John Bradley & Co., Ironfounders

Scope and Content

Correspondence to John Bradley & Co., mostly being very detailed orders for iron, except for a few letters addressed to James Foster himself.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Bradley, son of a Stourbridge ironmonger, Gabriel Bradley (1726-1771), was born in 1769. He established himself in the iron business in his own right by trading at the Stourbridge Forge in around 1795. In 1800 he founded a new company, John Bradley & Co. He was the managing partner and finance was obtained from Thomas Jukes Collier (1761-1845) and the trustees of his stepfather, Henry Foster (1743-1793), each with a third share in the company.

The company soon set up a forge, steam engine and mills and began by converting pig iron into wrought iron plates and rods for local industry. Expansion was rapid and leases were secured on further forges and land. In 1813, the Stourbridge Iron Works obtained a contract to purchase the entire production of pig iron from New Hadley Furnaces for seven years at a guaranteed price but, in 1818, James Foster (1786-1853), son of Henry Foster oversaw the construction of two new blast furnaces, thereby controlling all stages of iron production.

James went into partnership with John Urpeth Rastrick in 1819 to expand Bradley's involvement in machinery production. Rastrick was the resident managing engineer of a new company, Foster, Rastrick & Co., built alongside the Stourbridge Iron Works. A new foundry was built in 1821 to cope with the expansion of the business. The company produced: bedsteads, cooking plates, wheels and tools, rails and railway sleepers. Foster, Rastrick and Co. was formally dissolved on 20, June 1831.

The assets were transferred back into the Stourbridge Iron Works with the foundry business continuing under the management of John Bradley & Co. In 1837, James Foster became the sole owner of John Bradley & Co. The Stourbridge Iron Works continued to produce rods, bars and wires while the foundry worked on specialist rolling machines. James's nephew William Orme Foster (-1899), inherited the £700,000 estate and under his stewardship, John Bradley & Co. continued to grow. A revolution in iron manufacture occurred in 1856 with the development of cheap steel but Foster failed to invest in new machinery and when the iron industry entered a slump in the 1870s, the productivity of the company declined. After the death of William Orme Foster, the company fell into the hands of his son, William Henry Foster (1846-1924). Preferring other pursuits, William sold the company's collieries to Guy Pitt and Company in 1913 and the remaining portion of the Stourbridge Iron Works was sold to Edward J Taylor Ltd. in 1913.

(Compiled from information extracted from: Ed. Paul Collins, Stourbridge & Its Historic Locomotives (Dudley Leisure Services. 1989))

Access Information

Access to this collection is unrestricted for the purpose of private study and personal research within the supervised environment and restrictions of the Library's Palaeography Room. Uncatalogued material may not be seen. Please contact the University Archivist for details.

Other Finding Aids

Paul Kelly, Correspondence of the Stourbridge Ironworks in 1830 , University of London Library (1972)

Archivist's Note

Separated Material

Shropshire Record Office holds estate and business archives of the Foster family of Apley Park.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be made, subject to the condition of the original. Copying must be undertaken by the Palaeography Room staff, who will need a minimum of 24 hours to process requests.