Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The origins of copper working in Swansea

The terms “Copper Quarter!”, and “Copperopolis”, are terms which are well known today and synonymous with the Swansea area, however the origins of why Swansea enjoys this association is less well appreciated. Luckily, this month’s speaker Peter Rees of Swansea Outreach Speakers was able to more than supply the answer.

Mr Rees began his talk by paying tribute to the massive contribution which the Swansea Valley had played in the metallurgical story of the industrial revolution. The area was not only known for copper smelting but also zinc, lead, iron/steel, nickel, cobalt, gold and silver. The galvanised zinc sheets produced in Swansea had literally roofed the Caribbean much as the slates of North Wales had roofed much of Europe. The question why, lay much further in the past than Dr John Lane’s first modern copper smelting works in Landore in 1717.

Remains of  copper works at Aberdulais
The area had several geographical features which made the smelting of metals easier here than elsewhere. Firstly, the southern limb of the coal measures outcropped between Aberafon and the Loughor estuary. This made extraction relatively easy and secondly in the absence of adequate roads, transport was possible by boat along the Tawe, Neath and Loughor rivers.  As early as 1249, some 150 tons of coal was leaving Swansea and this rose to 5,000 tons by 1500. The third locational advantage was that of coal itself which provided the energy for the smelting. Four tons of coal were needed for every one ton of copper ore so the relative difficulty in transportation meant that it was easier to bring the copper ore to the coal.

The Elizabethan age, heralded a new demand for copper. Elizabeth the First who came to the throne in 1558, was threatened by papist armies on the continent of Europe ten times in number of her own forces. Luckily the sea provided a defence and she gave patronage to some highly able ( some might say disreputable privateers) such as Drake, Frobisher, Raleigh and Rawlins to form the basis of a nascent Royal Navy. However, a supply of copper was essential, both to manufacture cannon from brass (bell making technology). Unfortunately, the Hanseatic League dominated the Baltic ports and could ask a high price for copper (literally a Queen’s ransom, Ed) which meant that she needed a new strategy. The astute Elizabeth recruited 300 copper smelters from Bavaria who had the expertise to begin an English copper industry. Following surveying in Kendal , the search for a suitable site brought the German smelters to the Neath area and a copper works was established in secret at Aberdulais, where the first manager was one Ulrich Frosse. The locally available ore and coal, plus the power of the Dulais river to run a water wheel and bellows made the location an ideal one. The plant worked at its Aberdulais location for over a century and certainly played an invaluable part in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Tall chimneys of reverbatory furnaces
New reserves of copper were found in Cornwall, Dorset,County Wicklow and of course Parys Mountain on Ynys Môn.  In 1688 a new design was patented by Sir Clement Clerke and his son Talbot from Avon for the production of copper – the Reverberatory furnace. This design did not need bellows and a tall chimney was used instead. By the 1800s the Swansea area had 16 copper works, there was also one in Neath at Melincryddan ( Eaglesbush) and others in the Llanelli area.  Robert Morris , bought out John Lane and became a metal magnate, giving his name to Morriston. In 1810, Swansea produced 65,000 tons of copper which equated to 72% of world production. Copperopolis now set the world price of copper in a building which stood on the site of the now Sainsbury’s supermarket.
Mynydd  Parys Mountain

There was a very buoyant market for the copper since the Royal Navy and trading ships needed copper sheeting to stop barnacles developing on the hull of ships, thus slowing the vessel. It also stopped the notorious teredo navalis (worm) from rotting the timbers in tropical waters.  A less commendable aspect of this development was Swansea’s undoubted role in the slave trade centred on the port of Bristol.  It is interesting that none of the main industrialists were originally Welsh , Morris was English and both the Vivians and Grevilles  (of the White Rock Works  – now the Liberty Stadium Ed. ) were of Cornish extraction, though their legacy is still evident in Swansea and their collective wealth would now be valued in many billions of pounds.

The population of the Swansea area grew rapidly, from 7000 inhabitants in 1801 to 72,000 in 1891. It also gave rise to a very proud worker “The Copperman”, who expertly tapped the furnaces and attracted migrants in droves from the surrounding areas to adopt the skill. However, the work was extremely poisonous and it was unlikely that the worker would live longer than forty five years.  Another notable feature of the copper industry was that owner and worker were often seen together on the shop floor trying to improve the techniques and processes of manufacture.

