By W. H. MORRIS
The works are second only to Pontypool in age. The evidence is contained in the Order Book of Kidwelly Corporation. On August 14th, 1737, Charles Gwynn of Kidwelly, tinman, was given the liberty of erecting, on Town Lands called Bank Broadford, a rolling mill and "other conveniences for a Tin Work". Bank Broadford lay about a mile north of the town and bordered the east bank of the Gwendraeth Fach river. Three months later, on October 3rd, 1737, he was granted a lease, now lost but recited in a later one, enabling him to build a rolling mill and "to make a Wear or Stank to Dam and pond up the Water for the use of the said mill and Works and Likewise to make Two Courses or Dykes on any part of the said Town Lands there to convey and bring the said Water from the said mill Leat or Pond of the said Mill and to Carry and Convey off the said Water from the same". Bank Broadford was an ancient and well-established crossing-point of the river and Gwynn was, therefore, enjoined to build arches or bridges across his watercourses to enable travellers to pass and re-pass. Further, he was allowed to erect on nearby Bank Shintor, sometimes known as Sanctuary Bank, houses, with gardens, for his workmen. The lease was to run for 99 years at a yearly rent of ten shillings and a payment, as duty, of one pair of pullets to the Mayor on New Year's Day. By an Order of October 16th, 1737, he began quarrying stones on Mynydd y Garreg to build his rolling and tin mill.
Gwynn's choice of site satisfied the essential requirements for the establishment of a works. The river at this point produced a sufficient head of water to operate a wheel which turned the rolling mill. A dam across the river, and the creation of a pond behind it, ensured a reserve of water in a dry season. A plentiful supply of water was also necessary, not only for power, but for cleaning purposes and for storing plates before tinning. Kidwelly, a port since the Middle Ages, was well placed for the import of tin from Cornwall and for the export of the finished product. Finally, South and West Wales produced the "tough iron", malleable and strong, most suitable for the production of tinplate.
Gwynn erected his rolling mill on the site of an earlier, but different, industrial undertaking which had become defunct. Dr. John Lane of Bristol, "mining adventurer", had been granted a lease by the Corporation in 1717 to search for copper and other minerals on Mynydd y Garreg, with liberty to build "mills or engines". By 1721 he had erected, on Bank Broadford, a Stamping mill for crushing the ore. No details of his mill are known but it would, presumably, have incorporated a hammer powered by a water-wheel. This would have necessitated the construction of a dam across the river and a watercourse leading from it to turn the wheel. Lane's enterprise was shortlived. By 1726, partly through speculation in the South Sea Bubble and partly through litigation, he had become bankrupt, and his mill was described as ruinous in 1735. By the terms of his lease, Gwynn was granted permission to take down the mill and to replace it with his own for rolling iron bars. It is conceivable, however, that he might have utilised Lane's dam, watercourse and even his water-wheel.
Early in 1738, Gwynn was reported as having "begun to Work and Carry on Rolling or making of Black plates and also the doing and making of Tin". He had received financial help from Anthony Rogers of Carmarthen and, by an agreement dated February 13th of that year, they became partners, "to bring the said Works to greater perfection and to work and carry on the same in a more Extensive manner". Gwynn surrendered his original lease and a joint one was granted in December, 1738, which stipulated that they were to provide, on Bank Broadford and Bank Shintor, a roadway sufficiently wide for carriages, and to maintain the bridges already constructed over their watercourses.
Anthony Rogers, son of Alderman Thomas Rogers of Carmarthen, and Bridget, daughter of William Brigstocke of Castell Pigyn, near the town, was sometimes styled "Governor Rogers" by reason of having been in charge of a Company trading-post on the Gambia in West Africa. In 1735 he married Margaret Lewis, a co-heiress of Rowland Lewis of Torcoed, in the parish of Llangyndeyrn, who had acquired the estate from Richard Vaughan. Lewis's wife Mary belonged to the gentry family of Gwynn at Gwempa, in that parish. After being admitted a burgess of Kidwelly in 1738, Anthony Rogers leased the Great House in Causey Street from Owen Brigstocke of Llechdwnni, and served as Mayor in 1740. He was an implacable persecutor of Dissenters, and Howel Harris several times avoided passing through the town for fear of being set upon by townspeople incited by Rogers. He was secretary of the Sea Serjeants in 1752, ostensibly a social organization consisting of West Wales gentry, who met annually for a week of feasting at some seaside town.
Gwynn and Rogers remained in partnership for about nine years. During the course of it, Rogers had been, financially, the dominant figure. He had advanced sums totalling £2,628.18s.10d. before, and since 1738, and Gwynn owed him half of this. By a Bill of Sale in 1747, the partnership came to an end, Rogers discharging Gwynn of his debt, taking over his stock and utensils, and buying him out for £70. The 1738 lease was surrendered and Rogers obtained a new one for himself on October 3rd, 1748. That he intended to increase his work-force is suggested by his being given the liberty of building more houses for his workmen. Gwynn became involved in industrial undertakings in the Llanelli area and also in searching for minerals on Mynydd y Garreg.
In regard to the mill-pond, created by the damming of the river, and essential for the supply of water for the works, Rogers was vulnerable. At its northern end was a small close called Park y Coed, owned by the Allt y Cadno estate in Llangyndeyrn parish. Deprived of it, he would have been hard put to keep the works in operation. He had secured a short-term lease for the close in 1739, which came up for renewal in 1755. When it became known that he was negotiating for its renewal, his political enemies, the Whigs, led by George Rice of Dynevor, scented an opportunity to discomfort him. Rogers was a staunch Tory, and in the turbulent politics of mid-eighteenth century Carmarthenshire no holds were barred. In reply to a request from Rice for further information, John Rees of Cilymaenllwyd, near Llanelli, one of his Whig supporters, assured him that Rogers could not carry on the works without possession of Park y Coed, adding that, since Rogers was harassing the Whigs in Kidwelly and elsewhere, "it would be no sin to serve him in his own kind and divest him entirely of this Conveniency, which would put an entire stop to his Waterworks". Miss Lloyd of Allt y Cadno might, he hinted, be induced to keep Park y Coed unleased. These machinations came to nothing. On the advice of Alexander Scurlock, her agent, who was well aware of the importance of Park y Coed, Miss Lloyd renewed the lease, Rogers, probably without much demur, agreeing to pay double the original rent.
