earners and Collective Action in Europe, 1300-1850 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

J. S. Jeans, ‘On the consumption and economy of fuel in the iron and steel manufacture’, Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute, 1882, p. 144. See Evans, ‘Iron puddling’, for a more extended discussion of this ‘On the consumption and economy of fuel in the iron and steel manufacture’ Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute 144 Google Scholar

W. Bridges Adams, ‘The Bessemer Iron’, The Engineer, 19 September 1856, p. 519 ‘The Bessemer Iron’ The Engineer 519 Google Scholar

It is instructive to read the American literature on the transition from bar iron making to steel manufacture. This is far more developed. It is also more controversial, being polarised between those who associate steelmaking with de-skilling and those who see workers' bargaining power as undiminished in the steel age. See K. Stone, ‘The origins of job structures in the steel industry’, in R. C. Edwards, M. Reich and D. H. Gordon (eds), Labor Market Segregation, Lexington, Mass., 1975, pp. 21-84; B. Elbaum, ‘The making and shaping of job and pay structures in the iron and steel industry’, in P. Osterman (ed.), Internal Labor Markets, 1984, pp. 71-107; M. Nuwer, ‘From batch to flow: production technology and workforce skills in the steel industry, 1880-1920’, Technology and Culture, vol. 29 (1988), pp. 808-38; D. Jardini, ‘From iron to steel: the recasting of the Jones and Laughlins workforce between 1885 and 1896’, Technology and Culture, vol. 36 (1995), pp. 271-301. But both sides of the debate take it as axiomatic that bar iron making was an artisanal craft over which puddlers and rollers exercised sovereign control. What they differ on is the extent to which skills and intra-works authority was carried over into the steel era. As this article suggests, however, bar iron manufacture should not be seen as a craft in any simple sense Labor Market Segregation 21 84 Google Scholar

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Evans, Chris