History of the Coals of Swansea &
Cornish Tin & Copper.
Cornwall was just across the Bristol Channel from Swansea had been noted since forever for their deposits of tin ore or casserite (SnO2 found in granite) and later copper; perhaps one of the most important mining areas in Europe. Mining and metallurgy not only entitled great epochs of human history, metals played their ubiquitous part in the industrial revolution. And non ferrous Cornwall was up front especially when Cornish copper mining married Swansea coal smelting in the early 18th century. This adventure preceded a second important liaison between Anglesey mining and Lancashire smelting ...
Tin rights belonged to the King and early trade with the Mediterranean lands spurred the Roman invasion of 'Casserites'. Tin was the first important trade of England and attracted tax & rebellion. But copper lay deeper and didn't became dominant until the 18th century.
It had been discovered that by including 5 – 20% of tin into molten copper a bronze alloy was produced. Bronze was easier to work and harder than copper and it took an edge ... the new swords were lethal.
One of the few things the Plantagenet kings achieved when they were not killing themselves and the French was to codify into Common Law the customs of the time which worked well. In 1198 Henry II agreed that 'all the diggers and buyers of black tin, and all the smelters of tin, and traders of tin in the first smelting shall have the just and ancient customs and liberties established in Devon and Cornwall'. Cornish tin, together with West Riding wool, were the important English trades.
In 1568 Elizabeth incorporated by Royal Charter The Mines Royal Society and The Mineral & Battery Works as joint stock companies. They enjoyed a licensed monopoly in the rights to mine and smelt copper. Infusions of capital & expertise came from Germany.
The River Dulais joins the Nedd at Aberdulais, and the area was a source of water power for industry. In 1584 the Mines Royal built a copper smelting works there. Their earlier works had been in Cornwall and Cumberland but the Aberdulais site had the advantages of timber for charcoal and it was far from prying eyes where the copper technology secrets were safe? The land belonged to the Earl of Pembroke who was also a Governor of The Mines Royal Society, so the location may not have been robustly economic? The copper ores were transported from mines in Cornwall. The Aberdulais smelter was still working in 1598 but some time later the site was vacated and operations transferred down the valley to Neath Abbey on the bank of the Clydach River close to where it joined the Nedd. The new site was now closer to the sea and copper ores could be more easily unloaded at a quay close to the works.
Neath was hindered by Civil war, patronage and technological stagnation. But after the Glorious Revolution things changed and in 1689 the monopolies were removed and the entrepreneurs stepped forward ... together with immigrant experts from Germany & Sweden ... and a switch from charcoal to coal ... and a switch from battery to rolling ... and wire drawing techniques. Things were ready for take off ...
Mining first involved tunnels into the ridges then open cast assisted by gunpowder then shafts and a peak in 19th century before imports depressed prices and made Cornish ore unprofitable to smelt. In 1702 the introduction of the reverberatory furnace at Newham, Truro enabled the use of coal instead of charcoal. And Swansea coal was available just across the Bristol Channel and was 'strong & free burning and gave great heat & considerable flame' ... ideal for the new furnaces. Output of copper dramatically expanded from 1,000 to 7,000 during the century.
Smelting was capital intensive and more lucrative than mining and was dominated by a few families ... a few families made a lot of money and some inevitably became bankers ... but the investments in copper were always subject to competition from foreign imports ...
Between 1710 and 1714 Thomas Newcomen, a Dartford blacksmith from Devon, introduced the atmospheric engine and triggered groundbreaking changes in the Cornish mining industry. Instead of enterprise limited by manpower, horse power and water power the new engine led to a fully industrialised economy that was amongst the earliest in the world and can be taken as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Cornwall. The new engine was a false dawn and inefficiencies combined with the crippling coal tax made things too expensive.
