Joseph Wilkes Ernest Wilkes
Photographs courtesy of Pelsall History Centre
In 1850 Joseph Wilkes bought his family from Sedgley to Pelsall. Joseph, Ernest and Arthur were to become a dynasty of brass and iron founders which provided employment and social leadership for generations. They served in the Weslyan Chapel and on the vestry, Parish and district council.
Photograph above courtesy of Mr Ted Cartwright
Wilkes established Pelsall Foundry also known as Wilkes Foundry, seen above on Mousehill Pelsall.
The establishment flourished under Joseph Junior supplying colliery winding mechanisms and railway engine wheels. Later electrical pumping engines were featured in their literature.
Ernest succeeded Joseph and Arthur followed.
Wilkes Foundry Workers from the 1800's
The photograph above was loaned to me back by Mr Cowley and was published in issue 31 of Pelsall Times in May 2004
The photograph was taken in around 1900 and shows Mr Cowley's Grandfather, Henry Cowley of Elm Cottage Pelsall standing beside a foundry wheel at Wilkes foundry.
When I interviewed Ted Cartwright back in 2004, his memories of Wilkes Foundry were very clear.
Ted worked at Wilkes Foundry for 8 years starting in 1928. He worked in the casting shop doing malable iron casting. He worked for Jos Murdoch on the cupulo where scrap iron was melted down and poured into whichever mould was required, albeit in blocks or in the shape of half a winding wheel. For smaller jobs a shank was worked by two men.
Wilkes Foundry made common, malable, brass and white metal.
Having good memories of his time at Wilkes Foundry, Ted recalled who worked there and what they did.
Arthur Bowers was the Blacksmith, his job involved wielding a 14lb hammer day in day out, and that is all he ever did at Wilkes Foundry, Ted told me.
Rowy (Roland) Lloyd worked in the office, Mr Woodhouse worked in the Pattern Shop, David Cooper, Jack Croxall, Harry Claridge, Sammy Jones and John Lloyd worked in the Turning Shop.
Joe Gill worked on the patterns and Mr Cooper, Ernie Woodhouse, Rowy Davis, Harold Rush, Joe and Ken Davis and Alf and Ernie Haigh worked in the Casting Shop.
As advertised in The Colliery Manager's Pocket Book 1934
Work at Wilkes Foundry was always manual and dangerous, one false move could result in disaster.
Ted described how the tripod and its weight was used to smash metal to bits to be melted.
The metal had to be clean and grease free otherwise when the weight hit it, metal bits would fly off everywhere.
On one occasion this unfortunate event did occur and a sheet of metal flew through Mr Wilkes' office and imbedded itself in the wall after going through a staircase in the process.
Even the air was dangerous, he said. Men used to have to drink milk to line their stomachs because of the fumes.
After having worked there for 8 years, Ted went to work for Bloxwich Lock as a bench press toolmaker and stayed there for 42 years, but his fond memories of his time at Wilkes Foundry stayed as vivid as ever.
Wilkes Foundry Workspace Plan courtesy of Mr Ted Cartwright
Photographs below, courtesy of Pelsall History Centre
When Arthur Wilkes died in 1946 the firm left the family and finally closed in 1977 after having been in business for 125 years.
The workforce photographed on 30th September 1977 at the closure of Wilkes Foundry after 125 years of trading
The new housing estate on Foundry Lane which now occupies where Wilkes Foundry once stood