Industrial History

The industrial story really began when Sir John Leveson became Earl Gower in 1746 and then his son Granville Leveson Gower became the second Earl in 1754. He was the owner of limestone quarries and coal mines in Shropshire. He was a typical high born gentleman of his age – landowner, Member of Parliament, Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Privy Seal and Lord Chamberlain to King George III. Despite all these duties, he took an active interest in the efficient running of the local estates, namely Sherrifhales, Lilleshall, Donnington Wood, St Georges, Priorslee, Wombridge and Snedshill.

The Canal
His brother-in-law was Francis 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, who was the originator of the first canal to be constructed in the new industrial age and which carried coal out of his Manchester mines. Through him, Earl Gower was introduced to the brothers Thomas and John Gilbert, the latter having had much experience in the cutting of the Bridgewater canal. At that time there were over 250 small pits extracting limestone in the area with varying degrees of efficiency. The Earl’s agricultural improvements had led to an increased demand for lime and the expanding local iron works demanded limestone as a flux. The Earl was thus persuaded that it would be more efficient to operate the limestone extraction directly so he and the Gilbert brothers formed the Lilleshall Partnership in 1764 to do this. The company was called Earl Gower and Company. (from 1786 the Marquis of Stafford & Co.)

Large scale iron making began in the parish of Lilleshall in 1785 when a furnace came into blast at Donnington Wood.  The works was started by William Reynolds and Joseph Rathbone. By 1802 there were two furnaces and a third was added in that year.
The Earl had a vested interest in producing and delivering limestone as cheaply as possible.  The new partnership soon recognised that a better communication system was required between the widely dispersed sites and in 1765 began the construction of a canal. It ran from Pave Lane to the Earl’s furnaces at Donnington Wood and was known as the Donnington Wood Tug Boat Canal.

Construction of the canal started in February 1765 and 30 men were employed to carry out the work.  Wages varied between 3.5 old pence (1.67p) and 1 shilling (5p) per day.  The 5.5 miles of the main line of the canal were completed by late 1767 with all construction finished by July 1768.
Large scale iron making began in the parish of Lilleshall in 1785 when a furnace came into blast at Donnington Wood.  The works was started by William Reynolds and Joseph Rathbone. By 1802 there were two furnaces and a third was added in that year.

The Lilleshall Company
In 1802 the Marquis of Stafford & Co was dissolved, to be replaced by the Lilleshall Co. The Lilleshall Company was based in Oakengates.  Its operations included mechanical engineering, coal mining, iron and steel making and brickworks.  The company was noted for its winding, pumping and blast engines and operated a private railway network.  It also constructed railway locomotives from 1862 to 1888.
In 1862 the Company exhibited a 2-2-2 express passenger locomotive at the International Exhibition in London.
In 1880 it became a Public company. In 1951 the Lilleshall Iron and Steel Co was nationalised under the Iron and Steel Act but denationalised in 1954 and sold back to Lilleshall Co.
Lilleshall Company Railways closed in 1959.
In 1961 they were described as ‘structural and mechanical engineers, manufacturers of rolled steel products, glazed bricks, sanitary ware, Spectra-Glaze and concrete products’, with 750 employees.
The company began to decline during the 1960s. Many of its artefacts and archives are preserved by the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
The Mines
The Company sank its first deep mine at Waxhill Barracks in 1818 and another the Freehold pit, at about the same time. The Muxton Bridge pit was opened by 1840. There were over 400 acres of coalpits and waste tips in the area in the 1840’s.  Their production was running at some 100,000 tons of coal a year with 50,000 tons of iron ore
By 1860 the Granville pit had been sunk and sinking of the Grange (originally the Albert and Alexander) began in 1864.  Grange Colliery, along with Granville, The Muxton Bridge Woodhouse and Stafford  became one of the four collieries known as the Deepside Mines.  In 1896 it is listed as having 239 men underground.

From the late 19th century, coal mining gradually declined.  The Waxhill barracks colliery ceased production in 1900 and Muxton Bridge soon after.  The Freehold colliery closed in 1928 and only the Grange and Granville collieries survived until nationalisation in 1947.  In 1951 the two were connected underground and from 1952 the Grange served mainly to ventilate the Granville.  In 1979 the Granville colliery, which employed 560 men, was closed.  It was the last coal mine in Shropshire.

