View Full Version : brassfounders & finishers in London, where & what?
15-09-2008, 2:27 PM
One of my lines were brassfinishers and brassfounders over 2 or 3 generations in the victorian era in North/Central London (St Lukes, St Pancras, Marylebone). The earliest, Alexander Hassell (c.1814-1884), was a brass finisher but also in the baptisms of some of his children was a gasfitter. Are the trades allied? His eldest son James (1835-1895) was consistently a brassfounder, but the one of other sons was a gasfitter and then sometimes a brass finisher. James' son William started out as an apprentice brassfounder but not in the next census. William married the daughter of a man, Francis Mills who was consistently a brassfinisher in the censuses, death cert and baptisms.
Can anyone tell me what they did, was it always bells? One was reputed to have helped cast or make something, a bell or a finial or some decorative piece on St Paul's Cathedral. He might have been Frederick Hassell, another son of James.
I would like to find out whom these people are likely to have worked for. You always think of the famous Whitechapel bell foundry still in existence, but on the Alan Gregory maps there are loads of buildings on them labelled 'Foundry'. Any ideas how I set about this? In particular work contracted out by the Dean of St Paul's / the Church Commissioners? Who would keep lists of employees?
18-12-2009, 10:17 PM
Rather a belated reply but my comments may help. My ancestor was the son of a jeweller in Birmingham. The son became a brass founder, on one census, and a cruet frame maker on another census. Thus, my interpretation is that he made the brass frames which were later given a silver plate, and which held salts, peppers and mustard condiments. A brass founder would make anything in brass, not necessarily bells. Large bells such as hang in churches were made of a special metal, and that was a special trade in itself. PW
19-12-2009, 12:01 AM
Are the trades allied?
I am struggling, in my mind, to find connection between a Gas Fitter and a Brass Founder/Finisher.
I believe back then, a Gas Fitter would fit gas appliances; gas lamps initially, with lead piping and perhaps be connected to the plumbing trade.
A Brass Finisher would be someone who polished brass items. A Brass Founder would cast items in brass. A lot of everyday items were made in brass, kitchen items, companion sets, scuttles and fireguards, scales and weights, ornaments even.
Unless it was to do with the actual lighting, thinking about it, gas lamps were often made of brass or copper.
31-12-2009, 5:44 PM
Brass was used in plumbing with gas. It is easily worked in both sheet and cast form. Apart from a resistance to corrosion, if you miss with a hammer, it doesn’t cause a spark :) jolly useful when working with gas. It was used for taps, valves, fittings, etc.
As far as who does what in a foundry, it depended on the size of the undertaking. Brass is usually cast using the sand casting method. The process starts with the Pattern Maker, his job is to make a copy of the finished article in soft wood although slightly larger to allow for shrinkage. This pattern is placed in a “box” with neither top nor bottom, called a Drag, sand is then rammed onto the pattern until the box is filled. The box is turned over and a second box, called the Cope, put on top and the process repeated. The Cope is taken off and the pattern removed. Any blemishes are filled in with sand and smoothed over. If the finished article is hollow then a core of baked sand is inserted into the appropriate part of the indentation left by the pattern. Holes are made in the sand in the Cope to allow the Brass to be poured in (the pouring gate) and also to allow the gas to escape (the feeding gate). A layer of "special sand" is placed on the mating surfaces of the sand and the two parts of the moulding box are joined and held together. The molten Brass is poured in and allowed to fill both gates. Once the Brass has cooled and solidified, the “special sand” allows the two parts of the moulding box to be separated. The casting is then removed. The Brass finisher then cleans up the casting removes the unwanted bits of Brass and cleans out the core, if there is one. Depending on the type of casting, further fettling and possibly thread cutting may be needed.
It would not be a great jump to move from making Brass components to fitting them.
I believe that you might look to see if there are any Faculty Applications for St Paul’s around the time that interests you and have a Brass connection. I have a Faculty Application for a Brass Memorial Plaque in our local church, it was held by the County Records Office.
03-12-2012, 6:26 PM
Sorry for the lateness of this reply. somehow I expectd an email to pop up to say my thread entry had been to reply to. Good to have the explanation regarding the sand technique. I have just looked up Faculty Application on the net. It seems to be still in use. I can't think it woud bear fruit to enquire however as St Paul's must be an ongoing maintenance site and I cannot provide dates or companies tendering for work. Thanks for your reply, Richard.
04-12-2012, 1:16 AM
Gas fitter & Brass finisher/founder had nothing in common, apart from the brass gas fittings as mentioned.
Gas fitter worked with threaded iron pipes, lead pipes, and on a few occasions brass or copper pipes(which were generally on view).
I've ripped enough of these old pipes and fittings from Edwardian & Victorian houses in the past, in the course of my work.
Also, gas street lighting was in vogue at the time, as well as gas lighting in the homes.
04-12-2012, 11:34 PM
As soon as houses got indoor water, brass taps were needed. Virtually all taps were brass, as were many door handles, which kept the poor housemaids busy. But candlesticks were also brass, and kettles, and oil cans (though the latter could also be copper). In short anything that was made of metal could be brass, and foundries were busy places in the 19th century.
Plumbers were the first to train as gasfitters. The two qualifications used to go hand in hand. The plumber would be needed to solder and fit the gas pipes to your house, then complete the job as a gasfitter. "Reticulation" was the key connection.
My father was one such, and although he was usually listed as a "plumber and gasfitter", I have seen places where, when appropriate, just the gas fitter listing would be used.
I dare say if it was a time when gas was being connected up all over the city or town, and there was a lot of gas connection work on offer, your ancestor would de-emphasise the plumbing side of his contracting business for a while, or even be taken onto the staff of a gas company to make the most of the boom.
(Although of course you try to avoid booms in the gas business....)
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