A WELSH IRONWORKS AT THE CLOSE OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY The industrial history of Wales before the mid-eighteenth century still remains largely unchartered ground. Our knowledge of the iron industry, for example, is frequently confined to the names and locations of a number of the forges and furnaces; some more or less precise dating of their period of activity; and occasionally one or two names of the people who were connected with them. A series of accounts amongst the Tredegar papers,1 however, makes it possible to reconstruct in a little more detail the operations of one enterprise in the Welsh iron industry at the close of the seventeenth century. Unfortunately no letters and virtually no other documentary material have survived to elucidate and expand upon the accounts: nonetheless the essential features of the business emerge fairly clearly. The business consisted of a furnace at Caerphilly and two forges, one at Machen and the other at Rudry. The accounts cover the years from 1690 to 1701 but the furnace and forges had then already been in existence for some time. The forge at Rhyd-y-gwern in the Parish of Machen had, indeed, been established over a century before 1690, being first referred to in 1567.2 Amongst the Tredegar papers there is a document,3 which is undated but which can-from internal evidence-be placed at shortly before 1676, that gives further evidence of the earlier existence of these undertakings. The furnace was then in poor condition: the walls were 'indifferent good', the shaft was 'decaying but may hold for a blast more', whilst 'the stream that belongs unto it is not a third part of that in former tyme'. The furnace had been held by one Hart,4 at first for 15 years at £ 5 p.a. and then for a further 4 years at £ 30 p.a. -the increase arising because at the end of the first term he had still had considerable unused stocks at the furnace so that he had either to sacrifice these or take a new lease. This furnace was almost certainly the old Taff furnace-it is described as being 'upon the brink of the River Tave'-which had been working in 1564. About 1680, however, this site was abandoned and the furnace moved to Caerphilly:5 it is this Caerphilly furnace which figures in the Tredegar accounts. The two forges-one in Machen and the other in Rudry-are described as being in good condition. The former commanded (c. 1676) a rent of £ 50 p.a., the latter £ 10 p.a., whilst a storehouse at Newport was also rented for £ 8 p.a. The partnership which was established in 1690 was, then, formed to conduct an undertaking which had already had a considerable history. The partners were John Morgan of Tredegar, Roger Williams and Roger Powell. Of the total capital 1 Tredegar MSS. 76/1-25. 2 H. R. Schubert, History of the British Iron and Steel Industry (London, 1957), p. 298. 3 Tredegar MSS. 76/1. 4 Presumably George Hart, merchant, of Bristol who in 1677 was granted a 21 year lease of coal mines and slate quarries in Senghenydd, Rudry and Whitchurch. C. Wilkins, History of the Iron, Steel and Tinplate Trades, (Merthyr, 1903), p. 24. 6 Hist. MSS. Comm. Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, vol. I, p. 318; Schubert, op. cit., pp. 176, 389.
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