Anthony Rogers died in 1756. During the minority of his son Lewis, a renewal of the Corporation lease was secured by his father's executor, Leonard Bilson Gwynn of Gwempa. Lewis came of age in 1758, one of his first acts being to secure a renewal of the Park y Coed lease. In the same year, he entered into a partnership in the works with Robert Morgan of Carmarthen. Morgan, born in Kidwelly in 1708, was already a considerable figure in the iron industry of West Wales. He had founded an iron works at Carmarthen in 1748, possessed a blast-furnace, and was the sole, or major, owner of forges at Whitland and Cwmdwyfran. The blastfurnace produced pig, or cast, iron, with charcoal as fuel, which was then refined at the forges, converted into iron bars, and sent for rolling and tinning at Kidwelly. A forge, up-stream from the works, was held by Rogers on a lease from William Brigstocke.
Details of operations at Kidwelly are contained in a Morgan letter-book which commences in 1759. The tinplate was sold to Messrs. Allen, Coram and Vaughan, a firm of Bristol merchants, under a yearly contract at a stipulated price. On June 25th, 1761, Morgan informed them that "there will be shipped on board Nicholas from Kidwelly 200 boxes of Tin". Occasionally, there were difficulties in fulfilling their demands since Kidwelly was liable to stoppages. He wrote on October 13th: "I hope as the Mill will goe next Tuesday you'll soon be well sorted with plates . . . the dry season and repairs has prevented our making 500 or 600 boxes more this year than we should have done had all been right and plenty of water". Later, he was to complain that "water is short at Kidwelly spring and summer". This deficiency was also blamed for failure to produce the intended output of 2,500 boxes a year. There were difficulties, too, in maintaining a consistent and high quality in the production of tinplate. In reply to complaints from Bristol, he wrote: "Extremely sorry I am that Kidwelly works are in such disgrace, but what we shall hereafter send you shall in some measure retrieve the loss of Character". Forgemen came in for severe criticism. "Forgemen are very idle fellows, if not well followed, a Bar of Iron now and then will be no better than it should be and that through Carelessness only. This Bar will make many bad Sheets of Tin." A foreman, too, was threatened with dismissal for wrong sorting of tinplate.
Morgan supplied most of the capital for the enterprise, with Rogers holding a one-fifth share, as did George Tyler, the first gun-founder at Carmarthen. How much return there was on capital is not clear, although Morgan claimed that between November, 1758, and December, 1759, the works had produced a profit of £651.12s.1½d. His relationship with Rogers appears to have been uneasy. Rogers seems to have owed Morgan £500 and the only way to obtain this was by stopping it out of the profits due to Rogers. A quarrel had arisen because Rogers had objected to Morgan's dismissal of a man for poor workmanship. He informed his Bristol merchants in May, 1761, that "we have turned that fellow off and great quarrels it has made betwixt Mr. Rogers and us and because I would not supply him with Money as he called or suffer him to draw on you as he pleased. These Money matters make best Friends quarrel sometimes." Morgan's interest in Kidwelly ended in November, 1761, when Rogers, who held the lease, terminated the partnership. This was not the end of Morgan's tinplating activities. As early as November, 1758, he had begun to build his own Mill at Carmarthen, although it was not finally opened until March, 1761. The following year, he added another.
If, after Morgan's departure, Rogers might have experienced difficulty in raising capital, this seems to have been overcome with the appearance of a new partner. In March, 1762, Alexander Scurlock, agent of the Allt y Cadno Estate, informed his employers that "a Mr. Price of Glamorgan was now treating with Mr. Rogers for a share in the tin mill at Kidwelly". This was Thomas Price of Dyffryn House, St. Nicholas, who rivalled Robert Morgan in the extent of his interests in the iron industry. Capital also came from Thomas Monkland, a London tin manufacturer, who advanced sums totalling £5,000 in loans. Although details of the output of the works are meagre, there are indications of Rogers's confidence in the progress of his operations. In 1767 he secured a renewal of the Corporation lease and in the following year acquired the lease of a storehouse on the south bank of the river, close to the town bridge, with the intention also of building a quay adjoining it. In 1774 he extended his capacity for storing and shipping his product by obtaining another storehouse at the north end of the bridge. A shipment to London in 1769 is mentioned in a letter to Thomas Kymer by his agent Richard Evans . . . "there is a sloop of Mr. Webb loading coals and Tin here from London". Occasionally, the Tin Mill carried out special work in connection with Kymer's collieries in the lower Gwendraeth Fawr valley. John Llewelin and his rollermen produced, in 1769, thirty iron bars for wagon wheels and were rewarded by Kymer with five shillings worth of ale, drunk at Ann David's hostelry in Kidwelly. The Parish Registers sometimes yield the occupations of other types of workers doublers, scalers, finers, furnacemen, scrapmen, and labourers. The scale of wages is not known but a skilled man such as tinman Rees Jones, a burgess in 1769, could afford to secure, in 1771, a lease from Owen Brigstocke of a house, garden and barn in Lady Street at a yearly rent of £5.
The production of tinplate in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was complicated. The bar iron refined in the forge was taken into the mill where it was cut into requisite lengths, heated and re-heated, and re-rolled until they were between four and five feet long. The doubler then doubled them in half and returned them to the rolls. Doubling and rolling were performed three or four times, after which the plates were passed to the shearer who marked and cut them. Before the sheets could receive their coating of tin, they had to be free of all oxide, rust and scale, otherwise the tin would not adhere. Two processes were therefore undertaken: scaling (pickling), and scouring. The first process consisted of soaking the sheets in dilute acid, probably at this time sal ammoniac or hydrochloric acid, to remove oxide. They were then re-heated, or annealed, in a furnace. Before the invention of the annealing pot in 1829, annealing was done by doubling the sheets loosely and straightening them on a cast-iron block. After cooling, they were passed through the cold rolls to remove any unevenness and to provide a better texture for tinning. Finally, they were scoured. This involved soaking them in bran lees for twelve hours and, afterwards, in dilute acid, and then scouring or cleaning them with sand and water. Until they were ready for tinning, they were kept in a bosh of clean water, in which it was found that they would not rust even though allowed to remain there for a considerable time.
