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British Industrial History

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Cwm Avon Works

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1903. 20 ft diameter Pelton Wheel by Gilbert Gilkes and Co at Cwm Avon tin plate works

of Cwm Avon (Cwmavon, Cwmafan), Taibach, Glamorgan

Note: This entry covers the works in Cwmavon which produced copper, iron, tinplate, coal, firebricks, chemicals and related products. Some or all may at some point have been owned by the same company.

The 1897/1899 OS map here shows three main factories in Cwmavon: the Rio Tinto Copper Works; a steelworks; a tinplate works. The map has the words 'Cwm Avon Works' which may relate to the steelworks and the tinplate works. Rows of small houses appear to have been enveloped by the steel and copper works. The copper works was said to be the largest in the UK[1]. It was owned by the Rio Tinto Co since c.1884. The workforce was reduced in 1902 when the calcining process was undertaken in Spain rather than at Cwmavon.[2]. The first sod was cut for the steelworks by Mr Danks, general manager, in July 1887 [3].

1825 John Vigurs and Co built tinworks at Cwm Avon

1831 Bar mills and tinplate mills were erected at Cwm Avon; blackplate was produced[4]

John Reynolds erected the extensive ironworks at Cwm Avon.

1835 Erection of Cwm Avon copper works

By 1846 Mr. T. R. Guppy was manager of the Cwm Avon Works of the Governor and Company of Copper Miners in England.

1851 Award at the 1851 Great Exhibition. See details at 1851 Great Exhibition: Reports of the Juries: Class V.

1852 John Biddulph was the manager of the 'Cwmavon Works, Taibach' [5].

1862 'CWMAVON. ENORMOUS IRON RAIL.— The process of rolling a great bridge (flange) iron rail, intended for the Great Exhibition, of the extraordinary length of upwards of 90 feet, and the unprecendented weight of 58lbs. per yard, was most successfully achieved on Saturday last, at the rail mill of the Cwmavon works. For several days much excitement, and some anxiety, was manifested as to the ultimate result of the attempt, for failure after failure attested the difficulties that were unavoidable encountered in rolling the enormous mass of metal; but under the skilful superintendence of Mr. David Lewis, the perseverance of all engaged was rewarded by the production of, perhaps, the largest, heaviest, and most splendid flange rail ever manufactured. Each time the glowing mass was forced into the rolls, and, being rapidly drawn through the several grooves, increased in its destined length — at each successive roll, the enthusiasm of the spectators and workmen increased also, the excitement during the last and finishing roll being extraordinary; the most unbounded delight was manifested by both workmen and spectators who crowded the mill on the occasion, at the complete success of the arduous undertaking. In addition to the "monster" rail, a model flange rail, 63 feet long, and 3 3/4 lb. per yard, and two others, a copper and yellow metal rail, have also been rolled for the Exhibition, and are beautiful specimens of manufactured metal, reflecting much credit on all engaged in their production. A liberal subscription was made on the spot for the workmen, and a further handsome contribution from the directors of the company, who had been inspecting the Cwmavon works, has since been added.' [6].

1865 Cwm Avon and Oakwood had 6 blast furnace, one out of service

1877 Mr. James Shaw and some associates acquired the extensive establishment of the Governor and Company of Copper Miners in England, better known as the Cwm Avon Ironworks. "This famous company was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1691, and went into liquidation in July, 1876, having succumbed to the storm which wrecked so many other concerns engaged in the iron-trade. It is well known that their great works had cost this ancient Corporation over a million and a quarter of money. Mr. Shaw worked this property for some years with remarkable success, and at a later date, formed the property into a limited liability company, which has since gone into liquidation."[7]

1877 Shortly after this the tinplate works were sold, recovering almost all of the money that Mr Shaw had spent in acquiring the company[8]

1880 New rolling mill for tinbar opened. The iron was supplied from two blast furnaces and 16 puddling furnaces.[9]

1886 'A BLAST FURNACE STARTED AT CWMAVON. The Cwmavon Works proprietors, who, since taking possession of the estate and works of the Governor and Company of Copper Miners, have entered with such spirit and enterprise into the resuscitation of the various industries of the Afan Valley, and expended a large amount in the reconstruction and remodelling of the various works and undertakings forming their property, have this week started the first of the blast furnaces forming the new plant. It is to be hoped that the company, by the further development of its various industries and the opening up of its valuable mineral property, will soon revive the reputation it formerly possessed.' [10]

