Shropshire History

Abraham Darby


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1678 - Darby was born at Woodsettle in Staffordshire to John Darby, a yeoman farmer and locksmith, and his wife Ann Baylies. His great-grandmother Jane was the illegitimate child of Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley and the family were Quakers.


1690s - Darby was apprenticed in Birmingham to Jonathan Freeth, who manufactured brass mills for grinding malt. As well as an understanding of metallurgy, Darby picked up on the use of coke by brewers to fuel malting ovens. This prevented sulphurous coal contaminating the beer and was a cheaper fuel than charcoal. Freeth encouraged Darby to become a highly active member in the Society of Friends (Quakers) and he remained so all his life.


1699 - Darby completed his apprenticeship and married Mary Sergeant. He then moved to Bristol, where he set himself up as a manufacturer of malt mills.


1702 - Darby joined with Caleb Lloyd, Jeffrey Pinnell and his brother-in-law Thomas Harvey to form the Bristol Brass Company with works at Baptist Mills. They brought in Dutchmen to operate a brass battery works, as well as making cooking pots and other holloware under a trip hammer. Darby developed a method for casting pots in greensand moulds, previously only used for smaller castings. This enabled pots to be mass-produced and to be thinner than those made by the traditional process of casting in loam moulds. The company also set up a brass works at Coalbrookdale.


1704 - Darby established the Cheese Lane Foundry, where he initially he cast brass pots. The company were shipping calamine (zinc carbonate) up the River Severn to Coalbrookdale.


1705 - He began to use iron and a young Welsh apprentice called John Thomas invented a process where the sand for the mould was used with a special casting box and core. Using this method, Darby could cast iron pots that were thin and light.


1707 - Darby took out a patent on the new casting method.


1708 - Darby left the brass company and in September set up on his own at Coalbrookdale. He leased a disused furnace and set about getting it to work.


1709 - The furnace was brought into blast on 10th January and Darby sold 81 tons of iron goods that year. Darby was helped by the fact that the Shropshire Clod Coal that he was using was fairly sulphur-free but he experimented with different fuels. Some of the iron from the blast furnace was sent to Bristol but most of it was used to make cast iron pots and other goods. The business was partly financed by a loan from Thomas Goldney, Graffin Prankard and James Peters, all of whom became partners in the Coalbrookdale Company. John Chamberlayne later became a partner and Darby's brother-in-law Thomas Baylies became manager.


1710 - Darby opened a copper mine at Harmer Hill on behalf of the brass company.


1714 - Darby and partners renewed their lease and built a second blast furnace.  This was recorded as slightly more productive than the old one.


1717 - After an 18 months' illness, Darby died at his home, Madeley Court, aged 38. He was buried in the Quaker burial-ground at Broseley and his widow died only a few months later. Darby had mortgaged his shares to Thomas Goldney before he died and left his family in a financial mess. Abraham Darby II was Darby’s son and only 6 when he died so his uncle Joshua Sergeant bought back some of the shares on behalf of the Darby children.


1728 - Abraham II began assisting in the management of the works.


1732 - Abraham II was awarded four shares in the company in 1732.


1750s - Abraham II and partners expanded the company and built furnaces at Horsehay and Ketley.


1763  Abraham II died aged 51. His son Abraham III inherited his shares at the age of 13.


1768 - Abraham III took over the management of the Coalbrookdale Company and took various measures to improve the conditions of his work force. In times of food shortage he bought up farms to grow food for his workers, built housing for them and offered higher wages than were paid in other local industries such as mining and pottery. He built the world’s first cast iron bridge Ironbridge.


1789 - Abraham II died aged 39 and was buried in the Quaker burial ground at Coalbrookdale.