Dud Dudley and Abraham Darby; Forging New Links

By Carl Higgs

In the annals of Black Country - or indeed British - history, there can be few characters more colourful or more controversial than Dud Dudley. His claim to have succeeded in producing good quality iron by smelting with pit-coal, instead of charcoal, as early as 1620, has divided historians both past and present. Until the 17th century charcoal was the only accepted fuel for smelting iron, known to work with any certainty. However, due to a national crisis in the iron industry, which stemmed from an ever-growing shortage of trees for charcoal, some ironmasters (of whom Dud was one) began experimenting with alternative fuels. Sadly, 'Metallum Martis', Dud's own written account of his efforts to smelt iron using pit-coal, does not reveal the actual method by which he did so, with the result that his claims have been dismissed by some writers - but at that time, it was common practice for skilled craftsmen to keep the principles of their trade a secret so, in all probability, Dud was just protecting his own interests. What 'Metallum Martis' does show is Dud's learning and thorough knowledge of the iron smelting process in particular.

Dr. Robert Plot, writing in his 'Natural History of Staffordshire' in 1686, two years after Dudley's death, stated that ordinarily it would be impossible to smelt usable iron from pit-coal alone, as impurities contained in the resultant metal would cause it to crumble under the hammer. He also drew attention to the fact that the temperature in existing blast furnaces would not be sufficient to ignite raw coal adequately in order to smelt iron. Yet he referred to the "worshipful Dud Dudley" in the same history, showing the esteem in which he held this extraordinary individual.

Abraham Darby, on the other hand, more often receives the credit for succeeding in smelting good iron from coal by first coking it, only twenty or so years later, at Coalbrookdale in 1709 - thus disproving Plot's assumptions. Therefore, Dud Dudley's earlier claims should not be discounted off-hand. He had the know-how and resources to experiment, where others did not.

Many have commented on the fact that Abraham Darby was also a native of Dudley - though actually born in the adjacent Staffordshire parish of Sedgley, in the shadow of Wren's Nest Hill. This prominent natural outcrop of limestone - a provider for one of the raw materials so essential in the iron smelting process - would also have been very familiar to Dud Dudley, especially as he is accredited with making the earliest accurate geological map of the area later to become known as 'The Black Country'. Abraham Darby, however, went first to Bristol and then to Coalbrookdale, where his fame now lies, so his Dudley origins are often overlooked.

Abraham Darby was born to a Sedgley Quaker family in 1678 - six years before Dud Dudley died in Worcester. Not only would he have been acquainted with Dud's 'Metallum Martis', he would have had ample opportunity to see at first hand the remains of Dudley's furnaces and ironworks, which lay scattered across the region. One could speculate further that, having completed his apprenticeship to a Birmingham malt-mill maker in 1699, Darby actively sought out information regarding Dud Dudley's methods, in an effort to improve his own processes for casting brass and then iron pots, whilst engaged at Bristol's Baptist Mills works. This in turn could have led to Darby's early successes with coal. Curiously, Dud Dudley had also been active in Bristol in the 1650's, but he had quarrelled with his business partners and this had resulted in the failure of his enterprises there.

What, then, if it was shown there was another more tangible link between Dud Dudley and Abraham Darby - one "closer to home", which has either been missed or ignored until now - that is, they were blood relatives!

Simplified genealogy of Dud Dudley and Abraham Darby

Dud Dudley was a 'son of Dudley' in more ways than one. His father was Edward Sutton III, 5th Baron Dudley; who lavished his estate on his progeny of eleven illegitimate offspring by his long-term mistress, Elizabeth Tomlinson - a "lewd" and "infamous" collier's daughter of Dudley Town - thus impoverishing himself and his legal heirs. Another of these 'natural' children was Jane Dudley, Dud's older sister. In 1609 she married one Richard Parkshouse of Sedgley. The marriage took place at nearby Tipton and the couple were blessed with several children. Richard was a young attorney from a well born local family, and he also held the title of Steward of the Manor of Kingswinford. He appears to have been well favoured by Lord Dudley. In 1610, Richard was given the position of Esquire to Sir Ferdinando, Lord Dudley's legitimate heir, at the Investiture of Prince Henry, eldest son of King James I.

