Abraham Darby I
Abraham Darby I was the first, and most famous, of three generations with that name
Abraham Darby
Abraham Darby may refer to:*Abraham Darby I *Abraham Darby II *Abraham Darby III *Abraham Darby IV , High Sheriff of BuckinghamshireAbraham Darby may also refer to:...

 in an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 Quaker family that played an important role in the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

. He developed a method of producing pig iron
Pig iron
Pig iron is the intermediate product of smelting iron ore with a high-carbon fuel such as coke, usually with limestone as a flux. Charcoal and anthracite have also been used as fuel...

 in a blast furnace
Blast furnace
A blast furnace is a type of metallurgical furnace used for smelting to produce industrial metals, generally iron.In a blast furnace, fuel and ore and flux are continuously supplied through the top of the furnace, while air is blown into the bottom of the chamber, so that the chemical reactions...

 fuelled by coke
Coke (fuel)
Coke is the solid carbonaceous material derived from destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal. Cokes from coal are grey, hard, and porous. While coke can be formed naturally, the commonly used form is man-made.- History :...

 rather than charcoal
Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

. This was a major step forward in the production of iron as a raw material for the Industrial Revolution.

Early life

Abraham Darby was the son of John Darby, a yeoman farmer and locksmith by trade, and his wife Ann Baylies.
He was born at Wren's Nest
Wren's Nest
The Wren's Nest is a National Nature Reserve located to the north west of the town centre of Dudley, West Midlands, England. Today, apart from the geological interest, the site is home to a number of species of birds and locally rare flora; the caverns also support large roosting populations of bats...

, Woodsetton, Staffordshire
Staffordshire is a landlocked county in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes, the county is a NUTS 3 region and is one of four counties or unitary districts that comprise the "Shropshire and Staffordshire" NUTS 2 region. Part of the National Forest lies within its borders...

, just across the county boundary from Dudley
Dudley is a large town in the West Midlands county of England. At the 2001 census , the Dudley Urban Sub Area had a population of 194,919, making it the 26th largest settlement in England, the second largest town in the United Kingdom behind Reading, and the largest settlement in the UK without...

, Worcestershire
Worcestershire is a non-metropolitan county, established in antiquity, located in the West Midlands region of England. For Eurostat purposes it is a NUTS 3 region and is one of three counties that comprise the "Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire" NUTS 2 region...

. He was descended from nobility; his great-grandmother Jane was an illegitimate child of Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley
Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley
Edward Sutton, 5th Baron Dudley inherited the lordship of Dudley from his father, also Edward Sutton, and was the last of his name to bear the title. He was married to Theodosia Harrington...


Abraham's great-grandmother was a sister of the whole blood to Dud Dudley, who claimed to have smelt
Smelting is a form of extractive metallurgy; its main use is to produce a metal from its ore. This includes iron extraction from iron ore, and copper extraction and other base metals from their ores...

ed iron using coke as a fuel. Unfortunately, the iron that Dudley produced was not acceptable to the charcoal ironmasters. However, this may have inspired his great-grandnephew Darby to perfect this novel method of smelting.

Darby was apprenticed in Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

 to Jonathan Freeth, a malt mill maker and fellow Quaker. Freeth encouraged Darby to become an active member in the Society of Friends, and he remained so all his life. In 1699, when he completed his apprenticeship, he married Mary Sergeant (1678-1718) and moved to Bristol
Bristol is a city, unitary authority area and ceremonial county in South West England, with an estimated population of 433,100 for the unitary authority in 2009, and a surrounding Larger Urban Zone with an estimated 1,070,000 residents in 2007...

, where he set himself up as a malt mill maker.


There was a small community of Quakers in Bristol, and Darby soon gained a reputation for skill and enterprise. In 1702 Darby joined with a number of fellow Quakers to form the Bristol Brass Company, with works at Baptist Mills
Baptist Mills, Bristol
Baptist Mills an area of the city of Bristol, England. The name derives from the former mills which stood in that area.-History:Baptist Mills is so named from the mills that once stood there. They were fed from the River Frome....

 in Bristol. He brought in 'Dutchmen' to operate a brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin...

 battery work, making cooking pots and other holloware
Holloware is a term that refers to table service items such as sugar bowls, creamers, coffee pots, teapots, soup tureens, hot food covers, water pitchers, platters, butter pat plates and other metal items that went with the china on a table. It does not include flatware. Holloware was constructed...

 under a trip hammer
Trip hammer
A trip hammer, also known as a helve hammer, is a massive powered hammer used in:* agriculture to facilitate the labor of pounding, decorticating and polishing of grain;...


