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National Library of Wales journal

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Cyf. 11, rh. 3 Haf 1960

A Welsh ironworks at the close of the seventeenth century

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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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