Where did the money come from?
We believe that ironworking has taken place in the upper Don valley around Huthwaite and Thurgoland since the 1300s. Men called Smith appear in the tax records.
The technical knowledge and the necessary capital were probably provided by Cistercian monasteries. Roche Abbey at Maltby owned land at Thurgoland.
When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the mineral rights usually devolved to the local landowners. Thomas Wortley (1500 – 1548) of Wortley Hall acquired a bloomery forge near the Old Wireworks in Old Mill Lane from the religious and it was left to his widow in 1548.
WORTLEY FAMILY TREE
Francis Wortley (1534 – 1583) married Mary Swyft (1538 – 1581). The Swyft family had ironworking interests in the Don valley and were litigious in protecting those interests.
Their son, Sir Richard Wortley (1565 – 1603) improved his estate – displacing a few peasants. He died at the age of only 38. He left a young widow Elizabeth Boughton (1568 – 1642) aged 35 and a 12 year old son and heir, Francis, a daughter Eleanor and a younger son Edward.
Sir William Cavendish (1505 – 1557) had been the King’s treasurer responsible for selling off monastery buildings and land. He married Elizabeth “Bess” of Hardwick. They used their wealth to build Chatsworth House.
CAVENDISH FAMILY TREE
Elizabeth Boughton then married William Cavendish (1552 – 1626), the second surviving and favourite son of Bess of Hardwick (later Elizabeth Talbot Countess of Shrewsbury). He would become the First Earl of Devonshire – a title he bought from King James I.
The 1st Earl of Devonshire already had a son by his first marriage – another William Cavendish (1590 – 1628) – who would become the 2nd Earl of Devonshire. This William was a close contemporary of his new step brother Francis Wortley (1591 – 1652) who was knighted by James I in 1611. Sir Francis bought a baronetcy later that year.
Francis’s stepfather William had a younger brother, Charles Cavendish (1553 – 1617) who bought Welbeck Abbey in 1607 and started to rebuild Bolsover Castle in 1613. A son of Charles Cavendish was another William Cavendish (1592 – 1676) who would became the Marquis of Newcastle in 1643 and the First Duke of Newcastle at the restoration of Charles II in 1660.
The 1st Earl of Devonshire employed Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) upon his graduation from Oxford in 1608 as a tutor and companion (later as secretary) for his son William. Thomas Hobbes accompanied William (2nd Earl) on a Grand Tour of Europe 1610 – 1615.
Thomas Hobbes published “Leviathon”, an important book of Political Philosophy in 1650. He was, for a time, secretary to Sir Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) Lord Chancellor of England and Attorney General. Thomas was in Paris from 1640 to 1650 where he met Rene Descartes – “Cogito ergo sum” – and he met Galileo Galilei – “Eppur Si Muove” – in Pisa. Hobbes enjoyed the patronage of the Cavendish family throughout his long life and he died at Hardwick Hall.
William Cavendish (Newcastle) was a close friend of Charles I, he gained a reputation as an equestrian, playwright and swordsman and became a tutor to the young Charles II, Prince of Wales. In the Civil War, he commanded the royalist forces in the north of England at his own expense.
In the 1630s, Sir Francis Wortley was able to mortgage his estates to his mother – now dowager Countess of Devonshire – and build the Wortley Forges and Bank charcoal blast furnace near Cawthorne before 1640.
It is not surprising that Newcastle, in the Civil War, was able to request, from his cousin by marriage, Sir Francis, cannon shot, forged at Low Forge, for the defence of Sheffield Castle and later Pontefract Castle and in preparation for the Battle of Marston Moor near York.
Sir Francis Wortley I was also a leading cavalier leading 900 men at the Battle of Tankersley. He was captured at Walton some time before the battle of Marston Moor and spent the years 1644 – 1648 in the Tower of London. He died in London in 1652 and never returned to Yorkshire.
Who managed the Iron Industry of South Yorkshire?
The design and management of the Wortley Forges required ironworking knowledge and skill.
SPENCER – FOWNES FAMILY TREE
The Spencer family which came from Shropshire – west of Shrewsbury – on the Welsh border, arrived in South Yorkshire before 1640 bringing their iron working know-how with them. Brothers Walter, Randolph, John I and Edward, together with sister Elizabeth, her husband William Fownes and her brother in law Gilbert Fownes are to take over the iron industry of South Yorkshire.
Walter Spencer came to manage Barnby furnace at Cawthorne and married Frances Barnby.
John Spencer II (1629 – 1681), Randolph’s son, came to assist his uncle Walter. John’s first wife had died leaving an infant son John Spencer III. John Spencer II married, as his second wife, Margaret Hartley the young widow of Robert Hartley of Cannon Hall at Cawthorne. John acquired Cannon Hall by arrangement with her daughter Margaret to whom it had been bequeathed.
John Spencer I (1600 – 1658) appears as lessee on the 1658 lease of Top Forge. The lessor was Sir Edward Wortley (Parliamentary supporter) rather than Sir Francis Wortley II.
