The Mine Owners

Although the mineral deposits of the Coalbrookdale Coalfield were already being worked during the middle ages (and perhaps even earlier) commercial exploitation probably had its roots in the 17th century at the time of the experiments of Sir Basil Brooke of Madeley Court. During the 18th and 19th centuries ownership of the mines began to consolidate in the hands of companies run by a small number of powerful individuals or families. Of these the Fosters, the Reynolds and, above all, the Anstice family were perhaps the most significant. Many of these mine owners saw their role as extending beyond that of mere employers of labour and they played an important part in the life of the local community.

Unlike many industrialists at this time the Anstice family were not Quakers but of the established church with some leanings towards Methodism. They were active in domestic politics and were local philanthropists. They provided a school and a mission room at The Lloyds, Ironbridge in 1852 and were instrumental in the provision of the Anstice Memorial Institute, a working men’s club offering a range of community, educational and recreational facilities in the centre of Madeley. It was named in memory of John Anstice who was head of the family at the time of the Brick Kiln Leasow disaster.

The Anstice family hailed from Somerset and, through connections with the Reynolds family, became involved in various Madeley industrial operations at the end of the 18th century. William Anstice (1781-1850) had a scientific bent, with a particular interest in chemistry (he was a friend of Humphrey Davy, developer of the safety lamp) and geology, as well as being a very able manager and he concentrated on the mining aspects of the family business.

He built up a very solid company. At its peak the Madeley Wood Company employed about one thousand people of whom seven hundred worked at the pits of coal, ironstone and clay while three hundred were engaged at the blast furnaces and brickworks or on the family estates. Madeley town developed considerably during his time and was almost wholly dependent on his operations and those of the smaller Madeley Court Company.

After William’s death in 1850 his son, John became manager of the Madeley works and mines. He had been involved all his working life and had dealt with the Commission on the Employment of Children when they visited Madeley in 1840. Local historian John Randall said of him “in bad times he kept his men employed whether others did or not, he knew them by their names and generally had a joke, a kind word or a cheerful recognition for each; he spared no expense to secure the safety of life and limb in his works and if, by some unforeseen circumstances or some act of carelessness on their part, accidents did occur his grief knew no bounds and he would often weep like a child with the bereaved; he dedicated his energies less to the service of his peers than to those in a condition to require them”.

The family’s main home was at Madeley Wood Hall which had been built in 1805. It suffered severe damage because of subsidence and was demolished soon after the family left the area in the 1920s. They also had a home at Bedlam Hall, which had been damaged by landslip early in the 19th century and was eventually destroyed completely. Another Anstice family home, Marnwood Hall near Buildwas still survives although the family left about 1905.

In 1918 the Madeley Wood Company was bought, from the Anstices, by the Cadman family who had been involved in its senior management for many years. They retained control until nationalisation in 1947.

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