Blaina Iron Works – A Brief History

Blaina Iron Works – A Brief History

Blaina Iron Works.
Mr George Jones.
The Blaina Iron Works were established in 1820 by Mr George Jones, Mr Jones was a Shropshire Iron Master. Over the proceeding years the area slowly built up around the Iron Works and was later carried on by Mr Richard Brown and his sons Thomas and James. More information on Mr George Jones below.

Messrs Brown Family.
Mr Richard Brown.
Mr Richard Brown (Iron Worker) was born in 1773 at Worcester. He moved to Merthyr in the early 1800s and worked with many eminent Iron Masters, a short while later moved with his wife Elizabeth and family to Nantyglo, Monmouthshire. Mr Brown worked with Mr Brewer at Coalbrookvale and in 1823 took over the Blaina Iron Works, advertised for workers in various positions (as seen in the advert above from 1827) and built up the company over the next few years. He was also associated with the Ebbw Vale Company.

Mr Thomas Brown.
Mr Thomas Brown (1804-1884) was the son of Mr Richard Brown. In August 1834 Mr Thomas Brown married Miss Fanny Williams, of Tutshill, near Chepstow. He was the elder son and partner with his father and took an active interest in the establishing of the works at Blaina (as seen in the advert above from 1826) Mr Thomas Brown was later responsible for sinking the Cwmtillery Colliery during 1840-1842.

Messrs Russell & Brown’s.
In 1832 Thomas and James Brown partnered with Mr John Russell of Risca and formed Russell & Browns Iron Company, at Blaina.

From the mid 1820’s to the end of the 1830’s the Blaina Iron Works under the control of Messrs Russell and Brown’s were troubled with various members of the Scotch Cattle gangs. More on the Scotch Cattle below.

From the start of the Iron Works in the early 1820s the raw materials were needed to produce Iron and many Coal Levels, Coal Mines and Iron Stone Mines were established at Blaina and the surrounding area. At the Blaina Works Mr Thomas Brown advertised (as seen in the 1830s advert left) for a competent person to superintend the whole mining operations and mines.

In 1838 the construction of the Cwm Celyn Iron Works began and was completed in 1839-40. The Map in the featured image above is taken from the 1840 Tithe Map and shows Blaina at that time with the Iron Works at the centre and centre upper left.

In 1840 the partnership of Russell & Brown’s was dissolved and Mr Thomas Brown sunk Cwmtillery Colliery. In 1847 Mr John Russell purchased Cwmtillery Colliery from Mr Thomas Brown. In 1864 Mr Crawshay Bailey was advised by Mr Thomas Brown to set up a new company called the South Wales Colliery Company to purchase the Cwmtillery Colliery from Mr Russell, the Cwmtillery Colliery was on the market for £66,000, the new company was set up and Mr Thomas Brown negotiated its sale for an undisclosed amount. Mr Thomas Brown was later in a partnership with Mr Henry Stothert who’s family owned a big part of the land at Penybont and Greenmeadow, Cwmtillery. He was also associated with Cwm-Nant-Duu Colliery, later Llanerch Colliery and also lived at Nantyglo House in 1876 after taking over from Mr Spencer of the Blaina and Nantyglo Iron Works Company Ltd.

Mr James Brown.
Mr James Brown (1809-1889) was the son of Mr Richard Brown, brother of Mr Thomas Brown, worked with his father and brother for the Blaina Iron Company and partner in the Russell & Brown’s Co. He left the partnership in the mid 1830s though was still strongly connected to the Blaina Works. In 1836 Mr James Brown married Miss Jane Conway, daughter of Mr John Conway, later, part owner of the Abertillery Tin Works.

Mr James Brown left the Cwm Celyn and Blaina Works in 1844, later moved to Brynglas, Newport and became the Mayor of Newport. He became the town Mayor on three occasions, once in 1853-54, later in 1860-61 and during 1861-62. He was a staunch Liberal and wanted to purchase the Monmouthshire Merlin newspaper though his offer was declined so he established the “Star Of Gwent” newspaper. He had two large Iron Steam Ships built and was considered a pioneer in Iron Ship building.

