The Midworth family, Art castings & the beginnings of Bradley’s Foundry
The Wellington Foundry on Northgate in Newark was established by Joseph Midworth (1779 – 1860).
Joseph was a native of Mansfield where he served an apprenticeship in the iron trade with his uncle, Samuel Midworth (or ‘Medworth’ as he appears in Pigot’s 1828 directory for Nottinghamshire).
Samuel was himself a successful iron founder having made his fortune casting machine parts for use in the cotton Mills that once proliferated in Mansfield.
Joseph began erecting his foundry (The Wellington Foundry) in Newark – the first ever to appear in the town – in 1814 on Northgate, building himself a house (which he named Wellington House) adjacent to it.
Both, no doubt, were named in honour of the Duke of Wellington – the Iron Duke – and popular military triumphs (soon to be topped off by his defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815).
Partnership with Thomas Wilson
A new line in copper casting was established when Jospeh entered partnership with Thomas Wilson, a coppersmith, in about 1821. (A bell made by Midworth & Wilson in 1842 is pictured below).
Prior to the partnership with Midworth, Thomas Wilson is listed severally in the local trade directories as a “Brazier” (1784), “Tinman & Brazier” (1793), and “Copper & braziery warehouse” (1809).
By 1832 the Wellington Foundry on Northgate is listed in directories as being run by “Wilson & Midworth”, whilst Pigot’s directory of 1835 identifies Wilson and Midwith [sic] as “Iron & Brass Founders & cock & metre makers, Northgate”.
The foundry is clearly shown on the Newark Tithe map of 1841/2 (Plot 30) as being pretty much at the very extent of the town’s built-up area on the west side of Northgate.
The Midworth-Wilson partnership lasted until Thomas Wilson’s death in 1844, after which Joseph was joined in the business by his own two sons, John (b.1816) and William (1817 – 1899), the business now taking the name J & W Midworth.
Expansion & Fine Iron Castings.
As their father (by now in his 70s) began to withdraw from the business, John and William embarked on a period of expansion, buying out a number of other small local foundries and broadening their product range to include agricultural machinery (particularly ploughs see advert below), street furniture, and a range of household items such as letter-racks, ornamental daggers and candlesticks.
And t was under the brothers’ proprietorship too that the company began to diversify into fine iron castings, for which they later became renowned.
In Newark the cast the original church railings (removed during the Second World War and only replaced in 1992), and the original railings at Newark Cemetery on London Road. (The main circuit railings at the cemetery are modern – erected 1992 – and the vehicle access gate dates from the 1960s; but the fine flanking gate piers at the main London Road entrance (pictured) are pure Midworth – and of a very high order. Dating from 1856, they comprise six hollow supporting columns, surmounted by pierced finials, with decoration inspired by Gothic tracery).
The magnificent cast iron coat of arms above ‘The Old King’s Arms’ pub on Kirkgate, Newark, may also be a product of the Midworth foundry – although this has not been confirmed. The casting was probably a ‘second’, as repair work on it is still visible, so it is summised that it was bought cheap to do service at this local pub, whereas another ‘perfect’ casting was sold on to fulfill the commission.
Midworths at the Great Exhibition?
Country House Commissions
Elsewhere in the locality Midworths’ commissions included iron gates for Fulbeck Hall and Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire (still in place), and work at Ossington Hall in Notts (demolished 1963).
Their most notable country house commission, however, was for the interior iron and brass work for Sir Gilbert Scott’s Gothic revival masterpiece, Kelham Hall just outside Newark. Here may still be seen a number of finely decorated iron fireplaces, cast iron flower designs, and a barley twist iron balustrade with brass handrail on the main staircase.
Alongside these prestigious country house commissions, William Midworth also spent many hours casting commemorative mediallions and plaques, largely for his own interest and as an exercise in furthering the art of fine casting.
Medallions featuring Oliver Cromwell, Aristotle,, Wellington, and Charles I are featured in the picture opposite.
The Bradley Connection
In c.1874, for reasons that remain unclear, the partnership of John and William Midworth appears to have been dissolved. John left Newark, although his subsequent whereabouts and the date of his death remain uncertain.
The Wellington Foundry on Northgate was sold to Thomas Bradley. Click HERE for information on the Bradley family. The foundry was still referred to as the “Wellington Foundry (Iron & Brass)” on the 25″ OS map of 1919 (Sheet 30:15), although to many it was by then usually referred to as Bradley’s foundry. For many years the name ‘Bradley’s’ was picked out in white brick on the boundary wall to Northgate.
Critical acclaim for William Midworth’s art castings
Following the sale of the Wellington Foundry and his brother John’s departure from Newark, William Midworth continued in the iron-founding business, setting up on his own account near the canal lock in Newark.
He is listed as a Brass Founder and Finisher at the Top Lock, Trent Bridge, Newark; In a trade directory of 1882 he shown as having entered partnership with a Mr. White at Lock Mills on Northgate.
This last partnership ended in 1888, and, at the grand old age of 71, William, with eyesight failing, was once again alone.
Although he continued trading, his fortunes (which had never been certain since leaving the Wellington Foundry) began to falter. In 1882, when he began his venture with White, he had been living in a ‘Gentleman’s Villa’ in Spring Gardens; following their break-up in 1888 he is recorded as living in a terraced house in Crown Street, whilst his last residence in Pelham Street was even more modest.
Yet despite his failing fortunes, William’s reputation was in the ascendancy, with his fine castings verging on the brink of national recognition. In June 1899 the Newark Advertiser (7-6-1899 p8 c1-2) reported that, “the authorities of the British Museum had sent a representative to Newark to glean information respecting some famous castings” which had emanated from the Wellington Foundry in William’s time.
“They were”, continued the report, “most delicately and artistically moulded, and, indeed, formed a revelation in metal castings the like of which for exquisite finish and perfect detail had never been known or seen before”.
Unfortunately, such recognition came too late, for only a month late, in July 1899, William Died aged 82.
He had spent the last few years of his life at North Muskham being cared for by his two unmarried daughters, and, despite being totally blind, had continued casting iron for his own amusement in their garden shed.
In retrospect, the Advertiser’s report of June 1899 stands as a fitting tribute to William’s extraordinary skill. Although not able to see them himself, William proudly displayed many specimens of his work including a model of a crayfish “cast from life” with “the claws and other appurtenances cast in the solid” – this had been exhibited at London and Nottingham.
There was also “an epergne for flowers, the design of poppies in bud, flower and leaf, which was very natural”, bronze floral letter-racks, oval mirror stands in ivy leaf pattern, in bronze and lacquer colours, standard lamps, and a pair of altar candlesticks in brass.
“The secret”, concluded the report, “lay in the mixture of metals and the composition of the moulds. With a secret other men would have achieved fame and fortune for so artistic and fine is this work that it would have sold most readily, but Mr. Midworth had no such utilitarian thoughts. He followed his art for its own sake and the pleasure he derived therefrom. To see him delicately finger these creations of his genius is to realise in some dim sense the devotion he has for his craft. His own admission is very prosaic: ‘ I was always short-sighted’, said he, ‘and having a large nose, they said if I played cricket I should get it knocked off. I therefore followed my natural inclination, and modelled everything I could get hold of’. We said this statement was prosaic, but in view of the blindness which now envelopes him, the reference to his short-sightedness is surely touched with pathos”.
NOTE: An unpublished typescript on the Midworth family of Newark (29pp) by G. Hemingway (1982) is available for Reference use at Newark Library
Researched & Written by TW.