He also developed a method for casting pots in 'greensand' moulds, previously only used for smaller castings. This enabled pots to be mass-produced and to be thinner than those made by the traditional process of casting in loam moulds. For this purpose, he established the Cheese Lane Foundry in 1704. Initially he cast brass pots, but by 1705, he moved on to using iron. A young Welsh
Welsh people
The Welsh people are an ethnic group and nation associated with Wales and the Welsh language.John Davies argues that the origin of the "Welsh nation" can be traced to the late 4th and early 5th centuries, following the Roman departure from Britain, although Brythonic Celtic languages seem to have...

 apprentice, John Thomas, solved the problem by using sand for the mould, with a special casting box and core
Core (manufacturing)
A core is a device used in casting and molding processes to produce internal cavities and reentrant angles. The core is normally a disposable item that is destroyed to get it out of the piece. They are most commonly used in sand casting, but are also used in injection molding.An intriguing example...

. Using this casting method Darby could cast pots of sufficient thinness and lightness. Darby took out a patent on the new casting method in 1707, Darby's successors sold pots over wide areas of England and Wales, and had a virtual monopoly in the trade. For this he used a reverberatory air furnace
Reverberatory furnace
A reverberatory furnace is a metallurgical or process furnace that isolates the material being processed from contact with the fuel, but not from contact with combustion gases...

 of a kind developed by Sir Clement Clerke, initially for smelting lead near Bristol, and applied by him or his son Talbot to iron founding at Vauxhall
-Demography:Many Vauxhall residents live in social housing. There are several gentrified areas, and areas of terraced townhouses on streets such as Fentiman Road and Heyford Avenue have higher property values in the private market, however by far the most common type of housing stock within...


Copper at Coalbrookdale

In 1700, another group of Bristol Quakers (including Edward Lloyd and Charles Harford) had agreed to set up a brass works 'somewhere in England'. It is not clear where, but by 1712, Caleb Lloyd, Jeffrey Pinnell, Abraham Darby and his brother-in-law Thomas Harvey had brass works at Coalbrookdale
Coalbrookdale is a village in the Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, England, containing a settlement of great significance in the history of iron ore smelting. This is where iron ore was first smelted by Abraham Darby using easily mined "coking coal". The coal was drawn from drift mines in the sides...

. This is likely to be linked to an increase in shipment of 'Callumy' (Calamine
Calamine (mineral)
Calamine is a historic name for an ore of zinc. The name calamine was derived from the Belgian town of Kelmis, whose French name is "La Calamine", which is home to a zinc mine...

) up the river Severn
River Severn
The River Severn is the longest river in Great Britain, at about , but the second longest on the British Isles, behind the River Shannon. It rises at an altitude of on Plynlimon, Ceredigion near Llanidloes, Powys, in the Cambrian Mountains of mid Wales...

 from 1704 and Darby's agreement in 1710 to open a copper mine at Harmer Hill
Harmer Hill
Harmer Hill is a village in Shropshire, England on the A528 south of Wem and north of Shrewsbury.The name Harmer comes from the two words "hare" and "mere", as there was a lake situated in a plain below the hill, but it was drained in the 15th century for farm land. The village is home to two pubs,...

 in Myddle
Myddle, also known as Mydle, Middle, ', M'dle, Meadley and Medle is a small village in Shropshire, England about 10 miles north of Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire. Myddle lies in the parish of Myddle with Broughton-le-Strange...

, on behalf of a 'Company of the City of Bristol'. However, Darby was not a partner in establishing Tern Mill, near Tern Hall (now Attingham Park
Attingham Park
Attingham Park is a country house in Shropshire, England, which is owned by the National Trust. It is a Grade I listed building.- Location :It is located near to the village of Atcham, on the B4380 Shrewsbury to Wellington road.- History :...

) in 1709, though his partners Thomas Harvey, Lloyd and Pinnell were. At this point Darby decided to leave the brass company and concentrate on his iron founding pursuits.

Coalbrookdale Furnace

Darby leased the furnace in September 1708, and set to work preparing to get it into blast. His first account book, running from 20 October 1708 to 4 January 1710 survives. This shows the production of 'charked' coal in January 1709 and the furnace was brought into blast on 10 January. Darby sold 81 tons of iron goods that year.

The furnace was used for the first time on 10 January 1709 and the blast appears to have been successful. Darby was probably helped by the fact that the Shropshire 'clod coal' that he was using was fairly sulphur-free. However, experimentation with different fuels continued for some time; for example cargoes of coal were brought up the Severn from Bristol and Neath. Some of the molten iron from the blast was run into pigs
Pig iron
Pig iron is the intermediate product of smelting iron ore with a high-carbon fuel such as coke, usually with limestone as a flux. Charcoal and anthracite have also been used as fuel...

 and sent down the Severn for use in Bristol foundries, but much of it was used to cast pots and other cast iron goods.

The reasons why the iron produced by Darby was not used in forges to make wrought iron have been much debated. The reason may be partly that his pig iron was better for castings than charcoal pig iron, but the presence of silicon as an impurity made it an unattractive feedstock for finery forge
Finery forge
Iron tapped from the blast furnace is pig iron, and contains significant amounts of carbon and silicon. To produce malleable wrought iron, it needs to undergo a further process. In the early modern period, this was carried out in a finery forge....

s. However recent work has thrown doubt on this explanation, which is based on data from the 1720s when the Coalbrookdale Company operated a forge: the forge could hardly even make a profit with charcoal pit iron.

