Edited by Elis Jenkins
PUBLISHED BY ELIS JENKINS
by D. Morgan Rees
THERE are detailed references to early furnaces and forges in a well-known work1 on Neath and its neighbourhood. This detail is valuable because, in the main, it is based on documentary evidence. It is, however, in one sense a bewildering catalogue of information, which needs to be sifted for the purposes of this chapter.
There is evidence to support the existence of a forge in Cadoxton in 1566 and also of forges in Briton Ferry and Glyndulais during the 1660s and 1670s. The first mention of an ironmaking furnace is obtained from the lease in 1694 of 'a parcel of land whereon an iron‑melting furnace stood' at Cwm Felin.
D. Rhys Phillips makes a number of references to a furnace at Melin-y-cwrt,' providing many interesting and useful pieces of information, particularly about the origin of the supply of iron ore to the furnace. Some of it came from Banwen Pyrddin, beyond Onllwyn at the head of Afon Dulais, carried by pack‑horses and 'it was also obtained from Cwmgwrach'. This is an interesting observation in view of the building of a blast furnace during the nineteenth century in this area.3 Phillips is quick to correct hasty conclusions reached by the local historian Carw Coch (William Willisme), that the furnace at Melin‑y-cwrt was first operating in 1736, by calling on documentary evidence which proved that charcoal and iron ore were being carried to the furnace in 1718.4 An interesting item in this reference is to the payment made to a 'collier', the name given to the man who burned timber into charcoal, and his assistant. The charcoal suppliers often worked independently of the furnace proprietors at this time.
It is possible to provide an earlier date for the Melin-y-cwrt blast furnace. The reference was discovered by Dr. H. R. Schubert,5 who will always be among the foremost historians of the Iron and Steel Industry in Britain, in a manuscript which was at the time in the Pontypool Public Library. It is as important as any manuscript relating to the making of iron in South Wales during the early years of the eighteenth century. It was compiled by John Hanbury, also known as Major Hanbury, who inherited the Pontypool furnaces and forges from his father Capel Hanbury. The date of the manuscript is 1704, with additions up to 1708; it is now in the Momnouthshire Record Office.
The reference to Melin‑y cwrt reads:
Oct. 6, 1708 began to blow at Neath or Melin Court furnace (God Prosper) the hearth made with small stone such as we Make the boshes with. Mem(orandum) the hearth was made half an inch wider than usual with great stone.
It is possible that this reference answers Phillips's query about the fate of the building of the furnace and its original ownership. It is not known for how long Hanbury maintained his interest in this furnace, but there is evidence6 that this small ironworks changed hands on a number of occasions during the remainder of the eighteenth century until it closed in 1808.
The complete dependence of a blast furnace upon water as the source of power, and the waterwheel as the prime mover, has been revealed by Richard Warner,7 who was sufficiently perceptive to note a number of interesting details during 1798 at more than one ironworks in South Wales. He described the Melin-y-cwrt waterwheel as having a circumference of 120 feet, which suggests a diameter of about 38 feet. He also made the point that the works consisted of 'a blast furnace, a finery and a foundery'.
An engraving in J. G. Wood's The Rivers of Wales, 1811 (Plate 1) provides a classical example of the water chute or launder taking the water to the waterwheel which is housed beneath a part‑roof alongside one wall of the furnace. The waterwheel activated a bellows inside the building, which sent the blast through the side wall of the furnace to create the required heat for the smelting operation. Above and behind the water chute is the path or roadway along which the barrows of the time were trundled carrying the raw materials, iron ore and charcoal, into the charging house where they were made ready for loading through a charging hole in the top of the furnace.
The position of the actual blast furnace was directly beneath the stack which is seen emerging above the ridge of a pitched roof. The suggestion of a building rather than a furnace is given by this type of roof, but the housing of a blast furnace within such a building was not unusual during the charcoal-burning period. There is a very good example of a furnace such as this at the present time in the village of Furnace in Cardiganshire, one which was built in 1755.
The furnace was tapped at its front wall and the molten iron flowed into the cast house which is immediately to the left of the furnace building in the engraving, yet abutting on to it. The remaining buildings undoubtedly contained the 'finery and a foundery' as described by Warner. This implies that the pig iron which was produced in the blast furnace was refined in another kind of furnace into wrought iron and thus made capable of being shaped under a tilt hammer in that part of the ironworks which was the forge. It also means that pig iron in its solid form was melted in a cupola so that, in its molten state, it could be poured into moulds of different kinds to form castings of iron of various shapes. There were, therefore, essential differences between pig iron, wrought iron and cast iron.
At this time—the end of the eighteenth century—the proprietors of Melin-y-cwrt ironworks were probably finding it extremely difficult to sustain the momentum of previous years. Charcoal, or supplies of timber for turning into charcoal locally, came from outlying areas, which added to production costs. Inevitably the rapid development of new ironworks, using coke as a fuel, on the north-east rim of the South Wales Coalfield, led to the closure of charcoal furnaces such as Melin‑y‑cwrt.
The year 1667 has been given as the year when a forge was erected near the Dulais waterfall. Afon Dulais is a tributary of Afon Nedd, and flows into the main river from the north‑east. There is little doubt that there was a subsequent connection between this site and a rolling mill and tinplate works which was developed at Ynys‑y‑gerwn.8 Although tinplate was at this time iron sheet coated with tin, the Ynys-y-gerwn works does not come within the scope of this chapter. The works which was developed near the Dulais waterfall does, because it was originally an iron forge concerned with converting pig iron into a refined iron for hammering and rolling. A lease of 1768, involving Coles, Lewis & Co., refers to 'Dylais Forge Houses', and Warner9 in 1798 called it the Aberdilis (sic) forge, 'where the crude or pig iron is formed into bars and sent in that state . . . farther up the valley . . . to be manufactured into tinplate'.10 A question which cannot be answered with any certainty is what was the source of the pig iron worked at Aberdulais Forge. It could, of course, have come from a number of ironworks. In 1782 the Aberdulais Forge was owned by John Miers,11 who was also interested in forges in the Afan and Tawe valleys. Miers died in 1786, but it is assumed that the forges were afterwards managed by his son John Nathaniel Miers, who married a daughter of Richard Hill, of Plymouth Ironworks, Merthyr Tydfil. It is, perhaps, reasonable to suppose from this ir formation that at one time the Plymouth works was a source of pig iron for Aberdulais.
A visit during May 1973 to this site revealed that there had been a steam engine operating there at one time: the now picturesque boiler house stack is still standing. The rolling mills at the works would have been driven from such an engine. The site is now overgrown, and most of the masonry ruinous, but it can still provide evidence of the use of water power. A stone staircase from the main works' area leads upwards to the point where the water-course tapped Afon Dulais above a weir. The water flowed along this water-course to a point above an overshot waterwheel, which was without doubt the prime mover for the original forge, particularly the tilt hammer. The wheel‑pit remains and also a good‑looking, stone structure which carried the water chute from the water‑course to the point above the wheel. This structure, as it stands today, consists of three archways, one at the front and one on each side, which were strengthened by the use of double arches in each case. The stonework of this part‑building cannot be faulted.
There is some evidence that another furnace was built in Cwm Nedd towards the end of the eighteenth century. It was Alexander Raby's furnace at Penrhiwtyn.12 At this time coke was the fuel generally used in blast furnaces in South Wales, but there is no evidence to prove that this was such a furnace. In all probability it was short‑lived as an ironmaking venture.
The best‑known of the ironworks in the Neath area is the Neath Abbey Ironworks, which was developed from an original site at Cwm-y-Felin, where Richard Parsons is known to have operated a blast furnace and a forge during 1785‑92.13 There is, however, a map of a 'Survey of the Neath Abbey Estate 1770-177114 which shows 'Old Pond and old Rowling Mills'. The early works, which is now a woollen mill, was sited on the east bank of Afon Clydach at SS 738932. It was served by a waterwheel which was operated from a watercourse which tapped the river above a weir a short distance upstream. The housing of this wheel is still recognisable alongside a wall of the present‑day mill.
In 1792, Parsons leased the Cwm-y-Felin property to the family of George Coker Fox of Falmouth and their associates, two of whom subsequently were Peter Price and Samuel Tregelles.15 It has been said of this Cornish Quaker family and their ironworks 'that they never tried to grow large',16 but were content to develop slowly '. . . ever mindful to turn out work of the best make'. The subsequent history of this company will show that it lived up to its recognition of the need for quality production.
A fairly close look at the Neath Abbey Ironworks has been made possible by the information and illustrations which appeared in a diary kept by John Gilpin, an American, who visited the West of England and South Wales during 1796. Gilpin's material has become available through the kindness of A. P. Woolrich of Bristol, a member of a number of societies interested in the history of science and technology, who has spent a great deal of time in transcribing patiently the entries in the diary from a microfilm of it which became available to him. The inclusion of this new material about Neath Abbey Ironworks has been made possible by his work.
Gilpin visited the works for the first time on 3 August 1796 and described them as, 'A new sett of iron works finished within these times' owned by George C. Fox and Company of Cornwall.
They existed 'for the simple purpose of making Pig Iron and some castings and have been erected here for the contiguity of iron and Coals'. This makes it clear that there was a foundry on the site at this time.
The works was described as modern in its construction, the furnaces being very large, and blown by one Boulton and Watt steam engine. Gilpin stated that the blast furnaces were about 60 feet high, the two of them producing from 75 to 80 tons of iron per week. The original drawing of the two furnaces has been deposited at the Glamorgan Record Office,17 and shows that Number One furnace was about 53-1/2 ft. high and Number Two 65-1/2 ft.
In 1798, the furnaces were described by a well‑known traveler of the period, Richard Warner,18 already referred to, as '. . . Two immense blast furnaces belonging to Messrs. Fox & Co.... constantly at work, each of them producing upwards of thirty tons of pig‑iron every week. They are blown by iron bellows, worked by a double engine, constructed on the plan of Messrs. Boulton and Watts, with a steam cylinder of forty inches in diameter'.
Warner's description provides an extra piece of information in referring to the double engine, but both travellers provide information which suggests that there had been no great increase in the tonnage of iron produced between 1796 and 1798.
Gilpin's Diary contains a number of sketches which provide valuable information about the lay-out of the ironworks, and a certain amount of detail about processes which were contributory to ironmaking. Among these is a 'profile plan' (see page 156) relating the position of the works to the high ground behind to the west. In the diary this sectional drawing follows a sketch of the ground plan, but it is advantageous to look at it first so that the works may be immediately related to the source of supply of one of its raw materials, coal, which was made into coke.
The sketch shows that the furnace was built into land which rose above the ground level of the ironworks where stood the melting house, or the cast house, as it is more familiarly known. This made it possible for the raw materials—the iron ore, the coke and the limestone—to be prepared on the same level as the furnace top and in line with the charging platform of the furnace, shown as F and G in the sketch, and the charge hole in the furnace stack. This principle can still be recognised in the remains of other sixteenth and eighteenth-nineteenth century blast furnaces on a number of sites in South Wales.19 The shed or 'upper part of the furnace', G, was often called the charging house because the raw materials were proportioned, according to their weight, in this building. That part of the blast furnace shown as I and called 'the flue of the furnace' is more commonly known as the shaft.
This sketch perhaps over‑simplifies the connection between the furnace area and the coal level, but it does reveal that coal and iron ore, worked in levels, were conveyed to the furnace yard in trams on tramroads. Coal for the ironworks came from levels driven into the hill to the west of the works. Gilpin calculated that the level which he visited was about 500 yards away from the blast furnace.
One of the sources of iron ore is given as Pantyvan, probably Pontneathvaughan (Pont‑nedd‑fechan) from where it was transported about '13 miles down the canal'. In addition, iron ore came from the neighbourhoods of Merthyr and Brecon, and also from Lancashire. The Lancashire ore Gilpin described as being very fine and requiring no roasting. It is interesting to note that iron ore was being imported into Neath at this time from Lancashire, probably Furness, because the ironworks at Tintern were also using Lancashire ore during the second half of the eighteenth century.
The sketch of the ground plan of the furnaces and the area behind it shows more clearly the relationship between the two furnaces at Neath Abbey and the preparation area (illustrated on page 157). It also emphasises the importance of this area to the ironmaking process. The kilns for roasting or calcining the iron ore, shown as E, were important because they cleaned the ore through the burning of the unwanted particles of earth, and a thorough drying also resulted. It is significant that limekilns are not included in the preparation area. It is usual to find them on sketches and drawings such as this one, but there were works which located their kilns outside the main area, but not too far distant.
In the light of Gilpin's sketches there are a number of points of interest in the area above and behind the old furnaces as it is today. It is significant that there is a very high embankment with stone retaining walls on the west side of the roadway which goes up the side of the hill to the west of the furnaces. There is no doubt that this embankment was joined to the furnaces by two bridge arches. The present height of the embankment and of the charging platform levels of both furnaces—the charge‑hole of Number Two furnace still remains—provide unmistakable evidence of this.
Ground Plan of Furnaces and Preparation Areas
In a profile sketch showing the location of the calcining ovens (E on the plan sketch), Gilpin describes this area as 'The Hill levelled for a yard to contain the stone ore'. This area is now used by a transport firm, but it is still possible to appreciate the considerable 'levelled' area which was available to the ironworks for the preparation of the raw materials for the furnaces.
Gilpin calculated that the coal level which supplied coke for coking was some 500 yards from the furnaces. It is significant that there is a ruined building about this distance away from the furnaces at the western end of the embankment and at a point where the land begins to rise. This could have been the point of entry to the original level where subsequently a steam engine was installed.
In 184120 the Neath Abbey Coal Company was operating an eight horsepower steam engine at a pit '. . . entered by a level'. It was the Pwllfaron Colliery, where 61 were employed, three under thirteen years of age. The proprietors were listed as Messrs. Price and Co.
A stone building, now used as offices, which may have had some administrative function during the period of the ironworks, stands on the south side of this rise in the ground a short distance away from the embankment.
The existence of 'beds for coaking Coal', shown as G on the ground plan, suggests that coke, in bulk, was made from coal banks which operated in the open air and not in ovens. Gilpin described this operation of 'coaking' as one which was carried out by using lump-coal, placed in long beds, which, after it had burned for about twelve hours, was covered with earth to put out the flame.
The feature shown as F, however, indicates that coke ovens were used for converting small coal into coke, and this was '. . . only done to prevent waste'. The work was carried out by 'women labourers who operate every part of it by their own knowledge and experience'. Two sketches, one in plan and one in section, indicate that these were narrow ovens made of rectangular chambers covered with brick archways. They were usually built alongside each other, being separated only by their brick dividing walls. They were blanked off at one end—this gave the name 'stop‑ended' ovens—and were charged by hand from the front where there was a lifting door made of cast iron. Each one, as indicated in Gilpin's sketch, was provided with a flue in the roof to induce the necessary draught and to provide an escape for the gas which was generated. The remains of a line of such coke ovens may still be found on the site of the original Dowlais Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil.
There is no precise indication of the way in which the blast was blown into the furnaces from the engine. The ground plan merely indicates the links between AA, the steam engine, B, air bellows, and C, the two furnaces. It is assumed that the links, the double lines as shown, are the cast iron pipes which carried the blast into the tuyeres, removable devices in the furnace walls into which were fitted the nozzles from the end of the blast pipes. It is not possible to draw particular conclusions from a sketch which is not to scale, but it is more than useful to have this lay‑out and to compare it with the two blast furnaces at Neath Abbey as they stand today.
The 'store for drying moulds', H, is significant because it points directly to a substantial involvement in iron founding at this time. The making of sand moulds from wooden patterns by hand was and remains a skilled art, and it was necessary to dry the moulding boxes before they were ready to receive the molten iron. The dimensions of the drying store as shown in the ground plan and compared with the cast houses (shown as 'Casting Room') suggest that an appreciable amount of space was needed for this side of the work.
The drawings of the stove used for baking or drying the moulds in the drying store represent nothing more than typical installations of this kind, but the interesting fact is that it is now possible to record them as integral features in iron founding at Neath Abbey at the end of the eighteenth century.
The tuyere was the important link between the blast engine and the furnace, and it is extremely rare to find examples of this feature in the remains of furnaces of the eighteenth-nineteenth century period. Two such examples may still be found in the neighbourhood of Neath, the first is in furnace Number Two at the Neath Abbey Ironworks site, and the other at the site of the old Venallt Ironworks, Cwmgwrach.
The two furnaces at Neath Abbey (one illustrated in Plate 3) still provide classic examples of stone blast furnaces which were linked at the charging level with the higher ground behind by bridge arches. The back walls of the furnaces were usually separated from the rising ground behind them by a passage‑way. It is an interesting experience to stand in this passage-way (illustrated in Plate 4) behind the two furnaces at Neath Abbey because one side of it, the one which is parallel to the back walls of the furnaces, is solid rock. It is customary to find a retaining wall extending from ground level to the charging level as one side of such a passageway, but it is unusual to find one that is composed of natural rock. The wall was considered necessary, not only as a retaining feature in the rising ground, but also as a precaution for keeping the natural dampness away from the furnace.