Himley Road at Askew Bridge near Gornal Wood, on the Himley/Sedgley border - during a rare lull in traffic! This was a major turnpike from Dudley in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the old toll house can be seen on the left, opposite the lane end leading to the Glynne Arms ( better known as 'The Crooked House Inn'). It was at "Hasco Bridge" in about 1622, that Dud Dudley erected a new furnace, presumably so the nearby stream could provide water power for the bellows. According to Dud Dudley's 'Mettalum Martis' of 1665, this furnace was purpose built, "27 foot square, all of stone for his New Invention ... the Bellows of which Furnace were larger than ordinary Bellows are, in which work he made 7 Tuns of Iron per week, the greatest quantity of Pit-cole-Iron that ever yet was made in Great Brittain; near which Furnace, the Author discovered many new Cole-mines 10 yards thick, and Iron-mine under it, according to other Cole-works; which Cole-works being brought unto perfection, the Author was by force thrown out of them, and the Bellows of his new Furnace and Invention, by riotous persons cut in pieces, to his no small prejudice, and loss of his Invention of making Iron with Pit-cole, Sea-cole, &c..."

Richard Parkshouse may be more familiar to those acquainted with Dudley's 'Metallum Martis' as "Parkes". By the 17th century, the surname Parkshouse varied considerably in form and spelling across the Midlands region, influenced as it was by local dialect. The name was also synonymous with that of 'Pershouse'. Indeed, Dud names Richard as his brother-in-law, the latter having been employed to convey samples of Dud's iron to the Tower of London for testing. It is stated that the same "Parkes" also owned a fowling gun made from 'pit-coal iron', which was confiscated by Colonel Leveson, the governor of Dudley Castle, and never returned. Richard Parkshouse died in 1626, at the age of only thirty-eight, and having only that year completed the erection of a pew for his family in Sedgley Church (of which part, carved with his inscription, survives). Richard's widow, Jane, survived him by thirty years, continuing to live with her children at Lower Gornal, within sight of Wren's Nest.

When Jane died in 1656, an inventory was taken of her possessions. One of the people responsible for making this list was a certain John Darby and, on the inventory itself, there is a note to the effect that one ewe and a lamb, owned by widow Jane and valued at four shillings, were then in the keeping of "Brother Darby". Further use of the terms 'brother' and 'sister' in this and other contemporary documents show it to have been a form of familial address, then in general use, though one perhaps especially favoured amongst the Puritan families of mid seventeenth century England. These would of course have included Quakers (more correctly known as the Society of Friends).

The eldest son and heir of Richard and Jane Parkshouse was Edward. He too became a lawyer, like his father, and similarly held the Stewardship of Kingswinford. Not only that, he was Coroner for the County of Staffordshire. Dud Dudley also refers to Edward as his nephew in 'Metallum Martis', stating that it was actually he who had persuaded Dud to write up his iron smelting exploits in that very treatise. This suggests the two men were close confidants, which is significant, as it would appear from the documentary evidence that Dudley found it difficult to get on with anyone - whether they be business partners or close relatives - such was his temperament. Moreover, Edward was named as one of three persons, to whom Dud intended to reveal his secret methods for smelting iron using pit-coal.

Around the same time of this uncle-nephew relationship, the Company of Heralds were instructed to make a tour of each county. They were required to interview leading members of landed or prominent families, and to record their pedigrees and coats of arms. This 'Visitation' took place in Staffordshire in 1663. One of those interviewed was Edward Parkshouse, described as a "Gentleman of Lower Gornal", who duly listed all his known Parkshouse relatives both living and dead, including his late parents Richard and Jane. One other piece of genealogical information given by Edward provides the only hard evidence on which the link between Dud Dudley and Abraham Darby is based. It concerns one of Edward's sisters, Margaret. She had been baptised in Sedgley in 1614 and Edward stated that she had married "John Derby". This, then, was "Brother Darby", the John Darby who had been involved in appraising his mother-in-law's possessions in 1656. Margaret Parkshouse, daughter of Richard and Jane (nee Dudley) and niece of Dud Dudley, was John Darby's wife.

This key information - crucial evidence for connecting the Dudley and Darby families - was reiterated over two hundred years later by Dudley MP and museum benefactor, Brooke Robinson, in his book, 'Genealogical Memoirs', concerning the several local branches of the Pershouse family. Brooke Robinson apparently went little further than this, only deducing that it was "John Darby of Sedgley" whom Margaret Parkshouse married. Perhaps he had seen the recorded baptisms for children of John and Margaret Darby in Sedgley parish registers. Presumably, however, the name of 'Darby' did not ring any bells in his mind and so he did not probe further to find out who this John Darby was. The same information is similarly included in the Pershouse pedigree shown in E. A. Underhill's book, "The Story of the Ancient Manor of Sedgley". But Underhill seems only to have copied from the original transcript of the herald, William Dugdale, made by H. S. Grazebrook in 1884, citing the name of Margaret's husband once more as "John Derby".

