Penydarren Ironworks at Merthyr

The Penydarren Ironworks was founded by Francis Samuel Homfray in 1784. Homfray had experience in the iron industry as a result of his involvement with a furnace business in Broseley in Staffordshire. Homfray clearly had his contacts in the government and concentrated his early efforts in producing cannon. His first Merthyr involvement was in a mill set up to finish cast iron cannons.

By 1786, Homfray, in partnership with his three sons (Jeremiah, Thomas and Samuel) and George Foreman had erected a furnace and other buildings at the Penydarren site. Samuel Homfray built Penydarren House which was the first of the Merthyr Ironmaster's mansions. Penydarren shared the success of the other Merthyr ironworks and a second furnace was built in 1796. Further expansion at the Penydarren site was always difficult because of the surrounding hills, however it is estimated that the works was comparable to Dowlais by 1800. The Penydarren works was famous for the locomotive trials of Richard Trevithick in 1803-4. The Homfrays were renowned as being aggressive and difficult masters and often in conflict with their men and their fellow iron masters. The works specialised in producing finished wrought iron products and expanded greatly after 1814. The difficulties in expanding the scale of the operation caused problems when iron making technology changed and the works struggled in the tougher competition of the 1850s. The works was largely closed by 1859.

Below: A detail from Thomas Hornor's 1817 painting of Penydarren forge. This is the rolling mill, the figure on the extreme right can be seen standing in front of a 'two high' roll. Finished rails or bars can be seen on the truck in the foreground. At the extreme left the glare of the red hot iron can be seen shining through the circular windows of the puddling shed.


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Salt by Mark Kurlansky

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This is not a local history book and Mark Kurlansky is a journalist not a local historian. Nevertheless he has produced a fascinating history of one of the world's basic commodities. I first came across Kurlansky with his book about the history of Cod. I think anyone who wants to know about the history of the Bristol Channel has to be familiar with the fish and how it encouraged Bristol fishermen to discover the Grand Banks. Salt is another offbeat yet fundamental bit of our history. We've had a popular web page on salt for ages and Swansea had a Salthouse Point at the mouth of the River Tawe for centuries. Kurlansky takes you on a journey across space and time to discover the importance of salt for mankind. From Jericho to Gandhi, salt has had an important part to play. This is a lovely book that enhances the quality of history for it adds depth and value to something we use every day. (Nigel Robins)

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