Making History

This is just a brief history of what Wellington made and of the trades and industries which, in many ways, made Wellington. These are some of the main crafts and industries, but as in most market towns the full list would be much longer and more varied. In the 17th and 18th centuries alone, it would also include skinners and shoemakers (known as cordwainers), gunsmiths and glovers, rope-makers and pipe-makers. A century later, and trade directories tell us of cutlers, clock makers, jewellers, milliners, stone masons and more. The biggest change occurred during the 19th century, when workshops grew into factories and turned this middle-ranking market town into an important centre for manufacturing in Shropshire.

The text below is largely taken from the excellent Victoria County History of Shropshire compiled 30 years ago, with some additional material added. More recent research into some of these aspects of Wellington’s past has since been undertaken by historian Allan Frost and others.

Cloth and leather trades

Cloth trades were established in the town by the early fourteenth century when the surnames Chaloner, Mercer. Shearman, Tailor, Teyntour, and Walker are recorded. In the 17th and 18th centuries Wellington housed numerous dyers and tailors – in fact dyeing was one of the town’s principal trades at this time. Walker Street may have housed fullers, and by the late 17th century fulling was done at mills in the villages of Allscott and Walcot, west of Wellington. In the 17th and 18th centuries spinning and weaving were carried on, mostly at a domestic level and outside the town, using local hemp, flax, and wool. Hempen cloth was then among the chief commodities at Wellington markets and fairs. In the early 19th century the town’s drapers, tailors, and clothing retailers remained numerous but local cloth manufacture had probably ceased.

The leather-working surnames Barker and Corvisor occurred in the town in the 14th century, when tanning very likely focused in the area around Tan Bank and Walker Street. Evidence of medieval horn-working – a trade associated with tanning – was unearthed in recent years during work on the town’s new civic centre just off Walker Street. A tannery is also recorded in Walker Street in 1690. Between the 16th and 18th centuries the town had many leather workers and by the late 17th century manorial leather inspectors were elected. The town had a tannery in 1804 but the office of leather sealer lapsed in 1811. No tanneries operated in the town beyond the mid-19th century.

Coopers, carpenters and workers in wood

The surnames Carpenter and Cooper in the 14th century indicate the presence of wood-working crafts.

In the 1840s Wellington was the county’s principal chair-making centre and in 1842 at least sixteen men in New Street traded as chair makers, wood turners, coopers, joiners, cabinet makers, timber merchants, or wheelwrights. One of them was Richard Groom, a former basket maker who, by 1835, had established a timber business that was to make the Grooms one of the town’s leading families. In the 1850s Groom & Sons became Richard & Thomas Groom, the founder’s sons having succeeded him. By the 1880s the Grooms were making everything from clothes pegs to heavy civil engineering timbers, and were reputedly the country’s largest timber buyers. The firm remained at Bridge Road until c.1970.

Francis Stone set up as a cabinet maker and furniture broker in New Street c.1845. By 1870 he had moved to Crown Street and was there succeeded by Richard Stone. The latter also had the Crown Works, Cemetery Road, by 1891. The firm set up c.1910 as wholesale cabinet makers at a new Crown Works in Orleton Lane beside the railway, not far from Henry Addison & Co. who had been making church and school furniture at their Waterloo Works since 1895. Both firms closed around 1940. Today, Wellington’s history of carpentry, wheelwrighting and cabinet-making survives in the Wellington Carriage Company at nearby Long Lane, where craftsman Philip Holder restores historic carriages from around the U.K.

Workers in metal

Bell founding was carried on by the Clibury family from from the 1590s to the 1680s and their business continued into the next century under John Bradshaw. The foundry was said to have been near the later Charlton Arms, Church Street, but there is no evidence of this. John Clibury is depicted in one of our Makers Town murals, casting his first church bell in 1590.

Wellington was known for nail-making by the 18th century. There were workshops in 1724 and a Naylors Square in 1772. Richard Emery was a lessee of nailers’ shops in New Street in 1783, and his son was a nail manuacturer there from 1809 until at least 1828. The town had ten shops in 1842, many of them in or near New Street, off which lay Nailors Row. Some nail making continued until late in the century.