Probable site of Old Farm Lodge, home of the Darby family during the second half of the 17th century, to the east of Wren's Nest Hill and Mons Hill, just off Wrens Hill Road. Location is based on an 18th century map of land ownership.

John and Margaret Darby lived at Old Farm Lodge, in the Old Park of Sedgley, which surrounded Wren's Nest Hill, with the village of Upper Gornal to the west. This was an ancient park lodge, seemingly once lived in by Lord Dudley's head deer-keeper John Bagley, who died in 1648. It can be shown that this John Bagley was another great uncle of Margaret Parkshouse, through his marriage to a sister of her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Tomlinson. By the 1640's, however, this part of Sedgley Old Park had been turned over to agricultural use, and John Darby first took out a twenty-one year lease of Old Farm Lodge, from Humble Lord Ward, on 10th December 1649. Significantly, this document bears not only the signature of "John Darbye," but also that of Edward Parkshouse as witness.

View towards Wren's Nest Hill, Mons Hill and Dudley Castle Hill, from Turls Hill Road, Sedgley, as it looks today. The low wooded area in the right middle distance conceals Parkes' Pool Reservoir, the site of Parkshouse/Pershouse Hall until the first quarter of the 19th century, which was the principal seat of the family of that surname, though branches of this family also lived at High Arcal, Turls Hill and Hurst Hill, during the 16th and 17th centuries, including the ancestors of Richard Parkshouse, Dud Dudley's brother-in-law.

John Darby was a locksmith by trade, but also a yeoman farmer. This duality of profession was not uncommon amongst the inhabitants of places like Sedgley and the Gornals, as each trade could be carried on to a greater or lesser extent, according to the seasons. Therefore, John Darby was always in need of a supply of iron for making locks and keys, and he would have known the local smiths and suppliers. 1649 was also the year that his son John Jnr. was born. John and Margaret were blessed with other children besides, including their eldest son - my own ancestor Edward Darby - and daughter Jane, named possibly after Margaret's mother. But it is John Darby Jnr. who provides the blood link between Dud Dudley and Abraham Darby.

Sometime probably during the early 1660's John Darby Snr. and his family became involved with the local Quaker movement that was then prevalent in Sedgley. This Puritan faction was seen as reactionary and still outlawed until the early 1680's. Quaker marriages were not recognised by the Anglican Church. But it is known the Darby family attended the Dudley Friends' Meeting House, where Edward Darby married Mary Cooper in 1671. Recorded births for children of John Darby Jnr. and his wife, Ann, include that of their illustrious son Abraham, in 1678.

Edward Persehouse plaque, Sedgley Church
"In memory of Edward Persehouse of Lower Gornall Gen who here lyeth interrd betwixt his two wives Elizabeth daughter to Thomas Bradley of the Wood in this Parish Gen his first wife and Margaret daughter to John Asteley of Bushbury in this County Gen his second wife He entred into rest May the 13th Ano Dni 1685 Anog. Aetat suae 75 Foelix mutatio ubi Deum pro mundo accipimus pro terrena Coelestia".

So this shows that Abraham Darby, who grew up to become 'the first Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale', was not only the grandson of John and Margaret Darby, he was also the great-grandson of Richard and Jane Parkshouse - making him a great-great-nephew of Dud Dudley (and also therefore, if somewhat ironically, of noble lineage).

Perhaps from the standpoint of industrial history, it is Edward Parkshouse who provides a more solid bridge between the two great men. If Dud Dudley did reveal the secret of his methods to his nephew then, would it not follow that, Edward could have passed on those same secrets to the family of his sister Margaret Darby? It is not known what contact existed between the Darbys and Parkshouses, following Jane's death in 1656. It would seem only natural for "Brother Darby" to have been curious about his wife's uncle, but this was a time of major social and political divide which also split ordinary families.

Dud Dudley was of noble birth, albeit illegitimate. He had been a Royalist Colonel, under Charles I, present at Edgehill and the siege of Worcester. As Quakers, the Darbys probably would not have seen eye to eye with Dudley's political or religious beliefs. Edward Parkshouse's views may have lain somewhere between the two. He was certainly an Anglican, as testified by his appearance in the parish registers, and also by the existence of two inscribed iron tablets in memoriam to himself and his two wives, placed one on either side of the entrance porch to Sedgley Church. No other mention of Margaret Parkshouse or the Darbys is given by her brother Edward in 1663, and this may in itself indicate a cool view of her family's involvement with the Society of Friends.