Within the tinhouse, the tinning apparatus consisted of six cast-iron pots placed over fires. The tin came in a pure state in the form of blocks of convenient size from the stannaries of Cornwall. The sheets, after being removed from the water bosh, were placed in the tinman's pot of melted grease, then in the tin pot containing melted tin covered with a layer of melted grease, from which they were taken to the wash-pot, which had two compartments. Here, the washman, a highly skilled man, removed the surplus tin. He took the sheets from the wash-pot in batches of about twenty; then, taking up each sheet, he wiped the surplus tin from both sides with a hempen brush and dipped it into the second compartment of the wash-pot, which contained the purest metal, after which they were placed in the grease pot and maintained at such a temperature so as to melt off the excess of tin and to allow the plate to cool uniformly. From the grease pot, the plates were removed to a cooling pot, containing melted tallow, by a worker called a "riser". By now, the plate had a small bead or "list" formed on its lower edge. This was removed by a boy called a "lister", who dipped the edge into a "list" pot, a shallow bath of molten tin. When the "list" had fused, the plate was taken out and struck sharply with a stick and the "list" fell away. The plates were then rubbed in bran and polished. Cleaning and dusting were generally undertaken by three girls. Afterwards, the sheets were sorted according to the various sizes and weights required and then placed in boxes holding between 200 and 255.
Lewis Rogers played a prominent part in the affairs of Kidwelly town, acting as Deputy Recorder in 1772, Mayor in 1763 and 1767, and as one of the Commissioners appointed under the Act of Parliament of 1766, which enabled Thomas Kymer (1722-1784) to build a canal from Kidwelly to his coal pits at Pwll y Llygod and Great Forest in the Gwendraeth valley. Like his father, he, too, was a member of the Sea Serjeants. He died unmarried in 1776 but had fathered a son, John, by his housekeeper, Margaret Jenkins, a single woman. A new lease of the works was obtained by his administrators his sister, Mary Bridget, and her husband, Leonard Bilson Gwynn, who had married her in 1762. Rogers's debts were numerous, amounting in all to £15,861.4s.2d. A dispute arising out of his will led, eventually, to the bringing of a suit in Chancery by some of his creditors, including Margaret Jenkins, married by this time to John Price of Kidwelly, against Leonard Bilson Gwynn and his wife. The court, after some delay, decreed the sale of Rogers's estate in the late 1780s. The particulars for the sale of the works reveal that it comprised one rolling mill powered by an undershot wheel, two pairs of rollers, a scale house, a scouring room, melting house and two tin houses, a pair of cold rolls, a wash house and sorting place, a shearing house, a blacksmith's and carpenter's shop, a house for the clerk, a stable, four houses for workmen, and several gardens. There were also four shops for scrapmen where the scrap iron from the shearings and crop ends in the rolling mill was turned into bolt iron for shipbuilding, fender iron and iron rods, thus providing an important by-product for the tinplate industry.
Leonard Bilson Gwynn purchased the works for £1,370. As holder of the lease, he had, some years previously, sub-let the works to William Morris of Kidwelly and William Roderick of Brynhavod, in the parish of Llangathen, as tenants-at-will and at an annual rent of £120. Output was claimed to be 2,000-3,000 boxes a year. Morris, son of Richard Morris of Pengay Issa, St. Ishmaels, began as a schoolmaster in Kidwelly, served as Chamberlain of the Borough, and became agent to Lewis Rogers. In 1786 he described himself as a tin manufacturer and sole owner of the sloop `William and Mary'. Roderick had made a career in estate management, serving as agent to the Allt y Cadno family and administrating the lands of George Rice at Newton, near Llandeilo. He had, however, extended his interests to include the lease of Llandyfan forge by 1788. The partnership seems to have ended in the early 1790s. As trustee and executor of William Andrews of Kidwelly, Morris, in 1792, was described as "late of the Tin Mills"; Roderick had become involved in mining in the Llanelli area, having taken Thomas Bowen into partnership in 1794.
Leonard Bilson Gwynn died at Glyn Abbey in 1798, leaving his estate to his unmarried daughter, Catherine Middleton Gwynn. His executors were his nephew, Lieut-General Edward Francis Gwynn, a veteran of the American War of Independence; William Gwynn of Languard, in Kent; the Reverend Thomas Powell of Swansea, whose father Gabriel was Recorder of Swansea and Steward to the Duke of Beaufort; and George Talbot Rice Cardonel, Baron Dynevor. They secured a renewal of the lease and, in 1799, advertised the works for sale in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal, claiming an annual output of 3,000 boxes delivered to all parts and particularly to London and Bristol. That the works had been idle since the end of the Morris and Roderick partnership is apparent from a notice in 1800 to Catherine Gwynn, from Kidwelly Corporation, threatening her with legal action unless she put the Tin Mills into repair. Within a year, purchasers had been found. An agreement to sell was drawn up between the executors and Benjamin Haselwood and Henry Hathaway, both of Monmouth, whereby, immediately after it's signing, they were to enter the premises for the purpose of repair and rebuilding. This they seem to have accomplished by the end of 1801, by which time they had taken Winniatt Perkins into partnership. To commemorate their achievement, they erected a plaque inscribed with their names and the claim that the works were the oldest in the kingdom. The purchase price was £2,200 but, in 1806, it was disclosed that only £400 of this had been paid. In 1803 they offered to raise, clothe and arm, at their own expense, a company of volunteers to resist a threatened invasion after the resumption of war with the French. Home Office papers reveal that the Kidwelly workers volunteered to join the local militia in the defence of the country.
Little information has survived to illustrate operations under the partners. The accounts of the Carmarthen works under John Morgan, son of Robert, show, in 1806, shipments of charcoal iron bars and thirtytwo tons of iron from St. Clears to Kidwelly. Coking coal was supplied in 1804 by Richard Williams of Moreb, near Burry Port, from his collieries under the Stradey Estate and probably shipped from Pwll quay. The partners possessed their own small fleet, the 'Elizabeth and Mary', of Kidwelly, a sloop of thirtyfive tons; the `Mary', of Kidwelly, a brigantine of fiftythree tons; and the 'Bold Harry', a sloop of twentyone tons, built at Kidwelly. They also had shares in the scow 'Eleanor', of 113 tons, built in 1804 at Kidwelly by William Raynor in his yard at the north end of the town bridge.
