John Bagnall

John Bagnall, the elder, was baptized in St Leonard’s Broseley on 4 Nov 1730. In his will of 1800 he describes himself as a yeoman of Darlaston, some 40 miles to the east. This description though, is a little misleading as it might imply that he earned his living largely through agriculture. We can be pretty sure that the reason he moved to the area was because of the Coal mines that existed or were even opened by him on his land in Darlaston (probably behind Pinfold Street). His sons and grandsons helped build a number of significant Iron Works, first at Gold’s Hill, just west of Walsall, that became a major force across West Bromwich, Walsall and Tipton best known and named after the second generation, John Bagnall the younger, as “John Bagnall and Sons”.

It is difficult to unravel these first steps on the rise of the family to its peak in the 1840’s as coalmasters and ironmasters, but the fact that they came from Broseley in Shropshire has to be significant. Broseley was a few miles from Coalbrookdale on the River Severn, where the proximity of iron and coal deposits ignited the Industrial Revolution. Broseley had an early ironworks in first the Old Willey Forge (fl 1690) and then the New Willey Forge pioneered by John Wilkinson, who was a near contemporary of John Bagnall. These forges had direct access to the River Severn at Jackfield just south of Ironbridge, which itself was built in 1779. It is possible that John Bagnall had some kind of apprenticeship here or a similar outfit – but there is no direct evidence other than his self evident later expertise. Histories of John Bagnall and Sons describe John Bagnall, the elder, as a Mining Engineer but they are written in the nineteenth century with the benefit of hindsight. This needs to be squared with his self proclaimed description as a ‘Yeoman’. He was a literate man but could well have been largely self-taught.

John Wilkinson, dubbed ‘Iron-mad Wilkinson”, himself set up the Bradley Iron Works in a move from Broseley in about 1766 – his advances in iron making techniques must have at the very least informed John Bagnall’s own investments and one suspects there was probably a strong element of derived technology between two Broseley men operating forges little more than three miles apart. Yet there is still a complete lack of any meaningful documentation of John Bagnall’s family in Broseley and this makes it impossible to say how the family first made its way into the coal and iron industry. Whatever the case, some time just after 1770 John Bagnall, the elder, and his young sons, armed with some skills and some money, saw the opportunity and moved some 40 miles east to Darlaston where the situation seemed to be more exploitable. As the technologies for smelting iron in larger and larger quantities and as the canals allowed more rapid and efficient transportation, it has to be a canny recognition of the circumstances that drew him to that particular location and placed his descendants in the right spot to become very rich pretty quickly.

John Bagnall married Margaret Dixon in St Leonard’s, Broseley on 2 Dec 1753. It would seem that she was also from Broseley and there is no evidence that the Dixon family brought a marriage settlement or other incentive to move to Darlaston. It would seem most likely that John Bagnall was in the position to acquire (or even inherit) essentially agricultural land in and around Walsall that he believed could yield coal. From this stepping stone his sons were to inherit the nucleus of a coal and iron forging business based in Gold’s Hill between Walsall and Tipton and that would make John Bagnall and Sons one of the largest producers of Coal and Iron in the West Midlands within little more than one generation.

John Bagnall had four sons and three daughters that survived into adulthood – William Bagnall (1754-1793), Elizabeth Bagnall (b 1756), John Bagnall (1759-1829), Edward Bagnall (1761-1805), Mary Bagnall, Daniel Bagnall (1765-1858) and Margery Bagnall (d 1794).

The most important document to start with is John Bagnall’s will of 1800, whose original seemingly written in his own hand with erratic spelling, has survived. He would have been seventy years old when he wrote it. By 1800 his eldest son William was already dead and so was his youngest daughter Margery Robinson. The two named executors are Edward and Daniel Bagnall and much of the residual property is divided evenly in six parts between John, Edward, Daniel, Elizabeth Doughty, Mary Bayley and Mary Robinson – the latter being a granddaughter. Although we know that Sarah Bagnall widow of William was still alive in 1800 she is omitted probably as she had no surviving children – it mentions land that she owns so she seems to have already been provided for. It would also appear that John Bagnall, the younger, already had control of the Colliery Land, specifically the Gold’s Hill Iron Works. The Bagnalls’ name first appears associated with the Gold’s Hill works about 1780 so John Junior may indeed have been more of a force behind its enlargement and investment than his father, John the elder. Certainly there is no shortage of evidence of its activities after 1810, by which time the eight sons of John Bagnall the younger, were being groomed to run the rapidly expanding business.

The street that today runs though Gold’s Hill is still called Bagnall Street which must date from when it ceased to be farmland in about 1780.

In later years in the 1850’s the Bagnalls gained a reputation for being considerate employers and indeed built a school. This attitude was probably fuelled by Methodism as some of the children of both John Bagnall the younger and Daniel Bagnall, two of John Bagnall’s sons, can be found being baptized in Darlington Street Methodist Church in Wolverhampton.

John’s son Edward Bagnall died aged 44 in 1805 and some of his descendants are documented on this site, especially Edward Bagnall Dimmack. John’s other son Daniel Bagnall lived until 1858 and died at the age of 93 and outlived most of his nephews. His estate was valued at only £200.

John Bagnall was buried in St Laurence Darlaston on 19 Mar 1800. His wife Margaret was buried on 12 Feb 1815. Her age was recorded as 85 and her address as Pinfold Street, Darlaston.

Pinfold Street backs on to the main coal mines of Darlaston at the time and it brings to life the reference in John Bagnall’s own will when he refers to extracting coal in the garden. This is a separate working to the Gold’s Hill site, so might add credence to the view that Gold’s Hill was more the creation of John Bagnall, the younger rather than John Bagnall, the elder.

Selected Sources

  • Parish Registers of St Laurence, Darlaston and St Leonard’s Broseley,
  • Will of John Bagnall, Yeoman of Darlaston, Probate 11 Jul 1800, Lichfield Record Office.
  • Will of Edward Bagnall, Coalmaster of Wednesbury, Probate 16 Jun 1806, Lichfield Record Office
  • Will of John Bagnall, Coal and Iron Master of West Bromwich, Probate 17 Apr 1830. National Archives PCC