Owen, John A. The Merthyr Historian, Vol 1. Merthyr Tydfil Historical Scociety, 1976


Iron making at Dowlais started in the first boom years of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, especially, more so in Wales where Industry as such had hardly penetrated the principality. The first of the great Merthyr industrial complexes that would dominate the iron manufactory world up to 1850. The infant years of struggle to consolidate an isolated emergent business. An early severe shortage of ready capital coupled with the quarrels of partnership in business, of seeing the later Merthyr ironworks overtake them in production, profits and markets. Then with the dawn of the 19th century a complete re-appraisal of the whole philosophy of the business in finance, manufacture and marketing. Coupled with strong determined management and the rise of Josiah John Guest, who together with a brilliant team of engineers and managers made it the greatest ironworks in the world. Whilst throughout the 19th century the Iron Works at Dowlais blazed a wide trail of technical advancement and production innovations which the rest of the world followed for many years, its men, machines and reputation carried to wherever iron and steel were made. Besides its enviable ability in the business of manufacturing iron products, it also had an unenviable position regarding its dependent working population in the overcrowded, diseased conditions and few social amenities available to the inhabitants.


But throughout all its vicissitudes the Works and the community have carried on. Dowlais today still produces iron, and exports it all over the world, whilst the area although not works orientated still has a big stake in its future.


The following contains the barest outline of the iceberg that was “Dowlais Works", nothing more than an appreciation, from an engineering view point, which perhaps will whet the appetite for further study.



Plan of "Merthyr Furnace- 1763-1767


1759 On the 19th September, the "Articles of Co‑Partnership in Myrthir Furnace " were signed. There were nine partners subscribing 750, ₤500 or ₤250 each. First Blast Furnace erected. Leases yearly rent ₤26 per annum.


1760 Eighteen tons of iron produced weekly, 500 tons yearly. 1763 1,000 tons of iron produced for the year. Furnace site lease taken ₤5 per annum and original lease re-negotiated.


1765 John Webb and Thomas Price partners managing works. Seven partners left in firm.


1767 John Guest of Broseley, Shropshire, appointed Manager. Water wheel blast engine in operation. Seven partners left in business. 1,500 tons produced for year.


1771 Road constructed from Merthyr district south to Cardiff.


1772 Dowlais selling Pig Iron at Cardiff for ₤5 12s. 6d. per ton (₤2 10s. 0d. to produce at Dowlais).


1780 Dowlais first exported iron bars to America.


1781 Second Blast Furnace erected and John Guest's contract as Manager renewed for another ten years.


1782 John Guest bought from Thomas Harris his six shares for ₤2,600.


1783 Dowlais were using Peter Onions' patent for refining pig iron into wrought iron.


1785 Sir John Josiah Guest born at Gellifaelog, Dowlais.


1787 John Guest died, Thomas Guest his son and William Taitt his son‑in‑law managing Works. Dowlais Iron Co. formed. At this time the Guests had 10/16 share interest in the Works. Capital of business ₤38,000. Yearly production from two furnaces 1,800 tonnes.


1790 Works rated at ₤2,000 p.a. yearly make of iron 2,000 tons. Some workmen's wages: furnace keepers 10/6 p.w., bridge servers 7/6d. p.w., fillers 9/- p.w., founders 12/- p.w. Thomas Revel Guest born.


1790 Glamorganshire Canal started.


1791 In March Dowlais started making Iron Tram Plates 3' long 21" x 3" also constructed Tram Road to Morlais Quarries via Gurnos.


1792 Joseph Cowles bought 1/16 share in business from Thomas Guest for ₤2,400 and Robert Thompson appointed Manager at Dowlais. ₤1,900 trading profit for year and Tramroad constructed to Pontstore House at Glamorganshire Canal Terminus at Merthyr.


1793 Dowlais Tramroad to Pontstore House on canal at Merthyr constructed, cost ₤3,000.


1793 Third Blast Furnace erected.


1794 Glamorganshire Canal completed 24-1/2 miles long, 49 locks total, rise to Merthyr being 543' 0".


1795 Joseph Cowles sold his 1/16 share in business to Robert Thompson manager at Dowlais.


1796 Selling 2,000 tons of pig iron p.a. to Cyfarthfa Works‑all its yearly production. Capital of Company stood at ₤20,000.


1797 Company Shop opened.


1798 Boulton & Watt steam engine erected in Works, the first in Wales of its kind (Blowing engine No. 2).


1798 Due to Napoleonic Wars, volunteer force raised at Dowlais, 198 men in strength. Capital of company ₤61,072. Robert Thompson left Dowlais and sold his 1/16 share in business to William Taitt for ₤3,817.


1799 Penydarren Tramroad to Abereynon (Navigation House) started.


1800 Three Blast Furnaces in operation, 3,000 tons of iron produced. Trade very depressed, food prices very high‑, flour 15/- per 28 lbs.; salt 7-1/2d. per lb.; wheat ₤119 6s. 0d.; barley ₤68 6s. 0d. and oats ₤37 0s. 0d. per imperial quarter. First riots in the district, troops called in to quell disorder.


1801 Only three partners left in business; William Taitt (8 shares); Thomas Guest (2 shares) and William Lewis (6 shares). First census taken in Merthyr district: 4,273 males. 3,432 females, 1,401 houses. The biggest town in Wales. Dowlais using Cort's "Dry" puddling process for making wrought iron.


1802 Penydarren tramroad to Abercynon opened.


1803 New more powerful steam driven blast engine erected.


1804 On 21st February Richard Trevethick's locomotive engine ran from Penydarren to Abercynon, the first engine to run on rails. Dowlais profit for year ₤4,000.


1806 Dowlais producing 5,432 tons of iron bar and tram plates yearly. Blast Furnaces being re-built.


1807 Thomas Guest died, his son Josiah John Guest now Manager with Alexander Kirkwood.


1810 The first strike in Dowlais, puddlers went on strike due to cut in wages. Profit for year ₤9,845.


1814 Thirty miles of tramroads in works and coal drifts. Alexander Kirkwood died.


1815 William Taitt died, Josiah John Guest now managing partner with (9 shares), Thomas Revel Guest (1 share) and Whyndam Lewis (6 shares). Dowlais had five furnaces in blast producing 15,600 tons yearly. Men's wages were: furnace keepers 21/ - p.w.; fitters 15/-p.w., colliers 15/-p.w., boys 3/- to 8/- p.w. Profit for year ₤15,020.


1816 Second riot at Merthyr and Dowlais. Profit for year ₤10,952. Dowlais produced for year 12,524 tons Pig Iron from its furnaces and sent down canal 9,936 tons of finished iron. Nos. 6 and 7 Blast Furnaces built, cost ₤4,577.


1817 No. 3 Blast Engine built, cost ₤4,500.


1818 Dowlais House built. Rhas Las Pond made.


1819 Michael Faraday visited Dowlais Works in July. First school opened.


1820 New school opened at Dowlais in upper floors of new stables, 200 boys and 100 girls. Profit ₤34,869.


1821 Dowlais produced rails for the first passenger railway in the world, "The Stockton and Darlington Railway ". Dowlais exported for year 12,371 tons of iron. No. 8 Blast Furnace built, cost ₤l,200.


1822 No. 9 Blast Furnace built.


1823 Ten furnaces in operation, yearly make of iron 22,287 tons. Company Shop closed. Profit ₤34,869 for year.


1823 Josiah John Guest opened banks at Merthyr and Cardiff and issued notes to the value of ₤l.


1825 Josiah John Guest's bank closed. Brewhouse coal drift in full operation.


1827 St. John's Parish Church built, cost ₤3,000, by Josiah John Guest.


1828 Shares of company held thus: J. J. Guest (9), T. R. Guest (1), W. Lewis (3) and W. P. Lewis (3).


1829 Mechanics Institute established by the Company.


1830 Morlais Quarries opened, to obtain limestone, ganister. etc. Profit ₤12,569 for year.


1830 Dowlais " Big Mill " erected to roll the increasing orders for rails and bars. Eleven furnaces in operation, 27,647 tons of Iron sold for export. Workers' Benevolent Society started by workmen - all contributions voluntary.


1831 Recession in trade again, population of Merthyr district 22,000 people. Big riots throughout the district, many people killed. Dic Penderyn hanged at Cardiff as ringleader.


1832 Adrian Stephens an engineer at Dowlais invented the steam whistle, it was never patented. Josiah John Guest elected the first M.P. for Merthyr. First cholera outbreak. 160 died.


1832 Dowlais bought its first steam locomotives off the Neath Abbey Iron Company, namely "Success " and "Perseverance". Company Shop finally closed.


1833 John Guest married Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Bertie. ₤21,651 profit.


1834 Twelve Blast Furnaces in works, I I in blast. Profit for year ₤50,096.


1835 Dowlais exported 35,000 tons of iron. Profit ₤51,836 for year.


1836 Taff Vale Railway to Cardiff, work started on construction. Dowlais produced 20,000 tons of rails this year. Profit ₤67,710.