Swansea barques
Inevitably, the Swansea copper industry went into decline after 1860. Local ores were worked out or poor with foreign ore substituting from Cuba or Spain. Later the Swansea barques (manufactured in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia) made the perilous journey to Chile around Cape Horn and even Australia. They were lined with wood to stop the corrosion of the copper ore in transit. Inevitably, despite the world beating expertise in Swansea, the source areas began their own production centres often “head hunting”, the Swansea copper men for their own purposes. The last copper works shut in Swansea in 1923, though production of copper goods maintained until the 1960s in the area. However, Ludwig Mond, set up the famous, and still surviving Mond Nickel Works in Clydach in 1902 owing to the skills in metallurgical trades latent in the Swansea area.

Following a short question and answer session, Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Rees for a fascinating insight into the history of Swansea copper.

The Wonders of the Web of Time

They say that you are only six (or is it seven steps) from anyone else in the world. With the advent of the world-wide web we are all far closer than ever. Paul Bailey and his wife Julia of North Carolina in the USA, were coming to Wales in order to enjoy the tourist delights of our wonderful country but also to find the family roots of Doctor Bailey whose great grandparents hail from the Neath area.

Paul and Julia Bailey at Manteg
A Facebook search asking for some assistance with their task was sent to the Resolven District News and the Resolven Community Council web sites. To cut a long story short, Trefor Jones current Chair of the Community Council and long serving secretary of the Resolven History Society was contacted to meet them. On Monday, September 18th they met with Trefor outside the erstwhile Sion Chapel now the Community Centre. However, they had already been met by the residents of Tan-y-Rhiw (formerly Chapel Row) and next door to Paul’s great grandfather’s house which it is now assumed to have been demolished (Chapel House Ed.) . A whistle stop tour then ensued, firstly of the now renovated chapel which includes the gravestone of the Morgan family, and where Paul’s ancestors were members and his great grandfather a deacon. This was followed by a historical tour of the Resolven area including the canal and what remains of the hamlet of Ynysfach. It appears that Paul’s great grandmother was an orphan who had spent her early life in the workhouse in Neath “Llety Nedd”. They subsequently made two visits to the now Vet’s surgery and saw some children’s clothes from the period. On the way back to their car parked in Resolven, they visited “Sgwd Rhyd yr Hesg”, (Melincwrt falls) and finished their initial visit at Capel Melincwrt (built 1799). By sheer chance, (the chapel which is only used very infrequently), had a harvest service that afternoon and Mr Roy Joseph was delighted to open the chapel and let our visitors experience the inside of a genuine 18th century independent chapel almost as old as the USA itself.

Their second visit to Resolven occurred on the Wednesday of the same week when the Baileys visited Manteg, the home of Mr and Mrs Phylip Jones, and of course President of the History Society. Phylip is literally the 'keeper of records' for the Resolven area and had already prepared a family tree much to the delight of Paul Bailey. Phylip was also able to fill and verify in some of the gaps left in his internet led research. This also led subsequently to other successful leads to Llandyfaelog in Carmarthenshire and the graveyard of St David’s Church in Resolven. They concluded with a visit to Glyncastle and the site of Ty’n-y-Cwm farm which was originally the family home. A subsequent visit unearthed some more details and the location of the family graves.

To show his appreciation of the help he had received, Paul gave a generous donation to the History Society and to the Community Council. It is to be hoped that the Baileys will maintain their association with the area and feel that this is now very much their ancestral home.
Ed: Paul has promised us some photographs of his visit which I will post on the blog.
UPDATE: Paul Bailey has been in touch and has promised more information. He also thanked everyone for making his visit a success.
Paul Bailey's great grandfather John Morgan.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Cyfarfod Mis Hydref/ October Meeting


Mr Peter Rees  – “The origins of the Swansea Copper Industry”

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  9th  October.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

AGM 2017

Sixteen members attended this year's AGM at the Church Hall at 7:00 pm on Monday 11th September. The Officials and General Committee remain unchanged with the exception of Jill Saunders who has replaced Brenda Oakes as a committee member. After many years as a member of the Society Brenda has left Resolfen to become a resident of Denbighshire once again. We thank her for her contribution and look forward to Jill bringing new ideas in order to improve our successful History Society.

The Treasurer, Julie Hicks,  gave a very detailed analysis of the finances of the Society which remain healthy. A slight loss was made once again, however this disguised the fact that members gained financially from joining the Society for only £10, when the subsidisation of the various activities were  taken into account.

