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A History of Carmarthenshire

Lloyd, Sir John E., (Ed.). 2 vols., Cardiff, London Carmarthenshire Society (1935, 1939).

With the kind permission of the publishers sundry extracts from this book have been extracted by Gareth Hicks.

Here is a list of the book's contents and contributors.


The Non-Ferrous Metal Industries

By L W Evans

"It has already been noted that the industrial age in Carmarthenshire as well as in South Wales in general, was initiated by the migration of the iron industry to the margins of the coal basin. This naturally concentrated attention on the south-eastern quadrant of the county and during the period 1800-1850 further developments took place in this area. They involved the establishment on the 'Llanelly Coalfield' of more ironworks, and the rise of the non-ferrous metal and early tinplate industries. The coalfield also reached its maximum development during this period, the coal not only being used for the smelting of non-ferrous metals, but also exported in large quantities. Viewing the development in retrospect it is clear that it was the smelting of the non-ferrous metals that was the distinctive feature of the industrial life of our area in the first half of the 19th century. It is proposed therefore to devote this section to the history of its development and industrial ramifications and to reserve the story of the iron and early tinplate industries for the next section, which will deal with the outstanding features of the second half of the 19th century, when the non-ferrous metal industries languish and the tinplate, steel, and anthracite coal industries grown into prominence.

1. The Copper Industry

"Four copper-smelting works were erected in the Llanelly district after 1804, at Llanelly (two), Burry Port, and Spitty (Llangennech). These represented an expansion westwards from Swansea, and since the Llanelly works were the most important, and the records of these works are fairly comprehensive, the development of the copper industry in the area can be best realised by referring to these records, which cover a period of over 75 years.

The rapid development of the Llanelly Coalfield between 1750 and 1800, the good quality of the coal produced, the establishment of ironworks in the area, and the improvements in the Llanelly Harbour attracted the attention of some of the leading industrialists of Swansea. One of these, Charles Nevill, who came from Birmingham to Swansea to take charge of a copper smelting house there, paid several visits to Llanelly between 1799 and 1804, in order to inspect one or two sites to the east of the town. Nevill entered into partnership with three other copper-masters, Messrs Daniel, Saville, and Guest, who had connections with several copper mines in Cornwall. Eventually a site was selected , and the Llanelly Copperworks were erected towards the end of 1804.

Copperworks sites were always deliberately chosen outside the towns, on marshy and waste ground near the seaboard. This was due to the harmful effects of the copper smoke. During the process of copper-smelting, a dense smoke consisting of sulphuric acid and arsenic is given out from the flues. This is formed during the calcining process by the evolution of substances contained in the ore. The works were usually situated on the eastern side of towns since south-west winds blew the smoke away from the inhabited areas. In Llanelly, however, the works are situated to the south of the town, with the result that the smoke had to be led away somehow and a chimney 320 feet high was built. This was, at one time, the highest in the United Kingdom. On August 3rd, 1804, Charles Nevill, accompanied by Rees Jones, surveyed the Loughor river and Dafen Pill, ' the situation of which appeared extremely good and convenient for the erection of smelting-works, being a large marsh '. Between 1804 and 1812, large parts of the marsh were drained and embankments erected.Roads were constructed, the material for which was obtained from the Brondini Quarries, five miles away, near Five Roads. Large quantities of slag were also used from the works, and a considerable number of men were employed on these road works.

Not far off from the Llanelly Copperworks, about four miles to the west, another copper-smelting house was erected at Spitty in 1809, by Messrs Rees and Morris. The land here is merely a continuation of the Llanelly Marsh at the side of the Loughor estuary. It is known as Spitty Bank, where a tramroad came down from the Genwen and Ffosfach pits, and the coal was exported to London. After 1804, Warde sold large quantities to the Llanelly Copperworks. In the same year the Llanelly Copperworks dock was opened, and Cornish ores were imported . The report of the Company's first meeting in London in March, 1805, shows ' that the scale of working at the Copperworks be as near 120 tons of ore per week as circumstances will permit; 60 tons to be purchased at the Public Ticketings and the other 60 tons smelted on hire at a certain price. Messrs Waters of Carmarthen were to be the bankers of the company. In 1806, Charles Nevill withdrew from the partnership and was made manager of the Llanelly works. In 1807, the capital of the company was increased to 40,000, and 600 was paid to Charles Nevill and Richard Janion Nevill, his son, for supervising the erection of the works. The works went on very well between 1805 and 1809, and the price per ton of copper was quoted at 102. At the end of 1809, further additions were made, and the production was increased to 160 tons of copper per week. Another jetty was built for shipping, and Charles nevill built a bank of slag to the eastward of the dock. A slight trade depression affected the copper industry between 1810 and 1814, and deliveries of copper were considerably reduced. Charles Nevill, who had sole charge of the purchases of ores, died in 1813. In the same year sanction was obtained from Parliament to improve the 'navigation of the rivers Burry, Loughor, and Lliedi', and eventually an Act was passed in July 1813.

(in the book is a copy of an old painting showing Llanelly c 1820)

As the copperworks developed, the necessary steps were taken to get supplies of coal from the collieries of the locality. During this time most of the coal was supplied from the pits of Warde, Raby and Pemberton, but, in 1814, the Carmarthenshire bankers granted an initial capital of 3,000 to start collieries. At the same time, negotiations were still maintained with the local owners regarding supplies of coal. Also, at this time, the name Alexander Raby appears in connection with the copperworks, but he does not seem to have taken a very active part in the actual business.

