Saltford Brass Mill Project
Copyright (C) 2010 Saltford Brass Mill Project. All Rights Reserved
Saltford Brass Mill was one of a series of mills working in brass in the Avon Valley during the eighteenth century. Many of these mills, as at Saltford, employed waterwheels to power processes used by the company. Abraham Darby started making brass at Baptist Mills on the Frome in Bristol (near the start of the M32) in 1702. Brassmaking was much later transferred to Keynsham's Avon Mill, because of its better water supply. River transport was used to deliver brass ingots and coal up to Saltford; Weston Mill, Bath and other mills of the company.

The earliest main process involved the shaping of brass sheet into hollow-ware vessels, such as pans, bowls, and vats. Large water-powered hammers were used originally, to beat the brass ingots into sheet, and then faster hammers shaped the sheet into hollow-ware. This beating process was known as 'battery', so Saltford Mill was known as a brass battery mill.

Rolling mills (pairs of heavy rolls working like an old fashioned mangle) were soon introduced by the company, which produced brass sheets more evenly than hammers. Saltford Mill also became a rolling mill but hammers continued to be used for the production of hollow-ware.

The brass was malleable enough to be worked cold, but rolling and hammering could continue only for a limited period as the brass would 'work-harden', causing cracking. To prevent this, partially worked brass was periodically softened by heating, or 'annealing' it.

When this work originally started, individual pieces were heated over charcoal. Soon the Bristol industry devised bulk annealing in large furnaces heated with local coal. The brass goods were protected from damaging coal fumes by an inner sealed arch, introducing a new type of large-scale `muffle' furnace. The remaining Saltford annealing furnace, one of four once working at the mill, is the best surviving example of this important local innovation. The only other examples are at Kelston Mills, where only the outer walls remain.

Skilled immigrant craftsmen came from traditional brass making areas of the Continent bringing their valuable expertise. The skills of these men partly account for the growing success of the industry throughout the eighteenth century. Many of their descendants stayed at the local mills and several of their families continue to live in the Avon Valley today, with names such as Buck, Crinks, Craymer, Fray, Frankham, Ollis, Racker and Steger.
History of Saltford Brass Mill
Joan Day
Author: Bristol Brass: The History of the Industry
Brass Mill History
Brass Production
Visit Us
Joan Day has conducted extensive research into the Bristol Brass Industry and published a number of papers on the subject in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Those papers still constitute the basis of our understanding of the industry, copies of which can be downloaded by clicking on the icons below.
Technical terms used in the brass mills in the Saltford and Keynsham area
The Costers: Copper-Smelters and Manufacturers
The Newcomen Society
The Old Brass Mills, Saltford
Bristol Industrial Archaeology Society
The Saltford Brass Annealing Furnace
Historical Metallurgical Society
The Continental Origins of Bristol Brass
Industrial Archaeology Review
The Bristol Brass Industry: Furnace Structures and their associated remains
Historical Metallurgical Society
Published Papers
Bristol Brass Company
The history of Saltford Brass Mill is inextricably linked with the fortunes of the Bristol Brass Company, the key events in it history being summarized in the timelines below:
Bristol Brass Company Time Line
The Avon Valley Copper and Brass Industry
Bristol Industrial Archaeology Society
Developments in Copper Smelting - 1650 to 1720
Brass Industry Developments - 1660 to 1740
Brass Industry Developments - 1740 to 1840
Tony Coverdale has built upon Joan Day's research and continues to explore the history of the Bristol Brass Industry.  A name which appears a number of times in contemporary records, but is little known today, is John Padmore, who was active between the 1690s and 1730s.  In his will, Padmore describes himself as a millwright and shareholder in the Bristol Brass Company. Records show that he was engaged in a diverse range of projects, including the construction of:
  • 1695:   Water lifting engine, possibly an early steam engine.
  • 1715:   Floating Harbour at Sea Mills, Bristol.
  • 1717:   Copper smelting mill near Swansea.
  • 1727:   Avon Navigation between Bristol and Bath. 
  • 1729:   Ralph Allen's Railway and Cranes in Widcombe, Bath.
  • 1729:   Steam pumping engine on the Gower Peninsula.
  • 1732:   Copper battery and rolling mill near Swansea.
  • 1733:   Great Crane in the Mud Dock in Bristol
    Today we would describe John Padmore as an engineer, we should therefore consider Padmore as an engineer in the age of enlightenment. In 2016, Tony published a paper on John Padmore in the Journal of the Bristol Industrial Archaeology Society, a link to which is below.
    Warmley Company
    The Warmley company operated from 1746 to 1768.  The company was founded by Nehemiah and William Champion, formerly of the Bristol Brass Company, and for 20 years was a rival to the Bristol Company.  A survey of the archaeological remains at Warmley was carried out in 1995 a copy of which can be downloaded below:
    Warmley Brassworks: A Survey for Management
    Hereford Archaeological Unit
    John Padmore: Eighteenth Century Engineer and Polymath
    Stephen Hawkins conducted research into calamine extraction on Mendip as part of a Maters Degree in Landscape Archaeology at the University of Bristol.  His dissertation, published in 2003, is at the link below.
    A History of Calamine Extraction on Mendip
    Bristol Copper and Brass
    Calamine Mining on Mendip
    Recent Research
    In the decade between 2010 and 2020, members of the Saltford Brass Mill Project have conducted further research into the mill at Saltford and also constructed replicas of some of the equipment that would have been installed their.  An account of their work is at the link below.
    The Saltford Brass Mill Project: A Decade of Industrial Archaeology
    Saltford Brass Mill Project
    William Champion's Warmley Brass and Zinc Works
    Archaeological Investigations 1994 to 2011
    Etheridge and Dungworth
    Avon Archaeological Unit
    Warmley Brass Works
    Analysis of brassworking debris
    White and Dungworth
    English Heritage
    Scientific Examination of Zinc Distillation Remains at Warmley
    Dungworth and White
    Historical Metallurgy
    A number of other papers on the archaeological excavations at Warmley and examination of remains and debris were published between 2007 and 2012, which can be accessed at the links below:
    The Ingenious Mr Padmore - Eighteenth Century Engineer
    Bristol Industrial Archaeological Society