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Vol. 45, 1994

Roger Beck, 1841-1923

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family business at Isleworth near Richmond where, on the River Thames,
his father had a wharfinger's business dealing in building materials. Beck,
born in February 1841, was educated at home until, in 1854, he was sent
to a school in Hampshire which he left in 1859 to be articled to a building
surveyor. On the sudden death of his father in 1861 he joined the family
firm but after the death of his elder brother the struggle to maintain the
business became very difficult and the family solicitor advised Roger to
launch out in a more profitable field. The solicitor named a client of his in
South Wales who was looking for a partner able to put capital into steel
manufacture by a new process. With the financial aid of relatives, Beck
came to Swansea and after six months he joined two others in forming the
Elba Steel Company in Gowerton.
When, years later, he received the freedom of the Borough of Swansea,
Beck spoke of how he came to the town "like one of the Argonauts of old;
a stranger in a strange land in search of the Golden Fleece". At a meeting
of the Swansea Rotary Club in 1921 when he received congratulations on
his eightieth birthday, he reminisced about his arrival in the town of his
adoption as was reported in The Mumbles Press:
It was none too promising, preceded as it was by a tedious railway
journey and the inevitable delay at Londore junction where he had
to wait in a shed at four in the morning with a howling wind and
driving sleet blowing against him and two sailors who were similarly
fixed. His troubles were not quite over when he eventually landed at
Swansea, for in Wind Street his umbrella blew inside out and his hat
blew under the wheels of a mail cart.
The partnership's first venture at Gowerton lasted only five months and
the works were closed. However, the Landore Siemens Steel Co. Ltd. had
bought some of the steel produced at Elba to supplement its own output
and Isaac Butler, head of the steam hammering department at Landore,
drew Beck's attention to defects in the production at Elba and showed an
interest in restarting the works following eighteen months of inactivity
there. A discussion with Butler led to the formation of a partnership
between Beck, Butler and Col. Sir John Roper Wright also of the Landore
Works. With Col. Wright and Butler's understanding of the steel making
process and Beck's financial expertise, the Elba Works reopened in 1878,
producing steel under the Siemen's process, the first works in the district
to do so in any quantity. The successful partnership became the Wright,
Butler Steelmaking Company which merged with Baldwins, to later
become the gigantic Richard Thomas and Baldwin Company, the
forerunner of The Steel Company of Wales and modern day British
Steel.
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