1837 Thomas Revel Guest died. No. 6 Blast Engine built, cost ₤3,894.


1838 Josiah John Guest made a Baronet in the Honours List for Queen Victoria's coronation. Railway gauge in works altered from 4' 2" plateway to 4' 8-1/2 edge rail. Profit ₤77,413 for year.


1839 Ifor Works built (named after Sir John's eldest son), with blast furnaces, forges, fitting shops and foundries. This Works was built as a maintenance area for the main works. Coal pits opened at Cwmbargoed. (Balance Pits).


1840 Little Mill built with two Rail Mill Trains.


1841 Taff Vale Railway opened to Merthyr, Sir. J. J. Guest first Chairman.


1842 Over 5,000 work people employed with annual wage bill in excess of ₤250,000. Seventeen furnaces in blast. Profit ₤55,205 for year.


1843 Lady Charlotte Guest completed the translation of the Welsh folk tales, the 'Mabinogion'. 34,997 people and 6,413 houses inhabited. First large order of Russian rails, 30,000 tons. Profit ₤15,334 for year.


1844 Russia ordered in one contract 50,000 tons of rails. Profit ₤31,158.


1844 Dowlais Company built a reading room and library. Also completely built the Dowlais Schools.


1845 Dowlais was the greatest Ironworks in the world employing 7,300 men, women and children in total, and covered an area of 40 acres, ten of which were buildings. Coal consumption was 1,500 tons weekly and the 18 furnaces in blast produced over 1,700 tons weekly or 88,400 tons yearly. The mills produced 2,000 tons of rails and 2,000 tons of bars monthly, but the "Big Mill" made 400 tons of rails per week. 80,000 tons of ironstone and 140,000 tons of coal were produced for the year, the Company paid to the Parish ₤4,195 in rates for the year. Some wages paid: Thomas Evans (Sales Agent) ₤1,000 p.a.; John Evans (Works Manager) ₤750 p.a.; Sam Truran (Engineer) ₤200 p.a.; Sidney Howard (Shipping Agent) ₤200 p.a., colliers 25/- p.w., puddlers 35/-p.w., rollers 40/- p.w. Profit ₤59,038.


1846 Brass Band, Philharmonic Society and Glee Club/Choral Society started.


1847 The Grand Duke Constantine of Russia visited Dowlais to see Russian rails rolled. Sir John Guest returned un-opposed as M.P. for Merthyr. The Works made a profit for the year of ₤172,746. No. 6 and Middle Forges built to increase capacity of production.


1848 After many long negotiations the Dowlais lease was renewed by the Marquis of Buie for ₤30,000/₤3,000 p.a. rent and royalties. In this year the first night school was started for workers. Profit ₤104,827 for year.


1849 Cholera struck Merthyr area, 1,382 persons died in Merthyr district. Profit ₤15,768.


1850 Sir John Guest bought out Whyndam Lewis's share of the business for ₤200,000, he then held 14 shares and his nephew Edward Hutchins two shares. New Merchant Bar Mill 12" built in Ifor Works. Rhas-Las and Lower Four Feet Pits sunk at Twyn-y-Waun.


1851 No. 1 blowing engine built to supply air to the furnaces; the biggest engine in the world, cost ₤8,839. Company lost for year ₤32,036. Pant-y-Waun Pit sunk.


1851 Sir John Guest sole owner of the Dowlais Works, he bought out the two shares from Edward Hutchins for ₤58,000. William Menelaus started work at Dowlais. Dowlais branch railway with T.VR. opened.


1852 Sir John Guest died, Lady Charlotte Guest took over as overall Manager of the Works. Company lost ₤19,720 for year.


1853 New schools at Dowlais planned, designed by Sir Charles Barry, total cost ₤20,000. Eight weeks' strike in works. Company lost ₤96 for year.


1854 Third cholera outbreak in Merthyr District.


1855 Lady Charlotte Guest married again to Charles Schreiber, M.P. New Dowlais Schools opened,₤ 20,000 cost. Trustees appointed to run Works, G. T. Clarke and Edward Divett. Later Henry Austin Bruce.


1856 Work started on building the Guest Memorial Library and Reading Room. Trustees took over managing the Works, G. T. Clarke and Lord Aberdare. Pits were started to be sunk at Fochriw. Dowlais took out a licence (the first to do so) to use Henry Bessemer's new process for making malleable iron without using coal or charcoal. William Menelaus made General Manager. Dowlais lost ₤52,907 for the year. Dowlais Works Brass Band comprising only workmen flourishing. Bandmaster: Henry Walsh.


