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Iron Workers and Tool Makers
by Samuel Smiles

From the 1863 first edition


"There never have been wanting men to whom England’s improvement by sea and land was one of the dearest thoughts of their lives, and to whom England’s good was the foremost of their worldly considerations. And such, emphatically, was Andrew Yarranton, a true patriot in the best sense of the word." - DOVE, Elements of Political Science.

That industry had a sore time of it during the civil wars will further appear from the following brief account of Andrew Yarranton, which may be taken as a companion memoir to that of Dud Dudley. For Yarranton also was a Worcester ironmaster and a soldier - though on the opposite side,--but more even than Dudley was he a man of public spirit and enterprise, an enlightened political economist (long before political economy had been recognised as a science), and in many respects a true national benefactor. Bishop Watson said that he ought to have had a statue erected to his memory because of his eminent public services; and an able modern writer has gone so far as to say of him that he was "the founder of English political economy, the first man in England who saw and said that peace was better than war, that trade was better than plunder, that honest industry was better than martial greatness, and that the best occupation of a government was to secure prosperity at home, and let other nations alone." 

Yet the name of Andrew Yarranton is scarcely remembered, or is at most known to only a few readers of half-forgotten books. The following brief outline of his history is gathered from his own narrative and from documents in the State Paper Office.

Andrew Yarranton was born at the farmstead of Larford, in the parish of Astley, in Worcestershire, in the year 1616.

In his sixteenth year he was put apprentice to a Worcester linendraper, and remained at that trade for some years; but not liking it, he left it, and was leading a country life when the civil wars broke out. Unlike Dudley, he took the side of the Parliament, and joined their army, in which he served for some time as a soldier. His zeal and abilities commended him to his officers, and he was raised from one position to another, until in the course of a few years we find him holding the rank of captain. "While a soldier," says he, "I had sometimes the honour and misfortune to lodge and dislodge an army;" but this is all the information he gives us of his military career. In the year 1648 he was instrumental in discovering and frustrating a design on the part of the Royalists to seize Doyley House in the county of Hereford, and other strongholds, for which he received the thanks of Parliament "for his ingenuity, discretion, and valour," and a substantial reward of 500L.

He was also recommended to the Committee of Worcester for further employment. But from that time we hear no more of him in connection with the civil wars. When Cromwell assumed the supreme control of affairs, Yarranton retired from the army with most of the Presbyterians, and devoted himself to industrial pursuits.

We then find him engaged in carrying on the manufacture of iron at Astley, near Bewdley, in Worcestershire. "In the year 1652", says he, "I entered upon iron-works, and plied them for several years." 

He made it a subject of his diligent study how to provide employment for the poor, then much distressed by the late wars. With the help of his wife, he established a manufacture of linen, which was attended with good results. Observing how the difficulties of communication, by reason of the badness of the roads, hindered the development of the rich natural resources of the western counties, he applied himself to the improvement of the navigation of the larger rivers, making surveys of them at his own cost, and endeavouring to stimulate local enterprise so as to enable him to carry his plans into effect.

While thus occupied, the restoration of Charles II. took place, and whether through envy or enmity Yarranton’s activity excited the suspicion of the authorities. His journeys from place to place seemed to them to point to some Presbyterian plot on foot. On the 13th of November, 1660, Lord Windsor, Lord-Lieutenant of the county, wrote to the Secretary of State - "There is a quaker in prison for speaking treason against his Majesty, and a countryman also, and Captain Yarrington for refusing to obey my authority."

It would appear from subsequent letters that Yarranton must have lain in prison for nearly two years, charged with conspiring against the king’s authority, the only evidence against him consisting of some anonymous letter’s. At the end of May, 1662, he succeeded in making his escape from the custody of the Provost Marshal. The High Sheriff scoured the country after him at the head of a party of horse, and then he communicated to the Secretary of State, Sir Edward Nicholas, that the suspected conspirator could not be found, and was supposed to have made his way to London. Before the end of a month Yarranton was again in custody, as appears from the communication of certain justices of Surrey to Sir Edward Nicholas. 

As no further notice of Yarranton occurs in the State Papers, and as we shortly after find him publicly occupied in carrying out his plans for improving the navigation of the western rivers, it is probable that his innoceney of any plot was established after a legal investigation. A few years later he published in London a 4to. tract entitled ‘A Full Discovery of the First Presbyterian Sham Plot,’ which most probably contained a vindication of his conduct. 

Yarranton was no sooner at liberty than we find him again occupied with his plans of improved inland navigation. His first scheme was to deepen the small river Salwarp, so as to connect Droitwich with the Severn by a water communication, and thus facilitate the transport of the salt so abundantly yielded by the brine springs near that town.

In 1665, the burgesses of Droitwich agreed to give him 750L. and eight salt vats in Upwich, valued at 80L. per annum, with three-quarters of a vat in Northwich, for twenty-one years, in payment for the work. But the times were still unsettled, and Yarranton and his partner Wall not being rich, the scheme was not then carried into effect.

In the following year we find him occupied with a similar scheme to open up the navigation of the river Stour, passing by Stourport and Kidderminster, and connect it by an artificial cut with the river Trent. Some progress was made with this undertaking, so far in advance of the age, but, like the other, it came to a stand still for want of money, and more than a hundred years passed before it was carried out by a kindred genius - James Brindley, the great canal maker. Mr. Chambers says that when Yarranton’s scheme was first brought forward, it met with violent opposition and ridicule. The undertaking was thought wonderfully bold, and, joined to its great extent, the sandy, spongy nature of the ground, the high banks necessary to prevent the inundation of the Stour on the canal, furnished its opponents, if not with sound argument, at least with very specious topics for opposition and laughter.

Yarranton’s plan was to make the river itself navigable, and by uniting it with other rivers, open up a communication with the Trent; while Brindley’s was to cut a canal parallel with the river, and supply it with water from thence. Yarranton himself thus accounts for the failure of his scheme in ‘England’s Improvement by Sea and Land’: -- "It was my projection," he says, "and I will tell you the reason why it was not finished. The river Stour and some other rivers were granted by an Act of Parliament to certain persons of honor, and some progress was made in the work, but within a small while after the Act passed it was let fall again; but it being a brat of my own, I was not willing it should be abortive, wherefore I made offers to perfect it, having a third part of the inheritance to me and my heirs for ever, and we came to an agreement, upon which I fell on, and made it completely navigable from Stourbridge to Kidderminster, and carried down many hundred tons of coal, and laid out near 1000L., and there it was obstructed for want of money."

Another of Yarranton’s far-sighted schemes of a similar kind was one to connect the Thames with the Severn by means of an artificial cut, at the very place where, more than a century after his death, it was actually carried out by modern engineers. This canal, it appears, was twice surveyed under his direction by his son. He did, however, succeed in his own time in opening up the navigation. of the Avon, and was the first to carry barges upon its waters from Tewkesbury to Stratford.

The improvement of agriculture, too, had a share of Yarranton’s attention. He saw the soil exhausted by long tillage and constantly repeated crops of rye, and he urged that the land should have rest or at least rotation of crop. With this object he introduced clover-seed, and supplied it largely to the farmers of the western counties, who found their land doubled in value by the new method of husbandry, and it shortly became adopted throughout the country. Seeing how commerce was retarded by the small accommodation provided for shipping at the then principal ports, Yarranton next made surveys and planned docks for the city of London; but though he zealously advocated the subject, he found few supporters, and his plans proved fruitless. In this respect he was nearly a hundred and fifty years before his age, and the London importers continued to conduct their shipping business in the crowded tideway of the Thames down even to the beginning of the present century.

While carrying on his iron works, it occurred to Yarranton that it would be of great national advantage if the manufacture of tin-plate could be introduced into England. Although the richest tin mines then known existed in this country, the mechanical arts were at so low an ebb that we were almost entirely dependent upon foreigners for the supply of the articles manufactured from the metal. The Saxons were the principal consumers of English tin, and we obtained from them in return nearly the whole of our tin-plates. All attempts made to manufacture them in England had hitherto failed; the beating out of the iron by hammers into laminae sufficiently thin and smooth, and the subsequent distribution and fixing of the film of tin over the surface of the iron, proving difficulties which the English manufacturers were unable to overcome. To master these difficulties the indefatigable Yarranton set himself to work. "Knowing," says he, "the usefulness of tin-plates and the goodness of our metals for that purpose, I did, about sixteen years since (i.e. about 1665), endeavour to find out the way for making thereof; whereupon I acquainted a person of much riches, and one that was very understanding in the iron manufacture, who was pleased to say that he had often designed to get the trade into England, but never could find out the way. Upon which it was agreed that a sum of monies should be advanced by several persons, for the defraying of my charges of travelling to the place where these plates are made, and from thence to bring away the art of making them. Upon which, an able fire-man, that well understood the nature of iron, was made choice of to accompany me; and being fitted with an ingenious interpreter that well understood the language, and that had dealt much in that commodity, we marched first for Hamburgh, then to Leipsic, and from thence to Dresden, the Duke of Saxony’s court, where we had notice of the place where the plates were made; which was in a large tract of mountainous land, running from a place called Seger-Hutton unto a town called Awe [Au], being in length about twenty miles."

It is curious to find how much the national industry of England has been influenced by the existence from time to time of religious persecutions abroad, which had the effect of driving skilled Protestant artisans, more particularly from Flanders and France, into England, where they enjoyed the special protection of successive English Governments, and founded various important branches of manufacture. But it appears from the history of the tin manufactures of Saxony, that that country also had profited in like manner by the religious persecutions of Germany, and even of England itself. Thus we are told by Yarranton that it was a Cornish miner, a Protestant, banished out of England for his religion in Queen Mary’s time, who discovered the tin mines at Awe, and that a Romish priest of Bohemia, who had been converted to Lutheranism and fled into Saxony for refuge, "was the chief instrument in the manufacture until it was perfected." These two men were held in great regard by the Duke of Saxony as well as by the people of the country; for their ingenuity and industry proved the source of great prosperity and wealth, "several fine cities," says Yarranton, "having been raised by the riches proceeding from the tin-works" - not less than 80,000 men depending upon the trade for their subsistence; and when Yarranton visited Awe, he found that a statue had been erected to the memory of the Cornish miner who first discovered the tin.

Yarranton was very civilly received by the miners, and, contrary to his expectation, he was allowed freely to inspect the tin-works and examine the methods by which the iron-plates were rolled out, as well as the process of tinning them. He was even permitted to engage a number of skilled workmen, whom he brought over with him to England for the purpose of starting the manufacture in this country. A beginning was made, and the tin-plates manufactured by Yarranton’s men were pronounced of better quality even than those made in Saxony. "Many thousand plates," Yarranton says, "were made from iron raised in the Forest of Dean, and were tinned over with Cornish tin; and the plates proved far better than the German ones, by reason of the toughness and flexibleness of our forest iron. One Mr. Bison, a tinman in Worcester, Mr. Lydiate near Fleet Bridge, and Mr. Harrison near the King’s Bench, have wrought many, and know their goodness." As Yarranton’s account was written and published during the lifetime of the parties, there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of his statement.

Arrangements were made to carry on the manufacture upon a large scale; but the secret having got wind, a patent was taken out, or "trumpt up" as Yarranton calls it, for the manufacture, "the patentee being countenanced by some persons of quality," and Yarranton was precluded from carrying his operations further. It is not improbable that the patentee in question was William Chamberlaine, Dud Dudley’s quondam partner in the iron manufacture.

"What with the patent being in our way," says Yarranton, "and the richest of our partners being afraid to offend great men in power, who had their eye upon us, it caused the thing to cool, and the making of the tin-plates was neither proceeded in by us, nor possibly could be by him that had the patent; because neither he that hath the patent, nor those that have countenanced him, can make one plate fit for use." Yarranton’s labours were thus lost to the English public for a time; and we continued to import all our tin-plates from Germany until about sixty years later, when a tin-plate manufactory was established by Capel Hanbury at Pontypool in Monmouthshire, where it has since continued to be successfully carried on.

We can only briefly refer to the subsequent history of Andrew Yarranton. Shortly after his journey into Saxony, he proceeded to Holland to examine the inland navigations of the Dutch, to inspect their linen and other manufactures, and to inquire into the causes of the then extraordinary prosperity of that country compared with England. Industry was in a very languishing state at home. "People confess they are sick," said Yarranton, "that trade is in a consumption, and the whole nation languishes." He therefore determined to ascertain whether something useful might not be learnt from the example of Holland. The Dutch were then the hardest working and the most thriving people in Europe. They were manufacturers and carriers for the world. Their fleets floated on every known sea; and their herring-busses swarmed along our coasts as far north as the Hebrides. The Dutch supplied our markets with fish caught within sight of our own shores, while our coasting population stood idly looking on. Yarranton regarded this state of things as most discreditable, and he urged the establishment of various branches of home industry as the best way of out-doing the Dutch without fighting them.

Wherever he travelled abroad, in Germany or in Holland, he saw industry attended by wealth and comfort, and idleness by poverty and misery. The same pursuits, he held, would prove as beneficial to England as they were abundantly proved to have been to Holland. The healthy life of work was good for all - for individuals as for the whole nation; and if we would out-do the Dutch, he held that we must out-do them in industry. But all must be done honestly and by fair means. "Common Honesty," said Yarranton, "is as necessary and needful in kingdoms and commonwealths that depend upon Trade, as discipline is in an army; and where there is want of common Honesty in a kingdom or commonwealth, from thence Trade shall depart. For as the Honesty of all governments is, so shall be their Riches; and as their Honour, Honesty, and Riches are, so will be their Strength; and as their Honour, Honesty, Riches, and Strength are, so will be their Trade. These are five sisters that go hand in hand, and must not be parted." Admirable sentiments, which are as true now as they were two hundred years ago, when Yarranton urged them upon the attention of the English public.

On his return from Holland, he accordingly set on foot various schemes of public utility. He stirred up a movement for the encouragement of the British fisheries. He made several journeys into Ireland for the purpose of planting new manufactures there. He surveyed the River Slade with the object of rendering it navigable, and proposed a plan for improving the harbour of Dublin. He also surveyed the Dee in England with a view to its being connected with the Severn. Chambers says that on the decline of his popularity in 1677, he was taken by Lord Clarendon to Salisbury to survey the River Avon, and find out how that river might be made navigable, and also whether a safe harbour for ships could be made at Christchurch; and that having found where he thought safe anchorage might be obtained, his Lordship proceeded to act upon Yarranton’s recommendations.

Another of his grand schemes was the establishment of the linen manufacture in the central counties of England, which he showed, were well adapted for the growth of flax; and he calculated that if success attended his efforts, at least two millions of money then sent out of the country for the purchase of foreign linen would be retained at home, besides increasing the value of the land on which the flax was grown, and giving remunerative employment to our own people, then emigrating for want of work. " Nothing but Sloth or Envy," he said, "can possibly hinder my labours from being crowned with the wished for success; our habitual fondness for the one hath already brought us to the brink of ruin, and our proneness to the other hath almost discouraged all pious endeavours to promote our future happiness."

In 1677 he published the first part of his England’s Improvement by Sea and Land - a very remarkable book, full of sagacious insight as respected the future commercial and manufacturing greatness of England. Mr. Dove says of this book that Yarranton" chalks out in it the future course of Britain with as free a hand as if second-sight had revealed to him those expansions of her industrial career which never fail to surprise us, even when we behold them realized."

Besides his extensive plans for making harbours and improving internal navigation with the object of creating new channels for domestic industry, his schemes for extending the iron and the woollen trades, establishing the linen manufacture, and cultivating the home fisheries, we find him throwing out various valuable suggestions with reference to the means of facilitating commercial transactions, some of which have only been carried out in our own day. One of his grandest ideas was the establishment of a public bank, the credit of which, based upon the security of freehold land, should enable its paper "to go in trade equal with ready money." A bank of this sort formed one of the principal means by which the Dutch had been enabled to extend their commercial transactions, and Yarranton accordingly urged its introduction into England. Part of his scheme consisted of a voluntary register of real property, for the purpose of effecting simplicity of title, and obtaining relief from the excessive charges for law, as well as enabling money to be readily raised for commercial purposes on security of the land registered.

He pointed out very graphically the straits to which a man is put who is possessed of real property enough, but in a time of pressure is unable to turn himself round for want of ready cash. "Then," says he, "all his creditors crowd to him as pigs do through a hole to a bean and pease rick." "Is it not a sad thing," he asks, "that a goldsmith’s boy in Lombard Street, who gives notes for the monies handed him by the merchants, should take up more monies upon his notes in one day than two lords, four knights, and eight esquires in twelve months upon all their personal securities? We are, as it were, cutting off our legs and arms to see who will feed the trunk. But we cannot expect this from any of our neighbours abroad, whose interest depends upon our loss."

He therefore proposed his registry of property as a ready means of raising a credit for purposes of trade. Thus, he says, "I can both in England and Wales register my wedding, my burial, and my christening, and a poor parish clerk is entrusted with the keeping of the book; and that which is registered there is held good by our law. But I cannot register my lands, to be honest, to pay every man his own, to prevent those sad things that attend families for want thereof, and to have the great benefit and advantage that would come thereby. A register will quicken trade, and the land registered will be equal as cash in a man’s hands, and the credit thereof will go and do in trade what ready money now doth." His idea was to raise money, when necessary, on the land registered, by giving security thereon after a form which be suggested. He would, in fact, have made land, as gold now is, the basis of an extended currency; and he rightly held that the value of land as a security must always be unexceptionable, and superior to any metallic basis that could possibly be devised.

This indefatigable man continued to urge his various designs upon the attention of the public until he was far advanced in years. He professed that he was moved to do so (and we believe him) solely by an ardent love for his country, "whose future flourishing," said he, "is the only reward I ever hope to see of all my labours." Yarranton, however, received but little thanks for his persistency, while he encountered many rebuffs. The public for the most part turned a deaf ear to his entreaties; and his writings proved of comparatively small avail, at least during his own lifetime. He experienced the lot of many patriots, even the purest - the suspicion and detraction of his contemporaries. His old political enemies do not seem to have forgotten him, of which we have the evidence in certain rare "broadsides" still extant, twitting him with the failure of his schemes, and even trumping up false charges of disloyalty against him. 

In 1681 he published the second part of ‘England’s Improvement,’ in which he gave a summary account of its then limited growths and manufactures, pointing out that England and Ireland were the only northern kingdoms remaining unimproved; he re-urged the benefits and necessity of a voluntary register of real property; pointed out a method of improving the Royal Navy, lessening the growing power of France, and establishing home fisheries; proposed the securing and fortifying of Tangier; described a plan for preventing fires in London, and reducing the charge for maintaining the Trained Bands; urged the formation of a harbour at Newhaven in Sussex; and, finally, discoursed at considerable length upon the tin, iron, linen, and woollen trades, setting forth various methods for their improvement. In this last section, after referring to the depression in the domestic tin trade (Cornish tin selling so low as 70s. the cwt.), he suggested a way of reviving it. With the Cornish tin he would combine "the Roman cinders and iron-stone in the Forest of Dean, which makes the best iron for most uses in the world, and works up to the best advantage, with delight and pleasure to the workmen." He then described the history of his own efforts to import the manufacture of tin-plates into England some sixteen years before, in which he had been thwarted by Chamberlaine’s patent, as above described,--and offered sundry queries as to the utility of patents generally, which, says he, "have the tendency to drive trade out of the kingdom." Appended to the chapter on Tin is an exceedingly amusing dialogue between a tin-miner of Cornwall, an iron-miner of Dean Forest, and a traveller (himself). From this we gather that Yarranton’s business continued to be that of an iron-manufacturer at his works at Astley near Bewdley. Thus the iron-miner says, "About 28 years since Mr. Yarranton found out a vast quantity of Roman cinders, near the walls of the city of Worcester, from whence he and others carried away many thousand tons or loads up the river Severn, unto their iron-furnaces, to be melted down into iron, with a mixture of the Forest of Dean iron-stone; and within 100 yards of the walls of the city of Worcester there was dug up one of the hearths of the Roman foot-blasts, it being then firm and in order, and was 7 foot deep in the earth; and by the side of the work there was found a pot of Roman coin to the quantity of a peck, some of which was presented to Sir [Wm.] Dugdale, and part thereof is now in the King’s Closet."

In the same year (1681) in which the second part of ‘England’s Improvement’ appeared, Yarranton proceeded to Dunkirk for the purpose of making a personal survey of that port, then belonging to England; and on his return he published a map of the town, harbour, and castle on the sea, with accompanying letterpress, in which he recommended, for the safety of British trade, the demolition of the fortifications of Dunkirk before they were completed, which he held would only be for the purpose of their being garrisoned by the French king. His ‘Full Discovery of the First Presbyterian Sham Plot’ was published in the same year; and from that time nothing further is known of Andrew Yarranton. His name and his writings have been alike nearly forgotten; and, though Bishop Watson declared of him that he deserved to have a statue erected to his memory as a great public benefactor, we do not know that he was so much as honoured with a tombstone; for we have been unable, after careful inquiry, to discover when and where he died.

Yarranton was a man whose views were far in advance of his age. The generation for whom he laboured and wrote were not ripe for their reception and realization; and his voice sounded among the people like that of one crying in the wilderness. But though his exhortations to industry and his large plans of national improvement failed to work themselves into realities in his own time, he broke the ground, he sowed the seed, and it may be that even at this day we are in some degree reaping the results of his labours. At all events, his books still live to show how wise and sagacious Andrew Yarranton was beyond his contemporaries as to the true methods of establishing upon solid foundations the industrial prosperity of England.