Management was largely in the hands of Haselwood. Shortly after his death in 1806, it became apparent that the concern was in serious financial straits. Perkins, who had contributed £8,000, hinted at his mis-management when he wrote, in 1807, that however much money the concern possessed it would still have been in difficulties under Haselwood's control. The principal creditor was the Carmarthen bank of Marten and Waters, who were owed £7,000. Perkins dissolved the partnership with Hathaway and called a meeting of creditors at Bristol. This resulted in the assignment of the works to trustees, among whom were Richard Blakemore of the Melingriffith tinplate works, near Cardiff; Thomas Waters, The Younger, of the Carmarthen bank; Philip Vaughan and John Morgan, of Carmarthen. Perkins was allowed to continue for the time being, and the works were offered for sale in 1807, "in full work", applications to be made to Winniatt Perkins, Theophilus Daubuz of Truro, Richard Blakemore of Monmouth and Thomas Waters of Carmarthen. Thomas Waters, early in his banking career, had expressed a desire to participate in industry and Kidwelly now afforded him an opportunity. By 1808 he had taken over Perkins's debts, discharged the creditors, and was assigned the works by the creditors. He entered into possession with Ralph Allen Daniel, a Truro merchant, who had, in 1805, been involved in the establishment of a copper works in Llanelli, and the firm operated as Thomas Waters and Co., Tinplate Manufacturers. Production between April, 1811, and May, 1812, amounted to 5,233 boxes, and between May, 1812, and December of that year, 3,431 boxes. Waters and Daniel carried on up to 1813 and then agreed to end their partnership. The following year, the works were let, at an annual rent of £150, to Richard Blakemore of Melingriffith. In 1815 there was a competition between Carmarthen and Kidwelly, the only two works in Carmarthenshire, to discover which could produce most in a twelve-hour shift. The Carmarthen men made 19 boxes, the Kidwelly men 18. The Ashburnham Estate papers in the National Library of Wales record, in 1815, the freight of tinplates to Bristol in the sloop 'Eleanor' and her return with timber and iron; also, the carriage of coal to the Tin Mills from the Ashburnham collieries in Pembrey in 1816. The Melingriffith interest lasted until 1817. Thomas Waters, who held the Corporation lease, surrendered it in order to obtain a new one but died before it could be executed. His estate passed to his friend Philip Protheroe of Westbury-on-Trym, Gloucestershire, and the Corporation granted him a new lease for 99 years dated from 1817. For the next seven or eight years, a tenant, Philip Vaughan, continued production, describing himself as a tinplate manufacturer on his application to become a burgess in 1818. Details of wages at the works at this time are scanty but the following incident is not without interest. William Jones, Recorder of Kidwelly, informed George Stevens, the Town Clerk, in November, 1829, that he had received a complaint from Daniel Lewis that he and his wife had been ejected from the Poor House in the town and were forced to sleep in the streets. In reply, Stevens pointed out that there had been numerous complaints of Lewis's behaviour in the Poor House but questioned whether it was necessary for him to be there at all since he earned good money at the Tin Works, about 16s. to 18s. a week, and his wife and daughter were in the cockle trade.
When Vaughan relinquished his tenancy, Protheroe was able to sub-let to a firm of Brecon solicitors, Messrs. Vaughan and Bevan, for a term of twelve years commencing in 1829. After offering the works for sale at the Ivy Bush, Carmarthen, they found a tenant in Thomas Hay, a Civil Engineer, son of John Hay who had been closely associated with the Earl of Ashburnham's canal and collieries in Pembrey. Under Hay's management, the works prospered, and Gorton and Wright, in their Topographical Dictionary, published in 1833, reported that the Mills exported a large quantity of tinplates annually to all parts of the kingdom. One shipment was lost in 1830 when the sloop 'Active', of 47 tons, bound for London from Kidwelly, was wrecked off the Cornish coast. On the expiry of the lease, Hay withdrew, and Vaughan and Bevan were given notice under the terms of the lease to carry out all necessary repairs to the flood-gates, buildings and machinery.
In December, 1838, the bells of Kidwelly were rung to celebrate the taking over of the works by Hugh Herbert Downman, but for the next twenty years there was to be little cause for rejoicing. Downman, and later his brother, Henry Ridout, took an over-optimistic view of the industry, into which it was relatively easy to enter and to obtain credit and advances. They did not lack energy and commitment but they expended their resources unwisely in an industry which they entered with little knowledge or experience. Downman, who had briefly been a partner with his brother in the Carmarthen works, formed an association called the Kidwelly Iron and Tinplate Company and its first meeting took place in October, 1839. Capital came in the form of 150 shares of £100 each. Downman, with ten shares, became managing director. The shareholders, among whom were three widows and a spinster, were mainly middle class, professional men from Bristol and Newport. Local holders were William Williams, a timber merchant of Kidwelly, Robert Dunkin of Loughor, an agent, William Evans of Carmarthen, a printer and publisher, and William Jones and Richard Phillips, iron founders, of Carmarthen.
Daily reports of labour up to 1841 deal largely with preparations for the production of tinplates, with the work of smiths, carpenters and masons engaged, for instance, in the rebuilding of a balling furnace, the erection of a new one, the repair of the mill furnace, and the installing of new, case-hardened rolls from Bristol. Two rollermen, William Morris and William Derbyshire, were used mainly for labouring jobs. A company shop was established and run by Mrs. Downman. Shipments of pig iron and refined metal came from Neath Abbey Iron Company, one of sixty tons, and, also, from Coalbrook Vale Iron Company and Pembrey Iron and Coal Company. A Loughor colliery supplied twentythree tons of coal in June, 1839. These shipments were carried in Kidwelly vessels, the 'Sarah Ann', Captain Davies, and the 'Elizabeth and Ann', Captain Charles, both Kidwelly mariners, and landed at the shipping place near the town bridge. From Pwll colliery, near Llanelli, coal was brought down from Burry Port on the Kidwelly and Llanelly Company's canal to Tycoch wharf at Kidwelly.
In October, 1840, the liabilities of the Company amounted to £2,888.0s.9d., the creditors including the Neath Abbey Works, Loughor Coal Company, Llanmor Iron Company of Llanelli, and John Waddle, the engineer employed by Downman. On July 5th, 1841, Downman was declared a bankrupt. William Jones, iron founder of Carmarthen, and Hugh Waddle of Llanelli, two of the creditors, were empowered to offer the works for sale. On November 2nd, Downman's furniture and effects at his home, Broadford Grange, near the works, later re-named Velindre, were put up for auction. The following day, "The Rolling Mills, Turning Mill and other Effects" were also placed on offer but they remained unsold.
