10 September 2012

Heptinstall's File Manufactory, Ann Street

File Maunfactory. Circa 1789 to 1872.

The etchings below were originally produced in 1800, and were described as being part of Heptinstall's 'Mill for Grinding Files', the etching produced 'by P Rothwell after a drawing by T Hollins of men making files'.*

Heptinstall's file manufactory was probably Ann Street's longest standing business, it was situated behind the small house (left) at number 27 (before number changes it was 26), the family living in this original dwelling house with the manufactory buildings being built in what had originally been the garden behind. It was, in part, this ability to build onto the properties that helped the industries thrive, businesses could extend from the houses that people lived in, and properties could be purchased with land attached with the idea to build a manufactory. John Heptinstall began his business in the mid 1700s in Walsall, and his son Joseph had expanded the business in Birmingham's Ann Street in the 1780s or 90s.*  The site was probably chosen because it had a water supply (possibly only a stream, but now gone), which was used to power some of the machinery (see bottom image below), and this water supply is mentioned in 1796 when a neighbour is requested by their landlord to 'repair [...] the water courses'.*

Unlike descriptions of dark and stuffy work-places, the workshop
(top image below) seems flooded with light by the many windows that would have also allowed a good flow of air. You can see the employees at work at their seperate benches, as well as both water and hand powered file grinders in use, which shows some of the seperate processes in making the files. There is a suggestion of a friendly work environment as well, the men are not all with their heads down, some are raised as if in conversation. This atmosphere is asserted when James Pool, an employee of 40 years, had to travel to London in 1838 to defend his friend, Samuel Phipps, accused of stealing; as his 'shopmates' helped to pay some of his travel expenses, though it is not mentioned that his master paid anything towards the trip.*

Inside the Manufactory

The inside of Heptinstall's file manufactory taken from Bisset's directory
of 1808. Original drawing by Thomas Hollins. 

The water mill powering the equipment. Files can be seen on the floor.
Original drawing by Thomas Hollins.  

The business had also been known as Heptintall and Parker's (William Parker being John Heptinstall's son-in-law), but in the early 1820s, when Joseph Heptinstall died and his wife Ann married William Lawledge, the business became known as Heptinstall and Lawledge's. The business remained on the same site in Ann Street till the whole part of that street was demolished in the 1870s for the new Council House to be built. The file business at this time moved to new premises.

* References on request.Birmingham History

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