Commercial iron production began in North Staffordshire when the Romans built an industrial village at Chesterton that had furnaces producing iron and workshops making pottery.
During the middle ages coal was mined in the Biddulph Valley and earthenware was manufactured in the small towns and villages that later became The Potteries.
At the end of the 14th century, there were ironstone mines and furnaces in Tunstall. Charcoal was produced at Goldenhill and there was a bloom smithy making iron in Chell.
An iron industry developed in the villages surrounding Newcastle-under-Lyme and the iron produced was used to make nails.
There was an iron market in Newcastle and a building called The Iron Hall, which suggests the existence of a merchant or a craft guild that regulated the industry by fixing prices and maintaining quality.
Throughout the Middle Ages furnaces used charcoal.
Blast furnaces, which melted the ore and made pig iron, were developed towards the end of the 14th century.
A typical furnace – eighteen feet high by eight feet square – was built against a steep hillside enabling men, women and children to carry baskets containing ironstone and charcoal up the slope and tip their contents into the furnace. Bellows, made of bulls’ hides lubricated with lard, powered by waterwheels or a treadmill produced the bast.
From the beginning of the 17th century, coal was used in some furnaces.
John Turner who owned a large bottle shaped furnace at Red Bull used a mixture of coal and ironstone to produce pig iron for nail makers in Church Lawton and Scholar Green.
Between 1669 and 1702, the furnace produced an average of 700 tons of pig iron a year. Its output reached 900 tons in 1704-05. The furnace closed during the late 1730s or early 1740s and in 1744 it was converted into a flint mill.
During the 1730s, Abraham Darby successfully used coke in his furnaces at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire to smelt iron.
North Staffordshire’s first coke fired blast furnace was erected at Partridge Nest Ironworks overlooking Apedale where another ironworks was built on the banks of Gresley’s Newcastle Canal in 1789.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2012