Ystalyfera Iron and Tinplate Works


These notes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the book History of Pontardawe and District by John Henry Davies, 1967


From 1839 onward, until 1883, James Palmer Budd dominated the industrial development of Ystalyfera.
Richard Douglas Gough, the successor of the Rev. F. Gough, gave an indenture dated September 14, 1839, to;

Sir Thomas Brancher, Kt., Liverpool.
Joseph James Hegan, Liverpool.
Edward Budd of Swansea."

Nicholson ( Cambrian Traveller's Guide, 1840) states that;  

"the Ystal-y-fera works, near Swansea, are also being erected by a Liverpool company, at the head of which stands Sir Thomas Brancher. This company is building four new furnaces, and they intend four more. Their fuel is all of anthracite kind ".  

In a list of iron furnaces in blast in 1839, Mishet gives Brancher and Co. as owner of one furnace at Ystalyfera. ( Chronology of Tinplate Works of Great Britain; E H Brooke, 1949)

At the Quarter Sessions held in February 23, 1842, the Overseer of the parish stated;

" Furnaces 1 and 2 are rated £220. There are steam engines connected with the Works. They make nothing but Pig Iron. The iron made is sent to Swansea. The Cwmtwrch tramroad about 11/2 miles long, belongs to the Works."

During the nineteenth century, capitalists reigned supreme, and in dealing with the story of this period, an account of the leading industrialists and enterprisers was important to understand the economics and rise of iron and tinplate works as well as coal mining.

James Palmer Budd, born in 1803, came to Ystalyfera when he was 35 years of age; a tall, dark, slim, smart man with a light graceful gait. A handsomer man would be difficult to find. He had a deep bass, sonorous voice and a quick intelligent mind with a thorough grasp of the fundamental principles of metallurgy and the economics of production and distribution.

This well-bred and good looking man fell in love with a rich young lady thirteen years his junior, a Miss Emily Rawson. After their marriage they lived a happy and very useful life at Ynysydarren House, Ystalyfera. As J. P. Budd played a dominant part in the industrial and social life of the village, so Mrs. Budd took a leading part in the educational and religious life of the community.

Although the local rocks contained an ample supply of excellent anthracite coal and a large quantity of iron ore before J. P. Budd came, they had hardly been touched. Some people thought it would have been better to leave the coal and ore under the mountains, and that the old days were better than those of the industrial revolution. They praised the past and depreciated the present, but when we study the conditions of the few people who eked out a precarious living in the period before the tapping of the enormous wealth lying dormant in the bowels of the earth, we find that not only fewer subsisted, but their lives were more limited in scope and outlook.

J. P. Budd, in his presidential address to the 1859 Ystalyfera Eisteddfod, said :  

" I am not here to hold that former times were greater, happier or more conducive to human development than the present. As the fertility of the soil resides not in the primitive rocks, but in the valleys with detritus, so that the capacity of man and his command of language increased. Science forcing nature to discover the means by which she works, and art applying these discoveries to human purposes are constantly increasing human enjoyment and lessening toil. I, therefore, hope that having been the means of introducing machinery into this quiet district, the new elements of society have their virtues as well as the old and that man has afforded him more ample means of progress and improvement."

J. P. Budd managed the small works and in a year or two he added two new furnaces and one boiler. In 1830 there were twenty houses in the hamlet of Alltygrug, but as works progressed, so the number of houses increased to 236 in 1850, when the population numbered 1,350.

Tin was mined from very early times in Cornwall and it was natural to bring this useful metal to one of the nearest ports, Swansea, where it was transferred to canal barges, which took it up to Ystalyfera. Mr. Budd, in 1851, erected a forge, tinplate mills and tin-houses, and by 1853 they were in full working order. Roger Thomas (Adolphus), in his prize essay, showed the progress of the works. In 1866, the Ystalyfera Iron Works were reputed to be the largest in the world, employing 4,000 persons as well as 1,000 in the ore and coal mines belonging to the works. In 1872, the works produced 182,000 boxes.

