Although we might think of Wrexham as a largely industrial town, with the Brymbo district as its economic powerhouse through much of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution in north Wales was actually something of a damp squib. A. H. Dodd’s classic text on the subject, first published in the 1920s, explained some of the reasons why: remote sites and poor communications restricted trade to the local area, whereas the coal and iron of south Wales had access to deep-sea ports (giving particularly direct access to the lucrative Irish market). The collieries west of Wrexham, old, smaller-scale workings on shallow seams, were a world away from the deep mines of the Rhondda, and Brymbo’s steelworks was unusual in its hilly, land-locked site. By the 1900s many of the area’s coal and iron operations had ceased.

The small-scale and localised development of industry in the district led to a distinctive landscape, where a patchwork of agricultural land was intermingled with small collieries, related industries such as brickworks, and villages spreading across former areas of common land. The last of these smaller scale industrial sites survived through to the 1950s, 60s and 70s; in Brymbo, a particularly interesting one lasted until the 1980s. There are now few buildings near Pentresaeson crossroads, and there were never very many, but you can still see one of the main landmarks of the immediate area, the old Taylor Brothers iron foundry and its distinctive chimney, just down the township road to Bwlchgwyn alongside the bed of the former Minera railway line. Back in the 19th century this would have been a good site for a small ironworks, with reliable supplies of coal in the immediate vicinity, a tributary stream of the Gwenfro running nearby and, from the 1840s, the railway giving vital access to outside markets. However the history of the building is not well recorded and there is still a lot of work to be done on establishing its exact origins.

The Coflein building record for the foundry is typically vague. Although the building is thought to be of mid 19th century date, it notes a “local tradition” that the most historically valuable feature, a wooden internal crane, was brought from the Wilkinsons’ Bersham foundry after the latter’s closure, and posits some connection with the Wilkinson estate. The record also raises the possibility that the foundry was part of the Pentresaeson colliery, and notes another “unsourced” suggestion that the building was originally a lead smeltery.

So who built the foundry at Pentresaeson? It could, perhaps, have have been one of the Wilkinson trustees’ projects, which might explain the presence of the crane – which Coflein supposes would have to have been moved from Bersham before the 1820s. However the sale catalogue of the estate, dating from 1829, does not mention the foundry, and the attached map shows the site as the orchard of the old Pentresaeson farm. In any case it seems unlikely that the trustees would have built a small foundry in Brymbo when they already possessed a larger one (and, for that matter, a lead works). A similar objection applies to the possibility of the foundry being the work of James Kyrke, who bought up much of the old Wilkinson property, lived in the Glascoed, and ran the lead smelter near Caello for a while. Moreover an 1835 map drawn up for the first Ordnance Survey does not show the foundry either. The Taylor foundry would clearly seem to date from no earlier than the 1840s, whatever the origin of the internal crane. Incidentally, this dating firmly disproves the tradition that the name “Pentresaeson” referred to the English workers bought in to set the foundry up (in the form “Pentresise” it appears as far back as the early 18th century).

Another possibility raised locally is that the foundry was built by a “Mr Darlington” in the 1850s. The obvious candidate, in this connection, is either the John Darlington Sr. (b.1799) who came from Cornwall to act as manager of the Minera Lead Mining Company, or his son George Darlington, who seems to have taken over duties from him. Both men were technical-minded and innovative. George is listed as the manager of the “Minera Metallurgical company” in 1859. He is elsewhere described as a “zinc smelter”, and the London Gazette notes his registration in January 1856 of an invention “of producing oxide of zinc from its ores”, which raises the intriguing possibility that the Pentresaeson site, in its first incarnation, could have been involved with the production of zinc. Sadly, there are few other mentions of the Minera Metallurgical Company to work with. Darlington clearly fancied his chances elsewhere, as in 1860 he accepted an invitation from Joseph Wharton to go and manage a zinc works in Bethlehem in the United States. Unfortunately Darlington failed to impress Wharton, quarrelled with his mainly Belgian workforce, and eventually took to carrying round a gun, with the almost inevitable result that he was dismissed after threatening to shoot one of the workers: “these foreigners don’t seem to do well in America”, commented Wharton in a letter.

Darlington disappears from the record by the 1870s, around the same time the Pentresaeson site came into the hands of the Taylor family. Thomas Broadbent Taylor, who appears to have combined the professions of “publican and ironfounder” – he ran both the Queen Inn and the Pentresaeson foundry – was declared bankrupt in 1882, but the firm of Taylor Bros, ironfounders, continues to appear in directories long after that point. As with many such businesses, the securing of a dependable local contract helped, and in the 1920s the firm was awarded the local authority contract to produce manhole covers and other street ironmongery. Casting of these covers continued for many years, and you can still often see the name of Taylor Bros of Pentresaeson underfoot around the area’s roads and lanes.

In its last years the Pentresaeson foundry became a rare survivor of a type of small industrial business once common across the country. Although it took on some characteristics of a working museum – I seem to recall the existence of leaflets giving details for visitors to the foundry – it finally closed in 1981, having worked (as an iron foundry, at least) for a little over a century.