This lease 1658 – 1667 and the next lease 1667 – 1675 would be taken on by John’s son Edward.
William Fownes appears at Top Forge bloomery in 1638 and his son-in-law William Cotton ( died 1675) came over from Cheshire to manage Top Forge and Low Forge. It is very likely that the Spencers advised on the construction and lay-out of the Forges.
The Spencer-Fownes syndicate went on to take over two dozen ironworks and forges between the Derbyshire border and Kirkstall Forge in Leeds. They gained the advantages of specialisation and monopoly and the availability of shared capital. Investment was divided 60% John Spencer I and 40% William Fownes and his brother Gilbert.
The role of an important local family
The ancient Mortimer Road heads south from Stocksbridge past Broomhead and Wigtwizzle on its way to Strines and eventually to Bamford.
WILSON FAMILY TREE
Christopher Wilson (1595 – 1671) of Broomhead Hall in the Ewden valley spent much of his youth with his friend Thomas Wentworth (1593 – 1641) at Wentworth Woodhouse.
Thomas Wentworth was knighted in 1611, appointed President of the North and Privy Counsellor in 1629. He was made Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1633 where he gained taxes and unpopularity. He was created Earl of Strafford in 1640. He was impeached by Parliament in 1641 and (abandoned by Charles I) he was executed.
Christopher returned to Broomhead on the death of his father in 1620 to marry Mary Ibbotson of Wigtwizzle in 1623. He rebuilt Broomhead Hall. Christopher refused to attend the coronation of Charles I in 1627 (effectively turning down a knighthood). He was fined £15. In the civil war Christopher became a captain in the parliamentary army. Mary is reputed to have held off a siege of the Hall by royalist troops.
Two of Christopher and Mary’s sons are worth noting. Charles Wilson became the vicar of Babworth in Nottinghamshire (a living in the advowson of the Wortley family) and then the vicar of Sheffield (1681 – 1695). John Wilson married Ann Hey in 1656. The children of John and Ann Wilson became closely connected with the iron industry.
Ann Wilson (1655 – 1720) married John Spencer III at Cannon Hall in 1680.
Suzanna Wilsonmarried the Rev. Thomas Cockshutt (1655 – 1729) at Cawthorne and their son and their grandsons would manage Wortley Forges.
Catherine Wilson married Thomas Oates who managed the Old Wire Works upriver of Top Forge.
Matthew Wilson (1678 – 1739) managed the Forges from about 1705 for 30 years. Matthew oversaw an expansion of the Forges in 1713. He did not marry and his youngest sister Mary may well have acted as his housekeeper at Top Forge. Mary died in 1747 and is buried at Wortley.
Matthew’s eldest brother Richard followed his uncle Charles as the Rector of Babworth 1682 – 1728. John Wilson died at Babworth in 1720.
A William Simpson, a Sheffield Attorney, was living at Babworth Hall (200 yards from the church) in 1676. [ The advowson of the church was acquired by the Simpson family in 1728.] William Simpson already had interests in the iron industry with an established partnership “The Company of the North” with William Cotton II (grandson of William Fownes and Elizabeth Spencer) and Dennis Heyford. William Spencer was awarded the lease of the Wortley Forges in 1676. The lease was signed by Sidney Wortley Montagu.
By the 1670s there had been dissatisfaction at the way in which Edward Spencer had been running the Forges. William Cotton I had withdrawn. Russell Allsop (son in law of John Spencer I), William Fownes II (who had inherited his father Gilbert Fownes’ share) and John Bancks (who had bought William Cotton I’s share) supported this arrangement.
In 1695, the Wortlet Forges Lease was given to Thomas Dickin II (a Fownes grandson) who died in 1700.
By 1700, Matthew Wilson had appeared ot Wortley Forges and John Spencer III emerged as the leading member of the Spencer – Fownes syndicate. John Spencer would take up the Forge leases in 1700, 1706, 1712, 1722.
The contribution of the Cockshutt family
After the death of Matthew Wilson in 1739, his nephew and heir John Cockshutt I came to manage the Forges (having had experience of 9 years at Ayton Forge at Scarborough). He built the Tin Mill in 1743 before leaving to follow other interests. It is suggested that he spent time in America.
The vicar’s grandson, John Cockshutt II, took over from his father and his 1771 patent for producing wrought iron directly from iron ore is responsible for the introduction of an air pump at Top Forge which has been recreated by the Forge Volunteers in recent years.
A second grandson, James Cockshutt, showed sufficient early ability to deserve a mentor. James worked for and worked with John Smeaton (from Leeds) throughout his career. Smeaton was a nationally acclaimed civil engineer who built the Edistone lighthouse and was an expert on water power (consulted by members of the Lunar Society). Smeaton sponsored James Cockshutt’s Fellowship of the Royal Society.