Meanwhile, at the Carmarthen works, Henry Ridout Downman, by profession an accountant, was also in financial straits and, in 1842, was being sued for nonpayment of work done by Waddle and others of the Llanmor Foundry in Llanelli who, in their deposition, stated that he had laid out considerable sums of money in alterations but, "being somewhat fanciful and not thoroughly understanding the business which must have been quite new to him, a great deal of money has been expended uselessly". Downman gave up Carmarthen and then, apparently undeterred by his experience, turned his attention to Kidwelly idle since the flight of his brother. Early in 1844 he was living in Broadford Grange and obtained from the Corporation a 99year lease which included two storehouses and a yard at the north end of the town bridge, and the shipping place, or wharf, adjacent to it. He entered upon a programme of alteration and expansion and, to finance it, he mortgaged the works for £3,000 to Trevennen James, a London merchant, and his partner, Frederick Ricketts. As mortgagees, they came into possession in 1846 when Downman, unable to meet his creditors, retreated from Kidwelly. James and Ricketts sought, unsuccessfully, in August of that year, to put up the works for auction, claiming that in 1845 it had produced an average of 200 boxes a week. The Particulars of Sale described the plant and machinery as follows:
"The Works consist of the Main Wheel, a new Iron Breast Wheel, Fly Wheel and Gearing for Hammer and Bar Rolls; a Rolling mill containing one Balling Furnace, Two Black Plate Furnaces, Two pairs of Tin Plate Rolls, Bar Iron Rolls, and Two Pairs of Shears; Scouring Rooms, Two sets; Tinning Room, for Two Sets of Pots; Scaling and Annealing Houses; a Counting House and Office; Tenement for Foreman, also another small Tenement; Three large Stor-eHouses; a Four-stall stable; Cart-house and Sheds; Blacksmiths' and Carpenters' Shops; and Covered saw-pit."
It was pointed out, too, that the introduction of steam power could easily be accomplished and would greatly increase the capacity of the works; also, the coming of the South Wales Railway, "rapidly progressing", would bring the district into constant and easy communication with all parts, and facilitate the transport of tinplates. Any intention James and Ricketts may have had of operating the works themselves was prevented by the failure of their Company, and subsequent bankruptcy, in 1847. Assignees appointed by their creditors put up the works for sale at the Mackworth Arms, Swansea, but there were no takers. Ultimately, in 1848, a purchaser was found in Hugh Herbert Downman, who had failed so signally in 1841.
Downman added a second mill and a warehouse for palm oil, used as a flux in the tinning process, but shortage of working capital obliged him to turn, in 1854, to Crawshay Bailey of Aberaman, only son of the iron master, who advanced him £2,500 but acquired, as security, an assignment of the lease, plant and machinery. Two years later, Downman, now in failing health, looked for a partner who could bring new capital and energy into the business. He entered into negotiations with Rawden Briggs of Westbury-on-Trym, who lent him £1,600 to pay his creditors. More negotiations followed, with a view to William, Briggs's son, becoming a partner, and Rawden put forward £3,600 to enable the business to be carried on. An agreement was drawn up which, although modified later, left Downman very much in the power of father and son. William declined to become a partner but played a dominant and high-handed role in the running of the works, to the extent of erasing Downman's name from his carts and substituting his own and preventing Downman's clerks from entering the premises.
To add to his discomfiture, Downman was now pressed by Crawshay Bailey for repayment of his loan which, with interest, amounted to £3,000. Downman was in no position to do so, and Bailey, by virtue of his assignment of the lease, put up the works for sale at the Mackworth Arms on May 8th, 1858. Sale particulars revealed that the premises were surrounded by a wall and separated from the dwelling house by a plantation. There were two mills, with a helve-hammer, black plate, puddling and balling furnaces, a pair of six-inch bar rolls, and a pair of cold rolls. The mills were worked by two water wheels, one 16 feet in diameter and 10 feet broad, the other 25 feet in diameter and 7 feet broad, and were able to turn out from 350-400 boxes a week. Ancillary equipment consisted of a steam engine of between twenty and thirty horse-power, with a Cornish boiler, and a blast machine. Included in the sale was the shipping place near the town bridge, which, it was claimed, could be reached on Spring tides by vessels of 120 tons. Crawshay Bailey, who appears to have had no interest in operating the works himself, had to wait nearly two years for a purchaser. In a letter of August 25th, 1860, Delilah, Downman's widow (he had died early in 1858), wrote to Jeffreys, the Carmarthen solicitor, "I find the Kidwelly works are sold to Mr. Chivers, Possession to be given by Mr. Hollier (Bailey's solicitor) in a month".
Jacob Chivers, born in the Forest of Dean but living in Aberdare at this time, purchased the works for £2,225 with the initial help of his brother Caleb, a chemical manufacturer living at Myrtle Hill, Carmarthen. Jacob had started as an engineer at the Cambrian Iron and Spelter Company's works at Maesteg but had extended his interests to operating a lead mine in Spain. His daughter Elizabeth was born in Cartagena in 1848. As a working partner he took on Thomas Bright, an iron founder at Carmarthen, who retired when Jacob's son Thomas, born at Maesteg in 1843, entered the business. His coming-of-age was celebrated with a dinner, at Velindre, given by Chivers to 80 of his employees and followed by sports in an adjoining field, an occasion which caused the reporter of the 'Llanelly Guardian' to comment approvingly on the "great cordiality" which existed between Chivers and his men. In 1867 the Guardian reported that "Messrs. Chivers and Son have nearly completed the great additions which commenced some time ago". By 1874 there were three mills, two operated by steam, the other by water, a forge where cast-iron was converted into wrought-iron, and a tin house with eight tinning pots. Adjoining the tin house was a new block of buildings comprising a sorting room, store-room and offices. The dispatch of tinplates had been expedited in 1872 by linking the works by rail to the Gwendraeth Valleys Company's short mineral line which ran from Mynydd y Garreg to the main line at Kidwelly. From here, they were sent to the ports of Llanelli or Burry Port and shipped to Liverpool for transhipment to America, the main export market for the British industry.
