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Friday, 7 August 2009

Hills in Angelsea, Spain and Stratford

Anglesey is a long way from Blackheath and it is amazing that the fourth brother, Henry, managed to commute between the two. Henry lived in the comfort and affluence of Blackheath Paragon while his chemical works were in the strange industrial village of Amlwch on the northern tip of Anglesey. Henry was younger than Thomas and Arthur and was born after the family had moved to Bromley by Bow. His wife, Charlotte, came from Lyme Regis.

There is some vague indication that Henry might have had some connections with Birmingham since his eldest child, Alice, was born in Edgbaston in the late 1830s. The Times, in 1859, recorded a partnership in a Bromsgrove salt works which involved a Henry Hills. Salt is not so very far removed from several of the chemical manufactures which the family carried out - there may well be a great left to discover about his activities in the Midlands.

Henry must have lived in Anglesey much of the time because he had a farm nearby and several of his large family of children were born there. He seems to gone to Almwch in 1840 and established a fertiliser factory at Llam Carw - the exposed headland overlooking the tiny harbour. It is now open cliff top where walkers enjoy sea views and the clinker of Henry's works remains underfoot. In 1860 he made agreement with the Mona Mine Company to calcine copper ore for them. There is in indication that he had been making salt cake - since he was warned not to do so in the future. The agreement with Mona involved the erection of sulphuric acid making plant at the works on the headland. Henry became active in the small business community in Almwch and was elected to the harbour board - no doubt reflecting his dependence on shipping in and out. Harbour records show shipments of Spanish sulphur and ground phosphate from Antwerp. In 1889 they advertised the fiftieth anniversary of the company in Amlwch and gave details of their products - nitro phosphate, bone manure and super phosphate. At some time before 1897 Hills had taken over a former smelting complex on the other side of the harbour - this is now the site of a housing estate. It continued to managed by one, Lewis Hughes and seems to have prospered.

Henry clearly spent a lot of time away from Anglesey and always seems to have had addresses in London. In 1863 he acted as executor to the will of his sister Jane. His address then was 282 Old Kent Road - one of a row of undistinguished shops among working class housing.

It is far from clear how far Henry's activities were independent of Frank's although the indications are that they worked together. Henry ended his days described as a 'chemist of Deptford' although clearly the Anglesey business was still thriving. Like Thomas he became a member of the Thames Ironworks Board in the 1870s. He died in 1897 at 6 Northbrook Road, Lee - a smaller and less affluent address than the Paragon. His son, Charles Henry, was to fulfil an important role in the family business.

Above Alwych stands Parys Mountain where copper has been mined for centuries in a dramatic landscape. About a mile to west of the Parys Mine at Morfa Dhu, 'Messrs Hills and Sons of Almwych' worked a bluestone mine. This needed 'careful chemical operations' to break it down into constituent parts of copper, lead, zinc, silver and other elements in smaller proportions.90 This information comes from a book by D.C.Davies, a mining agent. This is the only mine identified by Davies as belonging to the Hills. However he also describes other mines which can be traced to them. It is therefore not impossible that other mines described in the book - but not yet investigated - also belonged to the family. If so, their mining interests were extremely extensive.

D.C.Davies managed a phosphate mine at Berwyn in North Wales on behalf of Frank Hills. Phosphate, used for fertiliser, has already been noted as arriving at Almwych from Antwerp - from what original source has not been discovered. The Berwyn mine was worked between 1872 and 1884 by Davies but does not seem to have been successful.

D.C.Davies also described the Hills' copper mines in Spain. The area is now within the Rio Tinto area which has been recently studied and visits arranged. Frank Hills owned the Ponderosa Mine in Huelva from 1876. In 1889 he acquired the Buitron Mines and in 1891 the Buitron and Huelva Co.s assets which included a railway line. This meant that the family controlled the Buitron, Zalonea, Ponderosa and Conception Copper Mines. They were managed for them by a James Bull and there were some 'inconsistencies' in the way the mines were run.

It is very likely that the family had other foreign interests. Letters exist which indicate considerable travel abroad on business by Frank. The company certainly imported South American guano into Deptford where it was refined.

Henry's son, Charles Henry, seems to have had a home in Tynemouth- although he too seems to have spent much of his time in Blackheath and died in Bromley, Kent. In Newcastle he appears to have managed the Low Walker copper works. Although the Newcastle copper industry has been studied in some detail, these studies have not included this works. It is was called the 'Anglesey Copper Company' and sited on the Tyne with a smelter at Low Walker. Charles Henry lived in Tynemouth. It is this Newcastle connection which has proved most elusive.

Numerous Hills have been investigated in the Newcastle area and very little definite found. Who was, for instance, Edward Septimus, who wrote a pamphlet and seemed to have some connection with the Anglesey works? He was 'of Newcastle' died in Hendon, north London in the 1880s. His brother, James, had a son. Also James, who was a printer in Sunderland. The gas company minute books sometimes record a 'J. Hills' - was it a mistake, or was there another brother who kept the Newcastle end of the business going before Charles Henry went there? If there was also a James, then Edward Septimus could well have been Thomas' seventh child.

The Newcastle works must have smelted copper from Spain - why should they have brought copper from Anglesey which could have been dealt with by the existing smelter on site there? Why then was the Newcastle Works, or indeed the one in Millwall, called Anglesey Works? The 'mixture' supplied by Hills for the oxide purification process is said to have included a by-product of copper smelting. Was some of this waste shipped down to London?

The modern Hills family believe that Frank Hills used waste slag from Bessemer's steel works in his chemical works. Bessemer lived close to Frank Hills in Denmark Hill and they certainly knew each other. On one occasion Bessemer visited Thames Ironworks and made a speech in which he introduced himself as a neighbour of the family. In the 1860s Bessemer opened a small steel works in Greenwich, near the Hills' East Greenwich works, but not adjacent to it. This works did not prosper and was eventually abandoned. While this may be relevant, neither Frank Hills nor any of his associates are mentioned in Bessemer's autobiography in this, nor any other, context. Slag produced as scum in the Bessemer converter could have been used in the oxide process; like so much else with Frank Hills, it is difficult to know the truth.

Stratford, East London, had, and has, a very large concentration of chemical works. Frank Hills had a large site in Stratford High Street where oxalic and tartaric acids were made. The site, not yet identified, was sold to a soap company. It was said that once when the Stratford manager was away because of an attack of asthma, a large batch of tartaric acid was accidentally thrown down the drain - it was expensive and big loss to the company. 102

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