1888 'FIRE BRICK WORKS — FOR SALE by PRIVATE TREATY, all those FIRE and other BRICK-WORKS at CWMAVON, in the County of Glamorgan, known as the Cwmavon Brickworks, near Port Talbot, and in direct communication with the Rhondda and Swansea Bay and Great Western Railways. These works, which have recently been remodelled and extended and fitted with the most approved appliances, and are in full operation, are situate in the centre of the Cwmavon Works Estate, and are con- tiguous to the Copper Works of the Rio Tinto Company, the Tin plate Works of the Copper Miners' Tin-plate Company, and the Collieries, Blast Furnaces, and Steel Works of the Cwmavon Works' Proprietors, and the bulk of the make is taken by these works. The supply of the best fire and other clays is practically unlimited, and the works, which can, if necessary, be extended, are now capable of turning out upwards of three millions of bricks per annum. For particulars and to view, apply to Messrs Tennant and Jones, Solicitors, Aberavon.'[11]

1890 'CWMAVON. FUNERAL OF MR JOHN STANLEY, J.P.
At Cwmavon Cemetery on Saturday, the funeral took place of the late and deeply-lamented Mr John Stanley. The deceased gentleman, who was 46 years of age, had been for 13 years the manager of the Cwmavon Tinplate Works, and he had in this capacity won the esteem not only of those in the employ, but of the whole of the inhabitants of the district. Previous to his connection with Cwmavon Works, Mr Stanley had occupied the position of engineer under Messrs Leach, Flower and Co., at Briton Ferry. He took a deep and active interest in every good work in the Avon Valley. Mr Stanley married the daughter of Mr J. Edward Armstrong, of Hereford. The funeral on Saturday was largely attended, there being from 300 to 400 of the workmen present. The service was conducted by the vicar (the Rev J. Griffiths) and his curate. Among those who were present to pay a last tribute of respect to their friend were Mr Frank Bullock, Mr Byass, junr. Mr Phillips (Leach, Flower, and Company), Mr Marmaduke Tennant, Mr H. S. Arnold, Mr A. H Bartlett, Major Jones (Aberavon), Mr Robert Leyshon.'[12]

1893 'CWMAVON. Good NEWS.— It has been decided upon by the proprietors of the Cwmavon Works (Messrs Wright, Butler and Co.) to restart the blast-furnaces and steelworks, as well as to lay down a new Bessemer plant for the manufacture of that class of bars in addition to the Siemen's, as at present. This will necessitate the re-starting of the coke ovens, washing machines, and collieries. It is estimated that arrangements can be made for work to be resumed by the New Year.' [13]

1903 Two 20 ft diameter Pelton wheels were supplied by Gilbert Gilkes and Co for the tinplate works (then owned by Copper Miners' Tinplate Co. The available head was about 100 ft. Supply pipework 39" dia., supplied by T. Piggott and Co. 50 ton flywheel made by Price Engineering Co of Neath.[14]. See photo.

1908 'ONCE A COLD-ROLL BOY. CWMAVON WORKS NEW MANAGER. Mr. William Price Lewis, who has been appointed manager of Copper Miners Tinplate Works, Cwmavon, Port Talbot, is at present in charge of a large tinplate works in Zanesville, Ohio.
His connection with the tinplate trade began when he became a cold-roll boy at the Lydney Works. Subsequently he was appointed mill foreman at the Melingriffith Works, and at the same time he was connected with the works at Aberdare.
A few years later Mr. Lewis threw up these position in order to take charge of a tinplate plant near Bilboa. After six years there he went to Cincinnatti, U.S.A., where he was soon promoted to the managership of a larger works at Zanesville.' [15]

Little remains today to indicate the presence of the important metal-producing industries. The large chimney, the Stac-y-Foel, which once discharged the toxic fumes from the copper works (see 1846 article) was demolished in 1940 to prevent its use by German bombers for navigation. The remains of the 'Cwmafan copper works flue' are a scheduled ancient monument[16]. A few place names serve as a reminder of the industries, such as the Rolling Mill Inn.


