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!
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
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
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
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
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,
|"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
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,
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
As always my best wishes
to the Society, Ray. Any views or opinions can be emailed to me
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
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
The more one researches, the more questions seem to arise,
but Dud Dudley is certainly someone who will never cease
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.
email the web master Mick Pearson: