Image: Another view of the relocated Pewterers’ Guild Hall, which was relocated from Wribbenhall to Ombersley, Worcestershire in 1841. Its removal suggests that pewtering had declined in Bewdley by this date.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

Manufacturing in Bewdley was large-scale, adaptable and profitable, but by the 1830s the “heroic phase” of pewter making was over. Birmingham regionally and Sheffield nationally became the most significant locations for the industry. There are several reasons for Bewdley’s decline:

The development of the canal network in the late 18th and early 19th centuries reduced Bewdley’s advantages as an industrial and commercial centre. Birmingham benefited from its location at the heart of a rapidly expanding industrial district, well-served by communications. The growing number of public houses and taverns within its hinterland used pewter pots and measures. Birmingham manufacturers also developed new markets for large-scale pewter products such as beer engines, liquor fountains and bar fittings.

New technology also played a role. In Sheffield a 1775 process for cold-rolling ingots of cast pewter to produce sheets of what was known as Britannia metal, enabled pewter items to be mass produced more cheaply. The sheets were pressed between metal forming dies or hand-raised by hammering. New designs were created without the time constraints of casting and turning on a lathe. The invention of pewter spinning in 1820 which formed sheet round a wooden former also contributed to Sheffield’s emergence as the most important centre of British pewter making. Birmingham manufacturers adopted Sheffield techniques using Britannia metal and a similar product, tutania, invented by a Birmingham pewterer, William Tutin.

Bewdley had concentrated on producing a diverse range of products for consumers, by streamlining production methods, manufacturing in bulk and reducing costs. Gradually the demand for traditionally made items declined. Fine porcelain, glassware and electro-plated nickel silver (EPNS) gradually replaced pewter in middle-class households.

Today pewter making in Bewdley has ceased, but Pewterers’ Alley in Wribbenhall and the displays at Bewdley Museum are reminders that the area once echoed to the sound of the pewterer’s hammer.

The early 19th Century: Joseph Morgan

Image: From left to right, a quart tankard, concave pint tankard, spouted pint measure and quart tankard made by Joseph Morgan, a Bewdley pewterer in the early 19th century.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

Surviving evidence shows that other pewterers existed alongside the larger concerns. Joseph Morgan produced ware with similar features to that manufactured by Ingram and Hunt and Crane and Stinton. Their tankard designs have a flared base and rounded terminal on the handles. Little is known about his business, but Holding and Moulson in their study of Bewdley pewter suggest that he may have been apprenticed to Crane and Stinton from 1816 to 1827.

The early 19th Century: Crane and Stinton

Image: From left to right pint tankard, half-pint tankard and pint tankard, made by Crane and Stinton, Bewdley pewterers in the early 19th century.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

John Ingram junior died in 1799 and a few years later, probably in 1807, the firm passed to new owners. In that year a fourteen year lease on Ingram’s workshops passed to John Carruthers Crane and a Mr Stinton. The former owned an ironmongers and general furnishers in Load Street, Bewdley, which probably served as a retail outlet for local pewterers. The latter was probably the same Stinton who is described in the records of Ingram’s business as a “traveller”, who went from place to place to win orders for the firm. By 1822 Crane seemed to take sole charge of the business. He retired in 1838 and the expensive bronze moulds passed to James Yates of Birmingham. During the 19th century, the Yates family dominated the Birmingham pewter trade. The moulds of the business survived and are currently in the hands of A E Williams Ltd., Well Lane, Digbeth. Two of the moulds are on display in Bewdley Museum.


The late 18th Century: John Ingram and Charles Hunt

Image: A dome-lidded quart (left) and dome-lidded bellied quart (right), made by Ingram and Hunt, Bewdley pewterers in the late 18th century.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

The firm’s Order Books for 1803 to 1805 show that the business manufactured hundreds of different products and are listed in Homer and Hall’s study of the industry (p86 – 87). The range of items included chamber pots, bracket candlesticks, ink stands, shaving cans, ear syringes, fifty different type of spoon, soup ladles, ice moulds, candle moulds, mustard pots, butter boats, pepper boxes, tooth powder boxes, wine strainers, diddy bottles and urinals!

