Joan Day has conducted extensive research into the Bristol Brass Industry and published a number of
papers on the subject in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Those papers still constitute the basis of our understanding of the industry,
copies of which can be downloaded by clicking on the icons below.
History of Saltford Brass Mill
Saltford Brass Mill was one of a group of mills operated by the Bristol Brass Company in
the Avon Valley during the C18th. Many of these mills, including Saltford, employed water-power to drive
battery hammers and rolls to manufacture brass products.
The Bristol Brass Company was founded in 1702 by a group of Quaker
industrialists under the leadership of Abraham Darby I (Darby was to go on to found an iron company at Coalbrookdale where
he was to develop the innovative process of smelting iron using coke rather than charcoal).
The Brass Company
headquarters were at Baptist Mills on the River Frome in North Bristol (now under Junction 3 of the M32). By 1711, the company had established a water-powered mill on the River Avon at Weston, near Bath, with a further two mills on
the River Chew at Keynsham and Woodborough. Saltford was leased by the company in 1721, making four battery mills
under their control, and the Avon Mill at Keynsham was acquired in the 1730s to specialise in the drawing of brass wire.
transport was used to move brass and coal between the company's various mills and the market in Bristol. The movement
of goods was eased considerably with the opening of the Avon Navigation in 1727 but this did lead to competition between the
mill owners and users of the navigation for water to power the mills and supply the locks. The mill owners
owned the water rights and so had first call on the water, much to the annoyance of users of the navigation.
The two processes
carried out at Saltford were 'Battery' and 'Rolling'.
Battery (hence battery mill) involved the shaping of sheets of brass into
hollow-ware vessels such as pans and kettles using high speed, water-powered, trip-hammers. The first recorded use
of water-powered trip hammers for this purpose had been in 1695, at Namur on the River Meuse. It was hammers such as these
that Darby had observed on a fact-finding journey through continental Europe that were copied in the Avon Valley.
use of trip-hammers to produce sheet metal was inefficient and produced an uneven product. The brass company therefore introduced
water driven rolls to produce brass sheet. Saltford Mill therefore became a rolling and battery mill.
produced in the Avon Valley was malleable at room temperature enabling it to be worked cold, but continued operation caused it to 'work-harden'
and eventually crack. To prevent this, the metal had to be periodically 'annealed'. This involved
heating the metal to between 500 and 600 deg C which enabled the grain structure to reform so restoring the metals malleability. Initially, individual pieces were heated over a charcoal hearth. However, charcoal was becoming expensive due to competition
for other metal working industries. The Bristol company had access to coal, which could generate the required heat, but
the fumes released when burning coal, in particular sulphur, damaged the metal. The company, then under the management of Nehemiah
Champion, overcame this by development of the 'muffle-furnace', the most complete remaining example of which in the country is
at Saltford. The 'muffle-furnace' enabled coal to be used to generate the required heat without exposing the metal to harmful
Darby not only brought back ideas on how to develop an indigenous brass industry from his continental journey but also
persuaded skilled craftsmen to emigrate to England bringing with them valuable expertise. The skills of these men formed
a solid foundation for the fledgling industry in the early C18th. Many of their descendants continue to live
in the Avon Valley today, with names such as Buck, Crinks, Craymer, Fray, Frankham, Ollis, Racker and Steger.
work which describes the history of the Bristol brass industry is 'Bristol Brass: The History of the Industry' by Joan Day,
the founder of the Saltford Brass Mill Project, published in 1973.
Two more recent papers which describe the history of the industry
and the results of research carried out by the Saltford Brass Mill Project are at the links below.
Tony Coverdale has built upon Joan Day's research and continues to explore the history of the Bristol Brass Industry. A name
which appears a number of times in contemporary records, but is little known today, is John Padmore, who was active between the
1690s and 1730s. In his will, Padmore describes himself as a millwright and shareholder in the Bristol Brass Company. Records
show that he was engaged in a diverse range of projects, including the construction of:
1695: Water lifting
engine, possibly an early steam engine.
1715: Floating Harbour at Sea Mills, Bristol.
1717: Copper smelting
mill near Swansea.
1727: Avon Navigation between Bristol and Bath.
1729: Ralph Allen's Railway and Cranes
in Widcombe, Bath.
1729: Steam pumping engine on the Gower Peninsula.
1732: Copper battery and rolling
mill near Swansea.
1733: Great Crane in the Mud Dock in Bristol
Today we would describe John Padmore as an engineer,
we should therefore consider Padmore as an engineer in the age of enlightenment. In 2016, Tony published a paper on John Padmore in
the Journal of the Bristol Industrial Archaeology Society, a link to which is below.
The Warmley company operated from 1746 to 1768. The company was founded by Nehemiah and William Champion,
formerly of the Bristol Brass Company, and for 20 years was a rival to the Bristol Company. A survey of the archaeological
remains at Warmley was carried out in 1995 a copy of which can be downloaded below:
Calamine Mining on Mendip
Stephen Hawkins conducted research into calamine extraction on Mendip as part of a Maters Degree in
Landscape Archaeology at the University of Bristol. His dissertation, published in 2003, is at the link below.
In the decade between 2010 and 2020, members of the Saltford Brass Mill Project have conducted further research
into the mill at Saltford and also constructed replicas of some of the equipment that would have been installed their. An account
of their work is at the link below.
A number of other papers on the archaeological excavations at Warmley and examination of remains and debris were published between
2007 and 2012, which can be accessed at the links below:
Saltford Brass Mill Through Time
The Saltford Brass Mill Project's archive contains a number of images of the mill in the nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries, a selection of which can be seen at the following link:
Bristol Brass Company
The history of Saltford Brass Mill is inextricably linked with the fortunes of the Bristol Brass Company,
the key events in it history being summarized in the timelines below:
Saltford Brass Mill Project
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The Ingenious Mr Padmore
An audio-visual presentation of the lecture on the early Avon Valley copper and brass industry has
been produced which can be accessed by clicking on the thumbnail or box below: