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Welsh History Review


Vol. 6, nos. 1-4 1972-73

The Dowlais Iron Company in the iron industry, 1800-1850

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THERE has been some difference of opinion concerning the nature
of the relationships between companies in the iron industry in the
period 1800-50. T. S. Ashton, in Iron and Steel in the Industrial
Revolution, noted the 'numerous and diverse forms in which the
corporate sense of the early industrialists found expression',2 2
whereas J. P. Addis, writing of the Cyfarthfa Iron Company, con-
cludes that 'the relationship which existed among South Wales iron
producers was one of unrestrained competition'. It might be useful
to study the relationships existing in the south Wales iron industry
through the records of another iron company in the area in order
to discover whether Dr. Addis's researches on the Cyfarthfa
Company do permit the south Wales iron industry to be set apart
from the general pattern noted by Professor Ashton. This problem
has been studied here in the records of the Dowlais Iron Company
(D.I.C.) deposited in the Glamorgan Record Office. 4
The interaction of the D.I.C. with its neighbours in Merthyr
Tydfil-the Penydarren, Plymouth and Cyfarthfa companies-
forms the core of this study. It is not, however, the whole of it; while
Merthyr Tydfil was the most important single centre, it did not
contain all of the south Wales iron industry. The nature of the
relationships especially between the four neighbouring works in
Merthyr Tydfil, but also among the producers in the rest of south
Wales, may be discussed as it emerges from the records of the D.I.C.
in the period of its rise to pre-eminence in Merthyr Tydfil and south
Wales.6 The D.I.C. records permit three questions to be raised.
First, to what extent, if at all, did companies in the iron industry
form interdependent units of production? Secondly, was there a
conflict between the selling policies of the Cyfarthfa Company and
of the other companies, or was the difference in marketing policy
rather between large and small companies? Thirdly, could it be
claimed that similar labour problems created a community of
1 This study is a shortened version of a B.A. dissertation presented to the University of Nottingham
in July 1970. My thanks are due to the members of the Department of Economic and Social History at
Nottingham, and also to the staff of the Glamorgan Record Office.
1 T. S. Ashton, Iron and Steel in the Industrial Revolution (1924), p. 185.
J. P. Addis, The Crawshay Dynasty (1957), pp. 64-65.
For a discussion of, and extracts from, these records, see M. Elsas (ed.), Iron in the Making-Dowlais
Iron Company Letters, 1782-1860 (1960).
The D.I.C. accounted for 23.8 per cent of the total shipments on the Glamorganshire canal in
1820, and 40.1 per cent in 1840.
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