Much of the trade passed through major wholesalers. Links with Birmingham were important where one man, William Wallis, took 10% of the firm’s output. Items also went to Ireland and the USA and in 1806, 50 gross of spoons were dispatched to Smyrna, in the Turkish part of the Ottoman Empire. The diversity of product and range of customers indicate that the firm of Ingram and Hunt was highly sophisticated. By 1800 turnover was £6,000 a year, evidence that Bewdley continued to operate a highly successful pewter industry, despite a decline in parts of the industry elsewhere in Britain.

The late 18th Century: John Ingram and Charles Hunt

Image: From left to right, a glass-bottomed quart tankard, half-pint beaker and pint tankard made by Ingram and Hunt, Bewdley pewterers in the late 18th century. Glass-bottomed tankards were introduced for various reasons. One common story is that they would enable carousing tavern drinkers to see the King’s shilling when it was dropped into their ale, they could then avoid being press-ganged into the Royal Navy, if they were not too inebriated. Another explanation is that they were an imaginative response by pewter manufacturers when faced by competition from glassmakers. Glass tankards enabled a customer to assess the clarity of his beer. A glass bottom to a pewter vessel served the same purpose. This is more evidence of the ability of the local industry to adapt to market forces.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

At some time before 1778, presumably to acquire additional capital, John Ingram junior entered a partnership with Charles Hunt, his brother-in-law. Account books for the business survive and record the names of over seven hundred customers throughout England and Wales between 1769 and 1790.  Pewter goods were also exported to North America. The firm produced, or bought for resale, tea pots, urinals, candlesticks, ink stands, tooth powder boxes, ear syringes and inkpots as well as dozens of other items. One hundred thousand spoons and thousands of tankards and tavern pots were manufactured annually. Labour shortages seem to have been a problem. In 1783, Ingram and Hunt advertised in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette for two men to work at their spoon works in Bewdley.

By this time Ingram and Hunt were providing a stimulus for other local industries and commercial activities including glass for tankard bottoms, green baize for the underside of candlesticks and rope for packaging. The firm also purchased grease to lubricate the finishing wheels and serve as a flux in the soldering process. In 1805 – 1806, the firm bought 53 lbs of grease from nearby suppliers. As Bewdley was home to major cattle markets and tanneries, the raw material was at hand!

The late 18th Century: John Ingram

Image: A pewter tobacco box made by John Ingram, alongside a clay tobacco pipe

The use of tobacco increased hugely in the 18th century and is linked economically to the growth of clay pipe making. Broseley near Coalbrookdale, just a few miles upstream on the Severn in Shropshire, was the most important local manufacturing centre in the 18th century.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

John Ingram junior (1731-1799) was the son of John Duncumb’s daughter Mary and John Ingram senior, a successful Bewdley attorney, who had acquired the lease to the manor of Tickenhill, just outside the town. John Ingram junior may have been apprenticed to his uncle Stynt Duncumb. After inheriting his uncle’s business in 1767 he operated the pewter manufactory successfully, but he had at least one other industrial interest. In 1768 he was identified as a brassfounder when he was made a burgess of Bridgnorth, in Shropshire, a few miles up the Severn. John Ingram junior probably lived in River House, on Riverside South in Bewdley, a dwelling which belonged to the Ingram family.

The mid 18th Century: Stynt Duncumb

Image: A 9¼” plain rimmed plate and 16½” plain rimmed dish made from pewter by Stynt Duncumb in the mid-18th century

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

John Duncumb’s son, Stynt, known also as Samuel (1712-1767), inherited his father’s business, but he had worked within the concern since 1730. Records are few, but the survival of large numbers of items bearing his mark, indicate that it continued to thrive. He died childless at the age of 55, and left the business to his nephew, John Ingram junior.

John Duncumb and Mass Production

Image: A 15½” plain rimmed dish (left) and 15½” single reeded dish (right) made from pewter by  John Duncumb, of Wribbenhall near Bewdley in the early 18th century.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

Duncumb not only produced plates and dishes, but also bedpans, chamberpots, tankards and spoons. He probably employed up to thirty men at Wribbenhall together with outworkers to finish “rough” items in their homes. Tin, the main raw material was imported from Cornwall and landed at the wharves on the doorstep of his factory. Also important, but less so, was old pewter which was recycled as scrap. Duncumb supplied a total of 124 customers between 1718 and 1724, at least 25 of whom were pewterers who bought unfinished items to complete for their local markets. His business was large and profitable with a turnover of £2,000 per year. About 20 tons of pewter were produced annually, the equivalent of 50,000 9½” plates. Duncumb’s output was, of course, more varied, but flatware remained the largest group of manufactured products.

One of his most important customers was William Wood, his father-in-law in Birmingham, who purchased plates, hollow-ware, spoons and pint-pots. His day book also shows that he was supplying iron, copper and brass to braziers and wholesale ironmongers. His main customers lay within a forty-mile radius of Bewdley with Shrewsbury as the most important market. Consignments, though, were also dispatched to more distant towns such as Burton-on-Trent, Chester and Grantham. By the time of his death in 1745, John Duncumb had created what was almost certainly the most productive pewter works in Britain and probably the largest. The business was prosperous at a time when national pewter making was allegedly in decline. His descendants in Bewdley continued to create products from the metal until the end of the century.

John Duncumb and Mass Production

Image: Three 16½” single reeded pewter plates made by John Duncumb in Wribbenhall near Bewdley in the early 18th century, another example of a common item of production by his business.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

Duncumb is little known, but he was one of the important innovators of the Industrial Revolution by establishing mass-production methods for the making of pewter. This had several dimensions. The Coalbrookdale Stock Book for 1718 to 1727, held at Shropshire Records and Research shows that Duncumb purchased two furnaces with the capacity to hold 60 and 40 gallons respectively from the Coalbrookdale Company. Prior to Duncumb’s time, most pewterers made flatware or sadware – plates and dishes – or hollow-ware such as tankards, from start to finish in their workshops. By introducing division of labour techniques, he reduced costs which enabled his business to compete with producers of brass, tin and china. Duncumb is not well-known, but he was a pioneer of mass-production methods before the more famous Birmingham industrialists, John Taylor and Matthew Boulton. His day book survives and provides detailed information about his business between 1718 and 1724.

John Duncumb and Mass Production

Image: Five 9″ and 9 ¼” pewter plain rimmed plates, made by John Duncumb in Wribbenhall, near Bewdley during the early 18th century. Plates such as these formed the largest single type of product which Duncumb manufactured.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

John Duncumb (c.1684 – 1745) was, according to R F Homer and D W Hall, the “founder of the most significant 18th century pewter business.” He came from a different background than Christopher Bancks. His family were wealthy landowners in Albury, near Guildford in Surrey, but as a younger son of a younger son, he had no expectation to inherit any estates. His father, Stynt Duncumb, died in 1690 and left £600 to enable his younger sons to be bound apprentice as thought fit by Elizabeth, his widow. As a result, so it seems, of family friendship and commercial networks, John Duncumb arrived in Birmingham in the 1690s as an apprentice to the pewterer, William Wood. In 1702 he married Wood’s daughter and shortly after established his own successful business. By 1718 its annual turnover was £2000 a year.

In 1719 John Duncomb inherited some money from his uncle and this coincided with his setting up a new business in Wribbenhall, immediately across the River Severn from Bewdley. The reasons for relocation are unclear, but probably relate to the commercial possibilities posed by Bewdley’s location as the most important port in the West Midlands. Duncumb was already trading with the Bewdley pewterer, Christopher Bancks before he left Birmingham. Moving to Bewdley enabled Duncumb to save on the considerable transport costs involved in securing raw materials, especially Cornish tin, and dispatching pewter goods by packhorse from Birmingham to Bewdley. At a time when profit margins were being threatened through competition from other products, Bewdley offered more than Birmingham which had no canal network in the early 18th century.

