Shropshire History


Nail Making


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It was common practice for all of a nailor’s family to work at making the nails and younger children worked the bellows of the forge. The families would often specialise making in a certain type of nail.


Types of wrought iron nail


There were said to be around 300 different types of wrought or forged iron nails and each of these had a name that identified its use, eg wheelwright, hurdle, mop, etc. There were descriptions of the type of nail head, eg rose, clasp, clasp, diamond, pearl and sunken, with the point being described as flat, sharp, spear or needle. The thickness of the nail was described as fine, bastard or strong.


Nails were made by heating the length of iron to red hot and drawing it out to the required length by hammering. While still red hot, it was cut into shape and the head shaped. A good nailor could make up to 3,000 nails a day.


The decline in the handmade nail industry came when machines were invented to do the work in the mid-19th Century. Those machines in turn were made redundant by the use of wire to make nails in the late 19th Century.


Top: Handmade; Middle: Machine Cut; Bottom: Wire




During the 17th Century, a local nail making industry arose in Wellington. It was a cottage industry carried out in people’s homes. They were given wrought iron bars in lengths of varying thicknesses by a middle man, who told them what sort of nails he wanted them to make. Using hammers, pliers and a coal fire blown by bellows, the whole family would make the nails. The middle man would check the quality of work and pay them the agreed amount, leaving another supply of metal. The nailors mostly lived in rows of hovels along Chapel Lane and Nailors Row off New Street.



The wrought iron bars were produced in a slitting mill. This was a type of rolling mill where the roll had a number of parallel grooves. A bar, hammered or rolled to a wide flat section, was passed through the mill and was slit into a number of thin rods of square section. Two slitting mills were built in Shropshire in the 17th Century to serve the nail making trade at Tibberton (1653) and Ryton (1683). A further slitting mill was built at Uffington in 1780 and another at the Ketley Ironworks in 1787. By then, however, iron for nail making was obtainable cheaply from the Stour Valley and demand for the local iron declined.  The slitting mill at Ryton closed in 1790, followed by Uffington in 1795 and Tibberton in 1804. One was opened at the Horsehay Ironworks in 1817 but, together with the one at Ketley Ironworks, did not operate for long.


By the 18th Century, Wellington was particularly noted for nail making with a number of workshops in existence by 1724  and there was even a Naylors Square mentioned in 1772.  A Richard Emery leased a number of nailors' shops (workshops) in New Street in 1783 and his son was recorded as a nail manufacturer there from 1809-1828. By 1842 there were 10 workshops in or near New Street. Some nail making continued until late in the 19th Century but, like a similar industry in Newport, the trade had declined after machine made nails were introduced in 1830. Following this, many nail makers adapted their forges and turned to making chain.


John Maddock started manufacturing nails at the site of the Stirchley forge in 1869. In 1874, the Haybridge Iron Company bought him out, making him a partner and employing Samuel Vowles as manager. It did not last long as, in 1876, it was sold back to John Maddock for £2,500. He formed the company of John Maddock & Co and, in 1878, moved operations to the Great Western Works close to the railway at Oakengates.



Great Western Works


By the 20th Century, the firm had branched out into other areas of casting and nail making ceased.