In the eighteenth century copper mining became more importance than tin and Cornwall became the greatest producer of copper ore in the world. Copper was important for brass, household utensils, coinage, roofing and sheathing of ships ... and exports. Copper smelting was a complex process and initially it was smelted near to the mines. The process also used large amounts of coal, both for fuel and as part of the reduction process. Later it was more economic to ship the ore to the coalfields. Shipments at first went to Bristol for smelting, and on to Birmingham for manufactures, closer to the markets. However early in the 18th century the smelters pulled out of Bristol and most of the copper smelting works were relocated around Swansea nearer the coalfields. Copper smelting industry in Swansea was largely in the hands of Cornish industrialists. By 1750 half the copper output was smelted around Swansea, later after 1768, Anglesey copper was largely smelted on the Lancashire coalfields, particularly St Helens.
In 1792 the Macclesfield & Liverpool firm, Roe & Co moved from Toxteth to Swansea where labour and coal cheaper. they erected a copper works close to the Mines Royal Works at Neath Abbey on the banks of the Clydach River. This works was later acquired by the Cheadle Copper Company who stayed in production until 1821.
By 1850 Cornish mining was in decline and many Cornish miners had already left for better things ... mining started in the Bronze Age and ebbed and flowed until 1998 when the last South Crofty mine was closed.
In 1550 coal and limestone were being exported from Swansea but it remained largely a farming area until the 18th century; then things changed.
Smelting one ton of copper required three tons of coal. It was simple, coal was available across the channel from the Cornish mines in Swansea and Swansea had a navigable river and also supplies of limestone flux ... and there were existing trading links with Cornwall because Cornwall had copper ore and was smelting at the mines.
From around 1720 the Industrial Revolution took off and works sprang up along the Tawe river. Initially, it was copper that was smelted. Coal was brought in by tramways; copper ore was brought in on ships which could sail right up to the works ... and the copper ingots were exported out again. Swansea became an important industrial centre for expertise and skilled labour. The smelters soon held the upper hand and collusion in South Wales kept the price of ore from Cornwall down and the price of copper for The East India Company and The Admiralty up. But Thomas Williams and The Parys Mountain Company in Anglesey and the smelters & manufactories in Holywell broke the Swansea strangle hold from 1774. Williams also went into the Cornish ore supply, organised the miners and established The Cornish Metal Company in 1785. This guy was lethal to the cosy Swansea cartel and he built a considerable empire. His Deputy Governor and chief negotiator in the Cornish company was John Vivian.
Significantly after 20 years the Parys Mountain reserves were dwindling and Williams lost his grip ... other entrepreneurs cashed in; John Vivian became a partner of The Cheadle Brass Wire Company at Penclawdd in 1800. Vivian switched his investments out of vulnerable mining & smelting in Cornwall into booming smelting in Swansea. From just 1000 people in Swansea in 1550 by 1800 there were 6,000 and in 1850 the population was 17,000.
At the turn of the 18th century 600 tons of copper went into coinage, 1,000s ton for the Navy, 1,400 tons for The East India Company, 2,900 tons for other manufacturers including printing cylinders for calicoes ... and 2,900 for the brass industry. Brass, an alloy 70% copper 30% zinc, was produced at Baptist Mills by the calamine process, by co-smelting copper and zinc ores. As a by product of the lead industry the smelting of zinc was cracked by William Champion in Bristol in 1758 and from then on a better quality of brass could be made from controlled mixing the the refined metals. Brass was cheaper than copper and the industry, centred on Birmingham, expanded rapidly.
The Napoleonic Wars boosted demand for copper sheathing for the war ships and business boomed as new firms established works in the Swansea region - The Birmingham Mining & Copper Company in 1790, The Cheadle Company in 1792 and The Rose Copper Company in 1797 ... and Vivian & Sons in 1808.
How & why did the Swansea industries grow? The productive technologies and market opportunities associated with the iron trades of Coalbrookdale were the standard subjects of economic history but the entrepreneurs & financiers of the non-ferrous trade attracted much less attention. Similarly economic historians tend to focus on the drivers of growth which receive more attention than the constraints on growth.