William Williams, Pantycelyn.
Both the Chairman and the President thanked the officials and committee for their hard work, and both remarked that that they had been victim to ill health during the year. The President, Mr Phylip Jones, made reference to the fact that the tri-centenary of William Williams Pantycelyn and the 450th anniversary of William Salisbury's translation into Welsh of the New Testament had received little official recognition by the Welsh government. In comparison, Dylan Thomas and Roald Dahl had been the subjects of millions of pounds of public expenditure.

Following the formal meeting, several items were discussed:-

A future visit to Yr Ysgwrn, Trawsfynydd is in the offing as it is the centenary of the death of the poet Hedd Wyn and the "Black Chair", at the 1917 National Eisteddfod. The farmhouse has recently been revamped and opened to the public.

Yr Ysgwrn, Trawsfynydd.
The venue of the annual dinner was discussed and it is probable that the venue will be changed this year, hopefully to a location where the Society will have a room to itself.

The members' night was also discussed. It was felt that more contributions, if only a few minutes each, would enhance the meeting. The quiz was popular, but would benefit from a slightly different format e.g. teams.
The meeting closed as usual with a cup of tea!!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Here we go again!!

The Society begins its new series of activities on Monday September 9th at the Church Hall as usual  with our Annual General Meeting. We have another exciting programme of lectures, a members' night and trips, however we are always looking for new members and officers so don't be tardy in putting your name forward. The History Society has also kept to a successful formula over its thirty or so years of existence , but welcomes any positive suggestions as to how the provision might be improved, modified or even changed. 

Trefor Jones ( Ysgrifennydd/ Secretary)



Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the CHURCH HALL on MondAY  11th SEPtember.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Dewch yn llu i fwynhau eich cymdeithas hanes lleol chi!!!!!

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The Victoria Cross

“For Valour”

The History Society brought down the curtain on a successful season of lectures by welcoming Janet John of Neath Abbey to speak on the topic of the Victoria Cross. She began her talk by stating that the Victoria Cross was the inspiration of the monarch herself. Until then, military honours tended to be given to the leaders involved in a victory as against the common soldier in the ranks. The Victoria Cross however could be won by anyone showing exceptional bravery in battle.

The material for the medals comes from Russian guns captured at Sebastopol during the Crimean war in the 1850s. So far some 1400 have been struck and the supply of metal is depleting quickly and it is unclear what will happen when it eventually runs out. It was first presented during the Crimean campaign when some 62 officers and men received the VC. The number of VCs would be substantially higher had not the criteria for the awarding of not been changed prior to 1920. During the First World War, with millions of men serving for the first time, the combatant had to survive the action to receive the medal, later this was allowed to be presented posthumously.

Interestingly, no women have been awarded the VC, because until recent changes in the rules of engagement women did not take part in combat roles. However, the MC was awarded to a woman in the second Iraq war and inevitably a VC will be awarded in time. Another interesting fact was that three people have actually won the Victoria Cross twice. Two were medics and the other a soft spoken New Zealander Charles Upham who won his decoration during the Second World War. Incidentally Australia, New Zealand  and  Canada have their own version of the VC with the Canadian inscription being in Latin.

In more recent times (thankfully Ed.) the number of VCs awarded has slowed. Two were awarded posthumously in the Falklands Conflict, with Colonel H Jones famously amongst them. One was awarded in Iraq and two in the more recent war in Afghanistan. The greatest number awarded for one war was the Indian mutiny and the the eleven VCs awarded at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, involving the South Wales Borderers  was the most for a single skirmish.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Janet John for a very informative talk.

The Society will now take a break until September, though members and supporters are reminded that the annual trip to Bath will take place on Saturday June 10th.

Monday, April 24, 2017

May Meeting

May MEETing :

janet John  “The victoria cross”

Meeting begins at 7:00pm in the Church hall on MondAY  8th  May.

Membership: £10 ( including refreshments)

Visitors: £3.

Croeso cynnes i Bawb

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dallas 1963

Former headmaster, Mr Phil Davies is better known as the BBC Wales Pop Historian, yet he would now seem to have reinvented himself as a historian of post war Americana. This year he took the career of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as his topic, universally known as JFK. He described his topic as being one which was shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theories, most of which will never be unravelled.

Beginning at the assassination of Kennedy, Mr Davies explained that Texas with its 24 seats in the Electoral College was essential to the 1964 Presidential Campaign of JFK and LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) and a visit to Dallas was needed to shore up the support of the reactionary ‘Whig’ Democrats of the South despite also being a hotbed of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy. Ironically, he had said prophetically “All it takes to kill a president is a high building, an open window and a long range sight”. Even more ironic, was the probability that the last words he heard were those of the wife of a local politician “You can’t say that Dallas doesn’t love you”.