In 1848, James Palmer Budd made most important improvements in the iron trade, and his new methods radically changed the method of heating the blast and firing boilers. He who was conversant with the methods adopted in this country as well as on the Continent, thought that the escape into the air of the gases heated to a high temperature, which constantly took place from the tops of the blast furnaces, was a total waste. When the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was held in Swansea in 1848, Mr. Budd read a paper before the scientists on the advantageous use he made of the gaseous escape from the blast furnaces at Ystalyfera Iron Works. The Association recognised the very high standard of the work and ordered that the communication be printed entire among the reports of 1848. Budd's hot blast stoves required no coal and no labour, and the blast was better heated and more regular. The whole apparatus was cheaper and more durable than the old method of separate stoves heated by coal. Fortunately, the attempts to use the escape gas from the tunnel-head, to heat the air blast, was neither a part of the furnace nor were the gases burnt. The thorough simplicity of the plan made it a great success. This saved considerable sums of money.

" To me," said Mr. Budd, " the saving is important, which I calculate as follows, compared with the use of ordinary heating ovens: 33 tons of anthracite and coal of rubble size at four shillings a ton equalled £6.12.0d. per week. Two men, and wheeling coal and ashes, £2 per week that was equal to £477.4s.0d. per annum. The saving in repair of stove, say one-fifth of £500, the cost of new stoves was £l00. The total came to £547 which, on ten furnaces, amounted to £5,470 a year."

By Mr. Budd's cautious proceedings and commercial spirit, and combining profit with experiment, he was able in practice to show great economy in coal. His methods made a saving of fuel in the manufacturing of iron in Great Britain of 5,000,000 tons of coal, worth, in 1848, considerably more than £1 million sterling.

Budd was not content with making use of the heat wasted by large volumes of hot gas and flames emitting from the furnaces, for heating the blast, but proceeded to make further use of the same valuable, and plentiful, though hitherto neglected gases to raise steam for the engine. As only one-sixth of the gases was used to heat the blast, so Budd used the remainder to heat the boilers instead of using coal. Visitors from all parts of the world came to visit Budd's works, and some of the greatest scientists visited in 1848, when the British Association for the Advancement of Science met in Swansea. This provided one of the proudest events in his life.

James Palmer Budd's activities were not confined to Ystalyfera, as he also started in 1844, the Brockmoor Tinplate Works at Brierly Hill, Staffordshire, and the Tividale Tinplate Works, Tipton, Staffs. Both ceased trading in 1877.

He took an active part in the religious, educational and social life of the village, where he lived at Ynysydarren House for over forty years. When steel superseded iron, and better ores came from Spain and England, he was too old to begin the new processes, and a few years after his death the works closed and Ystalyfera became very poor.

About 1845, J. P. Budd was the prime mover in the building of Holy Trinity Church and he gave a curate's stipend of £100 a year, paid by the Company's fund until his retirement. The people, too, made contributions, and money was raised by concerts, etc. Mr. Budd was busy in promoting the building of the Old Wern Schools now demolished, and Mrs. Budd took a keen interest in Church and School. For many years she acted as organizer of a clothing club, ordered the best material at the lowest possible cost, and provided food and clothing for many women who struggled hard with a houseful of children. She personally supervised sewing classes.

On Budd's tombstone at Trinity Church cemetery, Ystalyfera, the following is engraved :

" To the memory of Emily, the beloved wife of James Palmer Budd, Esq., of Ynysydarren in this county, who died 14th May, 1880, aged 64 years. Also the above named James Palmer Budd, who died 9th December, 1883, aged 80 years."

After Budd's death, the Ystalyfera Iron and Tinplate Works deteriorated and closed in 1886. Work became scarce, men sought employment elsewhere, and for a while considerable poverty prevailed. Cottages became neglected and many empty, and these, after a time, changed hands at a great sacrifice.