Perhaps removal of the constraints was all that was required for entrepreneurs to flourish? Shenzhen has recently followed a well established pattern in history ... free of rent seeking taxes & regulation, entrepreneurs have a chance, but new cities with clear new rules, must first set up by governments that are trapped in the old cities with elitist old rules of Bishops, Princes, Generals and bureaucrats ... and turkeys don't vote for Christmas!
Perhaps The Mines Royal Society started it all way back in 1584 but maybe it was abandonment on their monopoly in 1689 which sparked the action? It was the Quakers in Bristol in 1702 & Gadlys in 1704 and a little later, Thomas Patten in Warrington in 1717 who led the action and turned traditional craft smelting into an industry. Graces Guide outlined a chronology of non-ferrous metal smelting which seemed to go from Cornwall to Bristol to Swansea to Birmingham.
John Vivian (1750-1826) was born in Cornwall, the eldest of four sons of Thomas Vivian (1718-92), vicar of Cornwood, and his wife, Mary Hussey (1719-1807), daughter of Truro Barrister John Hussey. John Vivian was educated at Truro Grammar school and in France. John & Mary provided the capital for Vivian & Sons. He married Betsy Cranch (-1816), daughter of the Vicar of St Clements in 1774 and they had three surviving sons and a daughter, Lucy - the family -
1. Richard Hussey Vivian (1775-1842), a celebrated soldier & MP and later Baron Vivian & Lord Vivian of Glynn. Sons - Charles Crespigny Vivian (1808-86); Robert John Hussey (1802-81) both went into the army. Bought out of Vivian & Sons in 1844.
2. John Henry Vivian (1785-1855) educated in mining at Freiburg and brought scientific expertise into Vivian & Sons. The entrepreneur of Vivian & Sons. He married Sarah Jones of Reigate in 1816. Interestingly the German universities were teaching good science when the English universities continued with their classical curricula.
Henry Hussey Vivian (1821–94), 1st Baron Swansea. Henry took over the responsibilities of J P Budd when the latter resigned in 1841 and diversified the company. Sons -
Ernest Ambrose (1848-1922); John Aubrey (1854-1898); Henry Hussey (1821-98) of H H Vivian & Co and of delicate health; Odo Richard (1875-1944) was in the firm but never fulfilled his potential.
William Graham Vivian (1827-1912) unmarried, became a partner in 1852..
Sir Arthur Pendarves Vivian, KCB (1834-1924) became a partner in 1856, also a Whig politician, who worked in south Wales and Cornwall, and sat in the House of Commons from 1868 to 1885. Sons -
Henry Wynham (1868-1901); Gerald William (1869-1921) RN.
Richard Glynn Vivian (1835-1910) had no sons and did not make a career in the firm.
3. Thomas Vivian (-1821) died unmarried as a young man.
Younger brothers Rev W H Vivian and Rev Richard Vivian. Both invested in Vivian & Sons.
((John Vivian (-) married Ann and had three sons -
2. Andrew (1759-1842), Cornish Engineer, inventor & captain of the Dolcoath Mine, Cousin of Simon Vivian. Son; Henry Vivian (-).
3. Henry Vivian (-1816) married Thomasina Harvey, sister of Richard Trevithick. Son; Richard Trevithick (1798-1820) and Thomasine Trevithick (1808-).))
John Vivian's early involvement in the metal trade was as agent in Cornwall for both the copper smelter Thomas Williams and the Cheadle Brass and Wire Co. In 1758 Vivian formed the Cornish Copper Company and was smelting copper at Copperhouse, Hayle. In 1785 he established The Cornish Metal Company with Matthew Boulton and was appointed Deputy Governor. This was the time Thomas Williams opened up the Anglesey ores and there was intense competition with the Cornishmen. Although Vivian negotiated a supply agreement with Thomas Williams the company was unsuccessful and by 1792 Williams dominated the trade. 'Industrial Organization in Context' by Stephen Martin summarised the intrigue.
John Vivian had other mining interests including a partnership in Vivian, Williams, Danby & Jenkins which supplied coal, timber and iron to the copper mines. And in the early 19th century J Williams & J Vivian were also owners of the Miner's Bank of Truro. John Vivian learned a lot from a failed copper smelting venture at Hayle near St Ives ...
A around 1800 John Vivian moved into smelting in Swansea where there was coal and action. He became the managing partner of the Penclawdd works owned by the Cheadle Brasswire Company of Staffordshire. Buying into the established Cheadle Company was a smart move, they had capital and smelting expertise and they knew about brass ... and brass was important ... John had a hold on Cornish ore and contributed significantly; it was an almost heavenly cooperation.
Two other Cornish firms followed Vivian's enterprise and moved to Swansea; Williams Foster & Co and of Pascoe Grenfell. Stimulating competition began which led to the dominance of the Welsh smelting process in the Tawe Valley.
In 1806 John Vivian's second son John Henry (1785-1855) joined the works at Panclawdd to learn the trade; another smart move. John Henry Vivian was made manager at Penclawdd after his formal education in the smelting business at university in Freiburg, Germany.
These guys were learning a complex business ... full of intrigue. The markets were not competitive and information was neither transparent not accurate; big players and collusions were everywhere - the miners and the smelters and the manufacturers were continually attempting to fix prices and fudge the quality. The assays of the ores and chemistry of the processes were not well understood and the picture was one of by guess and by God. Who to trust? Private meetings behind closed doors, unscrupulous agents, the 'ticketing' offerings, unrepresentative samples, missing impurity specifications (one 'impurity' was silver!), mysterious quotas, the confusing 'standard', the fixed 'returning charges', as real costs varied enormously ... and had Thomas Williams cornered the market? ... and malicious rumours ... and was a sensible offer price simply the sale price minus processing cost or was John Vivian on to something when he included 'the maintenance of a regular supply of raw material' as a factor in his offer price? Vivian would not be helped by discontinuity of production nor a bankrupt supplier as Robert Toomey noted -
'In contrast to European smelters, the British smelters considered a number of factors in fixing their ore prices. The Vivians regarded the maintenance of a regular supply of raw material as the foremost of these factors. Forcing the standard down was not to the ultimate benefit of the smelters. Conversely too high a standard might be injurious to both miners and smelters if this implied too high a price for smelted copper and a lowering of demand for the meta. As C Budd of Vivian & Sons noted, there is such a scramble at present for ores to keep the furnaces going that we did not like to throw this quantity away'.
... clearly 'due diligence' and 'caveat emptor' were the order of the day but cooperation and well being of the total system was increasingly required as complexity increased ... everybody depended on everybody else and as John Vivian himself suggested -
'any rogues would kick up the devils own dust in this country'.
Slowly things were improving as more & more Adam Smith's 'moral sentiments' tended to mediate decisions; one way traffic to tangible benefits ... it was free market prices that cleared markets ... the rogues tended to go bankrupt and hard work, honesty and thrift tended to win the day ... nobody benefitted from idleness, dishonesty & profligacy ... did they? ... but it was a fraught learning process.
There was technical complexity also the Vivians had to master the 6 stage 'Welsh Process' of smelting -
1. low temperature calcining of a controlled mixture of ores; oxidation in
reverberatory furnaces for up to 24 hours.
2. high temperature melting of the calcined granules with metal slag form stage 4 to produce the coarse metal regulus containing 20-40% Cu.
3. further calcining for 24 hours to reduce sulphur content to 16%.
4. running the metal; white metal was copper sulphate from a mixture of the regulus and rich oxide & carbonate ores. The white metal was cast into pigs.
5. white metal pigs with free access to an air flow were slowly melted for 8 hours producing blister copper and SO2. Slag from this stage was returned to stage 3.
6. blister copper was flapped to increase oxidation. After 15 hours tin & iron had been eliminated but the metal still contained oxide. Anthracite was poled with the metal to produce steam and hydrogen which reduced the last traces of oxide and produced a silky metal which passed tight quality control malleability tests.