Between 1815 and 1825, the company changed names several times. In 1817, Guest gave up his interests in favour of Richard Janion Nevill, and it was known as Daniel, Saville, Sons and Nevill. In 1819, Saville retired, and the firm was known as Daniel, Sons and Nevill.In 1823 another 20,000 was invested and Druce came into the business, which then became known as Daniel, Nevill, Druce and Co.

The various entries of copper purchases are interesting for this early period (1813-1817). The ores came mostly from North Wales, Ireland, and Cornwall in small ships of 100 tons. In 1813, the price of copper ore was 22.4s.0d per ton. By 1828 the Parys Copper Mine of Anglesey had commenced the practice of smelting the ores near the mine, and did not export so much crude ore. At a London meeting of the company in this year, the profit was shown to be 10,957.13s.3d., and Warde and Raby were still supplying coal to the copperworks.

In connection with the sales of copper ore, an auction sale was held weekly in Swansea, which was attended by all the copper masters. These sales were known as the Swansea Ticketings, because each buyer entered his name, the amount, and price he was willing to pay for the ore on a ticket, and the ore went to the highest bidder. Similar public ticketings were held in Cornwall, and were attended by the agents of the South Wales smelting houses. Although the cost price of ore was less in Swansea than in Cornwall, Daniel, Nevill and Co preferred to buy at the Cornish Ticketings. The cost price per ton in Cornwall was 11.3s.4d ; in Swansea, 10.3s.10d. In 1813, markets for copper sales were opened at Birmingham and Bristol. The Llanelly Copperworks had warehouses at these places, where best selected copper ingots were stored for local disposal. In addition to copper, brass and yellow metal castings and sheathing were stocked at sea-port warehouses for sheathing wooden ships.

(in the book is some technical data relating to amounts of coal used in the smelting process together with comparative figures to show how smelting volumes increased between 1807 and 1830)

The Cornish and Irish ores were chiefly copper pyrites , containing from 8 to 10% of copper. A great deal of skill was necessary to smelt these at a profit, and had it not been for the cheap coal, and the possibility of mixing the ores, the process would have been unprofitable. The mixing of the ores was an important consideration, for it was found by experience in smelting practice that the impurities in one type of ore often acted as a flux to reduce another.  About 2% of copper was usually lost in the smelting process, so that no more than 6% was actually produced from the furnaces. It was for this reason that the smelter's ton always consisted of 21 cwts.

A further improvement was effected at the harbour in 1843, with the result that larger vessels came into the port with ores from foreign countries. In this year we find references to copper ores from Chili being imported to Llanelly. (in the book is an inventory of stock of copper ores at Llanelly in 1843 with places of origin)

From 1843 onwards increasing quantities of foreign ores were imported from Chili, Cuba, Spain, Cape of Good Hope, and Newfoundland, and there was a marked expansion in the copper industry leading to the period of maximum activity between 1860 and 1875, just before the entry of the USA into the industry.

(the book has data showing the expansion between 1843 and 1850)

Between 1843 and 1850, warehouses were established at various cities in Britain in which copper ingots were stocked for sale in those districts. In addition to those at Birmingham and Bristol, others were opened at Liverpool, London, and Glasgow. The company also owned and built their ships for carrying on the business, and in 1846, twelve ships were valued at 30,840. ........................................

...............in 1829, the Llanelly Copperworks Company purchased the collieries of Warde - the Box Collieries-the largest and most important in the district.......................large quantities of this coal were used in copper-smelting but some was exported, especially to Cornwall and the foreign countries which sent copper ore to Llanelly---the ships went back with coal as a return cargo.

In addition to Box Collieries, the company owned and worked the following adjacent collieries;

The most prosperous period in the history of the Llanelly Copperworks was from 1830 to 1870, when there were ample supplies of ore, both Cornish and foreign, when the company's collieries reached their maximum development, and when labour was cheap. Large quantities of foreign ores entered Swansea during this period. ......................

(the book has a section on the various countries that exported ore to Swansea and Llanelly)

Meanwhile, improvements in the harbour at Llanelly were continually being made, and Acts of Parliament relating to the port were passed in 1864, 1868, and 1878..........................

(the book has data showing that Cornwall was still the major source of ores used at Llanelly)

One of the chief causes of the decline of the Llanelly copper industry was the gradual working out of the copper mines of Cornwall.....................

In addition to the warehouses already mentioned, great quantities of copper, in the form of bars, ingots, and sheets, were supplied to, and sold from, warehouses in Glasgow, Manchester, Aberdeen, Liverpool, and London..................

(the book has data on coal production at four of the above collieries in 1870-1880)

The copperworks at Pembrey were erected in 1846 by the English copper-masters, Messrs Mason and Elkington, who hailed from Birmingham and London. (the book has data on their activities in the period 1868 to 1880). The works were situated on flat, marshy land on the estate of Lord Ashburnham, near good supplies of cheap coal. These were the most westerly copperworks in the county.

Between 1880 and 1920, the Llanelly copperworks declined in importance, the imports of copper ore never exceeding 5,000 tons pa. (the book has data showing this decline).

Since 1925, most of the departments of the copper works have closed down with the exception of the rolling mills. At the present time, few men are employed and their work consists chiefly of the cold-rolling and tinning of copper sheets and the drawing of copper wire."


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