A three-mill works, such as Kidwelly was in 1874, was typical of many in the area Carmarthen, Dafen, Old Castle, having four, and Burry (Llanelli), Amman (Brynamman), Cwmfelin (Swansea) and Hendy with three. Kidwelly was not the only outlet for the entrepreneurial energies of the Chivers. Up to 1876 they ran Ffrwd colliery in Pembrey and were in partnership with George Smith at the Gadlys Ucha Tinplate Works, Aberdare, but withdrew in 1873. The following year they acquired the Yspitty works at Loughor, with three mills, and employed, as manager, Rushton Turnock, who purchased it from them in 1878. Their interests, too, lay in shipping. Workers at Kidwelly and Yspitty were, in 1873, treated to an excursion to New Milford to view their steam yacht. Thomas Chivers was the owner, in 1865, of the 379 ton, three-masted barque 'Sultan', which he purchased for £2,100 but must have spent a large sum on making her fit for sea after she completed a voyage from Mauritius to Liverpool. Thereafter, she was employed in the sugar trade between Demerara and London until he sold her in 1872. Father and son also held shares in the Llanelli-built, and owned, steamship 'Llanelly', from her launching in 1867 until her loss in 1873.
As "master", Chivers operated his works in autocratic fashion. His relationship with his workmen, numbering about 150 in 1871, was, however, cordial, personal and paternal, but it must have been strained in 1874 when Kidwelly was in the forefront of an industrial dispute. In 1871 tinplate workers in West Wales had formed a union, The Independent Association of Tinplate Makers, and pressed for increase in wages. The attitude of employers was summed up in their reply to suggestions by union officials that a question in dispute should be settled by negotiation: "So long as tinplates continue to be manufactured in South Wales, the employers would endeavour to manage their works without the aid of trade union officers". This attitude in Chivers' case was probably reinforced by the fact that he was a Methodist, and Methodists, generally, were opposed to the formation of trade societies. Negotiations having made little progress, men at Kidwelly, who had formed a lodge in 1873, submitted, in February, a request for a general increase in wages of a halfpenny per box. Chivers abruptly, and with little warning, posted notices terminating the monthly contracts of his workers. The notices expired on March 21st, and a lock-out began. His precipitate action caused surprise and resentment, William Lewis (Lewis Afan), secretary of the union, denouncing him as "father of the lock-out". By the beginning of May, Chivers' example had been followed by most employers, and almost all works in West Wales were idle. Employers in Glamorganshire and Carmarthenshire amalgamated to form their own association and strongly resisted the claims of the union, which was in no position to sustain a protracted stoppage. Its funds to support its members were soon exhausted. Contributions from townspeople eased the plight of Kidwelly men. Eventually, employers agreed amongst themselves to re-open their works but, in making arrangements for a return to work, they ignored the union as did workers with whom the union had lost credit. By the end of July the industry was back to normal. In November a new wage structure was adopted by the employers' association, in consultation with representatives of their employees, which secured increases for almost all workers. It became known as the "1874 list" and came into force the following year. With such wages, the tinplaters were amongst the most highly paid of industrial workers. The union, however, failed to obtain recognition by the employers.
In the affairs of the town, Chivers played a prominent part, encouraging the establishment of much needed facilities a slaughterhouse, Town Hall and piped water supply and participating in various cultural activities such as the holding of an Eisteddfod in the castle and Popular Readings in the Town Hall. In 1866 he built, at his own expense, at the north end of the bridge, a Wesleyan Methodist chapel, with schoolroom attached, in which services were conducted in English. Among its trustees were his son Thomas and four of his employees Joseph Tench, an annealer; Alfred Bright, a millwright; William Gravell, a packer; and Richard Randell, a washer. With Thomas, he shared the office of Chapel Steward and later became Circuit Steward. Towards the cost of building a house for the minister came a contribution of £30 from workmen in his Spanish lead mine. In municipal affairs, he had become a burgess in 1864, and was Mayor and Justice of the Peace for three consecutive years, 1866-1868, and, afterwards, from 1872 to 1873. As Justice, he sat in judgement on some of his employees in cases mainly of drunkenness and riotous behaviour but, also, on those charged with being absent from the works for periods ranging from three days to three hours.
In the business of operating the works, he and Thomas had come to a parting of the ways. They had become estranged to the extent that a separation of their interests was inevitable. By an agreement, drawn up in 1877, Jacob retained his property of Bishop's Wood in Gloucestershire, and Woodville in Ross, but handed over the works, freehold since his purchase of the reversion of the lease in 1866, to Thomas, as well as property in the town. Jacob had no intention of retiring from industrial enterprises for, in 1879, he started a four-mill works at Hawkwell, Cinderford, in the Forest of Dean, and took on as partner, in 1881, Alfred Charles Bright, a manager at the Kidwelly works. He also extended his interests to include collieries Hawkwell, Newbridge and Small Profit. It was at Cinderford that he died, in March, 1883. Letters of Administration were granted to his daughter, Elizabeth, wife of Ernest Williams. The value of his estate was £9,923.1 s.9d.
At Kidwelly, Thomas, with a mortgage of £15,000 from the National Provincial Bank, began, in 1879, a largescale expansion to increase production with the addition of more mills. To accomplish this, he constructed a range of buildings further along the river bank and beyond the older, "lower", works with its three mills. Within this new, "upper", works were installed six additional mills powered by two large, vertical, single-cylinder, steam engines designed and built by Edwin Foden at his Elworth Foundry, near the town of Sandbach in Cheshire. Each had a 42-ton flywheel, 25 feet in diameter. Foden came to Kidwelly to supervise their erection. Linked to the new hot mill house was a tin house containing ten tinning pots. By 1882 nine mills were in operation.
Under the stimulus of this expansion, there came a marked increase in the work-force. The Census Enumerators' Books, part of the census documentation for 1881, reveal that it then totalled 252 men and boys and 35 women, a 91% increase on that of 1871. Two in three were Carmarthenshire-born, 91 men and 22 women being born in Kidwelly. The birth-places of workers attracted from other areas were Glamorganshire (59), Monmouthshire (20), other Welsh counties (8). Immigration from England was small-scale. Of these, three were Devonians William Pudner, Samuel Northcote and James Loosemoore. The census returns show, also, a dramatic increase in the population of town and parish. Since the revival of the industry by the Chivers, it had risen from 1,652 in 1861 to 2,510 in 1881, and, within the next decade, was to reach 2,732. What is significant, too, is that in 1881, for the first time, the works had become the chief employer of labour, the focal-point of the community. Agriculture, previously the principal source, came second in the economy. Brickmaking, silica manufacturing and lime-working were minor employers of labour. To provide for this growth in the population, and the influx of workers, the town experienced a boom in house-building - in which Thomas Chivers participated. On the outskirts of the town, alongside the road leading to the works, he built 40 two-storied houses, with gardens, grouped in two parallel rows of twenty and separated by an alley. Collectively, they became known as Gwendraeth Town and were ready for occupation by October, 1881. At the same time he erected ten cottages (Newtown) on Mynydd y Garreg, overlooking the works, four at the Siding, and five at Tycoch.
