Trade and Industry

Without doubt, from the 18th century onwards Staffordshire was one of the pioneer industrial counties of Britain. Although it is much associated with the industrial innovations of the 18th century, some of the county’s staple industries, pottery, coal, gypsum and glass, had their origins in or before the Middle Ages. In the 16th and 17th centuries these were to be diversified by newer industries such as iron, metal, clay, brewing, salt, leather and textiles. Later thoroughly modern industries, such as the manufacture of adhesives, heavy engineering, diesel engines and components for power stations, developed to complement the county’s more traditional industries.

The Industrial Revolution in Staffordshire was epitomised by major advances in the pottery and iron industries and coal mining grew correspondingly to keep up with demand from both of these. By the 1830s it was estimated that there were 40 coalmining concerns in the North and South Staffordshire coalfields, even before the development of the Cannock Chase coalfield from the mid-19th century. By the late 20th century the final decline of the coal mining industry in the county was being played out.

Out of the basic iron and steel manufacturing industry in the old county grew a many-faceted engineering industry. Large scale civil engineering is represented for example by Horsely- Pigott of Tipton who manufactured the Dome of Discovery for the Festival of Britain exhibition. WH Dorman of Stafford built diesel engines which were exported all over the world, as were the railway carriages manufactured by Baguley Drewry of Burton upon Trent and the Birmingham Rail Carriage and Wagon Company

Stoke on Trent’s reputation for pottery was established through the enterprise of its eighteenth and nineteenth century manufacturers such as Wedgwood, Minton and Spode. At its height the industry involved hundreds of companies and a worldwide reputation and export trade. Consolidation into larger units after the two world wars has been followed by decline in the face of competition from abroad.

Brewing is associated with Burton- upon- Trent and Burton beer was nationally known by the end of the 17th century. Silk manufacturing had made its first appearance in Leek by the 1670s and in the later 19th century, William Morris came to be particularly associated with the dyeworks of Thomas Wardle. Narrow fabric, tape, was manufactured at Tean. The growing footwear trade in Stafford led to a famous election toast by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Stafford’s MP from 1780-1806: “May the manufactures of Stafford be trodden underfoot by all the world”.

In the commercial world, the Britannia Building Society, now one of the country’s leading building societies, had its origins in the Leek and Moorlands Permanent Benefit Building Society, founded in 1856.

Despite the decline of a number of the county’s industries, the story of Staffordshire’s industrial heyday is well reflected in the many collections held by the Archive Service.

The salt works at Shirleywich, near Weston

Archive Sources

Plan and section of a coal mine at Wednesbury on the South Staffordshire coalfield, 1806

Letters concerning an invention by the mining agent to the Marquis of Stafford to extract carburetted hydrogen from coal mines, 1823

Accounts of iron production at Cannock Wood and Teddesley Ironworks, 1580

Letters from Samuel Barnett and Co, Kings Bromley, tinplate manufacturers, relating to the sourcing of old sable iron, from Russia, 3 May 1796

Plan of the Horsley Estate, Tipton, the property of Messrs Dixon, Amphlett & Bedford, 1823

Pattern Book of the New Chelsea Pottery, c.1930

Case Book of Robert Garner Surgeon at the North Staffordshire Infirmary 1854

Letter from Benjamin Wilson, brewer of Burton-upon-Trent, concerning supplies of barley,

The salt works at Shirleywich, near Weston.
Sepia drawing by TP Wood, 1838

Sick pay accounts for members of Waterfall Friendly Society,

Photograph of the Dome of Discovery, Festival of Britain, 1951

Landscape and Townscape Trade and Industry Faith and Religious Life Uniquely Staffordshire Transport and Communication Disorder and Unrest Staffordshire People