Local Origins

Image: Little is known about the history of this building which dates from the 16th or 17th centuries, but it is conventionally described as the Pewterers’ Guildhall. Originally located in Wribbenhall, across the river from Bewdley, it was moved and rebuilt in Ombersley, Worcestershire in 1841. The local industry was evidently sufficiently important to require a guildhall.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

The Bewdley Bridgewardens’ Account Book contains the earliest references to the pewter trade in the town. Records do not always distinguish between braziers and pewterers, but eighteen are identified as stall holders at local fairs between 1573 and 1588. In the late 17th and early 18th century, one man, Thomas Smyth, had a business at 25 Load Street in the town. In 1719, the year of his death, an inventory valued his property at £313, a very substantial sum for the time. There is no evidence that the early pewterers were more than small concerns, employing perhaps an apprentice and journeyman labourer.

The first of the major 18th century manufacturers was Christopher Banks or Bancks who came to Bewdley in 1697 from Wigan in Lancashire, then one of the important centres of pewter manufacturing. His family had made pewter in Wigan for over one hundred years and Christopher Bancks had served his apprenticeship in the town. He arrived in Bewdley with a letter of introduction from Wigan’s mayor, which stated:

“Mr William Bancks is a real worker and maker of all sorts of pewter, and that he has served a lawful apprenticeship in the art, mystery and calling of pewterer, and that he is well disposed towards the Government and the Church of England as by law established.”

There is evidence that other members of the Bancks family had settled in the area and it may be that he came to join a family business. His arrival coincided with a growth in the size of local businesses and Bancks was one of the largest. Christopher Bancks’ descendants ran a successful business in Bewdley until the 1830s. His grandson, Christopher Bancks II advertised in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette on 4 October 1784, for a journeyman pewterer, providing possible evidence of a local labour shortage. His death was recoded in the same newspaper in 1788, where he is described as an “Iron and brass founder, pewterer and brazier…” Like many other Bewdley pewterers, he had several sides to his activities. His sons, Christopher III and William operated the business until about 1790, when it was taken over by William’s son, Christopher Bancks IV. In 1834 he died and the business was acquired by Messrs William Stokes and John Smith. It continued into the late 19th century.

Making Pewter

Image: A partly cleaned pewter plate showing the surface corrosion which develops on pewter if neglected. Problems like this reduced the life span of the product. For this and other reasons, pewter products were recycled, leaving few surviving examples of pewterware before the 18th century.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

Pewter has a low melting point at 238 degrees centigrade. As a soft metal it is easy to work, but also easy to damage and prone to deterioration. One dimension of the industry was the recycling of pewter products. Consumers could obtain a reduction of up to a third in the price per pound by weight if they returned their broken, tarnished or unwanted items to a dealer.

The traditional method of manufacturing was by gravity casting. Molten metal was poured into a casting mould which was made from bronze or iron. The surface of the mould was coated with a release agent, red ochre and white of egg and pumice powder. Flatware or sadware such as plates, dishes and spoons were cast in two-part moulds. After cooling they were hammered in the “booge”, the curved part of the product between its rim and the bowl, and polished on a lathe. Hollowware such as tankards, candlesticks and boxes were created from several castings which were then soldered together before smoothing, decorating and polishing on a lathe.  Techniques changed little before the late 18th century, when Britannia metal, a variation of traditional pewter was made by cold rolling metal sheets from ingots.

