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Minerva

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Vol. 13 2005

James Motley (1822-1859) : the life story of a collector and naturalist /

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There were large profits to be made but unfortunately there were also risks, due
to over production and violent fluctuation in the price of iron. These factors may
have led to the eventual failure of the companies and both were advertised for sale
in The Cambrian newspaper on 4th April 1843. They were not sold for six years,
and iron production was not started again until 1852 at the Maesteg Company.
Thomas Motley married Caroline Osburn4 at St. Peter's Church in Leeds on 10th
January 1820. They had six children. James Motley was the eldest born on 2nd May
1822 and he was christened at St. Peter's on 25th May 1822. They lived at East
Parade, Osmondthorpe, in Leeds. James was educated at St. Peter's School, York,
under the Rev. Mr. Creyhe (later Archdeacon) and then at St. John's College, Cam-
bridge. He was originally to study for the church but chose Civil Engineering
instead with the intention of helping his father in his various businesses.
Thomas Motley moved his family to Wales in about 1840; but he must have been
a frequent visitor before this, taking his eldest son with him, leaving his family in
Leeds. James Motley recorded most of his South Wales plants between 1840 and
1848 when he was botanising in Glamorganshire and Carmarthenshire, but there
were earlier records showing he was in Merthyr Mawr in 1834.
For some unknown reason, Thomas Motley then invested in a new tinplate manu-
facturing works at Dafen in Llanelli, built from scratch between 1845 and 1848. His
partner was a retired surgeon-dentist from Bath, Mr. John Winkworth, and James
Motley was also made a partner. It is difficult to assess the part James may have
played in the construction of the works. It was built inland and as lots of water is
essential to tinplate manufacture, a stream was diverted to form a large pool (which
is still there today). Coal was to be the major fuel source and there was an existing
coal mine near the site. James Motley may have been involved in preliminary work,
as he was already an experienced surveyor, but I doubt he had any major involve-
ment in the project. Byron Davies, a Llanelli historian, has written authoritatively
about the history of tinplate in Llanelli. He concluded that tinplate may never have
been produced in Thomas Motley's time but forged iron was, this being an essential
part of the whole process.
In about 1843 Thomas Motley moved, with his family, to Aelybryn, a large house
in Felinfoel, near the factory. James Motley may also have lived there for a time
(there are plenty of plant records by him from this area). This house, much enlarged,
still exists as the Diplomat Hotel.
In 1848 Thomas Motley moved again, to Rock House in Pembrey, but now only
with his wife and two daughters, Sarah and Sophia Osburn. Unfortunately, Thomas
Motley over-reached himself, he was bankrupt. In January 1849 he wrote to his
landlord that he could not yet pay the rent, 'My distress is at present very great, and
almost overwhelms me'. The Dafen Tinplate site was sold probably well below its
true value. Soon after, Thomas Motley, his wife and two daughters went to live in
the Isle of Man, possibly to avoid his creditors.
He lived until he was 82 years old and could have been aware that the tinplate
industry started by him in Llanelli eventually became very successful despite suc-
cessive booms and failures. Passing through different owners it eventually closed in
1958 after 112 years, and ensuring Motley's name in Llanelli's history.
Thomas Motley died in the Isle of Man in 1863 and his wife, Caroline in 1869.
Their daughter, Sarah, married William Stothart (junior) in 1856. She died in 1860
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