History of Tredegar

Tredegar Ironworks

Eiddil Gwent's "History of Tredegar"

This is an abridged translation of Hanes Tredegar ("History of Tredegar") by David Morris (“Eiddil Gwent”) which won the main prize at the eisteddfod of the Tredegar Cymrodorion in 1862 and was published in 1868.

Tredegar

Tredegar is a very populous town of some 9,776 inhabitants. Its distance from London is 156 miles via Abergavenny; from Cardiff, 32 miles; from Abergavenny 12; from Newport 24 and from Merthyr 8 miles.  Tredegar got its name from Tredegar Fawr, that is, the name of the mansion or seat of the old Morgans, who were descended from Cadifor the Great the son of Collwyn; - and the owners of the land upon which Tredegar stands.  Many meanings are ascribed to the name Tredegar.  Among others, some call it Tri-deg-erw (Thirty Acres) and insist, despite the doubts of others, that that is the correct meaning of the name.  But when we consider that Ar is an old Welsh word for earth and if we dismember the word Tredegar - like this Tre-Deg-Ar, it will become evident to us that the true meaning of the word is Tre-daear-deg - the mansion of the fair earth or land.  Many of the mansions of the old Welsh gentry, in Wales, go by the name of Tre - like Trenewydd, the mansion of the honourable Lord Dinefwr (Dinevor) - also Tregoid, the excellent mansion of Mr. Hughes near Llandeilo Fawr - and many other mansions that could be named.

The Establishment of the Tredegar Ironworks

Mr. Munkas, in association with Mr. Fothergill, having obtained the promise of a lease on the spot where Tredegar Ironworks now stands, very fortunately Mr. Humphrey of Penydarren came in as a share-holder in the Tredegar Works. And as Mr. Humphrey was the brother-in-law of Sir Charles Morgan, Tredegar Fawr, they succeeded in obtaining a lease on their chosen site.

But having reconnoitred the site and found it a convenient spot to build an Ironworks, they were greatly disappointed, for some small parcels of land attached to the area were the property of one Paul Harri who lived at that time in a small farm house, near to where the Tredegar stables are now. In the face of this, there was nothing for it but to try to entice the old man to sell his lease.  But old Paul kept on turning them down, until the masiwn [“mason”] who was building the furnaces, enticed the old man out on the cruise, as they say.  And in this underhanded way he succeeded in persuading him to sell rights to the land which had probably been in his family's possession for hundreds of years -and that for some paltry sum of money down, together with eight shillings a week while he lived!!  But he is not the only Esau among the Welsh that sold his birth right for a mess of pottage. Having got everything to work to their purpose in this way, they went on with the task of construction.

The first three furnaces were built between the years 1800 and 1801 but they were not put under blast before the year 1802.  This is confirmed when we consider that the population of the parish of Bedwellty in the year 1801 only numbered 619.  And in the year 1811, ten years after the establishment of Tredegar Ironworks, the population of Bedwellty stood at 4,590 and in the year 1821 at 6,384, again in 1831 the population stood at 10,637.

Artifice at that time was very backward, compared to what it is now in our days.  At that time, sixty years ago, it cost the company as much to transport one blast-engine from Neath Abbey to Tredegar as the value of such an engine today. 
Because, as there were no turnpikes at that time neither from Abergavenny nor from Merthyr to Tredegar, they were forced to transport the horse-head, the machine's main engine, from Neath Abbey to Newport, and from Newport to Abergavenny, and from Abergavenny over the mountain to Tredegar.  And considering that this was only one component of this engine and that the other parts were yet to come, we will immediately realise that their expenses in the construction of the Works then were enormous let alone what they would be today.  Besides this, there were other difficulties in their way, namely ponds to feed the engines and tramroads to transport the ore and coal to the furnaces. 

On account of this, they were at great pains for some time, making the most of a bad lot.  They excavated a small pond with small gutters with the intention of feeding the pond.  Well, this answered very well in the winter, but when summer came it was of little use - because they were forced to pay for water to be carried to the pond, what they called a Cawnel.  But fortune turned to the benefit of thousands beside the Company when, by co-operation with the Sirhowy Company, they obtained permission from the Duke of Beaufort to cut feeder ditch through his land and also to raise a dam to divert the waters of the river into the feeder at the service of Tredegar and Sirhowy.  This was the first opportunity the river got to bestow her inexhaustible and invaluable favours.  At this time also the pond named Pownd y Gwaith [“Works Pond”] was made.
 
The Builders and Others

The builder of the Tredegar Ironwork's furnaces was Rees Davies, the father of J. Davies, who now lives in Rhymni, and the stepfather of the celebrated D. Rees Stephens.  When he took on the task of erecting the furnaces, Mr. Davies was living in Llangynidr.  But having started on the work it was not long before he moved to Tredegar.  It is more than likely that he built the first house in Tredegar, his own house, which stands at the bottom of Heol yr Haiarn [“Iron Street”] where he died.  Mr Davies was a man who loved everyone, and everyone loved him in return. 

The man that cut the footings was Mr. Abram Richard, the father of Mrs. Bees, the widow of the later William Bees of the Moulder's Arms, Sirhowy.  It so happened that as Mr Abram was pulling down earth in order to set the footings, part of the excavation collapsed onto him and he was badly injured, feeling the effects for the rest of his days.  Having built the furnaces - set up the engines - and everything else in order to set them "On Blast" - none among them knew anything regarding the art of smelting iron, so that the Tredegar Company were forced to send to the Sirhowy Company to beg them to send a toddwr [“founder”] to them; which was done with the greatest alacrity (for Mr. Atkins, one of the chief partners in the Sirhowy Company was a brother-in-law to Mr. Munkas.)  The name of the man that they sent was Lawrence Hughes, founder, who spent the rest of his life in Tredegar - and who did a great deal of good by teaching others.  The supervisor of the furnaces was William Jones known by the name of Wil Siôn y Gof [“Wil Siôn the Smith”].  The manager was Mr. Richard Fothergill and the cashier was Mr. Rowland Fothergill.  The first weigher was Mr. Henry Jones, the father of Mr Richard Jones, Tredegar.  The clerks in the works office were Mr. Hunter, the father of the late Samuel Hunter, grocer, Tredegar, and Mr. Morgan Rees, the father of Mr. John Rees, Corvisor, Tredegar, and Mr. Stephen Ellis.  Well, that is all that can be said under this heading.

The Growth of The Works

In the year 1806, the fourth furnace, No.4 was built.  And in the year 1807 the puddling house was built.  It is natural enough to enquire at this point what it was they did with the metal during a period of some five years.  The answer is - they sold it, like the Pen-y-Cae and Sirhowy Companies, and carried by mule to the Ironworks at Merthyr, for at that time there was no road from Tredegar to Merthyr, except for a bridlepath or footpath.  The way to Merthyr at that time was past the mansion of Mr Theophilus Jones, where W. Bevan Esq. lives now, and on through Rasa Brynoer [“the Bryn Oer Races”] and Pantywaun.  There were the remains of some ancient road to be seen from Pantywaun going past Nant y Bwch and over Twyn y Duke - and then on towards Abergavenny.  The old inhabitants called it "Y Ffordd Rhufeinig" [“The Roman Road”].  But it is more than likely that a Drovers Road was what it was in days gone by.  But rather than dallying like this, let us get straight to the point.  Having completed the puddling house, they had a much difficulty in obtaining workers who understood its workings as they had had in getting a founder to operate the furnaces.  In order to overcome this shortcoming, Mr. Humphrey, Penydaren, sent a number of old workers to Tredegar to start the puddling and to instruct others.  Among them were Thomas Hughes, David Morris (the Author's father) and James Matthews, the father of Mr Matthews who was the chief supervisor of the New Mill.  It was at this time, namely in 1807, that the Tredegar Company began to produce iron ready for the market; and they succeeded in gaining no small approval in the iron markets and this was the main reason for their gradual progress and growth. 

The Tredegar Company having thus made its presence known to the world of commerce, there was an uncommonly high demand for their iron, so that for several years they were forced to purchase metal from the Rhymni Ironworks.  The writer remembers this - namely that one Thomas Davies used to carry metal in a four-wheeler waggon from Rhymni to Tredegar, and that for several years.  But the most vital matter with regard to the success and growth of the works was that there was no road from Tredegar to Newport for the purpose of exporting the iron.  In consequence they sent a petition to Parliament to obtain a railway from Tredegar to Newport, and they succeeded in their aim. Thereafter, they combined to build a temporary road, but it was several years before it attained its present state of perfection.  One of the first to carry iron on the new railway was Morgan Saunders - and the first to cut the block of coal (which was of an immense size, weighing some two tons) was George Williams - both men long since in their graves.  About this time, namely 1812, the pond was created which goes under the name of Pownd y Bryn Bach [“Bryn Bach Pond”].  And to the purpose of easing commerce the Company insisted on producing struck copper pennies with the inscription "Tredegar Company, One Penny Token, 1812."  It is obvious that once the company had set everything running smoothly that the Works operated with great efficiency and grew.  In 1817, No.5 was built and the balling and puddling operations extended.  In this particular it can be said of Tredegar, as Bildad said unto Job long ago, "Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase." [Job, Ch.VIII, Vs.7]

At this time, Mr Forman, Penydaren, and Mr Thompson, London, held shares in the Works, forming the strongest Company on the iron line.  Mr Thompson was considered one of the wealthiest men in the Kingdom and also on of the best men of commerce in the iron trade.  About 18 years ago, he came to pay a visit to Tredegar and was stricken with an illness and died with a very few days, to the great loss of the Tredegar Ironworks.  In the year 1834 a new iron mill was built, which is called the Guide-mill.  The works at that time were prospering and very successful, so much so that the Company found it necessary one of the largest iron mills on the iron line - containing four mills or four pairs of rolls.  Here we have followed the Works from its Establishment to its completion, except for the incline that was constructed in the time of the never to be forgotten Mr. Davies, which brings into the Company about £500 per annum.  This celebrated philanthropist was passed on, but his name shall be exhalted and praised from generation to generation.

Afterthoughts

The Miners and Colliers

When the Tredegar Ironworks was established ore was raised for the works by cleaning away the surface of the earth to the depth at which the ore lay, which was termed a patch.  The levels did not exist at that time due to the iron ore bedding so close to the surface - but it was not long before the necessity of levels was seen.  Mr. Theophilus Jones, when he was alive, was one of the old masters of the level - and he spent most of his life as the chief underground surveyor of Tredegar.  The names of the ores that are raised in the Tredegar Works are - y wythien goch (the red vein), y wythien las (the blue vein), y wythien dlawd (the poor vein), pin Siencyn (Siencyn's pin), pin garw (the rough pin).  The names of the coal - hen lo (old coal), gloyn tan (fire coal), cilwych, llathed (yard), trichwarter (three-quarters), gloyn llathed (yard coal), gloyn mawr heled (?the great wide seam), bedelog (?the beadle seam), glo engine (engine coal), glo bach (small coal), etc.  The first levels were Brynbach, the Brewhouse and the Yard.  And despite the large amounts of coal and ore that have been raised between the foundation of the Works and the present time, there is still enough in the bowels of the earth for hundreds of years to come.  Although some men are heard to speak thus at times "Dear annwyl, what will become of the houses and of the possessions of the men that own them after the works have come to an end?"  But the ironworks will be found between Gwalia's hills when the grandchildren, aye, and the great-grandchildren of today's children are long dead.  The famous geologist, Mr. Llywelyn of Pontypool, maintains that the Welsh coalfield will continue to be worked for seven hundred years to come.  And another able man expresses the opinion that there is enough coal in Wales alone to satisfy this Kingdom's needs for two or three thousand years.  Therefore, let no-one despair on this account.
 
 Fe ddaw Rhagluniaeth lawn a'i thoraeth iach, helaeth yn ei chol.
 Er bod mewn prinder, cawn fyw mewn llawnder, mae'r amser goreu   'ol. [sic]
 
("Bounteous Providence brings healthy abundance in her lap, 
though we be in need, we shall live in plenty, the best times are yet to come.") 

The Works' chief surveyors at the present time are Mr. Reed and Mr. Bevan. But it is more than likely that all the cares of running the Works - both underground and on the surface - weigh heavily on the shoulders of Mr. W. Bevan, Ash Vale House.  Having thus gone over the details of Tredegar Ironworks, there is one matter which deserves our most detailed attention, namely Samuel Homphrey Esquire, who was the chief supervisor of the Tredegar Ironworks for 48 years, it is to him alone that the Company in indebted for the success and growth of the Tredegar Ironworks.  It was in his time that the entire works was constructed , from the year 1817 until the time of the New Mill in 1849.  On his shoulders, as chief supervisor, fell the whole burden and worries of the Works; we can be assured of this - no Ironworks in the mountains of Wales ran more efficiently or in more orderly fashion than Tredegar Ironworks under the management of Samuel Homphrey Esquire.  It is possible that some may criticise me for failing to draw up statistics of the iron produced during that period at Tredegar Ironworks.  Well, that would be no difficult task were we only able to establish how long they lay idle.  But as they currently operate, accepting that they produce 80 tons a week, that, for 9 furnaces, would be 37,440 tons a year.

Let the discerning reader remember that I reckon the career of S. Homphrey Esq. as being from the time he came to be chief overseer of the Tredegar Ironworks up to the time he sold his interest and retired as a shareholder in the Works.
Thus I have given an outline of the history of the Tredegar iron works - as an open door to any who should wish to elaborate upon it.  Fare well!
 
 This Table shows the situation of the Tredegar Ironworks from the year 1821 to the year 1862. 
  
 

   1821  1862  Increase
 Blast Furnaces  5  9  4
 Blast engines  1  5  4
 Rolling-engines  1  4  3
 Locomotives  None  7  7
 Puddling furnaces  11  71  60
 Balling furnaces  10  40  30
 Balance pits    1  9  8
 Cokeing furnaces  None  60  60


                                 
  
Apart from four large engines that raise water from the pits together with small engines around the works.
 
Furnaces and Dates 

No's 1, 2 and 3 were built in the year 1800 and 1801;  No.4 was built in 1806;  no 5 in 1817.  Those are the dates of the old furnaces.

The Four Cubilos 

The first two were built in the year 1840; the other two were built in the years 1853 and 1856. 

The number of the inhabitants of Tredegar according to the moiety of the inhabitants of the parish - in 1801 was 619; in 1811 4,590; in 1821 6,382; in 1831 10,637.  The population of Tredegar alone - in 1851 was 8,305; in 1862, that is this year, 9,776.

Let it be kept in mind that this history runs only to the year 1862.