[See below and under The Chronology of the Tinplate  Works of Great Britain for details of subsequent trading operations]



It was a pretty sight to see tinmen on Monday morning going to work with their clean white aprons and white moleskin trousers. Owing to change in the process, the clothes became dirty, so the mole-skins were not later seen. When the sheet was picked up from the water and dipped into flux, steam and bubbles spluttered against their clothes. Under the old system, the spluttering did not take place; the sheets were taken from the water and immersed in grease or palm oil, care being taken that sheets did not cohere. Afterwards the sheets were placed in a pot of molten tin, which adhered to the sheet. Then the tinned sheet was handed to the washman, who, with a hemp brush, cleaned sheet by sheet and then plunged them into a clean pot of metal. A " lister ", by means of a clapper, tapped the sheets, so that the tin which remained on the selvedge fell into the pot. Later he placed them in another pot, from which the " riser " ( crabbwr) lifted them slowly and handed them to a girl, who cleaned the sheets with bran and dusted them with lime. If the sheets were not clean enough, " assorters " rejected and returned them.

Experienced workers became assorters of good and bad sheets. They examined finished plates for any defects before they were boxed for the market. The good ones were called primes, and the defective ones were known as wasters. Wasters were sold a shilling or so cheaper than the primes. Tinworkers were very sympathetic. If a fellow workman called, the one employed was prepared to give him a few hours work and pay him for the work done, and thus enabled a person to go farther until a permanent job was found. Like other workmen who were not employed on a lifetime scale, they had a tendency to be conservative with regard to change of methods of working and kept the secrets of their trade.

Tin was not the only coating used at Ystalyfera. An alloy of tin and lead, containing 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. of tin and the remainder of lead, was known as terne metal, which was extensively used as a thin film on black plates. Terne-plates were made in the same way as tin-plates, but they did not possess the bright silvery appearance of tin, but had a dull leaden appearance.

Ystalyfera Tinplate Company, before the Balkan war of 1912-13, sent thousands of tons of sheets to the Balkan ports of Galati and Braila, where they were used for roofing of houses. Sheets varying in sizes from 37" x 25", 371/2" x 25" and 36" x 24" were packed in bundles of twenty-two sheets; each bundle was clipped and hooped by iron. Another interesting feature of Ystalyfera Tinworks was the thousands of tons of black plate shipped to Canada under a private brand of
" Swansea Canada's ". The black plates worked on fours, the outside two sheets were " all polished ", and the inner two were " all dulls ". These were sent in sizes of 21" x 18" and 24" x 18", packed in steel cases and shipped to Montreal and Ontario, where they were used for making stove pipe elbows. On the case, the company punched a picture of a Swan, with
' Swansea ' underneath. Thin sheets, called " Taggers ", were dearer per ton than thick sheets. Heavy sheets coated with terne metal, 26" x 18", were used chiefly for making kegs and, therefore, known as " Keg ternes ", which were used for paint kegs, and anything else other than food.

The chief sizes known as " Manchester Ternes ", which consisted of 291/4" x 211/4" and 291/4" x 24", were used for tea chests and for packing cotton in India. Good tinplate or " primes " sent out to the Far East, Singapore, Batavia and Kobe, were packed in cardboard cases, placed in sealed, watertight steel cases. These were transported in dry closed vans from Ystalyfera by L.M.S. Railway to Swansea, where they were shipped to the various ports. The railway company charged 2/- to 2/9 per ton freightage. As the large ships could not enter the ports, the boxes were unloaded into the sea, where coolies picked them up and floated them to the shore.

In the last years, boxes were not used for packing, and the plates were sent in " stillages " or piles of plates, without boxes, banded together with strips secured by clips, thus saving costs, especially those sent to I.C.I., Cadbury's, Colman's and similar large factories.

