Brass Production

Brass was originally made in the Avon Valley using copper ore mined in Devon and Cornwall and zinc, in the form of calamine (zinc carbonate), mined on the Mendip hills.  The copper was smelted at Crews' Hole and Conham in St George, Bristol, using locally mined coal (it takes at least four tons of coal to extract one ton of copper; hence the ore was taken to the coal rather than the coal to the ore).  The copper was alloyed with calamine to make brass at the Bristol Brass Company's headquarters at Baptist Mills.  The alloying process produced cast slabs of brass approx. 1/4" (6.5 mm) thick.   The brass slabs were transported to: the battery mills at Weston, Saltford, Keysham and Woodborough, where hollow-ware was made; the rolling mills at Saltford, where brass sheet was made; and Avon Mill at Keynsham where wire was manufactured. This area, shown on the map below, became the largest brass producing centre in the country during the 1700s.

By the early 1800s, local copper smelting had been replaced by copper imported from Swansea.  The demand for copper and brass by Bristol Merchant Venturers collapsed following the abolition of slavery in 1807.  And Bristol experienced competition from Birmingham were more modern methods of brass production were introduced to supply the demands of the industrial revolution.  The Bristol company therefore lost its supremacy in the industry.

From the mid 1800s, copper was being alloyed directly with zinc metal, instead of calamine, made possible by zinc distillation techniques introduced by William Champion at Warmley.

Many of the  Bristol mills closed but Saltford's battery hammers continued working until 1908, the last in this country. Their rolling mills, still powered by water, remained in operation until 1925.  Keynsham's Avon Mill finally closed in 1928, bringing local brass production to an end.
Saltford Brass Mill Through Time
The Saltford Brass Mill Project's archive contains a number of images of the mill in the C19th and early C20th centuries, a selection of which can be seen at the link below: 
Africa Trade
Saltford Brass Mill Project
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Saltford Brass Mill Through Time
Saltford Brass Mill in its final configuration at the end of the C19th having four waterwheels, two each driving a set of three battery hammers and two wheels in tandem powering the rolls.