Using Pewter

Image: A pair of pewter candlesticks. Today these are admired for their decorative qualities, but before the 19th century, they provided essential light within the home for reading, writing or sewing. Pewter was also used for the moulds to make candles.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

Pewter is an alloy made from tin, but the metal is too soft for useable items, so it has to be combined with small quantities of one or more hardening agents, copper, bismuth, antimony or lead, to improve its durability. Pewter was relatively cheap, soft enough to be moulded into shaped objects, easy to repair and capable of taking intricate designs. By the 15th century, a guild was created to control standards and ensure quality, the Worshipful Company of Pewterers. English pewter achieved high standards of production and design and by the 15th century it was England’s second most important manufactured export after cloth. Pewter artefacts were used for eating, drinking, serving, storing and providing candlesticks for lighting. Domestic items ranged from pepper pots to chamber pots and spoons to snuff boxes. Surgeons purchased bleeding bowls and syringes made from the alloy. Pewter also served God and the Devil. Churches required wine flagons, chalices and organ pipes, whilst tankards, pint pots and spirit measures used in public houses were made from pewter. At the end of the 17th century, the industry was probably at its height with important centres of production in London, Wigan and York, but competition from brass, tinplate and porcelain began to affect the market for the product. At the same time the Worshipful Company of Pewterers attempted to protect the dominance of pewterers in London and prevent the introduction of new techniques. Innovations therefore developed elsewhere in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whilst the London trade declined, Bewdley and Wribbenhall became the most important manufacturing centre for the product in 18th century Britain. According to Charles Hull in his 1999 study of the product,

 “Bewdley…became the main centre for pewter manufacture; in any random selection of eighteenth- and nineteenth century cast pewter, 50 per cent is likely to have been produced there.”

Bewdley’s Importance for the Pewter Industry

Image: A highly decorated pewter tobacco box made by John Ingram, the most important Bewdley pewterer in the late 18th century. The tobacco box is one example of a variety of artefacts which were created to meet demands for new products and decorative items for the home

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]

The standard history of the British pewter industry by John Hatcher and T C Barker in 1974 devoted only a few lines to Bewdley. Despite its national focus the book was largely devoted to London using as evidence the records of the Worshipful Company of Pewterers. In a chapter headed the decline of pewter, following a brief discussion of Birmingham in the 18th and early 19th centuries, Professor Barker wrote:

“No doubt there were other manufacturing centres in about 1800 – Bewdley is one which is sometimes mentioned – but it seems unlikely they were producing pewter on any sizeable scale” (p 298). 

In 1985, R F Homer and D W Hall in Provincial Pewterers provided a detailed narrative of the industry outside the capital using a range of local archives. An important work, it questioned some of the assumptions about the decline of the trade in the 18th century and supplied evidence for the national significance of pewter making in Bewdley during the period.

Statistical data that outline the scale of production are rare and no national or regional figures are available for the industry in the 18th and early 19th century. Estimates for tin production – pewter’s most important raw material – throws some light on growth or decline, though much tin was exported and tin was used in other manufacturing processes such as tin-plating. Tin production in Cornwall rose from 1,323 tons per year between 1695 and 1704 to 3,245 tons from 1790 to 1799 (Deane and Cole, 1969, p 51 and 56).  Some important records survive in Worcestershire County Record Office, including the day book of John Duncombe from 1718 to 1724 and the ledgers and account book of Ingram and Hunt covering 1769 to 1805. These and other sources indicate that the local industry was innovative, market-orientated and profitable.

An Innovative Metal Industry: Pewter and Mass Production in Bewdley

Text: Malcolm Dick

Image: A reconstruction at Bewdley Museum of an 18th century dining room with pewter plates stored on a rack on the wall and pewter tankards, plates, serving dishes and a candlestick on the table which is set for a meal. Pewter was a substitute for silver in middle-class households.

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]


Pewter making in Bewdley lasted from the 16th until the 19th centuries, but the most dynamic period for the industry was in the hundred years or so after 1719 after John Duncumb moved to the area. Duncumb and his successors used mass-production methods to meet different consumer demands and compete with competition from other products such as brass, earthenware and porcelain. At a time when it was meant to be in national decline, Bewdley, together with Wribbenhall on the opposite bank of the Severn, became the most important location for pewter making in Britain. Malcolm Dick’s exploration of the history of the industry is linked to images of locally manufactured ware held at Bewdley Museum.