Monday, 13 October 2014

A Tour of the Chemical Works of Chance Brothers (1862)

Chance Chemical Works in 1862.....more detailed close-up's below.

In 1862 an unnamed journalist for The Illustrated Times took a visit to Chance Brothers' chemical works in Oldbury, and true to the paper's title, the article was published with a wonderful engraving of the works (see above). The article will take you back to 1862, as well describe the sense of wonder that these new industries evoked for the Victorian observer.

The reporter sets out by train in the morning “towards the confines of that mysterious district known as the “Black Country”, “passing the outskirts of Birmingham where the tall chimneys rise at intervals on either side of the railway line”. “The approach to Oldbury is marked by a heavy pall of smoke which, hanging over the whole tract of the country, shrouds Nature in a dun eclipse. Amidst the undefinable labyrinth of pit banks and hillocks, mounds of cinder, craggy masses of clinker, often lighted by a lurid glare into strange and fitful shape, rise the irregular forms of innumerable shafts, kilns, tall, pyramidal blast-furnaces and strange uncouth machinery. Crowded together amidst this volcanic waste, as though separated forever from the life of villages and country homesteads, lie the pitbanks, the collieries, the forges, the works for iron and steel and gas, tin and tar, copper, oil and lead, the soaperies, the distilleries, the potteries, and, as it seems, a hundred others, for supplying the world with material which has become a second nature wrung from the necessities of the first. Here, amidst din and clangour, rises the hot breath of a thousand forges, the heavy vapour of brick and lime kilns. The black and choking smoke of mighty fires, all mingling in one great, black, boding cloud which broods immovable above the earth”.

Detail of canal or 'cut' coming into the Chance Works. View photographs of Chance & Hunt canal boats here.
The writer of the article notes “a continuous passage of horses and wagons” to and from the waterside.

Alighting at the Oldbury and Bromford Lane railway station he followed the River Tame; "the course of a brook whose waters were, perhaps, years ago fresh and limpid, come upon a building which at once indicates that I have reached my destination".

He notes with some trepidation, the size of the works, which spread over 24 acres; “a piece of information which might have given me some reason for dismay” had he not received “the promise of able guidance”. “Arriving at the gatehouse, where I undergo a brief but effective examination by the official there located, I am at once admitted to the interior, and, passing the laboratory, where glass jars and labelled bottles of various colours and sizes, scientific apparatus, and miniature scales claim only a comprehensive glance.”

Outside he passed “between glittering cliffs that change their hues as I proceed from pearly white to shimmering sea green – see masses of green [stalagmites] heaped here and there – stop before the sheen of crystals fellow to those which have been sent from these same works at Oldbury to the eastern annexe of the Great Exhibition – walk upon snow-pure sands – gaze wonderingly at hillocks of red, and brown, and black, and brilliant colours, amidst which rise two gigantic chimneys and a score of towers.”

Detail of rural Oldbury in the distance, and the canal in the foreground. This is possibly the sawmill, used
for producing casks and packaging for their products, as the writer notes "a gigantic stack of timber".  
Detail of yard with horse drawn wagons.
Detail (slightly blurry) of exercise yard, which is at the bottom of the main picture. The Chance Works
employed about 600 at the time.

Below is the original article, which can be viewed at Sandwell Archive (BS6/9/12/5/1)

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