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Robert Thursfield Smith: Ironfounder and Methodist

Photograph of R T Smith
R T Smith

R. T. Smith was the son of William Smith who had started a small iron foundry in Dodington around 1837. In 1852 Robert married Sarah Savage and joined his father’s business the next year.

By 1858 he was running the foundry and two years later he moved the business to the corner of Mill Street and Castle Hill.
There is an entry in the London Gazette dated December 4th 1860 outlining a patent applied for by Robert Thursfield Smith and Thomas Suckley, both Agricultural Implement Makers of Whitchurch. Their invention was “an improved apparatus for smutting and screening grain, and distributing other granulated substances”.

In the 1871 Census he is described as being an iron-founder, civil engineer and timber merchant employing sixty men. Six years later R.T. Smith had a large Victorian villa built as his home. Highfield House in Tarporley Road still stands in Whitchurch today.

In 1879 a new foundry was built in Talbot Street which gave the company direct access to the railway. Robert Thursfield Smith continued to run the foundry until around 1891.

Both the 1861 Census and the 1871 Census describe Robert as a local Methodist preacher. He was interested in the history of Methodism and owned a large collection of manuscripts, books and paintings including many relating to the Wesley family. Among his most treasured possessions were a volume containing sixty Wesley letters, Wesley’s Georgia journal, and an extensive collections of Wesley hymn-books.

Part of the collection, 858 volumes published between 1735 and 1898, was purchased in 1903 by Mrs Rylands. This forms the basis of the Rylands Wesley Collection at John Rylands library in Manchester.