In 1770s James managed the largest finery ironworks in the country at Pontypool. In 1780s James worked as managing partner to Richard Crawshay (from Normanton) at the Cyfarthfa works in Merthyr Tydfil and introduced Henry Cort’s innovative method of puddling and rolling wrought iron around 1795. Shortly afterwards, James returned to Wortley and brought puddling to South Yorkshire.
In the late 1790s under James Cockshutt’s management, Wortley was at the forefront of wrought iron technology in the country and justifies its present status of ‘Scheduled Ancient Monument, grade I’.
Of course these are the times of the Industrial Revolution. There were not very many outstanding engineers in the country and they would know each other. The Lunar Society in Birmingham is an example where Matthew Boulton and James Watt socialised with Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin and Joseph Priestly at Soho House and the horses found their way home by moonlight.
In the 1850s, Thomas Andrews I took over the Wortley Forges to make wrought iron axles for railway wagons. On his death in 1871, he was followed by his son Thomas Andrews II (1847 – 1907) who performed experiments on metal fatigue and fracture including microscopic examination of crystal structure of broken metal. He became a Fellow of the Royal Societies of London and of Edinburgh.
Top Forge was no longer able to compete with good quality cheap steel made in Sheffield and had closed by 1912. Low Forge continued to make some wrought iron until 1930 under the Beardsalls.
Grandson Reginald Andrews eventually became the vicar of Wortley and wrote his memoir “The Story of Wortley Ironworks”.
Grandaughter, Dr. Mary Andrews, was the strong voice insisting that Top Forge should be saved as an Industrial Museum.
Although not directly relevant to the Wortley Forges,
Some events in the history of the Wortley family are interesting
After the civil war, (Sir Francis Wortley I died in 1652), Sir Francis Wortley II took the Oath of Abduration in 1656 and his confiscated estates were restored to him. There would be fines to be paid. Sir Edward Wortley (parliamentary supporter) was involved. It was Sir Edward who signed the 1658 lease of the Wortley Forges.
The second baronet, Sir Francis Wortley II, had a childless marriage and left his estate to his illegitimate daughter Anne Newcomen on condition that her husband should take the Wortley name. Anne was six years old when her father died in 1665.
Anne was made a ward of Edward Montagu, First Earl of Sandwich (a cousin of Samuel Pepys).
MONTAGU FAMILY TREE
Anne spent the rest of her childhood at Hinchingbrooke House at Huntingdon.
A marriage was clearly intended between Anne and Stanley Montagu, the second and favourite son of the Earl of Sandwich, who would take the name Wortley-Montagu.
I suspect that John Wilson was of influence at this time. It has been suggested that John Wilson acted as parliamentary receiver of the confiscated Wortley estates after the Civil War. In which case, he must have been involved when Sir Francis Wortley II recovered his estates,
John Wilson must surely have advised Anne Newcomen Wortley in 1674, when, aged 16, she acquired the advowson of Babworth Church near Retford.
John Wilson’s brother, the rev. Charles Wilson, was installed as Rector of Babworth in 1675. John Wilson’s son, the rev. Richard Wilson became Rector of Babworth in 1682 when Charles became vicar of Sheffield.
Anne Newcomen Wortley married Sidney Montagu in 1676. Sidney Wortley Montagu assigned the lease of the Wortley Forges to William Simpson of Babworth Hall in 1676.
John Wilson’s daughter Ann married John Spencer III in 1680.
Edward Wortley Montagu, son of Stanley and Anne, eloped to marry Mary Pierrepont, daughter of 1st Duke of Kingston upon Hull.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu travelled to Turkey with her ambassador husband and brought back to England a method of protection from smallpox. A pillar with a plaque is erected at Wentworth Castle gardens in her honour.
Lady Mary’s daughter Mary (born in Turkey) Countess of Bute had married John Stuart 3rd Earl of Bute (briefly prime minister) and their son, John Stuart Jnr, 4th Earl of Bute married Charlotte Jane Windsor (daughter of the Earl of Pemboke) the largest landowner in Cardiff.
The Bute family gained large interest in the coal and Iron trade of South Wales and transformed Cardiff from a small town into an important trading centre through development of Cardiff Bute Docks.
There are connections between the Wortley family and the area around Retford in Nottinghamshire. At some time in the past, Sir Richard Wortley (father of Sir FrancisI) bought the manor of Babworth.
William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire had bought the advowson of East Retford Church.
Elizabeth Boughton Cavendish, while dowager Countess of Devonshire, had bought land at Ordsall near Retford which she settled on her younger son Sir Edward Wortley.
Members of Parliament for East Retford include:
Sir William Cavendish (Newcastle)
Sir Edward Wortley
Sir Francis Wortley I
Evelyn Pierrepont, father of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
In 1743, Edward Wortley Montagu used the advowson of Ordsall Church to install the rev. Thomas Cockshutt II as the vicar of Ordsall, East Retford. Thomas would become the vicar general to the Canons of Southwell Minster.