Long hours, tedious, potential for recovery of white smoke and sulphuric acid, potentially wasteful 3% copper in slag but geared to cheap quality coal and relatively expensive labour. Responsive to economies of scale, more capital, larger furnaces material handling ... and the licence fees for W E Sheffield's patent which encouraged air flow into the furnaces and promoted oxidation. The Vivians were scientist and continually experimented and innovated to improve the process Quality Control laboratories, pollution control, catch pits, shower chambers, long flues and high stacks ... this was not the result of a social conscience but the fugitive pollutants were valuable chemicals ... and costly in terms of nuisance laws! But above all the activities of the Vivians were creating wealth ... jobs and goodies for customers ...
Science was not only applied to copper but also recovery of gold, silver, nickel, cobalt ... low cost zinc and copper alloys, yellow metal 40% Zn 60% Cu, following the Muntz 1832 patent ... zinc smelting became profitable and was introduced in 1835 with improvements on the 'English furnaces' of William Champion ... but the Bessemerisation of copper was problematical ... but we get ahead of ourselves ...
In 1809 John Vivian and his two elder sons, Richard Hussey Vivian and John Henry Vivian leased land at Hafod from the Duke of Beaufort and started a new firm, Vivian & Sons. Richard chose a military career and was also MP for Truro 1820-5 and East Cornwall 1837-41. John Henry became the managing partner at Hafod, while father John remain in Cornwall securing the ore and commercial grip.
In 1808 Vivian offered The Cheadle Company a share in his new baby, the new works at Hafod but they declined even though Penclawdd was no longer viable. The Berry river navigation was silting and problematical and their rather distant coal supplies were drying up; Hafod, on the Tawe, was a much better bet, local coal from John Morris was excellent and plentiful.
Sir John Morris (1745-1819) was the son of Robert Morris (-1768) and Margaret Parry. His father Robert was a Shropshire entrepreneur who had come to Swansea in 1724 to supervise the Llangyfelach Copper Works, founded in 1717 by John Lane, was declared bankrupt in 1726. The Morris family expanded their copper-smelting and coal-mining interests in the Swansea valley throughout the remainder of the eighteenth century. John Morris initiated in 1768 the building of the planned village of Morriston. In 1774 John married Henrietta Musgrave. In 1806 he was created a baronet. The two families enjoyed a fruitful business relationship and contributed significantly to 18th century Swansea ... the Vivians from Cornwall built Vivianstown & the Morrises from Shropshire built Morriston and the Mumbles Railway.
What was the source of the capital for these prodigious investments? In 1809 John Vivian himself put in £50,000, 50% in his own name and 25% each for the two boys, 24 furnaces were built. This was 'family' money with John's mother Mary Hussey contributing via a legacy to her grandsons. Mary's money came from the extraordinary industry of her brother who was Attorney to the Queen, Council to the East India Company and MP. John's brothers Rev W H Vivian and Rev Richard Vivian was only involved in the business as an investor. Once the business was established the primary source of capital, of course, was retained profits. In 1840 R H Vivian explained the three rules which placed a well known firm at the head of the copper trade -
'the retention of profits, one of the basic ground rules of classical capitalism, ensuring the provision of ample capital, together with being diligent and incessant in business and to draw no profits from trade for twenty years'.
But valuations of the business were difficult not least because furnace values increased significantly because of the copper saturated in furnace bottoms, however the partnership deeds of 1831 gave a good indication of growth when 66 furnaces were valued -
'In 1831 the total share capital in the firm was £142,000; the major shareholders being the Vivian Brothers with £70,000 apiece and the balance was held for O Williams and E Budd'.
Later profits were taken out of the business and J H Vivian built his fine residence at Singleton Abbey and his brother had a country estate at Glyn in Cornwall.
John Vivian himself was a banker, The Miners Bank of Truro, and the banks provided shorter term capital throughout. Short term credit was a problem and payment of wages was fraught; bank notes were issued by The Miners Bank in 1809 to alleviate this common problem. Later the Vivians used a Swansea branch of The Bank of England to help with short term credit.