1857 The "Goat Mill" was started to be erected, the biggest and most powerful rolling mill in the world. The South Wales Institute of Engineers was founded at Merthyr. Tunnel pits sinking started. Capital of Company ₤184,595.

Dowlais Iron Co. 'Goat’ Mill For rolling rails. Completed 1859 to roll 2000 tonnes per week. Cost ₤32.500 to erect and equip. Photograph taken 1865-70.



1859 Menelaus using waste heat from the furnaces to fire the boilers in the mills and furnaces. Profit ₤17,940 for year. Goat Mill in full production, Dowlais also purchased the Penydarren Iron Works for ₤59,875. Dowlais selling coal on open market for first time. Volunteer Corps formed again with G. T. Clarke as Lieut.‑Col.


1860 From 1848 to 1860, ₤306,712 spent on modernising business.


1861 Menelaus using small coal to fire puddling and balling furnaces. Capital of company ₤187,444.


1862 Population of Merthyr district 49,794 persons with 10,634 houses inhabited. Dowlais had over 10,000 people living there, average wage for skilled workmen 24/2d. Flour 43/- per sack, potatoes 5/ 8d. per cwt., beef 5-1/2d. per lb., bacon 7d. per lb., tea 4/- per lb. Profit ₤3,059 for year.


1863 Guest Memorial Library and Reading Room opened, cost ₤7,000. Fochriw No. I Pit 443 yds. deep, in production. Profit ₤36,572 for year.


1865 On the 5th June 1865, Dowlais converted its first production cast of Bessemer steel. Dowlais built the "Colly" railway line down to Bedlinog to connect to new drifts and collieries. Profit ₤104,843 for year.


1866 Dowlais employed 781 females in total, 1,432 males, 297 females under 18 years of age, including nine boys and one girl under 10 years of age. 505 boys and 164 girls from 10‑13 years of age. 968 boys and 233 girls from 14 to 18 years of age. Fourth cholera outbreak in Merthyr district (the last). Profit ₤62,502 for year.


1866 Dowlais had fifty benefit clubs with a membership of over 5,000, Oddfellows, Druids, Ivorities, The True Britons, Welch Lovers Society, etc. Fochriw No. 2 Pit in production. Total cost of colliery, ₤83,000.


1870 Iron and Steel Institute visited Dowlais Works and held their meeting at Merthyr. Dowlais had 17 blast furnaces, 6 Bessemer converters of 5 ton capacity. Started sinking Nantwen Colliery. Profit ₤197,756 for year.


1871 Dowlais erected its first Siemens-Martin open hearth furnace 415 ton capacity. Profit for year ₤165,840.


1872 Profit for year ₤229,836.


1873 Dowlais imported vast quantities of Spanish iron ore and formed the Orconera Iron Ore Company.


1874 South Tunnel Pit started raising coal. Started sinking Bedlinog Pit.


1876 North Tunnel Pit started raising coal, total cost ₤62,000, and G.W.R. and R.R. Joint Railway opened through to Dowlais Works and collieries up Bargoed Taff Valley.


1880 Sir Ifor Bertie Guest created Lord Wimborne, of Canford, Dorset. Profit ₤143,872 for year. G. T. Clarke's Dowlais Cottage Hospital, High Street, flourishing. P. R. Cresswell, Medical Officer.


1881 E. P. Martin returned to act as William Menelaus's assistant. Bedlinog No. I Pit started raising coal. Profit for year ₤139,030.


1882 William Menelaus the General Manager died, he was a great engineer who had built Dowlais into one of the foremost works in the world, technically excellent, economic and profitable. E. P. Martin took over as General Manager. Profit for year 192,441


1883 Bedlinog No. 2 Pit started raising coal. Total cost of colliery ₤131,000.


1885 Steel sleeper plant erected for making steel railway sleepers for the colonies. Profit ₤62,205.


1888 "Dowlais" Cardiff Works, construction started on the blast furnace plant.


1889 Two new Siemens-Martin open hearth furnaces, constructed. 25 ton capacity. Profit for year ₤85,171.


1890 Abercyuon Coniery was started to be sunk, to supply Cardiff Works with coking coal. Approximate cost ₤216,000. Profit for year ₤177,359.

ACD Systems Digital Imaging

Part of Dowlais Furnace Site, 1890 No. 11 furnace far left. Note the 1840's stone furnaces tucked between 'modern cupola type furnaces' to left of photograph.



1891 Lord Wimborne and the Marquis of Bute opened the new Works in Cardiff by blowing in Nos. I and 2 blast furnaces. Profit for year ;E145,436.