The Old Lodge Furnaces
In 1824 the company brought into blast two new furnaces near the site of the Old Lodge. They were named the Old Lodge furnaces because of their proximity to the site of an old hunting lodge which was demolished in 1820. In March 1825 the Lilleshall Company paid the Coalbrookdale Company £2392 for (presumably) a Blast Engine.  George Roden, a stonemason from the Nabb, was paid £425 in 1825 and £777 and 5 shillings in 1826 for erecting loading ramps and the retaining walls. In 1830 the Donnington Wood and the Old Lodge ironworks together produced 15,110 tons. A third furnace was added in 1846 and two more in 1859.
New blast beam engines, manufactured by the Lilleshall Company, were installed in 1862 and the height of the furnaces was increased from 50 to 71 feet at about the same time.
Limestone came, via the canal, from the Lilleshall quarries and the coal (coke) and iron stone from the local pits via an extensive system of tramways, some of which, were later converted to standard gauge railways. The 1882 map show this series of transport plateways to transport the materials to the top of the furnace, and remove pig iron the furnace bottom.

The Old Lodge Furnaces produced cold-blast pig iron of the finest quality, but eventually it could not compete with cheaper iron made elsewhere and in 1888 the last of the Old Lodge furnaces was blown out 1888. The furnaces were demolished in 1905 by Thomas Molineaux Jnr, including a tall chimney 140 feet high by 13 feet diameter, known locally as “The Lodge Stack”. In 1956 the stone was reused for St Mathew’s Church. Thereafter the company concentrated all its iron and steel making at Priorslee

What can be seen today
All that remains of the furnace after extensive dismantling and site restoration involving raising of the ground levels are parts of the brickwork of the first three furnaces.
The high walls behind the furnaces are the remains of the furnace loading ramps. On the right of the ramp walls hidden in the trees is a retaining wall in front which was the blowing house. Behind the loading ramps were calcining kilns which were added in 1870 to improve the quality of the iron ore.
Remains of the Lodge Furnaces, Tug Boat Canal and other buildings  can be seen around the park .To find out more about the fascinating history of the area, collect our leaflet Granville Heritage Trail from the notice board in the car park. On the site of the Old Lodge Furnaces you will find our new information board.

Granville Heritage Trail Leaflet
Granville Heritage Trail Leaflet Select to expand

Interesting link to a model winding engine that is similar to ones used in the Granville mine field
.Model winding engine website

Letters from America
John Miles Smith from North Carolina contacted us through our website. John was born in Hadley and attended Hadley Boys School and Wellington Grammar School. He studied at University College, London before obtaining a Ph.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania.  His career was spent in research and development in the computer field at both university and industry, specialising in large database systems. He has sent us three interesting articles about his ancestors who lived and worked in the old mines in the area including Granville.  These articles have been printed in the Wrekin News.
See link below

The Old Industrial Communities around the Wrekin

Mining Accident in Donnington Wood

Better Conditions Fair Return

Tunnel mad Reynolds and the Wrockwardine Wood navigable level.

From Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological Society Volume 64 1985


The infamous Donnington Wood Colliery map is well—known to local industrial historians as a tantalising tracing of a map, the original of which is now lost, but which was clearly a palimpsest of 1788 and later (Shropshire Record Office 691/1). Until now it has been the only source to suggest the existence of a ‘navigable level’ under Wrockwardine Wood, the map showing it to run between Donnington Wood furnaces and the area northwest of the Nabb, a distance of just over 1 km. At both ends the level is shown to have several short forks.

A recently noticed memo of c. 1787 at the Staffordshire Record Office both substantiates the existence of the level, recites the circumstances of its construction, and suggests its intended function (Staffordshire Record Office D.593/L/4/4). The memo states that the Donnington Wood Co. (William Reynolds and Joseph Rathbone) took the Wrockwardine Wood mines in 1781 (from Earl Gower & Co.) for either £600 p.a. or 8d. per ton for the coal and 3s. per dozen for the ironstone, whichever was the greater sum. Subsequently the Donnington Wood Co. contracted with the Ketley Co. (Richard Reynolds) to supply it with 10,000 tons of clod coal from Wrockwardine Wood a year at 2s.11d. per ton delivered at Donnington Wood furnace, as well as all the ironstone raised there at 3s. a dozen. Additionally they were to supply 8000 dozens of ironstone from Donnington Wood at 10s. 6d. a dozen.