In 1802 when Williams died he was still 'king' but there was competition around and the Parys mines were yielding less, more slowly. In 1811 surprisingly, when the heirs of Thomas Williams sold the Parys mines, including the smelter at Mona, to Lord Uxbridge, Vivian became involved. Interestingly Robert Toomey reported -
R H Vivian did regard the works as a means of breaking into the nearby Liverpool market. However his father John Vivian believed that the Liverpool market was so dominated by local smelters that entry would not be profitable'.
Nevertheless they did have agents in Liverpool; Mather Parkes & Co which was dissolved in 1827 and Willink & Co in 1829. By 1835 Vivian & Sons had a more reliable man in charge of their office in Liverpool, John Budd!
Things progressed at Hafod, the timing was propitious; Admiralty work was plentiful and amongst other projects the Vivians supplied copper sheathing for HMS Victory. The Vivian inspection stamp mark found on rolled copper during the late 19th century re-sheathing of Victory. The 32oz/sq ft grade was the thickest used and was applied to the bow section.
The Birmingham brass & copper fabricators were also on a roll as new uses for the metals were discovered. The Vivians had also learned the trade and paid their dues, they understood the technology and the markets and they were busy trucking, bartering and exchanging ... Adam Smith -
'the propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals'. The Wealth of Nations.
But by 1824 they were major smelters involved in the Copper Trade Association, an ore purchasing and copper selling cartel. This was unproductive restraint of trade ... Adam Smith -
'people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices'. The Wealth of Nations.
The high capital requirements for copper smelting inevitably concentrated the industry into a few hands - Vivian &Sons, Williams & Grenfell, Williams, Foster & Co, and Sims, Williams & Nevill. But The Copper Trade Association was doomed to failure, it inevitably involved internal bickering & disagreements and diverted management time from the task of supplying customers in the market place better products than the competition. The new competition was the miners in Chile and the fabricators in Birmingham!
Vivians success did not come from the Copper Association (1824-29), and there was a second attempt at collusion (1844-67) right in the middle of the national free trade debate!
Vivians success came from their ploughed back profits which went into technology patents, skilled labour and adding value to their copper, in rolling mills, alloys, by products, fabrication and purchasing ships for transporting ores. They also recognised the economies associated with scale and did not price on a cost plus basis but understood that the market price cleared the markets and avoided expensive gluts or queues ... and to grow market share they offered better value to customers which was reflected in their price. Value the Vivians learned was a complex mix of quality, price, service and competitive alternatives. And always in free trade Britain competitors from overseas kept every one on their toes ...
The company were also astute in exploiting the 'secrets of distribution'; they balanced long term contracts with a few big customers with agencies run by trusted guys like the Budds. In 1810 John Vivian noted -
'we must find some active industrious hands to push sales on commission, who are sufficiently acquainted with copper to know the consumers of copper and who is to trust'.
As R H Vivian used to tell of his father, 'he wanted three more sons; one for Cornwall, one for London and one for Liverpool, not having them we appointed agents'. Throughout the firm's history, agencies were the most economical way of selling in a market which, although important, was not extensive enough to warrant a branch office. Fortunately the appointment of J P Budd as the first manager of the London office and his subsequent admission to the partnership provided a way out of the problem of who to trust. In 1828 there was a branch office in London, then Liverpool in 1829, Manchester 1838, Birmingham 1842, Glasgow 1858 and Plymouth 1875.
By 1830 they were amongst the leaders in the copper trade with a 20% market share and rising.
