Saltford Brass Mill Project
Copyright (C) 2010 Saltford Brass Mill Project. All Rights Reserved
Saltford Brass Mill was one of a series of mills working in brass in the Avon Valley during the eighteenth century. Many of these mills, as at Saltford, employed waterwheels to power processes used by the company. Abraham Darby started making brass at Baptist Mills on the Frome in Bristol (near the start of the M32) in 1702. Brassmaking was much later transferred to Keynsham's Avon Mill, because of its better water supply. River transport was used to deliver brass ingots and coal up to Saltford; Weston Mill, Bath and other mills of the company.
The earliest main process involved the shaping of brass sheet into hollow-ware vessels, such as pans, bowls, and vats. Large water-powered hammers were used originally, to beat the brass ingots into sheet, and then faster hammers shaped the sheet into hollow-ware. This beating process was known as 'battery', so Saltford Mill was known as a brass battery mill.
Rolling mills (pairs of heavy rolls working like an old fashioned mangle) were soon introduced by the company, which produced brass sheets more evenly than hammers. Saltford Mill also became a rolling mill but hammers continued to be used for the production of hollow-ware.
The brass was malleable enough to be worked cold, but rolling and hammering could continue only for a limited period as the brass would 'work-harden', causing cracking. To prevent this, partially worked brass was periodically softened by heating, or 'annealing' it.
When this work originally started, individual pieces were heated over charcoal. Soon the Bristol industry devised bulk annealing in large furnaces heated with local coal. The brass goods were protected from damaging coal fumes by an inner sealed arch, introducing a new type of large-scale `muffle' furnace. The remaining Saltford annealing furnace, one of four once working at the mill, is the best surviving example of this important local innovation. The only other examples are at Kelston Mills, where only the outer walls remain.
Skilled immigrant craftsmen came from traditional brass making areas of the Continent bringing their valuable expertise. The skills of these men partly account for the growing success of the industry throughout the eighteenth century. Many of their descendants stayed at the local mills and several of their families continue to live in the Avon Valley today, with names such as Buck, Crinks, Craymer, Fray, Frankham, Ollis, Racker and Steger.
History of Saltford Brass Mill
Author: Bristol Brass: The History of the Industry
Brass Mill History
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.
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: