27th February 1765. Dropping the Shot.

Bristol, England, had been concerned with lead mining since Roman times, and of the many relics which have been discovered, were two Latin-inscribed, lead ingots  from the River Frome, dating from AD/CE 139-161,


Redcliffe Street, Bristol showing Watt’s shot tower on 23.3. 1938. Reece Winstone. It was demolished in 1968.

Today in 1765 William Watts was apprenticed as a plumber in Redcliffe Bristol. He is credited with having built the first shot-tower, in Bristol. He was later to build a square shot- tower c 1789, east of Waterloo Bridge, London for £6,000.

It lasted until 1937, though latterly as an advertisement sign. The lead probably came from Priddy in the nearby Mendip Hills, which had been mined by the Romans, 1500 years before.

Shot Tower

Watt’s original square Shot Tower in London. Painted by Daniel Turner c 1817 and showing Blackfriars Bridge. Pic Ref. below


The writer, Samuel Ireland in 1791 spoke of the new 150 feet structure, ‘which cannot be considered as an object ornamental to the River Thames.’

A new tower was built by Thomas Maltby and Company in 1826, being taken over by Walker Parker in 1839, and operating until 1949.

Shot was sold for munitions as lead shot, cartridges, for fishermen and screening for nuclear fuel rods in power stations, and the manufacturing of high grade, alloy steel. The smallest shot was ‘dust shot’ requiring a fall of 50 feet; the largest shot needed a drop of 150 feet.

It was in 1782 that Watts had invented a way to make perfect round lead shot by pouring lead, mixed with mercury to make it more fluid, through a sieve, which dropped a distance into water, an idea supposed to have come to him in a dream.

The dropping of the lead replicated water droplets which are round to reduce friction from gravity.

Watts turned his Bristol home into a lead-shot tower, which caused his neighbours to complain about the smell, whilst he retaliated by complaining about the smell of pigs. In December 1786 he extended the works, which he ironically likened to a ‘Prospect of Westminster Abbey’.

The business prospered so much, that Philip George, the brewer paid Watts £10,000 for a partnership along with Colonel Samuel Worrell, who being local worthies had the effect of quietening local opposition.


Georges Brewery, Bath St. Bristol, 1938.

However Watts now worth a fortune, went into land speculation, which resulted in bankruptcy in October 1792. The London enterprise was sold for £8,000 whilst the Bristol work continued under George the brewer.

The last Mendip lead mine St.Cuthbert’s closed in 1908 unable to compete with imports. In 1995 the Bristol. Sheldon, Bush and Patent Shot Company closed, though the tower remains.


Shot Tower

Shot Tower to the left of the Festival Hall c 1959, by David Wright. It was the only building retained on the Festival of Britain site. It was demolished in 1967.

Sad State of Chester Shot Tower.

Sad State of Chester Shot Tower. It used Watt’s invention and production was expanded in 1799 to produce munitions for the Napoleonic War. It closed in 2001.








Ref: Bristol Past and Present JF Nicholls and John Taylor, Arrowsmith 1881 Vol I Civic History P.26.outh Bank and Vauxhall.

Ref: English History Survey of London Vol 23 British History Online. Lambeth, south London.

Ref: Pic by Turner sphinxfineart/daniel-turner/view of Thames.

Ref: Pic. Ref. abandoned.britain.com/chestershottower.

Ref: Bristol as it was 1937-39, Winstone. Pic.Ref.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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