James Dell

You wouldn’t ordinarily associate the intense heat, bustle, commotion, pouring of molten iron, rising steam and smoke with Dudswell, two miles north west of our town. Yet over thirty years ago two elderly residents corroborated to me that their parents long ago told them the village had an iron foundry. Both related a belief that an unusual cast iron and brick insert wall, in the garden of Boswick House, was a relic of the foundry. One said long ago there were once lumps of iron, cast into a puddingstone alongside Dudswell Lane. The short stretch of ornamental iron wall still survives in the village, but the puddingstone has long gone. Was there really once a foundry at Dudswell and if so where was it, who ran it, what did they make?

James Dell

The 1839 Tithe Map showing the foundry plot 101 sandwiched between the canal and the River Bulbourne in the centre of Dudswell

The 1841 census includes an entry for one James Dell and listed his occupation as “Iron Founder”. James resided at Dudswell Farm (now Dudswell House) and was head of the household. His was the principal house in the village. A glance at the Northchurch Parish Map and Book of Reference for 1825 lists James as occupier of Plot 101 opposite the junction of Boswick Lane and the accompanying schedule describes it as “Iron Foundry & Meadow”. The owner is shown as Isaac Dell, his father. The 1839 Northchurch Tithe Award shows the site as “Iron Foundry, Blacksmiths Shop & Meadow”. We know the Blacksmiths Shop was entered as a new building for rating purposes, in the Vestry Records for 1827 and was built on the north side of plot 101 beside the canal towpath. So clearly, there really was an iron foundry!

James was an entrepreneur and grasped opportunities. His was a skilled occupation. When land alongside Lock 48 at Dudswell came up for sale in 1826 he purchased it and set about constructing a general grocery store, coal wharf and stabling, later converting it to the Swan Beerhouse when railway navvies came to build the railway. He had set up the successful village blacksmith’s. These businesses depended upon the canal either for the transport of raw materials or for retail custom from the boat people. The last documentary entry for James shows him and his brother Thomas, (who lived at Broadway Farm, Bourne End) both appointed in 1843 as Surveyors of the Highway for Northchurch.

James died on 7th August 1846 aged 62. His probate effects came to just under £4,000. He had done well. He does not appear have married and left his estate and legacies to his brother, sister, nephews and nieces. The foundry effectively died with him. His deeply inscribed gravestone lies flat hidden under a yew tree in St Mary’s Churchyard. Cussans in 1870 records the family grave as lying under A Slab within a Railing, presumably a posthumous reminder of James’ metalworking, ingenuity and inventive skills.

Ned Hunt, Chronicle v.XVI (Mar 2019).