1846 Article

1846 'THE MINING DISTRICTS OF GLAMORGAN, MONMOUTH, AND BRECON.
'CWM AVON IRON, COAL, COPPER, TIN, AND CHEMICAL WORKS, FOUR MILES FROM NEATH, GLAMORGANSHIRE
These important and remarkable works were commenced in 1820, under the direction of John Vigurs, Esq., now of Rose-hill, near Penzance, Cornwall. "At that time there was no road for carriages, or any dwelling in the valley, with the exception of two or three mud cottages." In 1841 the works were transferred to a company, chartered A.D. 1691, under the denomination of "The English Copper Company." some of the principal members of which are Abel Lewis Gower, Esq., Castle Malgwyn, Pembrokeshire; F. Ricketts, Esq., Bristol; Louis Vigurs, Esq.; T. R. Guppy, Esq.,manager. Since 1841 great additions have been made to the manufactures carried on here, which now consist of the smelting of iron, copper, and tin, rolling iron, making copper and tin plates, manufacturing muriatic, sulphuric, and pyroligneous acid, naptha, and sugar of lead, and raising coal for consumption and sale. The number of men, women, and children employed is about 4500, and the sum paid in wages per month is above £10,000.
The portion of the narrow and retired valley in which this large amount of labour is employed, commences about a mile from the sea. The natural beauties of the scenery are very little interfered with by smoke, the coal of the country not yielding much. The noxious fumes proceeding from the copper works are carried to the top of the highest mountain, 1000 perpendicular feet above the valley, by a flue upwards of a mile long, and of an area of 14 feet by 10; by which means the vegetation of the valley, and the health of the inhabitants, are effectually guaranteed from injury. In this, as in all the other arrangements made by the successive proprietors of these works from the commencement, it appears to have been their study to do everything that a humane, just, and wise regard could dictate for the best interests and real welfare of their work-people as well as of themselves. I feel bound to add that, after very extensive opportunities of observation, I have met with no Works where these objects have been kept in view with so much consistency and so much care. The regulations and details of management for which these works are remarkable, may be noticed under the following heads:—
HIRING.—With the view of securing a good population, inquiries as to character are made before any one is admitted into employment. The responsibility of selection is thrown upon the agent or superintendent of each department of the works. All the hands are engaged by special order from the office. These precautions form a marked contrast with the reckless manner in which men are received at many works, without the least inquiry as to character, or the cause of leaving thc former place of employment. Here care is taken to keep such characters away; tbe knowledge of this attracts the best description of workmen; and a value is given to moral character in the eyes of the whole, which is most beneficial.
STATE OF THE DWELLINGS.—The cottages are well arranged, in rows of moderate size, in different parts of the valley. They are substantial and roomy; each having a back door, and small premises behind with a public oven and all other proper conveniences, for a certain number of houses. The gardens, which are attached to all, are very neatly kept, and are full of flowers, fruit, and vegetables; a small fence generally dividing them from each other. There are also proper covered drains for each row. Two hundred new cottages, now in the course of building, are of larger dimensions, and have four rooms each, with a small court behind. Manure for many of the gardens is given by the Company, from their stables, in any quantity required although they have a large farm in hand. The new cottages will have gardens in front and behind. The rent is moderate,— 8s. per month; paying about 6 per cent. on the outlay. The windows are of ample size, and all made to open. I observed in several cottages papered rooms, as well as excellent furniture and books. Much attention was evidently paid to keep the space about the cottages entirely free from everything offensive. No dogs are permitted to be kept, as they were found to cause annoyance and quarrels.
PAYMENT OF WAGES.—It is not uncommon in large works, on the plea of the expense of more frequent settlements, to defer the payment of the balance of wages for several weeks, advances of a portion of the earnings being made in the interval. Also, on the same plea, a large portion of the payments are made in notes or gold, to several men together, who are obliged to resort to the public-house for change. Two evils are thereby frequently incurred; if the advances are not enough to cover the ordinary expenses of the family, the workman is obliged to run into debt, and must submit to be charged accordingly; if he is obliged to go to the public-house for change, he is compelled to spend something in drink, and is often led to spend more. This Company endeavours, at much cost to themselves, to prevent these evils as far as they are able. A certain portion of their men are paid in the office every day; a supply of gold and silver being duly brought by mail, from Bristol, for that purpose, in addition to what is obtained from Neath. To carry out this arrangement the labour of five additional clerks was also requisite; two new rooms were obliged to be built, and other extra expenses incurred. The accommodation to the workpeople arises from the more frequent settlements, which keep each man's family better supplied with ready money.
THE COMPANY'S SHOP.— The shop is not kept with a view to profit, neither does the Company derive much from it. They do little more than return to themselves the interest of the money employed in it. It is kept for the advantage and accommodation of the workpeople, who would otherwise have to pay much dearer than they ought to do for all their supplies.
