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About Canals

The Canals

Canal Trails

Canal Pioneers

Further Information


Canal Pioneers


Richard Reynolds (1735-1816)





Richard was born in Bristol on 1st November 1735, the only son of Richard and Jane Reynolds.  His father was an iron merchant in Bristol and the family were Quakers.  This gave him a grounding in hard work, tempered by honesty and compassion. 



After a private education, Richard began an apprenticeship as a grocer with William Fry.



The apprenticeship ended but Richard did not wish to continue as a grocer.  As a result of his father’s connections in the iron trade, he moved to Ketley to represent the interests of Thomas Goldney III, who was an absent partner of the Coalbrookdale Company.  In 1754, Goldney had provided the finance for Abraham Darby II to construct a new ironworks at Horsehay and in 1756 he financed another ironworks at Ketley.  The young Richard Reynolds was thus tasked initially with keeping an eye on operations but subsequently became manager of the Horsehay Ironworks.  He moved into Bank House at Ketley, which was to remain in the family for 44 years.



Richard married Mary Darby (daughter of Abraham II) at Shrewsbury on 20th May.  It was probably as a result of this marriage that he acquired shares in the Coalbrookdale Company and became a junior partner.   They had two children, William and Hannah.



Richard acquired a lease to work coal and iron mines on the Charlton estate, including those in Wrockwardine Wood.  Most of the coal and iron ore was sent to Ketley Ironworks, in which he held a larger stake than in the other company iron works at Horsehay and Coalbrookdale. 



Mary Reynolds died.



Abraham Darby II died but his son Abraham Darby III was not yet old enough to run a business.  Richard took over management of the Coalbrookdale Company until the son was old enough.  In the same year, he married his second wife Rebecca and they had three children, Richard, Michael and Joseph.  During Richard’s period of management, the Coalbrookdale Company’s works became the most important in England. Most of the early steam engines were cast there and the first rotative engine made by Boulton & Watt was ordered by Reynolds for a steam-powered corn mill at Ketley. He is said to have been the first in the country to use cast iron instead of wood for the rails of colliery railways.  



A patent for refining iron was taken out under his auspices by Thomas and Robert Cranage, the latter of whom was a workman at Coalbrookdale Ironworks.



Richard handed management of the company to Abraham Darby III but remained associated with the company and greatly improved the works.



Richard was getting quite wealthy and he bought out the Goldney shares in the Coalbrookdale Company.  Madeley Manor, whose estate had a large income from mineral rights, had been split into eighth shares held by various members of the Giffard family.  Richard bought 3 of the eighth shares.



Richard acquired the remaining 5 eighth shares in Madeley Manor, thus reuniting the whole manor into his own hands. This move made him the major landlord of the Coalbrookdale Company and thus he became even wealthier.



Richard acquired the lease to work more mines under Wombridge, gaining access from a shaft in Wrockwardine Wood. He also helped to form the United Chamber of Manufacturers of Great Britain, with himself as the representative for the iron trade. The Coalbrookdale Company was reported as having over 20 miles of iron railways.



Together with his son William, Richard started construction of the Wombridge Canal to take iron ore from mines at Wombridge to the Donnington Wood ironworks and also the Ketley Canal to take iron ore from mines at Oakengates to the Ketley Ironworks.  Richard bought 20 acres of land next to the River Severn and this area subsequently became Coalport. 



The Wombridge Canal and Ketley Canals were opened. Richard and other partners obtained an Act of Parliament for the construction of the Shropshire Canal from the mines around Oakengates to the River Severn. 



The first mine winding engine in the coalfield was designed by Richard and began work at Wombridge.  It was so successful that similar engines were quickly erected elsewhere in the coalfield. Richard gave all his shares in the Coalbrookdale Company to his sons William and Joseph and concentrated himself on the Coalbrookdale Ironworks.  He had presumably had enough of management and, since he was now a wealthy man, could indulge his interest in the technical side of iron making. 



When the Shropshire Canal reached Coalport, Richard leased the land he had bought in 1787 as a wharf.



Richard and other partners obtained an Act of Parliament to construct the Shrewsbury Canal, between Shrewsbury and the East Shropshire Coalfield.



Richard bought the Lincoln Hill limestone mines.  In the same year, when the country was suffering from scarcity and high prices for wheat, he distributed £18,000 to the poor in the London area.



The Shrewsbury Canal was opened.