The Census Enumerators' Books for the 1881 census show that, of the skilled men, the largest groups were the puddlers (27), and rollermen (20). The puddler was an important link in the production chain. Within the puddling furnaces, grouped in the lower works, cast-iron was melted for conversion to wrought-iron by exposing it to oxygen and gases in the furnace, thereby removing excess carbon which made the metal brittle. The work was skilled but arduous. The puddler stirred the iron with a long rake, introduced through a hole in the furnace door, until it was converted into a glowing ball of wrought-iron. This was then delivered to the shingler, to be shingled or pounded under the forge hammer to expel cinder and other impurities. Eventually, it was brought to the required size as bar iron and then taken into the hot rolling mill for rolling into sheets. The quality of the metal produced was determined by the skill and judgement of the puddler but his pre-eminence was drawing to a close. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the introduction of steel in place of wrought-iron, and the adoption, in West Wales, of Sieman's open-hearth process for steel making made the puddler and his furnace redundant. Steel bars could now be purchased from steel-works in South Wales. An entry in the log book of Castle school, in 1887, probably points to the demise of puddling at Kidwelly: "Several scholars have left the town on account of the Puddlers being stopped at the Tin Works".
In the 1880s the British tinplate industry continued to expand. In addition to the established uses for cheap domestic and dairy utensils, there grew up new uses such as food cans and, somewhat later, petrol containers. Occasionally, there were periods of depression due, generally, to overproduction and a fall in tinplate prices. It was during one of these depressions that Chivers asked his workmen to take a reduction in wages. This was refused and, in Februarv, 1886, notices of the cessation of contracts within twenty-eight days were issued. The stoppage lasted five months, production being resumed in August. In December of 1887, however, there was another stoppage, sudden and unexpected, due, not to a depression in trade, but to Chivers' inability to meet the demands of his creditors. They included the Liverpool and South Wales Steamship Company, who brought an action against him concerning tinplate, either in transit between Llanelli and Liverpool, or warehoused in Liverpool. The case was heard in Chancery but its outcome is not known. Meanwhile, the Mayor, Thomas Griffiths, issued an appeal on February 10th, 1888, for subscriptions to relieve the distress caused by the stoppage:
Early in 1888, Thomas Chivers, then living at Plas Newydd, Burry Port, entered into negotiations for the sale of the works to a group of businessmen and industrialists headed by David Evans of Llangennech Park and Dr. Henry Child Buckley of Llanelli. The outcome was an agreement by which Chivers sold the works for £25,000 and the National Provincial Bank, the mortgagee, was paid off. A Company called the Gwendraeth Tinplate Company Ltd. was formed, of which Chivers became a shareholder and a director, the others being David Evans, Dr. Henry Child Buckley, J. Beavan Phillips and David Paton. The works were, to judge by an entry for June, 1889, in the log book of the Castle School, back in production by the summer of that year.
The Company introduced outings for workers. The Kidwelly correspondent of the Welshman, noted for innuendo, reported one to Cardigan in 1892: "The Kidwelly Tinplate men enjoyed themselves thoroughly at Cardigan. Some so much that they failed to return by the excursion train."
The expansion of the industry in the 1890s was drastically checked by the enactment of the Mackinley Tariff in 1891 and the establishment behind it of a tinplate industry in the U.S.A., hitherto the market for three-quarters of British production, which was now almost a Welsh monopoly stretching along the coastal belt between Port Talbot and Carmarthen. Llanelli, with six works in the 1880s, was the largest of the tinplate towns and had earned for itself the title of "Tinopolis". Prices began to slump, production markedly declined, unemployment rose. The industry's labour force in1891 was 25,000 but, by 1898, it had fallen to 16,000. The depression was at its worst between 1895 and 1899 when thirty-six firms were forced to cease production. A few, including Carmarthen, closed permanently.
At Kidwelly, production was intermittent up to 1895. There were several stoppages, many the result of disputes of an essentially local character and, sometimes, trivial in origin. In one instance, a dispute, which closed the works for five weeks, was settled by the intervention and arbitration of prominent townspeople, particularly Daniel Stephens, proprietor of a local Silica Brickworks. The full effect of the depression began to be felt in January, 1896, when the works were closed and men paid off, though they had several times offered to work at reduced wages. The closure was to last for nearly four years, and its consequences were calamitous. Some 150 families were. to live precariously on the verge of destitution, dependent, largely, on funds raised by public subscription. The Mayor's fund provided tickets for presentation to food shops, 1s.6d. for each man and wife, and 3d. for each child. The Vicar, D. Dafen Jones, set up a Soup Kitchen in the Parish Room which provided, once a week, about a quart of soup and a twopenny loaf. After each distribution, funds ran perilously low. The Vicar appealed for support to Lascelles Carr, editor of the Western Mail, who had set up a distress fund for works at Cwmfelin and Morriston. He responded at once by diverting £15 to Kidwelly, which helped to relieve some of the worst cases. A Western Mail representative visited several homes in 1897. He found, on one of his visits, that a rollerman with a wife and eight children had only half a loaf and a small lump of margarine for their dinner. The children had scoured the countryside for watercresses and walked to Llanelli to dispose of them. The wife of a bed-ridden worker earned a few shillings by collecting blackberries and mushrooms and selling them in Llanelli. The representative noted, too, the plight of some families, accustomed to thrift and owning their homes, who could not bring themselves to accept charity and suffered quietly the stings of poverty. Skilled workmen were taken on by the Town Council to break stones on Mynydd y Garreg or offered themselves to farmers at wages much lower than those of the regular farm labourers. Many left the town to find work in the colliery districts. Some sought opportunities further afield. A rollerman and a furnaceman left in 1898 to join other Kidwelly men at La Magona d'Italia Piobino in Tuscany to assist in the establishment of works. A few exploited their skills in the pioneering tinplate districts in America. John Charles Williams, born in Lady Street in 1876, the son of Thomas Williams, a rollerman, and Elizabeth, his wife, became a prominent industrialist and President of the Weirton Steel Company. He died in 1936 but created in his will a Fidelity Trust to administer educational bequests for scholarships in the Kidwelly, Llanelli and Loughor schools districts, bequests which have now taken the form of grants for post-graduate research.