The significant expansion and the death in 1826 of old man Vivian posed management problems and new partners were recruited. A reliable man in Cornwall was essential and Octavius Williams was made a partner. At the same time Robert Toomey notes -
'Since John Henry was busy in the direction of the Hafod works a man of
initiative was needed to break into the London market; a man who could also
be trusted with all the responsibilities that this task entailed. The
solution was the admission of another agent to the partnership. At the same
time as Octavious Williams was given a share in the business, James Palmer
Budd, a 'faithful and confidential servant' was also given a £1,000 share. J P Budd,
the son of one of Vivians' managers in Cornwall, had come to Swansea in 1825
to act as J H Vivian's assistant. He won the confidence of his employer in a
number of capacities and in 1828 was selected to mange the newly opened
London office. Later J P Budd managed the Manchester and Liverpool offices
of the firm before he left to join an iron making concern in Ystalyfera in
1841. He joined the list of partners in
1831. His share of the Vivians capital was then taken by his brother Edward
Budd who acted as general manager of Vivian & Sons under John Henry until
1845. He then moved to the Liverpool office and in 1848 moved to London from
where he was responsible for all the commercial side of the business; this
involved the management of sales, agencies and receipts. So by the
recruitment of these managing partners from outside the family circle the
firm of Vivian & Sons was able firstly to fill the vacancy left by the death
of John Vivian and secondly to enable the firm to grow in a new direction.
The flexibility of the partnership overcame the difficulties of delegation
and of coordination.
In an interesting variation of the idea of a 'family firm', the Budd family became closely involved in the fortunes of Vivian & Sons. As we have seen, Edward Budd supervised the commercial side of the business until the 1880s. His eldest son, Palmer Budd (1852-86) was admitted to a 1/147 share in the firm in 1879 and also drew a salary of £600 pa for his work.
Edward Budd's fourth son, John Evelyn, also went into the business. After Palmer's premature death, John Evelyn rose to prominence quickly, earning the considerable salary of £3,000 in 1892. He replaced his father in the London office, looking after all sales and and purchases. He represented the firm in various capacities such as talks with the government, and as Chairman of the Manufactured Copper Association. When the firm became a limited company in 1914 John Budd was appointed one of the two Managing Directors. He had a wealth of experience but did not display qualities of entrepreneurship'.
This left John Henry free to concentrate on new developments particularly the smelting of zinc in 1835 and the takeover of the Margam works of the English Copper Company in 1838 and collieries from 1839. This expansion followed a fillip for the industry with the Muntz patent for yellow metal in 1832.
Vivian & Sons became significant colliery owners but the investments were always in support of their mainstream copper interests ... apart perhaps from the investment in the family seat at Singleton Abbey in 1836 ... and there was a considerable time investment in local and national politics ...
Imported ores from Chile and Cuba began to feature and underlined the success of the move into smelting to be followed by Australian ores from 1846.
By the 1840s, the Hafod Works were the largest of their kind in the world, and their output represented one quarter of the entire copper trade of the United Kingdom.
By 1844 the smelters were at their peak in the 'Copperopolis' of Swansea.
In 1842 copper smelting in reverberatory furnaces in Chile. The stakes were raised. Trade had always been subject to the vagaries of imports and Cornish copper was expensive ... it seemed smelting copper was old hat everybody could now do it ... sure the availability of coal was a boon but the import duties on ore and the Navigation Laws didn't help. In the same year R H Vivian died and his significant share of the business had to be bought out with a £40,000 mortgage. 1842 was a critical year. The pressure produced an almost inevitable strike in 1843. Generally, however the Vivians management of labour was straightforward, there were much bigger problems with material supply and technical & commercial issues. They recognised the importance of skilled labour in hot, dirty and often dangerous conditions. Today their approach would be described as paternalistic - in addition to wages paid with a mix of time & piece, there were fuel supplies, education, housing, Glee Clubs and more ... valuable skills were transferred from Penclawdd when Hafod opened and some skills were bought in from the continent ... piety was the way in the southern valleys and the urban trek and population explosion indicated a jog at Vivian & Sons was a lot better than the alternative ... ? H H Vivian opined in 1862 that 'there has been a long and peaceful connection between men & master' ... 'ca-canny' and 'go slow' and Luddism became devices that enhanced decline and wages
Later as the fortunes of the firm became difficult labour relations became more fraught. There was plenty of competition around Swansea (and Birmingham, Liverpool and Germany) the reality was straightforward, wages too low skilled workers left, wages too high and the firm went out of business. But real wages depended on productivity and in 1906 A P Vivian reminded the mill men 'the object lesson of the lost yellow metal trade' which was blamed on high wages ... but comparative advantage was ebbing away from Swansea smelting just as the Trade Unions were getting stronger ....