Richard retired from business and moved back to Bristol to live. True to his Quaker principles, he decided to distribute his wealth in charitable works. It is believed that he was giving away up to £10,000 per year and he paid £10,500 to Trustees to invest in lands in Monmouthshire for the benefit of seven Bristol charities. Among his other charitable works were the funding of an orphan asylum, the Royal Infirmary and alms houses in Bristol and clearance of the debts of small debtors who had been imprisoned. He was also an active opponent of the slave trade. 



The Broseley Quaker meeting house on Tea Kettle Row had always been small and was now only used by the Darby family, Reynolds family, their households and some of their senior employees. Richard paid for a new one on a better site acquired from Francis Darby. 



Richard died on 10th September whilst on a visit to Cheltenham for his health.  He was buried in Bristol.


William Reynolds (1758-1803)




William was born at Bank House in Ketley, Shropshire on 14th April, the son of Richard and Mary Reynolds. His father was manager of the Horsehay Ironworks and the family were Quakers, thus giving him a capacity for hard work.  William was probably the most innovative of the Reynolds family and helped to expand their interests away from iron manufacture into other profitable ventures.  His personal interests included chemistry, botany, geology and mineralogy and he was associated with such men as Erasmus Darwin and Thomas Telford.  He had a laboratory at Bank House for his various experiments and paid miners for bringing him interesting geological specimens for his collection.  John Randall, writing in 1880, described him as “… one of the most inventive geniuses of the Industrial Revolution”.  Barrie Trinder, writing in 2000, described him as “… having an intellectual stature and scientific imagination unmatched by any other ironmaster'.



William joined his father in the management of the Coalbrookdale Company’s Ketley Ironworks and adjacent collieries.  William and his brother-in-law Joseph Rathbone took out a lease from Earl Gower & Company on ironstone mines at Wrockwardine Wood. 



William leased 36 acres of land at Donnington Wood and constructed a new ironworks there, using ore from his nearby mines.



William proposed the idea of an underground canal to link Blists Hill Mine to the River Severn, thus cutting out the inefficient and expensive transport by road.



Work started on the underground canal which was later to become known as the Tar Tunnel.   Workmen struck a spring of natural bitumen oozing out of the rock and Reynolds quickly realised the commercial potential of this discovery.  He invited Lord Dundonald to Bank House for discussion on how to treat the tar, as Dundonald had carried out experiments with tar and had formed the British Tar Company.  Reynolds listened to Dundonald's advice on how to manufacture varnish from the tar and recommended that the iron bridge at Madeley Wood be coated with this varnish for protection.  Around that time, and before Trevithick, he constructed a locomotive with a wagon attached. Unfortunately, there was an accident and a man was killed as he started the engine.  The jury elected to enquire into the nature of the accident was so against the scheme that they imposed a huge fine, to be enforced every time the engine was used.  As a result, he abandoned the idea. He had been considering the idea of extending the Tar Tunnel up to the mines at Ketley and Donnington Wood and laying a tram road in it to be used by his locomotive.  William also experimented with steam propulsion for a canal boat but this was never developed. Together with his father Richard, William started construction of the Wombridge Canal to take iron ore from mines at Wombridge to the Donnington Wood ironworks and also the Ketley Canal to take iron ore from mines at Oakengates to the Ketley Ironworks. William invented the inclined plane to transport boats down a slope to the Ketley ironworks.  This was the first successful construction of its type and became the forerunner of others.



The Wombridge Canal and Ketley Canals were opened. William and other partners obtained an Act of Parliament for the Company of Proprietors of the Shropshire Navigation”.  This was the Shropshire Canal from the mines around Oakengates to the River Severn, the route of which had William previously surveyed. 



Lord Dundonald was having financial problems with his British Tar Company and asked William to come into the partnership with a new trading name of "The Mineral Tar Company."  William had better sense and declined but did authorize the building of tar kilns and distilleries close to his Ketley Ironworks.  In the same year, his father Richard transferred his share of the Coalbrookdale Company to William and his brother Joseph. Together, the brothers formed a new partnership called William Reynolds & Company that managed their own mines and canals as well as their stake in the Coalbrookdale Company.  It was not a solely family concern though as they did allow some of the Darby family to become partners.  William Reynolds & Company now managed the Ketley Ironworks while the other Coalbrookdale Company partners looked after the other company interests.  William and Joseph greatly expanded the interests of William Reynolds & Company by constructing  brickworks at Coalport and Ketley, a rope works at Coalport and new mines at Blists Hill and Rough Park.



The Shropshire Canal was opened.  At the Coalport wharf, William built warehouses, workshops, factories and workers accommodation in what was to become Coalport.  William Reynolds & Company opened a glassworks at Donnington Wood.



