Staffordshire Working Lives
Extract from notes by the Staffordshire ironmaster John Gibbons, c.1844

Extract from notes by the Staffordshire ironmaster John Gibbons, c.1844.

(© Staffordshire Record Office: 6060/4/46)

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Explanation and calculations for the production of iron from different ironstones.

Various members of the Gibbons family operated iron works at Corbyns Hall in Kingswinford in south-western Staffordshire near Dudley. The works were on the site of coal mines, so the business used its own coal to fuel the works. Other branches of the same family specialised in manufacturing finished products by metal-working.

These notes were published in 1844 as a small book called “Practical Remarks on the use of The Cinder Pig in the Puddling Furnace and on the management of the Forge and Mill”. Gibbons was adamant that the Staffordshire method of using cinder gave not only good, but the best, results in terms of quality of iron. He had spent a long time experimenting with tiny gradual alterations in methods and quantities of mixed ingredients, comparing this to a chemical experiment but on a gigantic scale. This passage shows the process of obtaining iron from the ironstone and compares the qualities and costs of different stones.

Elsewhere in the book Gibbons commented on different workers in the iron industry, particularly the Puddlers, who had the important task of keeping the molten iron in motion until it reached the right consistency. According to Gibbons they treated their work as a mystery only for the initiated: “knacks, sleights of hand, feats of dexterity and, like legerdemain of the juggler, it must be seen, studied, practised – words cannot teach it, nothing but experience can”. He also complained that “the puddlers have cleverly contrived to close their ranks against intruders, and to limit their own number in such a way as to give themselves great power”. The puddlers were unwilling, as all workmen, to try new techniques, and Gibbons described how he took small samples of each man’s work and broke them, to show them the differing results each day, and to persuade each man to try the better technique. But “the temper of the puddler must not be soured, urge them too far, and you will soon feel that what was stubborn enough before is now inflexible.”

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