Ystalyfera Tinplate works had four mills and 300 workers before 1939, but during the world war 1939-45, one mill closed because young workmen joined the Armed Forces. The works closed in April 1946, when the Pool system disbanded because of high cost of material and out-of-date machinery. During the war, all works paid a percentage to the Pool, but as the Ystalyfera Tinplate Company worked fairly regularly, it did not take much from the Pool.

After Dr. Newton's time, the Ystalyfera Tinplate Company in February 1907 was started by F. W. Gibbins, Walter Rice Evans and W. M. Jones. Three months later it was re-registered by Sir J. C. Davies, father of Captain Leighton Davies, W. N. Earle and Stephen Earle. In 1932, W. N. Earle became managing director, and the works carried on under the management of Stephen Earle, and Mr. G. M. Holderness acted as secretary. After the war, Mr. Holderness married W. N. Earle's daughter, and after Stephen Earle's death he became the managing director until the works closed in April 1946.

The designation of workers and their pay in 1908 are given below: (Extracts from Dr J Newton's Cost Book, 1908);

---Engine driver, 5/9 per day for 6 days a week; Fireman, 4/7 a day.
---In the Mills: Rollerman, 3/5 a day; Doubler, 2/9 a day; Furnaceman, 2/7; Behinder, 1/5; Shearer, 1/1 per 100; Openers, 6/3 per 100; Foreman, 3/-; Greaseman, 4/- a day; Bar Cutter, 9d. per ton.
---In the Cold Rolls the Superintendent earned 40/- a week; Rollerman, 2/3 per day; Wheeler to rolls, 4/6 a day; Helper, 2/3; Girl wheeling to rolls, 1/7, and girl wheeling from rolls, 1/5 per day. First annealer had 2/1 per 100 boxes and a fifth annealer, 1/10 for 100 boxes.
---In the Tin House, the Superintendent had 55/- a week; Fireman, 3d. per box; Riser, 11/4d. per box; Rollerman, 2d. per box; Assorter, 1d. per box; Assorter of blackplates, 4/- per 100.
--- Packing " Canada's ": casing, 7/6 per 100; making Canada cases, 1/4 per 100; marking Canada cases, 1/4; loading, 3d. per ton Reckoners, 2/- a day; Labourer, 4/- a day; Girl dusting in tin-house, 1/5 per day; Assorter of blackplates and loading, 55/- a week.
---A copperas worker earned 4/- per day; a labourer, 3/- a day; Loco driver, 33/- per week; Smith, 40/- a week; Striker, 24/- a week; Fitter, 40/-; Mason, 9d. an hour; Cleaner of office, 5/- per week.

In the early days, a boy would start in the works as a greaser, greasing the necks of the cold rolls. When promoted to be a " behinder " who lifted sheets back to the mill roller, he had to pay a " footing " or a fee on gaining admission to the trade. The same custom prevailed in the tin house. There were definite scales, e.g. when promoted from a " riser " to a " washer ", he paid 5/-, and the same amount had to be paid when a washer was elevated to the position of tinman. The " footing " money was used for getting a supply of beer, which the men drank in the works. If a young man got married, he usually paid a footing. If an old workman, who had left the place, paid a visit to the works, it was the custom to have a " fetching ". One of the men made a list of persons prepared to pay the publican, then a boy or girl was sent up to the Inn for a few quarts of beer, which they drank to the visitor's health. In an early period, boys and girls worked hard for long periods. Boys put coal on fires, raised ashes, and kept metal in temper. Tinmen, too, fetched the metal from the tinhouse; later they had everything near the pot.

Boys and girls were afraid of the gaffers, especially when they did not do their work properly, for which they were reprimanded, subjected to severe pummelling and sometimes kicked. Girls were expected to dust plates one by one, but when they occasionally lifted a few together, the result was that some of the tinned sheets were scratched. If they were caught by the boss, they would be scolded, clouted and sent home. Before being reinstated, their parents had to ask the manager's forgiveness.