The business was partly financed by a loan from Thomas Goldney of Bristol and by Graffin Prankard and James Peters becoming partners. Later John Chamberlayne became a partner, and Darby's brother-in-law Thomas Baylies
Thomas Baylies
Thomas Baylies was a Quaker ironmaster first in England, then in Massachusetts.-Origins and family:Thomas Baylies was the son of Nicholas Baylies of Alvechurch in north Worcestershire. On 5 June 1706, he married Esther, daughter of Thomas Seargeant of Fulford Heath, in Solihull in a Quaker...

 a manager.


In 1712 Darby offered to instruct William Rawlinson, a fellow Quaker and ironmaster
An ironmaster is the manager – and usually owner – of a forge or blast furnace for the processing of iron. It is a term mainly associated with the period of the Industrial Revolution, especially in Great Britain....

, in the techniques of smelting with coke. Apparently, Rawlinson, the founder of the Backbarrow
Backbarrow is a village in the Lake District National Park in England. It lies on the River Leven about 5 miles northeast of Ulverston in the Furness, traditionally and historically part of Lancashire and still part of Lancashire County Palatine, now also in the region of the county of...

 Iron Company in Furness
Furness is a peninsula in south Cumbria, England. At its widest extent, it is considered to cover the whole of North Lonsdale, that part of the Lonsdale hundred that is an exclave of the historic county of Lancashire, lying to the north of Morecambe Bay....

, did not take up the offer.

In 1714, Darby and his partners renewed their lease (effective from 1717) and then built a second blast furnace. This was slightly more productive in the 1720s than the Old Blast Furnace. It is not clear when this furnace began production but it was certainly in use by 1718.

The Company also secured Vale Royal Furnace in central Cheshire
Cheshire is a ceremonial county in North West England. Cheshire's county town is the city of Chester, although its largest town is Warrington. Other major towns include Widnes, Congleton, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, Macclesfield, Winsford, Northwich, and Wilmslow...

, but this did not come into their possession before Abraham Darby's death. Afterward, it was taken over by Thomas Baylies with other partners.

The Company embarked on a similar venture at Dolgûn, near Dolgellau
Dolgellau is a market town in Gwynedd, north-west Wales, lying on the River Wnion, a tributary of the River Mawddach. It was the county town of the former county of Merionethshire .-History and economy:...

, where John Kelsall
John Kelsall
John Lawrence Kelsall was a British composer, conductor and lecturer.-Studies:...

 was appointed as clerk, but it is probable that the furnace there was not finished until after Darby died, when his widow and the other partners sold off their lease.


Abraham Darby died in 1717, at his home, Madeley Court, Madeley, Shropshire
Madeley, Shropshire
Madeley is a town and civil parish in Shropshire, England, now part of the new town of Telford. The parish had a population of 17,935 at the 2001 census.Madeley is recorded in the Domesday Book, having been founded before the 8th century...

, after 18 months' illness. He was only thirty-nine. He had built a house for himself in Coalbrookdale but did not live to occupy it. He was buried in the Quaker burial-ground at Broseley
Broseley is a small town in Shropshire, England with a population of 4,912 . The River Severn flows to the north and east of the town. Broseley has a town council and is part of the area controlled by Shropshire Council. The first iron bridge in the world was built in 1779 to link Broseley with...

, Shropshire. His widow died only a few months later.

A New Company

Darby's death left the affairs of the business in a mess. His own shares were mortgaged to Thomas Goldney, who then exchanged the debt for eight shares (of 16) in the business. Richard Ford, who married Abraham's daughter Mary had two shares and became manager, but on the widow's death Baylies took out letters of administration
Letters of Administration
Letters of Administration are granted by a Surrogate Court or probate registry to appoint appropriate people to deal with a deceased person's estate where property will pass under Intestacy Rules or where there are no executors living having been validly appointed under the deceased's will...

 as a creditor and sought to sell the works. Darby’s eldest son, Abraham Darby II
Abraham Darby II
Abraham Darby II was the second Abraham Darby in three generations of an English Quaker family that played a role in the period leading up to the Industrial Revolution....

, was only six years old and his two brothers younger still. Accordingly their uncle Joshua Sergeant bought back some of the shares on behalf of the Darby children. The children were sent away to school, and Abraham II began assisting in the management of the works in 1728 and he was awarded four shares in the company in 1732.

His legacy

Abraham Darby made an important step towards the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

. His method of casting pits in sand provided his successors with a viable business that operated for over two centuries. Smelting iron with coke ultimately released the iron industry from the limitation imposed by the speed of growth of trees. Coke-smelted cast iron went into steam engines, bridges, and many of the inventions of the 19th century. Only with coke smelting could there be produced the great quantities of iron made to meet the requirements of the Industrial Revolution.

External links

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