Persehouse carved pew, Sedgley Church

Nevertheless, Abraham could have caught wind of his elderly relative's exploits from some source, maybe from listening to the tales still told by older members of his immediate family - stories of his great-great-uncle Dud's escapades during the Civil War, of his daring escapes from imprisonment at Worcester, and from the Tower of London itself; or tales perhaps of how, against all the odds of nature, including a great flood - and hostility from rival iron founders, who sought to discredit him - Dud Dudley did in fact successfully smelt iron with pit-coal.

Abraham Darby's grandfather, John Snr., did not die until 1700, by which time Abraham was already married and setting himself up in Bristol. Abraham's father, John Darby Jnr., joined his son's household at Madeley in Shropshire, once Abraham was overseeing his new works at Coalbrookdale, and John actually outlived him by some eight years, dying in 1725. Thereafter, the way lay clear for the next generation in the form of Abraham Darby II. He improved upon and perfected his father's iron smelting techniques using coke from coal, by methods which must surely have contained more than a germ of Dud Dudley's invention, and which could then be seen as the continuation of a hereditary 'right of passage'.

In the past, historians have often taken sides in pitting Dudley against Darby, as rival claimants to the title of 'first' to smelt good iron using coal. In light of this blood relationship, however, discovered only in the course of my own family history research, perhaps the time is ripe for historians to consider them afresh, as two enterprising generations of the same family.

[An interesting email from Raymond Smout arrived recently, it is reproduced below:

I recently browsed the Society's page on Dud Dudley, and found it quite interesting from a diverse point of view. I have myself been a Freemason for some 15 years, so when I saw references in the article referring to Brother Derby etc, with an explanation that in Quaker England the use of such a word was a form of 'familial' address, I was quite surprised. The fact is Freemasons of course refer to each other as Brother, which perhaps you could argue was coincidence.

However the article also refers to a Dr Plot and his history of Staffordshire, in which he refers to 'Worshipful' Darby. The Grand Lodge of Freemasons was formed in London in 1717, but Lodges were certainly in existance many years before then, that was merely a date when several got together to form a governing body. In Masonry, the Master of a Lodge is refered to now adays as the 'Worshipful Master'. However recently I attended a demonstration of a Lodge meeting in an Inn in the early 1700's, and the Master then, was addressed as 'Worshipful'.

It is an unusual word in normal parlance, but significant to Masons, and when used closely with the title 'Brother', I believe it may well have had 'Masonic significance'. Of course it is conjecture by me, but then the author of the piece uses conjecture also, but I doubt he is a Mason.

As always my best wishes to the Society, Ray. Any views or opinions can be emailed to me - Editor]

The author Carl Higgs responded to Ray's observations:

I was in touch with Ray via email about this subject. As I suggested to him, I don't think that use of terms of address; 'Brother' and 'Worshipful', can be taken as evidence of freemasonry at this time. One of the main factors which I believe supports this view is that there are so many instances of such usage in wills, inventories, and other documents from the mid to late 17th century, most often relating to property ownership. Moreover, many appearances of 'Brother...so and so', in written documents were by women, who could never have belonged to the 'Brotherhood of Freemasons'. The term 'Sister' appears equally. Certainly in the case of the Darby family of Gornal, who were Quakers, I think all the symbolism involved in freemasonry would have been anathema to them. So perhaps it is more a case of Freemasonry having retained certain archaic elements of the language, including these particular terms of address, from the days when this society was in its infancy.

There is no direct evidence that Dud Dudley was involved in freemasonry, but we can't actually be sure of this. One of his close associates is now known to have been Elias Ashmole (founder of the 'Ashmolean Museum' in Oxford) from the Civil War years - they were both involved in the defence of the City of Worcester for the Royalists, during the seige of 1646, when Dud Dudley was 'Master of Ordinance'. Elias Ashmole was appointed as assistant to Colonel Dudley. It is now known that they kept in touch and Dud sought Ashmole's advice on a number of matters relating to his predicament, following the defeat of the Royalist forces and Dud's exile in Bristol. Ashmole was a renowned astrologer (later astrologer to Charles II) - his diaries are full of astrological symbols and detailed, but often obscure, references to 'hororary questions' and horoscopes. Ashmole also uses the term 'Brother Dudley' in his diary. Interestingly, Ashmole is known definitely to have been an early Freemason.