In the side walls and back walls of furnaces of this period there were arched openings leading into small chambers. Each one was known as the tuyere house. The protection afforded by the roof and walls of the tuyere house, an integral part of the furnace structure, was essential because the great heat of the furnace made it necessary to change the cast‑iron tuyere regularly, and so the small chamber was very important. In a side wall of the Number Two furnace at Neath Abbey it is still possible to see the broken end of a tuyere; it is likely that the blast pipe was roughly broken off at this point when it was removed (illustrated in Plate 5).
There is a tuyere house in the back wall of each of the Neath Abbey furnaces, and directly opposite each one there is a small chamber which was hewn out of the solid rock. The purpose of these two chambers in relation to the working of the furnaces is not exactly clear, but they may have been necessary to provide room for the removal and fixing of the blast pipes. The chambers are roughly semi-circular, the entrance being 11 ft. wide, 7 ft. high, and the distance from the front to the back about 18 ft.
In the front walls of the furnaces of this period there were two holes, the one when it was tapped releasing the slag, and the second the molten iron into a channel leading to furrows which had been formed in the sand floor of the cast house, a floor which sloped gently away from the furnace to facilitate the easy flow of the molten iron into the furrows. The holes were tapped by the founders or furnace‑men, who used cast-iron rods. A working aperture in the front wall, appreciably larger than the tuyere house, gave access to the tap-holes. This had an arched entrance, but its roof sloped upwards and outwards from the tap holes. It was strengthened by iron lintels which were built into the masonry. The two furnaces at the Neath Abbey Ironworks site provide the best, if not the only, remaining examples of such complete working apertures and their iron lintels' reinforcements on the site of an old ironworks in South Wales (illustrated in Plate 6).
There is a small amount of information available about the ironworks in 184121 when it was described as 'Neath Abbey Iron Company, parish of Cadoxton, county of Glamorgan—Messrs. Foxes, Price and Co., Proprietors'.
The numbers employed were listed as:
Adults .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 175
Under 18 years of age .. .. .. .. .. .. 47
Under 13 years of age .. .. .. .. . . 11
In the words of Charles Waring, the works' agent at this time, 'The Neath Abbey Iron Company is an engine manufactory, and contains a department for iron ship‑building, &c. Our works have no special provision for ventilation but they are sufficiently airy; and the usual temperature is from 58¡ to 70¡, nor is any great degree of heat required in those processes where children are employed . . . We have about 170 adults at work now, but when we are full of work we employ from 260 to 300. Our two blast furnaces are not at work'.
Boys of 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 years of age were variously described as fetter tender, moulder's attendant, general attendant, attendant on the furnace, and one as attending upon the men in the boiler-making and iron ship-building department.
There is no doubt that the collection of plans and drawings of the Neath Abbey Ironworks at the Glamorgan Record Office is among the finest of its kind in Wales. A large number of admirable ink and water-colour drawings testify to the remarkable engineering achievements of this works and reveals an almost incredible contribution of plant and machinery to a variety of industries.
The index to the collection is divided as follows:
1. Plans of Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering 1817-83. 737 plans, 6 papers, 3 files.
2. Plans of Locomotives and Railway Engineering 1826-92. 444 plans, 1 file, 1 paper, 1 photo-copy.
3. Plans of Machinery 1792-1882. 886 plans, 1 file, 4 papers, 1 photo-copy.
4. Plans of Neath Abbey Ironworks 1813-81. 116 plans, 2 files, 1 paper.
5. Plans of Gas Installations and Work for Gas Contracts. 377 plans, 2 papers, 4 files.
That this collection has been preserved22 is of great importance, because it provides details of the contributions made by the Neath Abbey Ironworks in so many fields of manufacture. Only a small number of these plans are relevant to this chapter, but a study of the lists has revealed that other ironworks in South Wales looked to Neath Abbey for plant and machinery. Locomotives were made for the Gadlys Ironworks in Aberdare, the Nantyglo Ironworks, Cyfarthfa Ironworks, Hirwaun Ironworks, Dowlais Iron Company, Sirhowy Ironworks, Rhymney Iron Company and the Plymouth Iron Company.