Blacksmiths would have been operating in the town throughout its history, and between 1650-1750 sixteen are recorded in probate inventories. Most had their businesses along Watling Street – unsurprising, as this key route from London was busy with horse-drawn traffic. In the early 1850s, Wellington blacksmith Samuel Corbett took his business up a gear and set up in Park Street as an agricultural implement maker. By the 1870s, as S. Corbett & Son, the firm’s agricultural machinery business was flourishing and by the 1890s Corbetts were among the country’s best known manufacturers. S. Corbett & Son also had an ironmongery business in Church Street, which passed in the 1890s to W. Corbett & Co. By 1909 that firm was making galvanized iron tanks in Alexandra Road. That business survives today, a few miles from Wellington, as Corbetts the Galvanizers.

Printers and publishers

John Houlston opened his bookshop in Wellington’s Market Place around 1775, but it was under his widow Frances that the firm expanded into printing and publishing in 1804. The firm of F. Houlston and Son soon developed a specialism in religious and educational works, typified by the works of their best known authors Mrs. Lucy Cameron and her sister Mrs. Mary Martha Sherwood. Riding a wave of Evangelism in the early years of the 19th Century, the family firm prospered. They dispatched one of their sons to open a London branch in the 1820s, transferring much of their publishing business to the capital whilst continuing printing in Wellington.

Robert Hobson acquired Houlstons’ Wellington business (later Hobson & Co.) c.1850. He also started the town’s first newspaper in 1849. Other printers at this time included Benjamin Smith, father of author Sarah Smith, who was printing in New Street by 1821 and until the 1870s. James Keay was a printer in the same street by 1851 and John Jones (later John Jones & Son) began printing c.1878 at The Lawns off Park Street, later moving to King Street. Keay ceased printing in 1907, whilst Hobson’s and Jones’ businesses both survived into the 1970s.

Maltsters and brewers

Brewing would have taken place in Wellington from its earliest days, and in the 14th Century we find the first records of an ale taster being appointed by the Court Leet. The ale taster was responsible for ensuring the quality of beer being sold, usually by women known as ‘ale wives’ or brewsters, who in the Middle Ages would hang a broom from the front of their house to signify that their beer was ready and for sale. In time, the brooms became more distinctive signs – the sign of The Crown, The Bell, The White Lion etc. – and so it was that the nation’s weird and wonderful pub names came into being.

Malt was milled in Wellington in 1601 and malt mills were mentioned in 1663 and 1759. There were fifteen maltsters in Wellington in 1828. Brewing itself was mostly done on a domestic scale in this period, as shown by the inventories of Wellington residents in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. In over a quarter of the East Shropshire probate inventories studied by Trinder and Cox, brewing equipment was present.  Some 17th- and 18th-century public houses seem to have brewed for wholesale, however, and in 1771 John Espley gave his occupation as brewer.

Things changed dramatically in the 19th Century as large brewing concerns began to spring up around the town, starting with the Shropshire Brewery founded by Richard Taylor in 1851. In the 1870s it passed to Anslow & Wackrill (later J. G. Wackrill). The premises were in Watling Street, opposite the Old Hall.  In 1877 Edwin Pitchford & Co. opened the Union Brewery in the former workhouse on Walker Street (later part of Wellington Library and now cottages). The Union Brewery Co. belonged to Benjamin Garbett by 1891 and remained in business until 1920. The Red Lion Brewery Co. opened premises in New Church Road in 1905 and lasted until 1924.

Wellington’s best-known and longest-lived brewery was The Wrekin Brewery, established by Thomas Taylor in Market Street in 1870. It initially occupied premises opposite the Market Hall before moving down the street to new premises opposite The Pheasant pub. The original buildings went on to house Charles Ensor’s Wrekin Mineral Water Works – the manufacture of soft drinks being another string to the town’s bow in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Back at The Wrekin Brewery, meanwhile, business was booming. Bought by O.D. Murphy in 1921, it grew its portfolio to 201 houses across the county and beyond by 1966. Acquired that year by Greenall Whitley, production ceased at the brewery in 1969 and it was demolished in 1975.

In 2014 brewing returned to Wellington when Dave Goldingay began brewing at The Pheasant – opposite the old Wrekin Brewery site. The premises transferred to Jim Preston’s local Rowton Brewery in 2017.