The memo proceeds to state that since the preceding contracts were made (it is unclear when the memo was written but internal evidence suggests c. 1787) the Donnington Wood Co. had spent about £5000 in making a subterranean cut or level with an intent to drain the clod coal in Wrockwardine Wood. This would indeed represent a considerable investment; by comparison, in the first years of the 19th century a large blowing engine cost c. £1500 and a small winding engine as little as £l00-.£200.

The level though had not fulfilled its intended purpose as far as the Donnington Wood Co. was concerned, as it drained the ironstone but only an estimated 6000 tons of the coal. However, the Ketley Co., which had paid £500 of the cost, had benefitted considerably, perhaps far more than had been intended, or so the Donnington Wood Co. claimed, as the level had drained the clod and sale coal ironstone in Wombridge where the Ketley Co. held mineral rights. The Ketley Co. had apparently (the wording of the document is slightly ambiguous at this point) had its chartermasters sink a shaft in Wrockwardine Wood, probably near or at the western end of the level, which gave the company access to the coal and ironstone deposits under Wombridge. It is uncertain but likely that this Wrockwardine Wood – Wombridge working was linked to the main level.

The Donnington Wood Co., facing an imminent demand for 10,000 tons of coal from the Ketley Co., was faced with the prospect of paying a further £1500 to erect an engine to drain the clod coal in Wrockwardine Wood. This would be sited ‘at the outside of Donnington liberty’, and would raise water 90ft. to the surface, allowing it to drain away via the ‘Cut or Top Level brought up from the Wildmoors’, presumably the Donnington Wood Canal, built between c. 1765 and 1767.1

The memo ends with a series of calculations showing that the Donnington Wood Co. was at that time raising the coal in question at a loss, and reciting the terms of a lease of 1783 of ironstone in Donnington Wood to William Reynolds. Nowhere is the purpose of the memo stated, but its tone is clear, that the original 1781 agreement between the Ketley and Donnington Wood companies had proved unexpectedly disadvantageous to the latter. Presumably a renegotiation of the contract or a financial settlement was being considered.

The only other fairly certain facts known about the level were recorded in 1935 by the Revd J.E.G. Cartlidge. He stated that near Wrockwardine Wood church was a shaft down to the level. This had a bell-shaped bottom, allowing boats to be lowered on end down to the level and then righted.2

It is clear that in the 1780s William Reynolds was actively constructing canals, and that tunnels and shafts were, particularly until the adoption of the inclined plane, an integral part of the local canal network. Indeed, Reynolds has been said to be ‘tunnel mad‘.3 Dr I.J. Brown, in his survey of the evidence for the tunnels of the East Shropshire coalfield, divides the tunnels into four groups: a) for transport systems, including navigable levels; b) for drainage purposes as soughs and sewers; c) for getting minerals etc; d) for miscellaneous purposes, generally as the most convenient way of gaining access over short distances obstructed by physical or other constraints. The evidence for most of the navigable levels and soughs is scanty, and it is rarely clear whether they carried boats as well as acting as drains.4

The Wrockwardine Wood level clearly had this dual function. it remains unknown, however, how successful it was in either capacity and how long it remained in use, what cargoes were carried, and the means of extracting them from the level. It is to be hoped that research in the future will answer these and other questions about what was clearly one of a number of major underground tunnels built mainly in the 1780s to link mines with the developing canal network.

This article first appeared in Shropshire News Sheet, I7, l983, 7-8.

  1. B.S. Trinder, The Industrial Revolution in Shropshire, 2nd edition 1981, 75.
  2. J.E.G. Cartlidge, The Vale and Gates of Usc-Con, 1935, 89-90
  3. I.J. Brown, The mines of Shropshire, 1976, 63
  4. I.J. Brown, ‘The tunnels of the Coalbrookdale Coalfield area’, Shropshire Caving and Mining Club Jnl., 1979, 37-43.