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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   (continued)

By L W Evans

2. Lead and Silver Industries

"The earliest lead and silverworks in Carmarthenshire were those owned by John Campbell, of Stackpole, Pembs., and were erected to the east of the town of Carmarthen on marshy ground, near the banks of the Towy. They seem to have been producing successfully until about 1800, when they were closed down. They were probably started just after 1760 and Campbell sent the lead-ores down to Carmarthen from his property at Llandovery, where there was a very rich lead mine at Rhandirmwyn (the Nantymwyn Mine). After 1800, Earl Cawdor came into possession of the works, and it is in connection with him that we have the transference of the disused works at Carmarthen to Llanelly in 1813. The earl consulted Charles Nevill in 1811, and sought his advice concerning the restarting of the Carmarthen leadworks. In September, 1811, Nevill paid several visits to the Earl at Golden Grove, with plans of the proposed leadworks, and in October inspected several sites outside Carmarthen for the erection of the new smelting-house. Eventually, Nevill, in company with Lewis (the Cawdor estate manager), went to the old leadworks, and took particulars of what materials might be used to incorporate these in the new works which were to be built 'on the rock'. They observed that there were four furnaces, three for ore, and one for slag, and they came to the conclusion that the quality of the iron composing parts of the furnace and stacks was good enough, and that a sufficient amount was available to build two new furnaces.

This project fell through for some unknown reason, and Nevill suggested the dismantling of the works and their removal to Llanelly. This was undertaken in January, 1812; all the available material was sent to Llanelly, and Nevill received 50 pa for superintending the re-erection. The leadworks were erected at the New Dock, not far from the copperworks, and smelting operations began at the end of January, 1813. The lead-ore came from the Carmarthenshire mines near Llandovery, but the first few months saw complete failure. A certain amount of lead could not be got from a ton of ore, and various charges were tried as experiments...................(the book contains a description of these experiments with varying charges)..................Richard Evans of Bristol had been made manager of the leadworks  in 1812; he was discharged in 1813 by Earl Cawdor. Morgan Lewis, an old lead-smelter from Carmarthen, was put in charge. He altered the furnaces and got 6 1/2 in 20 (an improved performance ). From this time onwards, the average production was 420 lbs of lead to one ton of ore.

During the period of its existence , this lead-smelting house used Carmarthenshire ore almost exclusively. After 1830, the works were closed down and the business of lead-smelting became associated with Daniel, Nevill and Co., of the copperworks.

In 1830, the English copper company of London  (Messrs Glascotts) had built the Cambrian copperworks near the Carmarthenshire dock, but this concern did not flourish, and was closed down in 1841. Messrs Daniel, Nevill and Co took over the works, and these were converted into lead and silverworks in 1849, and were known as the Cambrian Lead and Silver Works. The smelting and refining of lead, silver and gold was carried on here, and the brass and yellow metal casting and manufacture was done at the copperworks. The average lead output (including antimonial lead) reached over 11,000 tons pa, and over 11,000 ozs of silver were refined weekly, reaching over 530,000 ozs in 1855.

Lead-ore was purchased by public ticketings similar to the purchase of copper-ores. In Flintshire, the miners intending to sell gave notice to the smelters, who sent their samplers to take samples of the ore. The samples were assayed by the smelter, and the highest bidder at the ticketing became the purchaser. The ore was weighed at the mine and carried away at the cost of the purchaser.

Many smaller mines, particularly those in Carmarthenshire, sold to the smelters by private contract according to a given standard. In Cornwall, Cardiganshire, and the Isle of Man, each mine sent samples of its ore to the smelter in various localities, along with a notice that tenders and tickets would be received up to a certain day, on which they would be opened and the highest offer accepted. The ore was sold by the statute ton of 21cwts.

After 1850, lead-ores from other parts of Wales and from foreign sources were smelted. Along with the Welsh ores from Cardiganshire, foreign ores figure prominently in the produce books after 1850. (the book contains value data showing the expansion of the lead and silver industries between 1843 and 1852).

