Turner’s Brass House, Coleshill Street

We know that by 1750 the site  on the corner of Coleshill Street and Leek Street was occupied by ‘Turner’s Brass House.’1

In 1753 it can be seen  to the right of St Bartholomew’s chapel on the East Prospect of Birmingham.2

Samuel Bradford’s Plan of Birmingham 1750
Samuel Buck and Nathaniel Buck. East prospect of Birmingham, 1753.

 In 1754 it was visited by Reinhold Angerstein, who noted:

The brass-works … belongs to Mr Turner and consists of nine furnaces with three built together in each of three separate buildings. The furnaces are heated with mineral coal, of which 15 tons is used for each furnace, and melting lasting ten hours. Each furnace holds nine pots, 14 inches high and nine inches diameter at the top. Each pot is charged with 41 pounds of copper and 50 pounds of calamine. Mixed with [char]coal. Duiring charging I observed that a handful of coal and calamine was first placed on the bottom of the pot, then came the mixture, which was packed in tightly, followed by about a pound of copper in small pieces, and finally again coal and calamine without copper, covering the top. This procedure was said to lengthen the life of the pot both at the top and the bottom. The result of one charge was 75 pounds of brass, with a value of £4.10s per cwt. The calamine comes from Derbyshire,… , but the copper is brought from Wales. The foremans wages were 14 shillings and those of the labourers 9 shillings per week. There are six workers for the nine furnaces and casting takes place twice every 24 hours. The yearly production amounts to 300 tons. The price of the copper is 12d per pound and of the brass 10d per pound. 3

From R. R. Rangerstein’s illustrated travel diary, 1753-1755,, tr. Berg, Torsten & Peter, 2001, pp38-39.

William Hutton, who arrived in Birmingham in May 1751, tells us that:


The manufacture of brass was introduced by the family Turner, about 1740, who erected those works at the south end of Coleshill-street; then, near two hundred yards beyond the buildings, but now the buildings extend about five hundred beyond them. …4

In 1819 a note on brass in a Birmingham guide repeats Hutton’s date:


This article, so necessary to the manufactures in this town, was for a great length of time procured from the wealthy people of Bristol, which caused a manufactory of brass to be established here, about the year 1740 ….5

In the first scholarly report on ‘Brass and Brass Manufacture’ published in a series of reports collected by the Local Industries Committee of the British Association at Birmingham, in 1865. W.V. Aitken first states:

It is a matter of regret that, with the exception of a brief, indefinite, and partial allusion to the Brass Trade of Birmingham, made by William Hutton, to be found in his celebrated history of the town, we have no record to guide us as to the introduction, rise, and progress of one of our now most important branches of local industry.6

He goes on, in a mammoth sentence, to remove Hutton’s vagueness:

In the brief space of some fifty years after the introduction of the new metal, the manufacture of articles in it had become one of the specialities of the manufactures of the town, and so important had the demand for brass articles of Birmingham manufacture become, that the demand for the raw material procured from Cheadle, Macclesfield, Bristol and elsewhere, previous to 1740, in that year induced a spirited manufacture of the name of Turner to embark in the manufacture of brass. The first brass house erected in Birmingham was in Coleshill Street ….7

The definitive textbook on the brass industry written in 1925 cites Aitken:

… Encouraged by the good prospects of the trade one Turner set up brass works in Coleshill Street in 1740. …8

 For the benefit of future historians, the date, 1740, was now carved in stone.

An examination of the early Poor Rate Levy Books for Birmingham 9 shows a property rated to ‘Thos Turner’ appears approximately 90% of the way through the listing for the Dale End quarter 10 from the first listing, for the rating year 1736-1737 until the rating year 1749-1750. In that year ‘Thos Turner’ paid rates on a second property listed as ‘for foundry &c’ approximately 30% of the way through the Dale End listing. In the following year, 1750-1751, two properties appear together at about 30% of the way through the Dale End listing, ‘for his house’ and ‘for foundry’, both paid by ‘Thos Turner’. The other property, presumably his original house, no longer appears.

From before 1737 until 1750 he lived at a property in the Dale End poor law district (address unknown). At some time after April 1748 and before April 1749 he erected his brass house or ‘foundry &c’ in Coleshill Street. Before April 1750 he moved from his original house to one adjacent to the brass house.

By 1767 the brass house is listed under John & William Turner but by 1777 William is the sole proprietor.11

The last trade directory entry for William Turner, brass-founder Coleshill Street appears in 1783.12 He paid rates on the brass house until 1784-1785.The last appearance of the Brass House in Birmingham’s Poor Rate Levy books is in the rating year 1785-1786 but no rates were paid suggesting that it was not in use. 14

By the 1785 directory William Turner is listed at Newhall Street with no mention of the brass house.13 It would appear that William Turner ceased working the Brass House in Coleshill Street in 1784.

When a terrier of the Inge family land in Birmingham was prepared in 1809 14 the property was occupied by James Alston a chemical refiner who had taken up the lease in Michaelmas 1805.


MS 177 Josiah Robins. Terrier to & plan of estates of W.P. Inge in Birmingham, 1809.

The plan shows that the adjacent land, between the brass house and Chapel Street, was originally owned by the Governors of King Edward’s School. The school records15 show that William Turner paid rent of £3.10s, collected in April 1784, due Michaelmas 1783, on a lease taken out by Thomas Turner, presumably on the land adjacent to the brass house. As the annual rent was usually £6.10s,16 this payment would have covered from Michaelmas 1783 until mid-May 1784.

John Townley


  1. Bradford, Samuel, Plan of Birmingham, 1750
  2. Buck, Samuel & Nathaniel, East Prospect of Birmingham, 1753.
  3. R.Angerstein’s Illustrated Travel Diary, 1753-1755, tr. Berg, Torsten & Peter, 2001, pp38-39
  4. Hutton, William, An History of Birmingham, 2nd Edition, Birmingham 1783, p329
  5. Pye, Charles, A Description of Modern Birmingham, London & Birmingham, 1820, p.46
  6. Aitken W.C., ‘Brass and Brass Manufacture’ in Timmins Samuel Ed., Birmingham and the Midland Hardware District, London, 1866, p225
  7. Ibid p228
  8. Hamilton, Henry, The English Brass & Copper Industries to 1800, 2nd Edition, 1967, p162.
  9. Birmingham Archives & Heritage Service: MS244501 – 1736-1745 & MS244502 – 1745-1751. The rating year runs from April to April.
  10. Street names are not generally listed in Birmingham’s early rate books. The position of a property can be determined by its relationship to adjacent properties,.i.e. If the ratepayers name appears at the same position in a list of ratepayers, then it is probable that one is dealing with the same property. Property descriptions only appear for some business premises such as Thomas Turner’s ‘foundry’.
  11. Bailey’s Western and Midland Directory, 1783
  12. BAHS: MS/244509, MS/244510
  13. Pye, Charles, A New Directory for Birmingham, 1785
  14. BAHS:MS/177 Robins, Josiah, Terrier to & plan of estates of W.P. Inge in Birmingham, 1809.
  15. Chatwin, Philip B. Ed., The records of King Edwards Scholl Birmingham, Vol V, Dugdale Society Publications, XXV, 1963, p178.
  16. Ibid p.171, 168 & 158, (N.B. all of the other properties paid a full year’s rent in April 1784)

1 thought on “Turner’s Brass House, Coleshill Street”

  1. Just to add that an examination of Joseph Hill’s transcription of the 1728-1735 Birmingham Poor Rate books [LoB MS661020, Notebook 14] suggests that Thomas turner’s original house was not only in Dale End Poor Law Quarter but in Dale End itself.

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