The Plans of Machinery 1792-1882 include not only plans of beam engines, winding and pumping engines, and various machinery mainly for collieries, ironworks and tinworks, but also for brickworks, canals, cement works, chocolate works, copper works, docks, flour mills, gold mines, potteries, silver mines and waterworks, as well as engines and machinery for general sale. A number of the ironworks already listed were among those which were supplied, and the various types of machines and engines supplied indicate that the Neath Abbey Company was heavily engaged in foundry work and engineering.
The Plans of Neath Abbey Ironworks from 1813 to 1881 are of particular interest because some of them relate to the buildings on the site which have survived to the present time. The complete set includes ground plans of the Neath Abbey Ironworks, plans of buildings, inventories of stock, and of engines and machinery for the furnaces, boring mill, fitting shop, rolling mill, wharf and of the Cheadle Works. This was a short distance away to the south near the mouth of Afon Clydach, with the company's dry dock alongside. There are also plans relating to the Neath Abbey Gas Works which was on the east side of the main works.
An undated plan shows the forge, bar mill, tin mill and the tail race. The forge and bar mill measured 90 ft. by 44 ft. 6 inches, and the waterwheel, which operated a tilt hammer, was 16 ft. in diameter. The hammer was designed '. . . to strike 80 to 90 blows each minute'. At the same time there was a mill in operation—the drawing signifies that the length of a mill beam was 20 ft. and the speed of the rolls 20 revolutions per minute.
One of the most interesting of the drawings of the works' buildings is 'A View of the Roof of the New Fitting Shop at Neath Abbey Iron Works', to a scale of 1/4 in. to 1 foot. This drawing, which is dated 20 October 1818, lists the Cast-iron stays, the Purlins, the King post of Wrought Iron, the Tie Beam of D¡, the Centre Piece, D¡ the Principles, a piece of Timber under the Principles, a plan of Principles and Purlins. Each item is shown in fine detail in this ink and water-colour drawing.
A roof structure such as this one may still be seen in the only complete original building which remains, apart from the two blast furnaces, on the main site. The apparent lightness of the structure's members is surprising in view of the heavy slate roof which it supported and still does. It has been in position for nearly 155 years, which is in itself a tribute to its design and manufacture.
A plan of this building, called the Fitting-up Shop, is shown in a drawing from the same collection dated 22 July 1850. The drawing shows another building, the Smithery and Boring Mill alongside it, and between the two a water course in an Iron Trough leading to a water cistern and waterwheel. The second building no longer stands, but in the west wall of the building which remains there is a run of cast iron angle-brackets which carried the water-trough, and it is still possible to identify the housing of the original waterwheel which was operated from the water. The Fitting-up Shop measured 89 ft. by 46 ft., and the other building 65 ft. by 46 ft. The drawing also shows a Pattern Makers' shop, 85 ft. by 42 ft. 6 in.
Unfortunately there is no detailed plan of the complete site, but the first edition of the Ordnance Survey map, 25 inches to 1 mile, surveyed in 1876,23 shows that there were buildings on those parts of the site which are now open areas.
It is worth recording that there is a set of plans for Forge, Cwm y Felin. They are dated 1825, 1827, 1841 and 1854, and were for a roof for the forge, shaft for the waterwheel, castings for the air chafery and crank rod of shears. These plans indicate that the original site continued to remain as an active part of the works as it developed. A continuing dependence on water power is also indicated in plans for two cast-iron trunks 'for building in the dam of the pond', 22 May 1840, a 'grating for sluice of pond', 20 May 1841, and 'water-wheel for driving fitting-shop machinery', 23 April 1878. This was the wheel served with water from the iron trough. This was an additional source of power, for the plan of 1850 shows a steam engine in the Fitting-up shop.
On view in the Department of Industry at the National Museum of Wales there is a part of a cast iron pillar, 161 inches in diameter, inscribed:
Two such pillars were used to support the roof structure of the Margam Copper Works when it was built in 1800. They came to light when the building was demolished in 1964. The works were occupied by the Briton Ferry Steel Co. Ltd., in 1926, and were known as the Vivian Tinplate Works. The pillars provided good examples of the large-scale castings which were produced at the Neath Abbey Ironworks.
The site of the old ironworks at Cwmgwrach, the Venallt Ironworks, originally probably Y Wenallt, is especially sign)ficant because in a large mass of iron and slag there remain side by side the section ends of a pair of tuyeres (illustrated in Plate 7). It is probable that when production ceased, the charge in the bottom of the furnace was left to solidify. Subsequently the stonework of the furnace and the blast pipes from the engine house were completely removed, but the solid mass and the twin-tuyeres have remained, possibly because their removal would be a formidable task, and it is fairly certain that they have remained where they are for more than a hundred years.