(the book contains a diagram showing Llanelly Marsh --- Sites of Works, 1880)

Ores richer in lead content were obtained after 1850 from the mines of;

The trend of the lead-smelting industry in the area since 1880 can be realised by referring to statistics of production , bearing in mind the continuous importance of the Llandovery mines. (the book has the figures of Nevill Druce & Co relating to the production of lead-ore between 1882 and 1897).

Like the copper industry, the most prosperous period of the lead and silver industries was 1850-70, and after 1870 there is a marked falling off in the production of the Carmarthenshire and pembrokeshire mines.  The sole lead-smelters in Llanelly were Nevill, Druce and Co.

In addition to the ores, sheet lead was a prominent import at Llanelly, but after 1900 the industry declined and there is no reference to lead-smelting after 1910.

In 1864, a lead-smelting house was erected at Pembrey, utilising ores mainly from Carmarthenshire. The copper and lead works in the county during the 19th century were;

Copper Works (4 in all) Lead and Silver  (3 in all)                       
Llanelly i) Daniel, Nevill & Co

ii) English Copper Co (Glascotts)

i) Cawdor Works

ii) Nevill & Co

Pembrey Mason & Elkington, known later as Elliot's Metal Co Pembrey Lead Works
Llangennech (Spitty)       Spitty ---


3. Yellow Metal and Brass Industries

"Yellow metal manufacture and casting, together with the making of brass, was a valuable industry in connection with the copperworks, and was carried on by Messrs Nevill, Druce and Co, Llanelly. These products were , in the main, sent to the various warehouses of the company which were opened in various cities and ports in Britain. In addition to these products, copper ingots were also stored at these warehouses for local disposal.

Yellow metal, an amalgam of copper and spelter, was extensively used for sheathing wooden ships, and to a great extent replaced copper sheathing after 1840. Nevil, Druce and Co had a very important shipyard at the side of the Cambrian leadworks, and their yellow metal was much in request for shipbuilding. Other important ports such as Glsgow, London, Bristol, and Liverpool were also buyers of yellow metal.

Spelter or zinc manufacture was one of the allied industries of copper-smelting, and was carried on in premises in the copperworks. Spelter was produced from blende and calamine ores, imported at Swansea, which was the great centre for this industry. Llanelly did not specialise in this product, and only enough spelter was produced to make the required quantities of yellow metal. The first workers in spelter were Germans, some of whom were invited to Swansea by the copper masters to establish the industry there. An indication of the amounts of brass and yellow metal manufactured is given by the value of stock in the works and warehouses during the period 1843-53.(the book has a table of data on stock values).

Various other industries arose out of the copper industry, the most important being the chemical industry. During the period of the copper industry in Llanelly, three chemical works were established in the town, two on the marsh near the copperworks and the other on the west side of the town. In was after 1860, with the importation of large quantities of foreign ores high in sulphur, and low in copper content, that the chemical works developed. Sulphur was one of the waste elements, and the efficient utilisation of the sulphurous and sulphuric acids formed the basis of a thriving local chemical industry. Two important products were sulphuric chemicals and vitriol, which was to play a large part in the establishment of the tinplate industry in the district in the last quarter of the century.

The shipbuilding industry in connection with the Llanelly copperworks has been already noted, and the firm built their own vessels, especially between 1850 and 1870. The subsidiary trades of importance at this time, especially in connection with shipbuilding, were iron foundries, rope and sail making, chain, cable and anchor smithies.

One important reason for the decline of the copper industry has already been noted, namely the falling off in the production of Cornish ores after 1870. The ores contained 6 to 8% copper and could be profitably smelted by mixing. When foreign ores were imported, the tendency was to import part- smelted ores in the form of Chili bars, but Llanelly never wholly depended on foreign ores. The most prosperous period of the copper industry was between 1850 and 1865.

The final blow to the copper industry occurred when the USA, after 1885, developed its copper industry to such an extent as to compete with the South Wales smelting houses for the Chilean ores. The ascendancy of the USA was finally asserted after 1890, and has been maintained ever since.

(the book has notes on sources)

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