Brierley Hill in the West Midlands is best known for its steel and glass industries. Production goes on today, but the amount has declined since the 1970s.
One of the biggest factories in the Brierley Hill area was Round Oak Steelworks, but this was closed down. Along with the adjacent Merry Hill Farm, it was redeveloped in the 80s and transformed into the Merry Hill Shopping Centre – one of the largest of its type in the UK – and the Waterfront Business Park. Merry Hill, Brierley Hill and the Waterfront Business Park have now been combined and named Dudley Borough’s Strategic Town Centre.
An Industrial History
Brierley hill was heavily industrialised as early as the start of the 1800s. There were iron and glass works, along with collieries and quarries. Many of the industries has to close down 100 years later, however, as raw-material deposits in the area became scarce. John Corbett, the renowned industrialist, was born in Brierley Hill, as was Don Richardson, the man who went on to develop the Merry Hill Shopping Centre.
John Corbett was born in 1817. His father Joseph had a canal business and John originally joined the successful company. In 1850, however, the business began to suffer from the competition created by railway expansions, prompting John to sell his share. In 1853, he went on to buy disused salt workings at Stoke Prior, where he used many of the innovations offered by the Industrial Revolution to commercialise and mechanise the business. His approach led to the workings becoming the biggest in Europe.
By the start of the 20th century, the raw-material deposits in Brierley Hill generally had become depleted, leading to the closure of many of the industries in the area, but recent years have seen an ongoing regeneration get under way. Job opportunities and the housing stock are increasing, and the infrastructure is being improved. More details of this can be found at http://www.dudley.gov.uk/business/regeneration/town-centre-managment/towncentre-regeneration/.
Today the area also has a much wider range of industries, from Brierley Hill Web Design companies to a wide range of hospitality businesses, and yet its industrial past is still evident. High-tech companies such as http://www.frooition.com sit just a short hop away from the Broadfield Glass Museum. And, of course, the Merry Hill Shopping Centre is built on the steelworks site and what was the area’s last working urban farm. The area is still a hub of industry, but it depends on a wider mix of businesses than ever before. Its residents would also like to see even more being done to boost the area’s prospects, as indicated on the town’s own blog at http://www.brierleyhill.org/blog/2010/01/20/brierley-hill-regeneration-a-moral-imperative/.
Glass Fit for Royalty
One of the most famous businesses still in the town is the Royal Brierley glass company, one of the oldest crystal manufacturers in England. The company began as a small family business in 1776, and many of its early creations are now museum pieces under the name of Stevens and Williams Glassworks. Its name was changed to Royal Brierley Crystal in the 1930s after gaining its royal warrant. Its most recent warrant was granted by Prince Charles. The business is currently owned by the Dartington Crystal company.