There are also on the site the remains of a typical nineteenth-century engine-house and boiler-house stack (illustrated in Plate 8). The site is shown on the 6 inch to I mile map, 1901, as a disused works, but on the 25 inch to 1 mile map, 1876 Glamorgan 105, as Venallt Works (patent fuel). It is fairly obvious that the engine house was altered in various ways to meet the requirements of this process. Behind, and far above, the iron and slag mass there is a typical stone charging platform built into high ground; its retaining wall was the back wall of the passage-way behind the Venallt blast furnace.
Unfortunately it has not been possible to obtain more than a little information about this works. It may have been established as an ironworks, that is, an ironmaking works, on the site of an iron-using works, a foundry or forge, which was started in 1826.24 The blast furnace was producing in 1842, and there may have been a connection with the Neath Abbey Ironworks. In 1844 it was owned by Jevons and Wood, who suffered heavy losses, and after 1854 the proprietors of the Aberdare Company (Fothergill and Darby) were the owners. Between 1854 and 1860 it was listed25 as a works of two blast furnaces which were not in production. During 1861-63 they were listed as furnaces which had been demolished. A thorough investigation of this site during 1971 failed to reveal any evidence of a second furnace.
The Venallt furnace is of considerable interest because it used anthracite coal as fuel in the smelting process. George Crane, the owner of the Ynyscedwyn Works, Ystradgynlais, had succeeded in using anthracite for this purpose in 183626 with the assistance of hot blast, that is, blast which on its way to the blast furnace had been heated in a stove made up of a series of heated pipes. Crane addressed the appropriate section of the British Association on his discovery when it met at Swansea in 1838.
A writer on iron manufacture during the mid-nineteenth century period27 argued that the proportion between the throat of a blast furnace and its diameter was more important than heating the blast before it entered the furnace. He wrote, 'We have only to go from Hirwaun to the Neath Valley to see the beneficial effects on the coal which would follow from an inconsiderable enlargement of the throat.' It would be interesting to know whether this prolific writer, whose theoretical and practical consideration of iron manufacture covered the main ironworks of Britain, had proved this point at the Venallt blast furnace in Cwm Nedd.
1 D. Rhys Phillips, 1925, A Romantic Vallcy in Wales . . . Thc History of thc Vale of Ncath,
2 D. Rhys Phillips, op. cit., pp. 286, 294‑299.
3 See page 163.
4 Phillips, op. cit., p. 294.
5 H. R Schubert, 1957, History of the British Iron Industry from 450 B. C. to A.D. 1775, p. 425.
6 Phillips, op. cit., pp. 295‑299.
7 Rev. Richard Warner, 1813, Second Walk Through Wales in August and September 1798, pp. 101‑2.
8 Phillips, op. cit., pp. 299‑304; and E. H. Brooke, 1944, Chronology of the Tinplate Works of Great Britain, p. 166.
9 Brooke, op. cit., pp. 8-9.
10 Phillips, op. cit., p. 301 from Warner, pp. 98‑101.
11 John Lloyd, 1906, Old South Wales Ironworks, p. 104.
12 Phillips, op. cit., p. 305.
13 Ibid., p. 288.
14 Dynevor Collection, Glamorgan County Record Office.
15 Phillips, op. cit., p. 289.
16 Lloyd, op. cit., p. 102.
17 Neath Abbey Collection, Glamorgan County Record Office.
18 Warner, op. cit., pp. 96-97.
19 D. Morgan Rees, 1969, Mines, Mills and Furnaces, pp. 52‑87.
20 Children's Employment Commission, 1842, Vol. 17, p. 566.
21Children's Employment Commission, 1842, Vol. 17, p. 564.
22 This was made possible by Mr. A. W. Taylor, who deposited the collection for Taylor and Sons (Engineers) Ltd., Briton Ferry,in 1966 at the Glamorgan County Record Office.
23 Also at the Glamorgan County Record Oflice.
24 Phillips, op. cit., p. 307.
25 Robert Hunt, Mincral Statistics, 1854-60.
26 D. Mushet, 1840, Papers on Iron and Steel, p. 424.
27 W. Truran, 1862, The Iron Manufacture of Creat Britain, p. 179.