The history of the iron industry in the Forest of Dean region 1562-1660
The indirect process of iron smelting in Britain entered on a period of expansion from the 1540s until 1560 on the Weald., then over the whole country. By 1600 nearly 18,000 tons of pig was made in England and Wales, by the 1650s 22,000 tone and. by 1720 about 25,000. In the l560a the process arrived near Dean; that region made about 1,500 tons of pig before 1610 and from the 1650s until the end of the seventeenth century about 5,000 to 6,000 tons a year. Growth was quickest while the better miivig districts were adopting the new system; then followed adjustment to the rate of re-generation of economically accessible fuel. This applied universally but Sweden, competing with better ores and cheaper labour, restricted the rate of profitable expansion in Britain after mid-century. Technical improvement could somewhat counteract this: the capacity of British furnaces quintupled, while forges doubled theirs and economies in rawmaterials and labour were considerable. The control and flexibility of the new process, facilitating the production of crudely standardised grades of iron and the separation of furnace and finery, promoted growing centres of manufacture. The wireworks, high quality ores and natural conditions focussed innovation in Dean. This was profitable but the involvement of crown and. court and a backward economy created conflict: its rational. solution was state management in 1653 but the feebler crown evaded the problem by abolition of the ironworks in 1674. The woods were not improved bit at least the industry still obtained fuel from them. Technically, capitalist organisation was essential; in practice the industry had to adapt to the agrarian rhythm of part-time contract labour. Foreign competition resulted in the creation of efficient management in large partnerships at the top, without greatly affecting the organisation of work at the base.