Born in New England in 1917,the second son of Irish Roman Catholic immigrants, Joe and Rose Kennedy. The family became deeply involved in both politics and the organised crime of the period. His father, controversially became the American Ambassador to the UK in 1938, being both a presumed supporter of Sinn Fein and with some sympathy for the German cause. JFK attended private school and Harvard, and during that period he sustained a back injury playing American Football, worsened by Addison’s disease, which meant he wore a back brace (ironically this made him a less agile target in Dallas Ed.) though this did not stop his later indulgence in the family trait of philandering. During his studies at Harvard, JFK visited Eastern Europe including Soviet Russia and it is probable that this helped him in later life in his dealings with Kruschev.

Following Pearl Harbour, the USA joined the second world war,and Joe Kennedy was anxious that his sons should serve. JFK’s elder brother was a fighter pilot killed in action, so making him the heir apparent to the Kennedy dynasty. Despite his injury, JFK showed bravery in action as a naval lieutenant in charge of a torpedo boat near the Solomon Islands, and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy Medal. This was later made into a feature film “PT49”.

Following the war, Joe Kennedy retired from active politics but remained a puppet master for his sons’ careers in politics. In the period between 1953 and 60, JFK entered Congress, married the vivacious Jackie Kennedy and had two children. The decade was dominated by the Republicans under both Harry S Truman and Dwight Eisenhower with his infamous future president VP, Richard M. Nixon.  Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, played an important part in making his older brother embrace the nascent civil rights agenda which would later play a part in his election and short presidency. Bobby Kennedy’s role as his brother’s ‘conscience’, seems rather bizarre considering that he spent his early career working for Senator Mc Carthy unearthing “reds”, from under beds.

Despite, being unsuccessfully nominated as Vice President in 1956, JFK gained the Democrat nomination 1960 when he beat popular Hubert Humphrey . The WASP press did not like Kennedy’s Catholicism, however this was allayed by a brilliant speech when he described himself as a democrat who happens to be a catholic. The race for President was very close and it might be described as the first modern election in that Nixon agreed to televised debates with his telegenic opponent. It transpires that listeners on the radio came down on the side of Nixon but those who watched the televised debates saw Nixon as a rather unsavoury character with ‘five o’clock shadow and sweating profusely under the lights, so giving the advantage to JFK. The undercurrent of support from ‘the Mob’, cannot be discounted in the election of Kennedy with the backing of such celebrities as Frank Sinatra.

JFK became President in January 1961 and began his term with the famous “Ask not”, speech. The tenor of his early presidency showed tensions with Russia over the fate of the western enclave around Berlin. Nikita Kruschev, enflamed the situation with a fence in Berlin, which later morphed into the infamous Berlin wall. In his dealings with JFK,the abrasive Kruschev ( after all he had survived the purges of Stalin)judged him to be intelligent though politically weak. This sentiment was echoed by J Edgar Hoover, the formidable Director of the CIA, who had not forgiven Kennedy for withdrawing US air support from the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. Castro’s victory had not needed to be a communist one, since the main cause of his concern had been the corrupt mafia inspired American business interests on the island. With Fidel Castro now firmly in the Moscow sphere of influence, spy planes picked out Russian bases on Cuba resulting in the Cuban Rocket Crisis of October 1962. Kennedy showed his steel by making the Russian convoy turn back as against all-out attack, averting a third world war. Historians have discovered however, that it was diplomacy that won the day, in that a “tit for tat”, deal had been done in the removing of NATO missiles targeting the Black Sea ports. However, Cuba was blockade dfor many decades until the glacial tension was partially thawed under the Obama administration.

Despite the relief at the successful resolution of the Cuban crisis, CIA involvement embroiled the USA in Indo China with the sending of military advisers to Vietnam and the fight with the communist insurgents. Kennedy developed a policy of “Mutual Tolerance”, towards Russia and this was followed by a tour of Europe including the famous visit to Berlin (famously incorrectly describing himself as doughnut). Bobby Kennedy was also taking on the Mafia as Attorney General , Civil Rights for the black minority and also equal pay for women were all coming to the fore. Incidentally, Kennedy also made the brave promise that man would walk on the moon by the end of the decade so heralding the space race and the extra funding of NASA.

The multitude of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of Kennedy in Dallas will be the subject that Mr Davies will return to finish in the next season of the history society. Suffice to say that the legacy of JFK was sufficient to guarantee a record victory for LBJ in 1964 over Barry Goldwater.

Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Davies for a memorable talk and looked forward to hearing “part two”, in a year’s time.