In April, 1899, the works were put up for sale. The sale catalogue gave a detailed and comprehensive description of plant and machinery. Within the hot mill house, the number of mills had by this time been increased from six to eight, and were driven, in sets of four, by the two Foden engines which, to provide the extra power, had, probably in 1892, been compounded with the addition of new high-pressure cylinders. Each mill had two pairs of shears and there were sixteen iron and brick furnaces. The mill house measured 235 feet by 78 feet; it had brick gables and a corrugated iron roof supported on large casti-ron columns with wrought-iron lattice girders. An iron tramway ran the length of the mill house, along which the sheets were conveyed by trollies to the Black Pickling room which had a large ventilator in the pantile roof for carrying off fumes. The pickling apparatus consisted of a steam-driven machine, five cradles, three acid vats and one swilling vat. Adjoining the pickling room was the annealing room, with four brick annealing furnaces, and the cold rolling room, with five pairs of rollers driven by a 28inch cylinder horizontal engine with a sixteen-ton fly-wheel. Two brick stacks, one 140 feet, the other 160 feet high, carried away the fumes from the Babcock boilers. The tin house adjoining the mill house had fourteen chimneys and ten sets of pots, four dipping machines, ten iron boshes and a water supply. Connected to it was the dusting room, with two dusting machines, in which the finished plates were polished and cleaned. From here they passed into the assorting room to be inspected and graded. It was brick-built and brick-floored, with an iron roof, and contained two deal benches, two portable weighing machines on trollies, and a pair of cutting-down shears. In the centre was a tramway which ran into the tinplate warehouse where the sheets were "boxed" and then loaded into railway trucks alongside.
All these operations were carried out in a range of buildings, lit by electricity, no higher than the ground floor. Ancilliary buildings comprised offices, various store-rooms, a smithy and the bar-cutting room opposite the mill house, where the steel bars, "tin bars", were weighed and then sheared into short lengths corresponding to the size of black plate required and then passed into the mill house for heating and rolling. One of the stores held casks of pal-moil used as flux in the tinning pots and imported from Lagos in West Africa.
The lower works now played little, or no, part in the production of tinplates. The main building was of brick, with a tiled roof carried on iron columns. The mills were idle, disused. Two are referred to, one with two pairs of rolls, the other with four, and with two mill furnaces. There were three vertical steam-engines, part of a pickling plant, a cutting-down shears with a fly-wheel, a twenty-five inch cylinder horizontal steam-hammer (incomplete) and six Lancashire boilers. Outside the main building was a massive circular chimney, about 200ft high, built by the Chivers, which had served the puddling furnaces long since demolished. Another reminder of this once-important operation was a large quantity of puddling-furnace slag dumped across the river, which some years before had been offered for sale at one shilling a ton. Features evoking a more distant technological past were the water-wheel, still in its pit, and the flood-gates to the pond.
In July, 1899, it was announced that the works had been purchased by what the Llanelly Mercury described as "a powerful syndicate of young men", headed by John Thomas of Plasissa, Llangennech, a tinplate manufacturer, who became managing director of a new Company called the Kidwelly Iron, Sheet and Tinplate Company, with a capital of £40,000 in £500 shares. The town rejoiced, the streets burst into a colourful blaze of flags and bunting. The Llanelly Guardian devoted a short leader to the event, praising the townspeople for their patience in the barren years of waiting. "Scarcely any town in the Principality has suffered so much in consequence of the incidence of the tinplate trade . . . Floreat Kidwelly!" John Thomas, after his marriage in October to Miss A. H. Searle of London, took up residence in Velindre and, by November, the works were in full production. Within two years, however, the Company went into voluntary liquidation and by May, 1901, the works were idle. It was put up for auction in 1902 but withdrawn at £8,000. In 1903 plant and machinery were offered for sale, the largest buyers being David Evans of Llangennech Park, and Charles Peel, an engineer. It was generally feared that this would lead to the dismantling of the works but the danger was averted when a syndicate, which included David Evans and Charles Peel, formed a company in July, 1904, called the Kidwelly Tinplate Company, with a capital of £40,000. The Directors were Colonel John Roper Wright, Chairman, John Thomas of Velindre (Kidwelly), Managing Director, and Charles Peel.
The depression of the 1890s was followed by a revival in trade, and the industry experienced almost continuous prosperity up to 1913. The revival was due mainly to rising home consumption and increased exports to Europe. At Kidwelly, seven mills were in operation in 1908 and the work-force numbered 350. By 1914, most works had adopted a shorter working week of eight-hour shifts, instead of twelve, and work finished at noon on Saturday. There was no Sunday working, even for the essential tasks of maintenance. Another improvement was the securing of an annual holiday of eight days. In regard to wages, there were clearly defined differentials between the various grades of workers. A Board of Trade report into earnings and hours of labour, in 1906, found that a rollerman in charge of his mill team earned 62s. a week, a furnaceman 47s.3d., a behinder 26s.9d., a shearer 61s.3d., a doubler 50s.9d., annealers 41s.11d., picklers 44s.4d., assorters 50s.5d., and tinmen 43s.6d. Women's wages were low, the average being 14s.9d. a week. Working conditions in the industry, however, had received little attention. The first fullscale inquiry came in 1911 with the report of Collis and Hilditch, two factory inspectors. They found that, in the mill house, operations were laborious and carried out in trying conditions of high temperature. The pickling process was disagreeable by reason of wet floors and fumes from the acid vats. Most girls, however, wore heavy clogs and thick woollen stockings and were, therefore, unlikely to suffer inconvenience from the wet floors. Of all the processes, they found that conditions in the tin house were the worst, the workers being in continual contact with irritating fumes and dust.
Carmarthen Library Call No: LCP 960/338.476696
Click to go: Home: Contents