MORAL CARE.— The parish church is near the works, and the clergyman is resident. It has been improved by the Company, and a house built for the clergyman, whose services are acknowledged by an annual donation. There are, also, several dissenting chapels, built by the Company, supported by the workpeople. Schools have been provided by the Company as the works increased. There are at present four boys' and four girls' schools in different parts of the valley, placed conveniently for the population, and one infant school at Cwm Avon. That these are sufficient, and meet the wants of the people, is shown by the fact, that there is only one small day-school of the old kind in the valley. The Company's schools are thus supported:- Every man in their employ, earning 12s. a-week and upwards, pays to the school fund 3/4d. per week. This entitles him to send all his children, and also admits the young men to the evening school. The children of all who may be earning less than 12s. a week (who are very few) are admitted free. The cost to the Company of the salaries of the masters and mistresses, of their house-rent and firing, and the supply of books, stationery, maps, and all other requisites, far exceeds the amount produced by the school fund.
Singing is taught in classes, on Mr. Hullah's plan, and is becoming a favourite source of amusement. The classes are conducted by the schoolmaster.
Several other innocent and agreeable recreations are encouraged. A band has been formed, consisting of about 20 instruments. A music master was at first engaged to teach them; they play frequently on summer evenings, on the hill side, and are heard for a considerable distance along the narrow valley. A cricket club has been in existence several years. There is, also, the amusement and advantage of sea-fishing. A large drag-net is used, the Company lending a couple of horses for the purpose to the various descriptions of workpeople alternately; to the iron-stone men, the colliers, the copper-workers, &c., &c. Several cwt. of fish are fre- quently brought to the shore at one haul.
The temptation of the public-house is as far as possible removed. There are only two allowed upon the property of the Company, which are also kept under strict regulations, and are never open after 10 o'clock at night. Mr. Vigurs adds the remarkable testimony (in most striking contrast with the degraded sensuality of the people of the great works "on the hills" of Monmouthshire and Brecon), that he does not remember to have seen, during his long residence, a drunken man wandering about, or that a case, arising out of drunkenness was once brought before the magistrates.
Fines are imposed for improprieties of conduct, or neglect of duty; for drunkenness, swearing, misconduct towards a fellow workman, smoking during the hours of work, &C. The fines are added to the sick fund. The least liberty taken with any of the females employed (they are chiefly engaged about the tin works) is punished with immediate discharge.
An alphabetical record is kept of all the people employed, under the heads of name, age, occupation, residence, length of service, rate of pay per month. A large proportion of the people have been upon the spot from 5 to 20 years. A record of this kind is most useful to the employer, and tends greatly to encourage regular conduct among the men, by keeping before them the value of character.
The Sunday is kept with much propriety; no assemblages of children idling about, are allowed they are expected to be either with their parents, or at the Sunday school. The parents receive the earnings of the children till near the time when they think of marrying. The effect of the contrary habit, so injurious whenever it has taken root, and ending in the total loss of all domestic discipline and the disruption of all family ties, appears from what was described to me, to be perfectly well-known and avoided. Instead of allowing a son, as soon as he earns money enough to keep him, to board where he likes, the habit here was, (as it was expressed) that "if a boy is wildly inclined, the father will not let him have any money at all"
It is almost superfluous to add that the abuses against which the Act 5th and 5th Victoria c. 99, was directed, for the protection of the mining population, have no existence here. Females were never employed below ground. Instead of young boys, men generally attend to the air-doorsj affording thus additional security, though at some little extra cost. The payment of wages in public-houses, through contractors, or under any other form, is, of course, unknown. The earnings of the colliers and miners, who work regularly six days in the week, are from 20s. to 25s. per week; boys 8s. to 10s. The highest paid class of workmen, some of those engaged about the copper works, earn as much as £16 per month. The average of all in that department is 35s. All contribute 4 1/2d. per week to the doctor and sick-fund. Where so much money is earned and the habits of the people are so steady, the general standard of comfort is remarkably high, as may be seen in the state of their cottages, their dress, their food, and general appearance of health and well-being. Many were said to have saved no inconsiderable sums of money.
If the bringing together a large mass of people, earning high wages, has not been accompanied in this case by their demoralization, the cause is clear; many wise precautions have been taken that it should not. These are to a certain extent costly to the Company; but they have this advantage over the contrary plan over the contrary plan of laying out nothing upon moral safeguards, and trusting to chance for the result, that the cost is known it may be included in the accounts as £200 or £300 per annum, as a guarantee-fund against disorder. But what process can enable proprietors to calculate the cost beforehand of a drunken, demoralized, ignorant, reckless, refractory population, whom it is impossible to reach by reason until after they have inflictcd damage to the amount of many thousand pounds upon their employers and themselves, and upon whose minds the lessons of experience have no hold beyond a very few years.