1892 G. T. Clarke the resident Dowlais trustee retired, another giant concerned with Dowlais's greatness was gone from the scene.


1895 The steelworks and plate mill at Cardiff Works commenced production.


1895 New Bessemer steel plant erected adjacent to the "Goat Mill”. Two converters each of 15 tons capacity.


1996 Abercynon colliery started production.


1897 E. P. Martin elected President of the Iron & Steel Institute and they visited Dowlais. There were 11 blast furnaces, two 15 ton and four 10 ton Bessemer converters, two 25 ton and six 12 ton capacity Siemens-Martin open hearth furnaces, three cogging mills, four rolling mills and a coal washery of 1,000 tons per day capacity. 354 coke ovens, a large electrical plant and vast coal undertakings producing 1,500,000 tons of coal per year.


1898 The Wimborne Institute Social and Welfare Club opened by Lord and Lady Wimborne.


1899 On 27th September the Dowlais Iron, Steel and Coal Company Limited was formed.


1901 The Dowlais Iron Company merged with the firm of Arthur Keen, thus was formed Guest Keen & Co.


1902 In this year Guest Keen & Co. amalgamated with the firm of Nettlefolds Ltd., to form the legendary Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds & Co. Ltd. In March of the same year G.K.N. & Co. Ltd., acquired the shares of Crawshay Bros. of Cyfarthfa. E. P. Martin the General Manager of Dowlais retired and William Evans of Cyfarthfa assumed control of both Works.


1905 New blast furnace plant started to be erected.


1906 Dowlais locomotive shops built its first complete loco on 0-6-0 tank engine named "Arthur Keen",


1909 New blast furnace plant completed, "A" and "B" Yankee type furnaces, automatic, mechanically charged, the very first in Great Britain to be so. The same as at Mayhill, Ohio, U.S.A. Black Vein Drift opened at Trecatti.

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Dowlais Furnaces



1910 Cyfarthfa Works closed.


1912 King George V and Queen Mary visit Duwlais Works.


1915 William Evans the General Manager retired and Howell R. Jones took over.


1915 Cyfarthfa Works re-opened to produce pig iron and shell steel during the "Great War".


1919 Cyfarthfa Works finally closed never to open again.


1920 The last complete locomotive built at the Ifor Works Shops, an 0-4-0 tank engine No. 46, the ninth loco to be designed and built at Dowlais.


1920-1 New Power Station built at the Ifor Works, together with new coke ovens and by-product plant. Brithdir levels No. I and 2 at Fochriw and Nantyffin Drift at Cwmbargoed opened for new coke ovens at Dowlais.


1923-4 South Tunnel, Cwmbargoed and Bedlinog Collieries closed. Also Fochriw Pit.


1925 All the above pits' ancillary equipment sold.


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Dowlais Steelworks From The Air, c. 1925


1926 New coal washery built at Caeharris.


1928 New by-product plant complete at the Ifor Works.


1930 Iron and steelmaking stopped at Dowlais due to economic circumstances and transferred to Cardiff and Port Talbot. Big Mill still worked employing 700/800 people.


1930 The heavy steel industrial plants of Guest Keen & Nettlefolds & Company Limited, amalgamated with Baldwins Limited, to form the British (Guest, Keen Baldwins) Iron and Steel Company Ltd.


1932-5 Bedlinog Drift being opened.


1936 Dowlais Works closed except for the general castings foundry and fitting shop, employing 200/250 men.


1936 The name of the Company changed to Guest Keen Baldwins Iron and Steel Company Limited.


1947 Dowlais collieries nationalised. Nantyffin and Bedlinog Drifts producing 3,000 tons of coal per week and employing 500 men.


1948 Old By-Product Plants demolished.


1950 The general castings foundry being developed and extended to make ingot moulds and general castings. Cost ₤250,000.


1954 Name of company altered to Guest Keen Iron & Steel Co. Ltd.


1957-8 New ingot mould foundry built, to produce 1,000 tons per week in 44 hours, cupolas produced 30 tons/hour. Cost ₤2,000,000.


1959 Dowlais celebrated its Bi-Centenary.


1960 Engineering shops completely re-built.


1962 Name of company changed to Dowlais Foundry & Engineering Co. Limited.


1968 Melting plant completely re-built. Hot Blast Cupolas installed 35/40 tons per hour.


1969 Name of Company changed to G.K.N. Dowlais Ltd.


1971 General castings foundry completely converted to making castings in liquid sand (August).


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Rev. November 2009