William and other partners obtained an Act of Parliament to construct the Shrewsbury Canal, between Shrewsbury and the East Shropshire Coalfield.  William Reynolds & Company also became partners in the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal.



During a period of high prices for wheat, Lord Dundonald carried out experiments in William Reynolds laboratory at Bank House, Ketley. He succeeded in producing a baked mixture of dried potato and starch, which he called Potato Bread.  He claimed that it would feed the poor in times of need but required support from the government.  William planted large amounts of potatoes at Wallimoor Wood, Wombridge to support this ideology and his father Richard unsuccessfully wrote to the Board of Agriculture encouraging the project.



William and Thomas Telford constructed an iron aqueduct for the canal at Longdon-on-Tern.  Later in the year, the Shrewsbury Canal was opened.  William Reynolds & Company further expanded their interests by purchasing the Madeley Wood Ironworks at Bedlam from the Coalbrookdale Company.  They also developed their own mines, equipping them with locally made winding engines, and joined a group of entrepreneurs known as the Wombridge Company, to provide drainage to local mines.  As part of this, their company owned the “Bank Water Engine” at Ketley Bank.  The old Donnington Wood Ironworks was surplus to requirements and sold to John Bishton and partners.



There was a recession in the iron industry and the Coalbrookdale Company were in financial difficulties, unlike William Reynolds & Company who had diversified their interests. Whereas Ketley Ironworks was very successful, those at Horsehay and Coalbrookdale were not.  The Reynolds family had made large loans to the company, which was now £50,000 in debt, so the Darby and Reynolds interests were separated. At that time, William Reynolds & Company owned half of the Ketley Ironworks and held a one tenth share of the remaining Coalbrookdale Company assets.  The other partners of the Coalbrookdale Company bought out William’s share of the company for £8,000 and he bought out the Coalbrookdale partners’ half share of the Ketley Ironworks.  On 6th February, a legal document was drawn up to separate the interests as follows :-


The partnership trading as the Coalbrookdale Company, consisting of Rebecca Darby, Mary Rathbone, Sarah Darby, William Reynolds, Hannah Mary Rathbone and the Trustees of Samuel Darby deceased was dissolved.  A new partnership known as the Coalbrookdale Company was formed consisting only of Rebecca Darby, Mary Darby, Sarah Darby and the Trustees of Samuel Darby deceased. 


The partnership trading as William Reynolds & Company, consisting of William Reynolds, Joseph Reynolds, Rebecca Darby, Mary Rathbone, Sarah Darby and the Trustees of Samuel Darby deceased was dissolved.  A new partnership known as William Reynolds & Company was formed consisting only of William Reynolds and Joseph Reynolds. 



William Reynolds & Company obtained a patent for preparing iron for conversion into steel by the use of manganese. It was of no practical importance at the time, but showed their advanced thinking.  They also opened a chemical works in Wombridge.  The company liaised with Lord Dundonald to draw up plans for a chemical works in Coalport that, in the event, was not built.  William used hydrocarbons produced at Dundonald's tar works to power an experimental oil engine, achieving mechanical effects from “something different from Steam Engines”.



William Reynolds & Company opened a porcelain factory at Coalport, in partnership with Thomas Rose and William Horton, as well as opening a new ironworks at Queenswood.  William moved to live at The Tuckies in Jackfield and had his own personal ferry to cross over the River Severn. 



In March, William fell seriously ill and died on 3rd June 1803, He was buried in the Quaker burial ground at Coalbrookdale.


Granville Leveson-Gower (1721-1803)



The Leveson-Gower family was very powerful and they held just about every aristocratic title shorty of royalty.   A brief mention of how they evolved will be useful to explain Granville’s subsequent career. The Leveson branch had humble beginnings and by the 15th Century were wool merchants in Bilston and Wolverhampton.  In 1540, James Leveson was quite wealthy and bought land from King Henry VIII, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  This included Lilleshall Abbey, Stone Priory, Wombridge Priory and Trentham Priory, the latter subsequently becoming the main family estate. With the land came social recognition, as two of his descendants served as Vice Admirals in the Royal Navy (albeit the Dutch claimed that Walter Leveson was a pirate).  One of the descendants was Frances Leveson.  The Gower branch had owned land in Yorkshire since the Norman Conquest and Thomas Gower was created 1st Baronet of Sittenham in 1620.  The 2nd Baronet, Thomas Gower (1605-1672), married Frances Leveson in 1631 and brought the names and property of the two families together. Their son was the 4th Baronet, William Leveson-Gower and he built Trentham Hall.  John Leveson-Gower (1674-1709) was created 1st Baron Gower in 1702 and his son John Leveson-Gower (1694-1754) was created 1st Earl Gower and Viscount Trentham in 1746.  The climb up the social scale continued as the family earned more wealth, with Granville Leverson-Gower being created 1st Marquis of Stafford in 1786 and George Granville Leverson-Gower created 1st Duke of Sutherland in 1833.



