‘William Rigby Smith & Sons’ was an animal product manufacturer based at the Tattenhall Road Boneworks, his premises being located adjacent to the Shropshire Union Canal. The location of the Boneworks, in close proximity to both the Canal and to Tattenhall Road Station, was ideal in dealing with the requirements and distribution related to the business.
Combining a slaughterhouse with a new and extensive building programme, including a ‘landmark’ chimney of over 100ft in height, the Tattenhall Road Boneworks became a significant employer on the outskirts of the village until its decline in the 1950s. Regrettably very few of the original buildings remain. Derek Bates, a Cheshire based high stack chimney demolition expert, was to have ultimate responsibility for demolishing the chimney stack shown in the photograph below.
Animal bones, hooves, horns and other by-products were processed in the production of bone meal fertiliser. This was then transported on the canal network to the various clients of the company. A range of glues, gelatin and fats was also manufactured at the site.
Whilst a substantial local employer (operating throughout the day and night), the Tattenhall Road Boneworks was not without controversy. There are several references in the Cheshire provincial press relating to accidents at the Boneworks and to the impact of pollution on the local area.
The Cheshire Observer 5 March 1892 reported an ‘alarming accident at Messrs Smith & Son’s, Boneworks, Tattenhall Road‘ during which ‘a flywheel flew into fragments completely wrecking the engine-house and unroofing 2 adjacent buildings. A large piece of the wheel also flew some distance and struck another building, damaging the walls’. So significant was the damage that the Boneworks was unable to resume business until the following week.
In 1896, The Cheshire Observer recorded ‘dangerous pollution’ levels adjacent to the Tattenhall Road, Boneworks.
The Cheshire Observer 1896 goes on on to record that the smell was ‘enough to knock a man down’.
The pattern continued with the practices of Messrs WR Smith and Son’s being recorded (yet again) in The Cheshire Observer on 20 January 1900 whereby Mr Smith was advised that he must obtain a Certificate from the Local Government Board to confirm that he was enforcing the ‘best possible means of purifying his works’. There is a suggestion within the 1900 article, however, that the argument was wider than the ‘abatement of the nuisance’. Mr Smith clearly considered that there were attempts to force closure upon him and there is a hint of sympathy for him in this respect.
Alice Dutton, Philip Randles and Nancy Lavender all make reference to the Boneworks in their Oral Histories. Alice Dutton, in particular, who lived directly opposite the Boneworks, confirms the ‘stench’ of living in such close proximity to this undertaking. For information, a Flat Axe found at this location is also featured in the ‘Artefacts‘ page.
A particularly harrowing accident appears to have occurred on 17 February 1916 and which was reported in The Chester Chronicle on Saturday 19 February 1916.
On Thursday a fearful accident happened at the works, Tattenhall Road, belonging to Mr WR Smith & Son, to a young man named John Dutton aged 24, a married man with one child, residing in Tattenhall. He was following his work close to a large machine that grinds the big bones, when by some means his foot slipped and he fell into the machinery and was killed instantly, being crushed out of all recognition. PC Pettinger was quickly on the spot, and is making arrangements for an inquest.
On a more positive note, William Rigby Smith also became renowned in the locality for his ‘Annual Competition and Exhibition of Swedes and Mangels’ which was open to his clients and which was held on 1 November every year. Mangels, in particular, were a staple animal feed for dairy cattle, with Mangel roots growing up to 2 feet long.
The prizes awarded by WR Smith were substantial at the time. In 1899, for example, a prize of £50 for ‘Swedes’ was awarded to Mr Thomas Shepherd from Burton, Rossett. In fact, Mr Shepherd became unstoppable, gaining success in 1901 when he was awarded £25 for his success in the Mangel root competition and again in 1902 when he scooped another £50, winning prizes in both categories. This was obviously a serious competition with entries from near and far and by 1910, at least, 2 Silver Cups were awarded to the category winners of ‘Heaviest Swedes and Mangels from North of Shrewsbury’ and ‘Heaviest Swedes and Mangels from South of Shrewsbury’, a combined weight of over 180lbs being the requirement.
A series of certificates and photographs appears below covering the years 1899, 1901, 1902, 1906 (when the competition was held in October) and 1910. These artefacts were salvaged from a skip during the demolition of sections of the Boneworks and provide a unique snapshot of times past.
Our personal thanks to John P Birchall in assisting us with this Webpage. John is currently researching his Great Grandfather’s Boneworks on the River Weaver at Acton Bridge; ‘The Weaver Refining Co Ltd’ (use the link to access John’s research).