History of the Clinker

We have two slightly different stories regarding the clinker, have a read.....

‘The Clinker’ — a Pontcysyllte mystery

The towpath from the junction at the end of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct crosses the Llangollen Branch at Postles Bridge.  If, instead of crossing the bridge, you take the path going straight on, shortly on the right you see a huge piece of iron slag weighing at least ten tons, known as ‘The Clinker’.  Where did it come from, and how did it get here?

The land on the south side of the canal between Postles Bridge and the junction, now occupied by houses in Bron y Gamlas, is thought to have been used for preparing the stonework of the aqueduct.  In 1816 the canal company gave Exuperius Pickering (junior) permission to erect coke ovens here.  Then in 1823 he was given permission to erect a blast furnace (which makes cast iron) and associated works.  However the ironworks is later referred to as a forge — in other words, it made wrought iron and its products.

Exuperius Pickering died in 1835.  The tithe map of 1838 shows the site of the coke ovens as occupied by his executors, and the ironworks (and a cottage) as occupied by William Fox.  In 1870 the tenant was the New British Iron Company, whose main works were at Acrefair, but a valuation two years later lists the workshop as worth £15 and the machine house as £8.  When compared with the cottage’s valuation of £70 it is evident that by that date the ironworks was severely run down, possibly derelict.

In 1872 the canal company bought the adjacent property from Thomas Butterton.  He also had leased from the canal company the land opposite on which ‘The Clinker’ now sits, so it seems likely that this tenancy ceased too.  The canal company now made a new lease for 21 years (soon extended to 28 years) of the extended ironworks site, possibly also including the land opposite.  Unfortunately the minutes do not state who the lease was to.  It then seems the new tenant made a substantial investment, though by 1877 they were in financial trouble. 

 In 1878 the works were leased to the Cliffe Vale Ironworks of Stoke, though they were not required to start work until the iron trade had recovered enough to enable it to be worked profitably.  In 1880 it was reported that the Forge had resumed work, but by 1883 it must have ceased work again.  In that year Robert Graesser offered to buy it in order to convert it into a chemical works; in 1886 he repeated that offer though later withdrew it, having obtained a long lease on his existing site by the Plas Kynaston Canal.  The then tenant, William Bache had given notice to leave the Forge; he later decided to carry on, and was still there in 1914.

The crucial piece of mapping evidence is that the first edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch map surveyed in 1872/3 (but not printed until 1879) clearly shows rails across Postles Bridge from the ironworks.  This must have been to enable waste material to be dumped on the land opposite.  The ground behind the ironworks falls away, so there is not room to dispose of waste there.  The second edition of the map (revised in 1898) does not show a rail connection over the bridge.

‘The Clinker’ would not have been moved there in one lump because it is far too heavy.  The material was almost certainly dumped there over several years, possibly in a semi-molten state.  When examined closely, strata of different consistencies of material can be seen.

Thus it seems that ‘The Clinker’ is waste from the ironworks opposite, put there in the 1870s and 1880s.

Casting back to iron days

The Pontcysyllte Foundry came into being at the time when Telford built the nearby aqueduct in 1795. Originally it was a satellite to Plas Kynaston Foundry, Cefn Mawr and it is certain that small parts of the Aqueduct were cast at Pontcysyllte Foundry. It was originally called The Poncysyllte Ironworks and in its final years The Canal Foundry. In about 1897 James Diggory became the owner and for a short while used the premises as a depot for household coal. However, in 1910 the premises reverted to a foundry. The business remained in the Diggory family until 1964 when it was sold. Following the end of World War One approximately 35 men were employed in positions such as moulders, furnace men, smiths, patternmakers, joiners and general workers. The foundry contained a large furnace, smithy, office, various workshops and other buildings. All waste from the furnace was taken on a small tramway to the far corner of the yard and placed on a flat-bottomed boat, taken up the canal and deposited in the wood alongside. With the coming of World War Two, by order of the Government of the day, parts of Mosquito Aircraft and engines from landing craft were stored here for the duration of the war as a precaution against possible air raids. In 1970 the premises and contents were sold to a Wrexham company who used it for storing scrap cars and other material. Eventually the site was cleared and today no evidence remains to show that a foundry ever existed there.

We are indebted to Mr HC Diggory for providing us with the information used in this article

An impeccable word of mouth source I suggest.

My memories of the clinker (late 1940s to 60s) and its immediate environ was of a barren waste land - apart from lacerated hands and knees. That nature has still not taken over completely makes you wonder what else was dumped there!

The above history is preferable to early dumping because if it had taken 200+ years to fully revert to nature then………….!

The full tramway is on the 1880 map but on the 1899 map it stops before Scotch Hall. So it seems likely part was retained and used within the foundry.

There could be a book here – How Ungreen Was My Valley - still it was par for the course in those days.

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