I know no extensive works which betoken a presiding spirit of justice and liberality in their management, more evidently than these of the English Copper Company, at Cwm Avon, or in which the wise moral government of a large assemblage of work-people engages so much careful consideration.
LLYNVI IRON COMPANY and The MAESTEG IRON COMPANY. This locality is remarkable as affording a proof of the consequences of neglecting the population, while the respective works were in other hands, and of vigorous efforts on the part of the present companies in the way of improvement. The Llynvi Iron Works commenced under the name of the Cambrian Company, in 1838, and passed into the hands of the present Company, of whom Dr. Bowring, M.P., is one of the principal proprietors, in April 1844. The Maesteg works commenced in 1827, and were taken by the present Company at Christmas 1844. Between 1838 and 1814, an addition of about 2,000 was made to the population. The houses were greatly crowded. No schools were provided by either of the old companies, except a small school kept by a female, set on foot by the Cambrian Company, about eight months before they gave up the works. The other day schools were, one kept by an old soldier, and another kept occasionally in a Dissenting Chapel, by a disabled workman. Public-houses were allowed to spring up without the least controul. In one part of the valley, "nearly every fourth house is a public-house In another, in the small hamlet of Cwmdu, about the upper works, there are 30 public-houses. These were constantly open on Sundays, and at nights, with scarcely any restriction. The parish church, and the residence of the clergyman, were at some distance from the works. About five years ago, one of the proprietors of the Maesteg Works resided near them and at that time better order was kept in the valley in many repects." Sunday schools have always been held in the Dissenting Chapels, of which there are five; three built by the people of the Maesteg Works, and two subsequently to the increase of tbe population in 1838.
The absence of that kind of controlling and corrective superintendence, which has been adverted to in describing the Cwm Avon Works, appears to have here given scope for the development of various evils in the state of the population, which were conspicuous when the present companies took to these works.
Mr. Bowring, who manages the Llynvi Works, thus described the state of insubordination of the colliers and miners, and their disregard of their own interests as well as that of their employers. "Our colliers and miners will only work three weeks out of four. They earn from 20s. to 25s. per week, working seven to eight hours. They might earn in a few weeks' work, as some of the steadier ones do, at least 30s. In consequence of this deficiency in the quantity they raise, we are put to expense in various ways. We are obliged to employ a third more colliers than we should otherwise require; to keep so much more work open, and to have more horses and labourers, who are idle one-third of their time. We have had frequent strikes, and have been compelled to give undue advances of wages; in some instances, we have been obliged to raise wages upwards of 25 per cent., far higher than was in the least degree justified by the price of iron."
The Rev. T. Hughes Jones, lately appointed as curate for this part of the parish, stated that on coming among this people, he found, in their habits and in the state of their minds, many proofs of the imperfect care hitherto bestowed on them. One of the first evils to which he addressed himself was, the public-houses, which had been under no control. He has caused them all to be closed at the proper hour, and especially prevented the desecration of the Sundays, which formerly took place in them to a great extent. In his intercourse with the people, he has been struck with numerous instances of gross ignorance, and its accompaniment - superstition. One had recently occurred. A carpeuter belonging to the Maesteg Works, had been robbed of a sum of money. The other carpenters subscribed 6d. each, to pay his expenses in going to a noted conjuror, near Lampeter, a distance of fifty miles, to discover the thief!! The Llynvi Company manifest, by the various arrangements they have made, an enlightened interest in the well-being of their workpeople. The houses they are building have five rooms, and gardens and other conveniences attached. Prizes are given for the best-kept gardens. Benefit clubs are encou- raged, which give very liberal aid in case of sickness or death. Wages are paid in the office, in change, which is procured from Neath. The shop which had been kept by the previous Company has been discontinued. Efficient schools have been established, the chief expenses of which are borne by the Company; .....[17]

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Western Mail, 19 May 1899
  2. Western Mail, 19 March 1902
  3. South Wales Daily News - Thursday 21 July 1887
  4. [1] Historical Port Talbot
  5. Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette, 17 April 1852
  6. .Cardiff Times - Friday 21 March 1862
  7. Obituary of James Shaw
  8. The Times, October 20, 1877
  9. Aberdeen Press and Journal, 9 November 1880
  10. South Wales Daily News, 28 October 1886
  11. South Wales Daily News, 19 September 1888
  12. South Wales Daily News, 18 February 1890
  13. South Wales Daily News, 28 October 1893
  14. [2] The Engineer, 4 Dec 1903, pp.544-6
  15. South Wales Daily Post, 7 April 1908
  16. [3] Ancient Monuments website
  17. Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette - Saturday 5 September 1846