Early Iron Industry in Wales

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The development of the iron industry is one of the most important milestones in the history of Wales. Between 1760 and 1900, Wales was transformed from an agricultural society to one of the main centres of the Industrial Revolution. The mines and factories of the South Wales coalfield attracted people from all over Britain and transformed Welsh culture.
Crawshay Bar Iron.

In the later years of the nineteenth century, Wales exported a technically skilled workforce to all parts of the world to establish new communities in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, Germany and even Russia.

The industrial workers of the coalfield transformed local and national politics. The industries they worked in transformed the Welsh landscape. These pages look at the iron industry across Britain but with an emphasis on the effect on Wales and its people. Much of what happened was based in and around Merthyr Tydfil which grew from a small village to one of the most extraordinary towns in Britain in the space of a few generations. In view of its unique place in Welsh and British history we felt it appropriate to put our history of the early iron industry on our Merthyr History Web pages.

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Early Iron Industry in Wales: Background. A background to the early iron industry. Covering the Romans, Medieval iron and the development of the early iron smelting heart into the Blast Furnace.

What is iron? A basic guide to the metal. Makes the distinction between Cast Iron, Wrought Iron and Steel.

What do you need to make iron? A list of all the materials needed to make iron.

Why is the history of iron important? Sets the scene for looking at the iron industry in Wales and Britain, and the effect on the Welsh nation.

How is iron made? A description of the various stages in making cast iron.

Why was iron made in certain parts of Wales?

Who made iron in Wales? An introduction to the start of the iron industry, with a location map of the main sites on the South Wales coalfield.

What was iron used for? A look at some of the main uses for iron in early industrial Wales.

What was the effect of the iron industry in Wales?

A basic early charcoal iron furnace. A description and explanation of the main parts of an early charcoal iron furnace.

Hirwaun: The establishment of the ironworks in 1757. An introduction to the first industrial area of ironworking in South Wales.

Evidence: The sale of Hirwaun Ironworks in 1813. A primary source covering the sale of the works after bankruptcy in 1813.

Evidence: The remains of an ironworks. A look at the present day remains of a classically designed ironworks, Cefn Cribbwr near Pyle.

Dowlais Ironworks in Merthyr (established 1759). The early years of the furnace that was to become the world's largest ironworks. With a desription of a Boulton and Watt steam engine.

Dowlais Ironworks 1800-1840. The further development of the ironworks with a primary source covering the Dowlais rolling mill.

Cyfarthfa Ironworks (established 1765). Basic information on the early works with a large interpreted drawing.

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SHW Microhistory: 1. SHT 1858

1858 in 1982!

Swansea Harbour Trust's habit of dating the dock bollards with the year of their manufacture has left the port with a fascinating legacy of historical bookmarks. Unfortunately insensitive development by the local authority has meant that some of the best bollards have been destroyed, but enough survive to make any walk around the dock area interesting.

One of my favourites is this 1858 example which originally stood at the starboard approach to Weaver's Basin (the original North Dock Half-tide Basin).

A number of these larger bollards were inserted in the quayside walls to cope with the bigger ships that were using the port in the later 1850s. This one was used extensively to work ships in and out of the North Dock. If you look closely at it you can still see the marks where countless ropes and hawsers have dug into the iron over the years of its service. The picture above shows the original aspect of 1858 with Weaver's Flour Mill in the background. 1858 survived the Sainsbury's redevelopment and can still be seen at the rear of their rather nice restaurant.

More SHW Microhistory

1858 in 2002.

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All content © Nigel A. Robins and Swansea History Web 2006, 2007

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