Granville was born on 4th Aug 1721 at Trentham Hall, Staffordshire, son of John Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Gower, and Evelyn Pierrepont. He was subsequently educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford.



Granville married Elizabeth Fazakerly and they had a child, John Leveson-Gower, who died in infancy.  Granville inherited what Disraeli was later to call a talent for “absorbing heiresses”, as Elizabeth brought a dowry of £20,000. He became MP for Bishops Castle for 3 years.



Elizabeth Leveson-Gower died.



Granville became Viscount Trentham on the death of his brother.



Granville became MP for Westminster for 8 years.  Electioneering at the time involved much bribery and it has been estimated that the family spent £30,000 on the elections of 1747 and 1749.



Granville married Louisa Egerton (daughter of the 1st Duke of Bridgewater) and they had 3 children, George Granville Leveson-Gower, Louisa Leveson-Gower and Margaret Caroline Leveson-Gower.  She brought a dowry of £10,000 and, more importantly, introduction to the 2nd Duke of Bridgwater with whom Granville was to do business.



For the next 50 years, Granville had full control of 4 out of the 10 Staffordshire parliamentary seats and a decisive say in two more.



Granville became MP for Lichfield.  On the death of his father he became the 2nd Earl Gower.



Granville was appointed as Lord Privy Seal for 3 years.  He was also appointed as Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire for the next 45 years.



Granville was appointed as Master of the Horse for 4 years.



Granville employed James Brindley to survey a canal between the Trent and the Mersey.



Granville became a shareholder in the Bridgwater Canal, promoted by his brother-in-law Francis, 3rd Duke of Bridgwater.  An Act of Parliament for it was obtained in that year.



Granville was appointed as Keeper of the Great Wardrobe for 4 years.  He greatly expanded limestone mining at Lilleshall and coal mining at Trentham.  In addition, he joined a partnership with the Duke of Bridgewater and Earl of Carlisle to mine lead and silver at Alston Moor in Cumberland.



The Bridgwater Canal was opened.  Louisa Leverson-Gower died. 



Granville was appointed as Lord Chamberlain for 3 years.



Granville formed the partnership Earl Gower & Company with John and Thomas Gilbert.  He had 50% of the shares with 25% being held by each of the brothers.



Earl Gower & Company begin construction of the Donnington Wood Canal. Since it is all on land owned by Earl Gower, it does not need an Act of Parliament.



Granville and partners obtain an Act of Parliament for the Trent & Mersey Canal.



The Donnington Wood Canal was opened.



Granville married Susannah Stewart and they had 4 children, Georgiana Augusta Leveson-Gower, Charlotte Sophia Leveson-Gower, Susan Leveson-Gower and Granville Leveson-Gower.



Granville was appointed as High Steward of Stafford.



Granville became Lord President in the government of Lord Frederick North, who was a key supporter of a hard-line policy towards the American colonists.  He was made a Knight of the Garter for his loyalty to George III.



The Trent & Mersey Canal was opened.



Granville was frustrated by what he saw as Lord North's inept handling of the American Revolutionary War and he resigned from the government.



When Lord North resigned from government, Granville was approached to form a ministry but he refused, as well as refusing subsequent overtures from both Lord Shelburne and the Fox-North coalition to enter the government. Instead, he became a key figure in bringing about the fall of the Fox-North coalition.



The King asked Granville to form a government as Prime Minister after the fall of Shelburne but he refused.  Granville joined the new government of William Pitt the Younger and was appointed as Lord President of the Council.



Granville was appointed as Lord Privy Seal for 11 years.



Granville became 1st Marquis of Stafford.  Earl Gower & Company changed its name to Marquis of Stafford & Company. 



Granville and other partners obtained an Act of Parliament for the construction of the Shropshire Canal from the mines around Oakengates to the River Severn. 



The Shropshire Canal was opened.



Granville and other partners obtained an Act of Parliament to construct the Shrewsbury Canal, between Shrewsbury and the East Shropshire Coalfield. 



Granville retired from political life.



The Shrewsbury Canal was opened



Since both John and Thomas Gilbert were now dead, Granville passed all of his shares in Lord Stafford & Company to his son George Granville Leverson-Gower. He then formed the Lilleshall Company in partnership with John Bishton, James Birch, John Onions and William Phillips.



Granville died at Trentham Hall on 26th October.