But in 1842 when John Henry's son Henry Hussey joined the firm, things looked up. Henry Hussey engaged in a successful diversification programme and became the power in the firm. 1842 saw improvements in zinc smelting and the manufacture of brass or yellow metal, and by 1850 gold was being produced followed by silver in 1856 and cobalt and nickel ... and the firm went into collieries ... and by1864 they were recovering sulphuric acid from the smelting fumes for fertilizers and pesticides. The main thrust was vertical integration back into coal and forward into roll mills and marketing organisation ... perhaps emulating the success of Williams?
Henry Hussey Vivian's diversifications included printing cylinders and chemical manures. The printing cylinders were copper. And the chemical manures, as the chester chronicle announced in 1869, were from the Hafod phosphate plant. And in 1871 their success encouraged sales in scotland. And in devon in 1873.
But from 1860 as copper sales boomed, Swansea's share declined. The ore famines resulted from war disruptions to imports and increasing overseas smelting was a continuing trend. Navigation Laws were repealed in 1849 and the free trade policies which followed from David Ricardo's insight into comparative advantage reduced tariffs but Robert Peel repealed the smelting 'in bond' law and the trend to overseas smelting was clear. Inevitably monopolistic competition and collusion between the smelting firms were blamed for the demise of Swansea ... but nobody seemed to understand what David Ricardo was talking about. There was a vain attempt at price fixing when H H Vivian negotiated the 'copper gamble' of 1888 but Toomey again -
'The increased copper prices, engineered by the ring, led both to increased output by producers outside the syndicate and to decreased demand by final consumers'.
Of course the loss in Swansea was more than balanced by a gain in Birmingham where the machine fabricators were doing well on the cheap metal imports! Restrain of trade never worked because trade was the way to discover synergies ... free trade not price fixing was the English way.
Towards the end of the19th century a wet water extraction process became viable as did electrolytic deposition ... and the American smelters surely established a superiority. Nevertheless the electrical generation & transmission industries kept up the demand for copper, all was not lost in South Wales but the halcyon days were over.
The Budds were still trying to help; in 1905 John Evelyn Budd, the London Manager, fulminated against the laxity of the Swansea production departments but to little avail. The failure to set and meet acceptable delivery dates was a symptom and a contributor to the demise of the firm. In 1909 J Budd made a careful analysis of the 'standing charges' that would need to be met if the electrolytic copper and silver department were temporarily closed. He found that the annual fixed cost of £8,200 was less than the actual loss incurred in these departments in the previous year and thus concluded that production should continue despite the deficiency in demand. But the writing was on the wall.
After great prolonged debate about the principle / agent problem, Limited Liability eventually reached Vivian & Sons in 1914. The ethos of the firm had always been the furtherance of the family firm in order to provide wealth, income, employment and social status of future generations of Vivians. The floatation involved a serious write down of capital which throughout had been over stated with grossly inadequate depreciation charges, despite diligent accounting and tight supervision.
In 1924 Vivian & Sons merged with Williams & Foster and Pascoe Grenfell to form British Copper Manufacturers Ltd. In 1928 this firm was acquired by Imperial Chemical Industries and in 1957 ownership passed to Yorkshire Imperial Metals. The combined Hafod and Morfa Works site continued operating until 1980.
Robert Toomey -
'In the broadest terms, the fortunes of Vivian & Sons were directly related
to the objective of its three main decisions makers John, John Henry and
Henry Hussey Vivian; the development of the family firm. These entrepreneurs
were successful in creating a family business that survived for over 120
years and which made a valuable contribution to the economy of South West
Wales and the British non-ferrous metal industry.
The corporate objective satisfied their personal requirements that the firm provide employment, social position and income for present and future generations of the family. The family in this context was usually understood to include close family friends such as the Edens and the Budds ... '.
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