Originally an Anglo-Saxon settlement, Smethwick was an insignificant hamlet in the parish of Harborne, Staffordshire, for most of its existence. The sparse population lived on small farms and in cottages, scattered between the heaths and woodland. Metalworking was present from at least the 16th century, with many residents maintaining a small plot of land and a few animals while also producing nails. During the 18th century and early 19th centuries it was a popular location for the country residences of Birmingham bankers and lawyers, before the Industrial Revolution transformed Smethwick into a teeming 19th century boom town specialising in engineering.
James Brindley's canal, cut in 1768-69 from Birmingham to the Black Country, passed through northern Smethwick. The canal architecture created by the requirements of taking the waterway over the rising ground here remains largely Intact. Most notable are the 70ft deep cutting created by Thomas Telford in 1827-29, spanned by his 154ft Galton Bridge; and his Engine Arm Aqueduct, which carried coal to the steam engine installed by Boulton & Watt in 1779 to re-circulate the water through the lock system.
The presence of the canal attracted manufacturing industry, foremost was Boulton, Watt & Co's Soho Foundry of 1796, from which the steam engines powered the modern industrial development were exported world-wide.Other prominent engineering companies, collectively employed thousands of people, were Tangye's (hydraulic pumps and engines); Guest Keen & Nettlefolds (screws, nuts & bolts); The Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co, (premier quality rolling stock); and the Birmingham Aluminium Casting Co. Ltd, later part of the Birmid Qualcast group, There were also numerous ironworks.
Glassmaking was the second most important industry, most notably by Chance's, who made all the glass for the Crystal Palace In 1851 and provided lighthouse equipment for every maritime power in the world. Craftsmanship of the highest order was achieved at T.W. Camm's stained glass works, and at William Howson Taylor's Ruskin ware art pottery studio.
Men working in the fierce heat of foundries and glassworks needed to drink in large quantities to replace the body fluids that they lost. Brewing and public houses have therefore played a significant part in Smethwick's history! The key figure in the brewing industry was Henry Mitchell, especially after he moved his operation to Cape Hill in 1878, 20 years later he went into partnership with William Butler and the brewery underwent massive expansion, Mitchells and Butlers were acquired by Bass Charrington Ltd and sadly they were closed down at the end of 2003.