William Henry & George Dawes – 1860

William Henry & George Dawes – 1860

The Dawes family

The history of the Dawes family’s connection with the iron trade goes back to at least the end of the eighteenth century. Joseph and Richard Jesson, in partnership with their brother-in-law John Wright, were, in 1775, producing annually about thirty tons of wrought iron at their Bromford Forge, in the parish of Oldbury, West Bromwich. This wrought iron was made from pig iron from the blast furnaces they owned at Barnetts Leasow, near Brosely, Shropshire. After Joseph Jesson retired from the business in 1808, Richard Jesson, his son Thomas and his son-in-law Samuel James Dawes became partners. At about the same time the company moved from Bromford Forge to a new site in Oldbury, to be known as Bromford Ironworks: this by the side of the BirminghamCanal. By 1818, Samuel Dawes had been joined by his brother John, and the business became known as S & J Dawes. By 1829, the company was known as John Dawes & Sons: included in that title were John Samuel (b1802) and William Henry (b1804). George Dawes, born in 1818 was hardly likely to have participated in events so far. John Dawes senior died in 1841, leaving the business in the hands of John Samuel and William Henry. There can be no doubt that George was by now taking an active part in the proceedings. The business was clearly prospering in those heady, early Victorian days, when Great Britainwas leading up to be the world’s premier producer of iron products. One wonders at the relationship between the brothers at this period. Facts that have come down to us tell us that William Henry was the ‘Gentleman Ironmaster’, and ‘his word was his bond.’[1] George appears to be irascible and hot tempered, though he claims the first to apologise when in the wrong. One fact that we are aware of is that the elder brother to the two, John left the family business in 1857 to pursue an interest in geology. In the meantime, news reached the brothers that the Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse, in south Yorkshire, (at the time officially the West Riding) was advertising for tenants for the blast furnaces and associated mills on his estate at Milton and Elsecar, near Chapletown, south Yorkshire. The Dawes successfully applied for the tenancy and by 1851; George Dawes had established himself as tenant of the Milton and Elsecar Ironworks, at the same time taking the residence of the former works owner at the nearby Skiers Spring Lodge. This was to be his home until retirement in 1885. In 1859, George married Emma (Heath?) aDoncaster girl, in that town. Upon retirement, George moved back to theWest Midlands. It is doubtful if William Henry ever left that district; he marriedElizabeth, (?) a Tipton, Staffordshire, girl in 1836, they had a large family, the oldest, Joshua Horton, following in the family footsteps, as we shall see, to manage an Ironworks.

Samuel Griffiths in his 1872 Guide to the Iron Trade of Great Britain had this to say about the Dawes: “William Dawes and Sons are the proprietors of the Bromford Iron Works. These are large works very near to the Oldbury Station on the north side of the Stour Valley Railway, and can be distinguished by the round chimneys or stacks, the diameter increasing as the stack rises, the summit’s of which are considerably wider than the base. This is a very bold and highly respectable concern. The family are all born gentleman, and educated Ironmasters: make and export nail rods particularly to China where they are highly esteemed for quality. “Dawes and Sons” is branded on in Chinese characters. Mr George Dawes has the Elsecar works in Yorkshire and W. Dawes and Sons, beside the Bromford have likewise two Blast Furnaces at Withymoor, near Dudley. The make of Pigs here is first-class. Dawes and Sons of Bromford stand well in the market for rods, groups, and bars; the Iron is soft and good, their rods and hoops are exported largely by the Liverpool merchants; they make bars, hoops, rods and small and large angles, small and large rounds and squares, sheets and plates. These works have always been carried on very regularly, and the quality of the Iron is noted for its uniformity. The firm is well supplied with coal of the best quality from its own mines, and the 400 tons of high-class Pig Iron made at their Withymoor Furnaces per week, gives a thoroughly Staffordshire character to be malleable iron they produce.”


[1] Although his daughter Mary  wrote in a letter to George Walshaw, now held by North Lincolnshire Museum, Scunthorpe, that he never had to sign an agreement, such was his reputation for being a man of his word, he certainly appended his signature to the leases drawn up by the Winn’s .

References will be added, checking on sources LRW 8th April 2012


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