In his later years Dud Dudley appears to have been active not only in writing his treatise 'Metallum Martis' and in his continued links with iron smelting, but also active in the field of medicine - albeit of the 17th century kind, based as much on alchemy as on other medical practices of the time (although the 16th century writings of the great Paracelsus were by then becoming widely known and more accepted).

Dud had already masqueraded as a Dr. Hunt while avoiding Cromwell's troops in Bristol - with some success by all accounts - and perhaps he had also made some study of medicine in his younger days while at Balliol College, Oxford. What is now known is that in 1679 a licence was granted from the Archbishop of Canterbury, permitting Dud Dudley to practise as a physician (apparently in London). Wording on the application suggests he had already been practising in this role in Worcester since the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, and chief amongst the names of those who were putting Dud forward for the licence was that of Elias Ashmole, also a notable physician in his own right. Dud was by now approaching eighty years old! (This information only came to my notice on reading an article published in the Black Countryman magazine [Vol. 39 No 3] by Martin White, and all credit should go to him for bringing this important knowledge to light.)

One only has to look at the planetary symbols which appear next to the inscription on Dud Dudley's tomb, and that of his wife Eleanor Heaton, in St. Helen's Church in Worcester, to see that Dud was also interested in the association between the alchemical and astrological aspects of metals like iron (Mars) and quicksilver (Mercury). This was probably a strong influence on his approach to medicine and perhaps his philosophy on life generally. It may therefore be that Freemasonry did interest him, but there is nothing in the records to show this for certain.

Finally, Dr Robert Plot, who wrote his 'Natural History of Staffordshire' (published in 1685, the year after Dud Dudley died) uses 'Worshipful' not only for Dud Dudley but for several other prominent men included in his text, so again this is not direct evidence of any connection with freemasonry. Having said this, Plot was another close associate of Elias Ashmole, since he became the first curator of the Ashmolean Museum, and may have been a Freemason himself. Plot also knew Dud Dudley's nephew Edward Parkshouse of Lower Gornal, and visited him there, since he records in his book how Mr. Parkshouse had shown him the various types of grit stones used to make edge tools, as well as other minerals dug from his property. Possibly, Plot obtained much of his information about Dud Dudley from Edward Parkshouse, who is known also to have been a subscriber to Plot's book.

Thought this would be of interest to readers and help to clarify content in the above email from Raymond Smout.

Further information and photograph from Carl, date March 2009

Dud Dudley is buried at St. Helen's, Worcester, but the monument inside the church was actually put there by Dud Dudley himself, when his wife Eleanor Heaton died in 1675. Although no memorial inscription was added to the monument when Dud died in 1684, the fact he could afford to have it erected only nine years earlier, suggests he was far from penniless.

In the early 1670s Dud seems to have been involved with a new horse-powered furnace near Queen's Cross, Dudley. This enterprise may have been helped by Dud's nephew Edward Parkshouse. There is a document at Dudley Archives which shows Edward was leasing land in the vicinity, with particular rights to mine iron and coals from it, at exactly the time of Dud starting activities here. Sir Clement Clarke was also involved with this furnace and continued to work it after Dud was no longer present.

From as late as 1679 we also have an application to the Archbishop of Canterbury, for a licence for Dud Dudley to practice as a doctor (presumably in London) though it is here also stated that Dud had already been practising in this capacity in Worcester since about 1660 (the 'Restoration'). Elias Ashmole was one of the signatories to this document, recommending Dud as being fit for this role.

From what I had started to uncover, it appears that Dud certainly had a young son 'born of his old age', for whom he wanted to provide some sort of security for the boy's future. There are documents (which I've not personally seen) in which Dud applied for mining rights in the Malvern Hills at this time, but nothing seems to have come of this - probably because Dud died before anything could. The suggestion here is that Dud either remarried after Eleanor's death in 1675, or else a son was born illegitimate. However, there does not appear to be any trace of a marriage or a baptism. What there is, are later entries in the parish registers for Abberley, Worcestershire, and Tipton, Staffordshire, showing baptisms and burials of children to a couple named 'Dudda' and Ann Dudley. This was after Dud Dudley had died, so it cannot be the same person. But this may well be the 'young son' grown up, married, and having children of his own. In the 1740s, a house in Friar Street, Worcester was sold. It had been the property of one Dud Dudley - again, presumably Dud's son.

The more one researches, the more questions seem to arise, but Dud Dudley is certainly someone who will never cease to fascinate.

I'm attaching a photo I took a few years back of the monument in St. Helens', erected by Dud to the memory of his wife. The inscription and other carving was recut in the early 20th century. Note the astrological/alchemical symbols for metals with that for iron (Mars) in red.

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