The Ystalyfera Iron and Tinplate Works

These notes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the book History of Pontardawe and District by John Henry Davies, 1967.

On September 14th 1839 Richard Douglas Gough, the successor of the Rev F Gough, gave an indenture to -
Sir Thomas Brancher, Kt, Liverpool.
Joseph James Hegan, Liverpool.
Edward Budd of Swansea.

At the Quarter Sessions held in February 23, 1842, the Overseer of the parish stated, 'The Ystal-y-fera works, near Swansea, are being erected by a Liverpool company, at the head of which stands Sir Thomas Brancher. This company is building four new furnaces, and they intend four more. Their fuel is all of anthracite kind'. 'Furnaces 1 & 2 are rated £220. There are steam engines connected with the Works. They make nothing but Pig Iron. The iron made is sent to Swansea. The Cwmtwrch tramroad about 11/2 miles long, belongs to the Works'.
In a list of iron furnaces in blast in 1839, Mishet gives Brancher & Co as owner of one furnace at Ystalyfera.
Chronology of Tinplate Works of Great Britain; E H Brooke, 1949.

During the nineteenth century, capitalists reigned supreme, and in dealing with the story of this period, an account of the leading industrialists and enterprisers was important to understand the economics and rise of iron and tinplate works as well as coal mining.

James Palmer Budd, born in 1803, came to Ystalyfera when he was 35 years of age; a tall, dark, slim, smart man with a light graceful gait. A handsomer man would be difficult to find. He had a deep bass, sonorous voice and a quick intelligent mind with a thorough grasp of the fundamental principles of metallurgy and the economics of production and distribution.

This well-bred and good looking man fell in love with a rich young lady thirteen years his junior, a Miss Emily Rawson. After their marriage they lived a happy and very useful life at Ynysydarren House, Ystalyfera. As J P Budd played a dominant part in the industrial and social life of the village, so Mrs Budd took a leading part in the educational and religious life of the community.

Although the local rocks contained an ample supply of excellent anthracite coal and a large quantity of iron ore before J P Budd came, they had hardly been touched. Some people thought it would have been better to leave the coal and ore under the mountains, and that the old days were better than those of the industrial revolution. They praised the past and depreciated the present, but when we study the conditions of the few people who eked out a precarious living in the period before the tapping of the enormous wealth lying dormant in the bowels of the earth, we find that not only fewer subsisted, but their lives were more limited in scope and outlook.

J P Budd, in his presidential address to the 1859 Ystalyfera Eisteddfod, said, 'I am not here to hold that former times were greater, happier or more conducive to human development than the present. As the fertility of the soil resides not in the primitive rocks, but in the valleys with detritus, so that the capacity of man and his command of language increased. Science forcing nature to discover the means by which she works, and art applying these discoveries to human purposes are constantly increasing human enjoyment and lessening toil. I, therefore, hope that having been the means of introducing machinery into this quiet district, the new elements of society have their virtues as well as the old and that man has afforded him more ample means of progress and improvement'.

J P Budd managed the small works and in a year or two he added two new furnaces and one boiler. In 1830 there were twenty houses in the hamlet of Alltygrug, but as works progressed, so the number of houses increased to 236 in 1850, when the population numbered 1,350.

Tin was mined from very early times in Cornwall and it was natural to bring this useful metal to one of the nearest ports, Swansea, where it was transferred to canal barges, which took it up to Ystalyfera. Mr Budd, in 1851, erected a forge, tinplate mills and tin-houses, and by 1853 they were in full working order. Roger Thomas (Adolphus), in his prize essay, showed the progress of the works. In 1866, the Ystalyfera Iron Works were reputed to be the largest in the world, employing 4,000 persons as well as 1,000 in the ore and coal mines belonging to the works. In 1872, the works produced 182,000 boxes.

In 1848, James Palmer Budd made most important improvements in the iron trade, and his new methods radically changed the method of heating the blast and firing boilers. He who was conversant with the methods adopted in this country as well as on the Continent, thought that the escape into the air of the gases heated to a high temperature, which constantly took place from the tops of the blast furnaces, was a total waste. When the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was held in Swansea in 1848, Mr Budd read a paper before the scientists on the advantageous use he made of the gaseous escape from the blast furnaces at Ystalyfera Iron Works. The Association recognised the very high standard of the work and ordered that the communication be printed entire among the reports of 1848. Budd's hot blast stoves required no coal and no labour, and the blast was better heated and more regular. The whole apparatus was cheaper and more durable than the old method of separate stoves heated by coal. Fortunately, the attempts to use the escape gas from the tunnel-head, to heat the air blast, was neither a part of the furnace nor were the gases burnt. The thorough simplicity of the plan made it a great success. This saved considerable sums of money.

'To me,' said Mr. Budd, 'the saving is important, which I calculate as follows, compared with the use of ordinary heating ovens: 33 tons of anthracite and coal of rubble size at four shillings a ton equalled £6.12.0d. per week. Two men, and wheeling coal and ashes, £2 per week that was equal to £477.4s.0d. per annum. The saving in repair of stove, say one-fifth of £500, the cost of new stoves was £l00. The total came to £547 which, on ten furnaces, amounted to £5,470 a year'.

By Mr Budd's cautious proceedings and commercial spirit, and combining profit with experiment, he was able in practice to show great economy in coal. His methods made a saving of fuel in the manufacturing of iron in Great Britain of 5,000,000 tons of coal, worth, in 1848, considerably more than £1 million sterling.

