The Dowlais Ironworks


The Dowlais Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil was notable in that it became the largest industrial concern in the world.  By 1823, about the time that Hopkin Thomas may have been in Merthyr Tydfil, Dowlais had ten blast furnaces and produced 22,287 tons of pig iron. In 1840 the works had 5000 employees and by 1845 had 18 blast furnaces producing 88,400 tons yearly and 8800 employees. It was a giant enterprise and Merthyr suffered due to the rapid expansion. Hovels were thrown up, almost overnight, to house immigrant workers, while the ironmasters built their castles and magnificent stables for their horses. In 1801, Merthyr had a population of 7,700, a figure which rose to 22,000  by 1831.


Merthyr Tydfil in 1901 – The Dowlais Railway was developed after Hopkin Thomas emigrated to America.


High Street, Merthyr Tydfil, 1840


ACD Systems Digital Imaging

View of the Dowlais Works – probably after the turn of the century.


The Dowlias Works continued to be active well into the 20th century as the Timeline published in the Merthyr Historian in 1976 attests. The above photographs are from the extensive collection developed by Alan George on the Photographic History of Merthyr Tydfil.  In particular, to view photographs dealing with the Dowlais Ironworks after the period when Hopkin left Wales for America, click here.


Of special interest is information on the Dowlais’ involvement in the use of steam powered locomotives. If Hopkin was employed at Dowlais it would have been this experience which encouraged him to join the Baldwin locomotive Works in Philadelphia in 1834.  Indeed, the engine Perseverance, the first built by the Neath Abbey Works, was delivered to Dowlais in 1832. Details of the Perseverance can be found in the pages dealing with locomotive development.

The Perseverance, 1832


Wilkins published an extensive history of Merthyr Tydfil, and it contains a chapter on the development of the Dowlais works. However, that history emphasizes the involvement of the members of the Guest family in the management of the works and gives little technical information.


It does appear, however, that the records of the company have been preserved, and that some future researcher should have the opportunity to browse the records for technical information. For example, the records contain over 88,000 letters concerning the operations. A selection of 680 of these letters has been published by the County Records Committee, but, again, few of the letters address technical activities and none refer to steam locomotive operations at the ironworks itself.


Published letters from Dowlais


The introduction contained in this volume presents an history of the works. More importantly, the final section of the Introduction describes the wealth of material that has been preserved. It appears that these records are held by the Glamorgan Arhive Service in Cardiff : Dowlais Iron Company, iron and steel manufacturers and colliery proprietors,

c1783-c1930: letter books, correspondents, balance sheets, accounts, legal papers, agreements, patents, staff and wages records, plans, leases, deeds, photographs 
[Glamorgan Archive Service, Cardiff - Reference: D/DG]


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Rev. December 2012