The Chronology of the Tinplate  Works of Great Britain  by Edward Henry Brooke, published in 1944.


1838    Messrs Treacher & James erected furnaces for smelting iron at Ystalyfera, but the following year sold them to Mr James Palmer Budd.

1842    At the Glamorgan Assessment Committee, held at Swansea 23rd February 1842, the Overseer for the parish stated : "Furnaces 1 and 2 are rated at £220. There are steam engines connected with the works. They make nothing but Pig Iron. The iron made is sent to Swansea. The Cwmtwrch tramroad, about 1½ miles long, belongs to the Works."

1848    Had 12 tinplate mills in operation, and were stated (in Paper read before the British Association) to be the largest tinplate works in the world.

1851    The Ystalyfera Iron & Tinplate Co Mr J Palmer Budd J P Managing Director. In 1854 his name appears among one of the 26 trustees of the Swansea Harbour.

1852    They had eleven blast furnaces, but only six were in operation during 1853

1863    Patent granted to Mr J T Newton (No 1234) for two smaller diameter (driven) work-rolls backed by others of larger diameter, for both hot and cold rolling.

1873    Plant included 42 Puddling Furnaces and 16 Mills and Forges.

1880    "Ystalyfera Ironworks (J Palmer Budd) have eleven blast furnaces, but not all in full operation"

1883    Mr Budd died

1885    Ystalyfera Iron Co ceased trading. The following year the Swansea Vale Co  started but ceased trading within six months.

1893    The Ystalyfera Iron & Tin Plate Co were operating 12 mills.

1896    Mr John Titus Newton was principal shareholder and managing the concern.

1902    Mr John Titus Newton died and his son Dr John Newton M.D. of London assumed control.

1907    In February The Ystalyfera Tinplate Co. registered with £20,000 capital. The Directors were Messrs F W Gibbins , Walter Rice-Evans, and Colonel W N Jones but in May of the same year it was re registered with £20,000 capital , the Directors being names as  Sir J C Davies, Messrs W N Earle and Stephen Earle.

1942    Directors were: Messrs N W Earle (Chairman - died 1st July 1944) Stephen Earle (Managing - died 11th September 1942) Capt. H Leighton Davies C.B.E.   J.P. and G M Holderness.

1943    Directors were Capt H Leighton Davies C.B.E. J.P., Mr G M Holderness and Major Eric N G Earle. Secretary : Mr Thos.D Jones.

1946    March 1946 Plant dismantled under The Tinplate Redundancy Scheme

1947    April 1947 Voluntary winding up of company.

From Slater's Commercial Directory of 1871


The Ystalyfera Iron and Tin Plate Company's works consist of 11 blast furnaces, 7 of which are in blast, with puddling furnaces for converting pig iron into every description of merchant iron, including boiler plates, terne or black plates, tin plates and cut nails, giving employment, with its connected collieries, to about 4,000 hands. The managing partner is J. Palmer Budd, esq.,


From History of y Gwrhyd by Joshua Lewis, 1897

...... Higher up the Aber, a few hundred yards from the land of Gwrhyd Uchaf, labour and capital met to search for underground minerals. A drift was cut on a large scale, called Black Band Drift, by the Ystalyfera Iron Works Company. Steam machines worked above this drift, the nearest Steam Engines came to the Gwrhyd.  Ore and coal seams were found, but soon they were closed like everything else appertaining to this world-renowned works .........

....... In 1860, the Cilwen Drift was sunk, and although some distance from the area, the actual working took place beneath the area itself. A large works existed here at one time, when the incline was constructed to join with the railway. Ystalyfera Company were again the owners of this project, for they had  locomotives and trams running from the ironworks over the Patches by the route known as Railway Fach y Sanau ...........

......... Ores were sought on the land of Gelliwarog, near the cottage of Llwyncelyn, and even today there are tram rails which prove the enterprise of Ystalyfera Company. Old Thomas Brynhaul was the overseer most of the time.