Fussells Ironworks (1744 – 1880) is located on East Mendip, south of bath, in the deeply cut, wooded Wadbury Valley, between Mells and Great Elm, near Frome. The ruins are well concealed in the landscape, and are divided into an upper and lower works, flanking the river Mells, whose vigorous flow was engineered through a series of sluice gates, narrowing channels and underground tunnels to power the works. They were the vision of James Fussell III (1710-1775)¬ of Stoke Lane, edge- tool maker, who on the 25th December1744 signed a 90 year lease from John Horner, “with liberty to erect a good firme and substantial Mill or Mills for Grinding Edge Tools and forming Iron Plates.” The family proliferated and created a dynasty. James Fussell IV (1748-1832) was a keen advocate of the Dorset and Somerset canal, a tributary of which was to run from Frome to the Mendip coalfields, passing close to Mells, and would have helped with the distribution of tools. He designed and patented a balance lock which worked successfully, but the venture ran out of money and was abandoned as the country prepared to counter the threat of invasion by Napoleon. James Fussell offered “to prepare 1,000 pikes (gratis), and afterwards supply government with 2,000 weekly, as long as they still may be wanted.” This gesture of patriotism did much to enhance the Fussell name and standing in society. The business grew and further works were developed in Chantry, Nunney, Railford and the Lower works at Great Elm.
Later a twelve year dispute transpired between the Fussells and Horners when the lease was coming up for renewal. The Horners were the ruling gentry of Mells since the time of the reformation. They regarded the Fussells as social inferiors who engaged in trade, and due to the rapid expansion of their business, threatened to inflict Mells with the horrors of the industrial revolution. This was their chance to oust the Fussells from Mells. John Fussell III (1783-1853) was the key figure in the negotiations, and started to build in a field adjoining the Horner estate called Huntleys (land which did not belong to the Horners, much to their grievance) in full view of their house and park. Realising the mills in the Wadbury Valley were out of sight and earshot, the Horners finally capitulated. They sold the lower mills to the Fussells and renewed the lease to the upper mills. The Huntleys site was not developed.
The sudden collapse of English agriculture in the 1870s and competition from the north led to the demise of the ironworks. Complacency meant they did not move with the times. They continued to rely on water as their main source of power and started to use coal for steam too late, even though it was available on their doorstep. In 1880 the business was bought out and moved to Sheffield.
Historical reference: Old Mendip, Robin Atthill, David and Charles 1964