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Thomas ADKINS, b.1792, d.1841

Thomas married his cousin Anne TARLETON on 9th June 1817 at St Mary's church, Handsworth (today a suburb of Birmingham). Anne's mother was also a FIELD, also called Anne, being the sister of Elizabeth and therefore the daughter of Richard & Isabel FIELD.

Thomas & Anne had a busy life, as besides having a business to run they lived in Hamstead, Perry Barr, where they farmed and raised a large family. Their eldest child was Anne Tarleton who was baptised on 26 January 1819 at Smethwick; she married William Williams and had one child who died aged only a few months. After the death of her first husband Anne married Richard Roberts but had no further issue. Thomas & Anne's second child was a son, Thomas; he was baptised on 15 August 1820 at Smethwick but died in 1835 at the age of 15 and was buried at Great Barr. Next came Henry - he was baptised on 30 April 1822, at Smethwick. John William followed, being baptised on 9 January 1824; he died at Birmingham Heath in 1841 at the age of 17 and was buried at Trinity church, Smethwick. Anderson was baptised on 10 February 1826 and died when an infant. We understand that there were triplets who died at birth but no detail seems to be known. George Caleb was baptised 8 October 1828 in St Philip's church (later Cathedral) in Birmingham, and he married his second cousin Anne ADKINS, daughter of John Caleb ADKINS of Milcote. Lastly, there was Francis, baptised 12 June 1832 at Great Barr, who married his second cousin Susan and, after her death, Sarah, both sisters of Anne.

Industrial success

It is not certain whether Thomas joined his father's business in Bull Street, Birmingham, but in 1818, a year after his marriage, he, in partnership with John NOCK, owned an extensive soap works on the north bank of the Birmingham canal at Merry Hill, Smethwick. Soon afterwards they were joined by a Mr Boyle, the inventor of a new method of bleaching soap. Boyle had been works manager of Blair & Stephenson of Tipton, the country's leading producer of red lead; the new firm of Adkins, Nock & Boyle took advantage of his experience and began to make red lead as well as soap. About 1836 the firm became Thomas Adkins & Co. By the late 1840s the Tipton concern for Boyle had worked was wound up and for several years Adkins & Co. was the country's main supplier of red lead.

Thomas was a very successful industrialist, who contributed to the development of the Birmingham area during the industrial revolution. He built a factory in Handsworth for soap manufacture in 1818. Thomas's soap factory was judiciously located beside the Birmingham canal opposite the junction with the Cape Arm canal. The Birmingham / Wolverhampton railway was built some years later and runs past on the northeast side, and the area is marked today by the adjacent railway junction known (and marked on the street map) as Soap Works Junction. The factory no longer exists having been demolished decades ago. The site, though, has not been re-developed (2022) and the last time I looked at it (passed by on the railway) it was being used as a dump for demolition concrete and they were crushing it for re-use. A difficult access has probably deterred redevelopment - the only way in is via a very narrow street and under a very low railway bridge.

At a later date he purchased a large mansion close to his factory from James MOILLIET, the son of Jean Louis MOILLIET the Birmingham banker. This house was named The Grove and Thomas then became known as Thomas ADKINS of The Grove, or of Smethwick. The Grove no longer exists, it was located a short distance south of the factory near the end of the Cape Arm canal. The area is very industrial today with a new hospital (2022) covering part of Thomas's estate, but includes Grove Lane and Grove Street and, nearby, Moillett (sic) Street. Although obliterated by the hospital development, there was also Keen Street (afer Guest Keen & Nettlefold, GKN, an industrial family related to Thomas).

With the death of Thomas ADKINS of Smethwick in February 1841 his business, Thomas Adkins & Co., soap manufacturers, was carried on by his three sons, George Caleb, Francis and Henry. The three brothers later began manufacture of red and white lead and lead by-products. The son, Henry ADKINS, contributed in 1866 two chapters to a book celebrating Birmingham businesses, one describing in considerable detail his company's manufacturing process for soap, and a second chapter describing their production of red lead (a paint), a new range of products which the sons introduced after Thomas's death. Francis may well be the Francis Adkins associated with the Heath Lead Works in 1853, though I have not found sufficient information on this.

George Caleb died in 1887 and the business of Thomas Adkins & Co. was bought by his relation Sir Henry Wiggin's company, H Wiggin & Co., in 1888.

A successful entrepreneur would mark his success by having portraits painted of himself and his wife, and in this case, his daughter too. It is known that there was also a picture of Thomas to complement that of Anne. However, this has been lost and if it still exists its whereabouts is unknown.

The soap and red lead manufacturing business of T. Adkins and Co. was passed down to Thomas's sons, one of whom, Henry Adkins b.1822, wrote two articles about the manufacturing processes:

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