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General view of the works

In the early days of photography, there were technical difficulties in reproducing such images in books, and one answer used was to glue the actual photographs into them. While the practice wasn't rare, it was still uncommon enough for the British Library in London to have recently developed a collection of such books. One such book that only got into their collection in the last year or so is Dudley: illustrated by photographs, author anonymous, but published by W.H. Laxton in 1868. However, a number of copies survive locally, some of them in the Dudley Archives.

The print that caught our eye was this one showing the Round Oak Ironworks, opened 1855-8, but probably photographed in 1866-8. Although the paper fibres become apparent under magnification, the image doesn't break down into dots as modern screen-printed photographs do, so you do get more detail.

The picture shows a large warehouse for the storage of finished iron. A branch of the Great Western Railway (the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway until not long before) enters the building itself, but most of the visible railway is the Pensnett Railway, one of the enterprises of the Earl of Dudley, along with the ironworks and local coal mines. At the time the Pensnett had nearly 40 miles of single track in the area, serving other companies as well as the Earl's, though it never quite became a common carrier.

To the left is a Great Western wagon with an impressively groomed horse hitched up to it with a rope. This was normal practice across the country. Until well into the 20th century, locomotives pulled trains, and horses (with a handler) shunted wagons. This pattern was cheaper, and on the whole, the horses were well cared for. Behind the horse, a group of men stand beside one of the low narrow gauge railway wagons used inside the works.

Towards the middle of the main photograph is a horse and cart. The cart has indecipherable lettering on it but probably belonged to the Earl of Dudley to appear in the photograph at all. More clearly apparent though, is that this second immaculately groomed horse has grown tired of posing for the camera, giving his driver a problem in keeping it still.

To the right we see one of the locomotives in use - probably the Wellington, built by Manning Wardle in 1865. The fluted dome it sports was very common on 1860s locomotives, but the fashion was fast dying out. The wagons behind it are probably filled with coal, or possibly with ironstone - but not with finished iron as that quantity would have gone straight through the wagon floors.

Hats in those days were a sign of rank - flat caps, bowlers, whatever - but almost out of the left side of the final close up is a gentleman whose hat declares fair seniority. He's waving a white cloth and may well be directing the photographic proceedings - but it's unlikely we'll ever know.

Those interested in the railway side of things will find more detail in the article (a), and book (b), below. The book might be in local libraries, while the article will be obtainable through your library's inter-library loan service.

(a) H. Drummond, Round Oak Ironworks 1868, HMRS Journal, vol. 13 part 11 (July-September 1990) pages 347-350, published by the Historical Model Railway Society.

(b) W.K.V. Gale, A history of the Pensnett Railway, Cambridge: Goose & Son, 1975.

                                                                Harry Drummond.

On the left is the photograph as it appears in Laxton's book.
The picture has obviously been staged for the camera.

The small images below are details from the main photo. Click on them to see enlarged versions.

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Middle view

Delivery cart

Some of the workforce

Roof detail behind the middle arch

Train of coal or ironstone

One of the works locomotives.

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Email DudleyMall at:    Date reviewed: 25/5/2002
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