Budd was not content with making use of the heat wasted by large volumes of hot gas and flames emitting from the furnaces, for heating the blast, but proceeded to make further use of the same valuable, and plentiful, though hitherto neglected gases to raise steam for the engine. As only one-sixth of the gases was used to heat the blast, so Budd used the remainder to heat the boilers instead of using coal. Visitors from all parts of the world came to visit Budd's works, and some of the greatest scientists visited in 1848, when the British Association for the Advancement of Science met in Swansea. This provided one of the proudest events in his life.

James Palmer Budd's activities were not confined to Ystalyfera, as he also started in 1844, the Brockmoor Tinplate Works at Brierly Hill, Staffordshire, and the Tividale Tinplate Works, Tipton, Staffs. Both ceased trading in 1877.

He took an active part in the religious, educational and social life of the village, where he lived at Ynysydarren House for over forty years. When steel superseded iron, and better ores came from Spain and England, he was too old to begin the new processes, and a few years after his death the works closed and Ystalyfera became very poor.

About 1845, J P Budd was the prime mover in the building of Holy Trinity Church and he gave a curate's stipend of £100 a year, paid by the Company's fund until his retirement. The people, too, made contributions, and money was raised by concerts, etc. Mr Budd was busy in promoting the building of the Old Wern Schools now demolished, and Mrs Budd took a keen interest in Church and School. For many years she acted as organizer of a clothing club, ordered the best material at the lowest possible cost, and provided food and clothing for many women who struggled hard with a houseful of children. She personally supervised sewing classes.

On Budd's tombstone at Trinity Church cemetery, Ystalyfera, the following is engraved,- 'To the memory of Emily, the beloved wife of James Palmer Budd, Esq, of Ynysydarren in this county, who died 14th May, 1880, aged 64 years. Also the above named James Palmer Budd, who died 9th December, 1883, aged 80 years'.

After Budd's death, the Ystalyfera Iron and Tinplate Works deteriorated and closed in 1886. Work became scarce, men sought employment elsewhere, and for a while considerable poverty prevailed. Cottages became neglected and many empty, and these, after a time, changed hands at a great sacrifice.

James Palmer Budd (1803-83) of Liskeard, east Cornwall illustrated the ebb and flow of expertise, money, workers and materials between Cornwall and South Wales. From 1825 Budd was in the employ of the Vivians. In 1838 he joined the Ystalyfera iron and tinplate works in the upper Swansea valley. A decade later he pioneered methods of reusing waste gases in the hot blasting process of iron smelting, improving efficiency, and therefore profits. In the 1850s he erected a forge, tin houses and tinplate mills at the site and by 1866 these iron works were one of the largest in the world, employing 5000 people in the works and associated mines, only surpassed by Dowlais in the heart of Welsh iron country in Merthyr Tydfil. The works used local iron ore and coal to manufacture iron products. Tinplate, with its core of Welsh iron, later steel, and coated with Cornish tin is another revealing paradigm of the Cornish-Welsh metal industries. Ystalyfera was a workhorse of an iron and tinplate works, continuing production into the twentieth century and during the Second World War but ending soon after.
Ystalyfera grew as a village with the advent of coal mining and iron working. In 1838 a furnace was built by James Palmer Budd at Ystalyfera and four new iron furnaces were built in 1840, a forge, tinplate mills and tin houses were added in 1851 and from this grew the iron and tinplate works which by 1863 was described as the largest tinplate manufactory in the world. By 1870 steel had now come to challenge iron on a larger scale, new methods of production demanded the energy, technical skill and capital which the ageing J P Budd at Ystalyfera could not supply. The works closed in 1885.

In 1838, Messrs Treacher & James erected furnaces for smelting iron at Ystalyfera, but the following year they sold them to Mr James Palmer Budd.
James Palmer Budd, born in 1803, came to Ystalyfera when he was 35 years of age. He had a deep bass, sonorous voice and a quick intelligent mind with a thorough grasp of the fundamental principles of metallurgy and the economics of production and distribution. J P Budd bought the Works in 1839 and in the first year of ownership added two new furnaces and one boiler.

In 1848, James Palmer Budd made most important improvements in the iron trade, and his new methods radically changed the method of heating the blast and firing boilers. Budd's hot blast stoves required no coal and no labour, and the blast was better heated and more regular. The whole apparatus was cheaper and more durable than the old method of separate stoves heated by coal.

Tin was mined from very early times in Cornwall and it was natural to bring this useful metal to one of the nearest ports, Swansea, where it was transferred to canal barges, which took it up to Ystalyfera.
Mr. Budd, in 1851, erected a forge, tinplate mills and tin-houses, and by 1853 they were in full working order. In 1866, the Ystalyfera Iron Works were reputed to be the largest in the world, employing 4,000 persons as well as 1,000 in the ore and coal mines belonging to the works. In 1872, the works produced 182,000 boxes.

After J P Budd's death, the Ystalyfera Iron and Tinplate Works deteriorated and closed in 1886. Work became scarce, men sought employment elsewhere, and for a while considerable poverty prevailed. By 1893 The Ystalyfera Iron & Tin Plate Co were operating 12 mills.

Ystalyfera Tinplate Company, before the Balkan war of 1912-13, sent thousands of tons of sheets to the Balkan ports of Galati and Braila, where they were used for roofing of houses.
Ystalyfera Tinplate works had four mills and 300 workers before 1939, but during the world war 1939-45, one mill closed because young workmen joined the Armed Forces. The works closed in April 1946, when the Pool system disbanded because of the high cost of material and out-of-date machinery.

 

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