Mr Frederick Levick.
In 1845 Mr Frederick Levick moved to Blaina and took charge of the Blaina and Cwm Celyn Iron Works and was also associated with the Coalbrookvale Works. At this time Mr Frederick Levick was in partnership with Messrs Robert Cruttwell and Robert Allies. Mr Thomas Caddick was the Agent for the Company.

During his time at Blaina Mr Frederick Levick was a Magistrate (as seen in the clipping right) and served on the Bench with Mr Thomas Brown and Mr John Russell. He was also in various business partnerships, Levick & Simpson, Levick & Cruttwell and Levick & Co just to name a few.

In the 1850s Mr Frederick Levick was in partnership with Mr George Shaw Munn; Mr Robert Cruttwell; Mr Robert Allies; Mr John Stothert; Mr Henry Stothert; and Mr George Shaw: In 1855 their partnership was dissolved though Mr Levick and Mr Robert Cruttwell carried on together as Levick & Cruttwell.

Mr Frederick Levick, in partnership with various other Engineers made great strides in the advancement of Iron and Coal producing at Blaina.

In December 1853 Mr Levick with Mr Joseph Fieldhouse submitted an invention of improvements in machinery for raising coal and minerals from Collieries and Mines.

In June 1855 five Pit Women from Blaina – Misses Ann Evans, Elizabeth Morgan, Margaret Jones, Ann Lane and M. A. Stiley were working filling drams and were accused by the Blaina and Cwm Celyn Iron Company of putting in waste to make up the weight, Mr Frederick Levick the Manager of the works gave the five women a second chance, though if the penalty was enforced, it would have seen the women receive a 3 month prison sentence with hard labour.

In 1855 Levick & Simpson took over the Management of the Coalbrookvale Works.

On 15th September 1855 the “Monmouthshire Merlin” reported – The first cargoes of Railway Iron ever shipped to order from Europe for Railway purposes at Valparaiso, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro were manufactured at the Cwm Celyn and Blaina Iron Works. South Wales was regarded as the primary market for the supply of rails.

In September 1856 Mr Levick submitted an invention of improvements in the construction and working of Blast Furnaces for the smelting or making of Iron.

In January 1857 Mr Levick with Mr John James submitted an invention of improvements in the mode of utilising the waste gases in Blast Furnaces.

In 1858 Mr Frederick Levick took full control of the works along with his son-in-law Mr Robert Simpson, their partnership became known as Levick & Simpson.

In 1859 Mr Levick submitted an invention of an improvement or improvements in the manufacturing of Iron, at the time Mr Levick was Iron Master of the Blaina, Cwm Celyn and Coalbrookvale Iron Works.

In January 1861 Mr Francis Pierce (known as Frankee the blind man) passed away at 58 years of age. The Monmouthshire Merlin reported that he had lost his sight at the age of 21 in a powder explosion while he was working at Blaina. He had been taught to read at the Bristol Blind Asylum. The report stated that Mr Thomas Brown of the Blaina Iron Works was a warm friend to Frankee and paid the expense of his funeral.

In December 1862 Mr Levick submitted an invention of a new or improved Coke Oven.

In 1867 Mr Frederick Levick with Mr John Jones designed and patented an Air Compressing Coal Cutting Machine. The machine was sent to the 1867 Paris Exhibition. This coal cutter was called “The Iron Collier” it was manufactured in Blaina and the inventors Messrs Jones & Levick took it to the Paris Exhibition in 1867 and won Silver medal in the Mining and Metallurgy section. It was later put into production at the Blaina Works. Many orders came in for the machines and Mr Levick and Jones sent them to France and America as well as other countries. There was a covenant entered into between Levick and Jones by which Mr Levick agreed to advance Mr Jones £5,000 for the purpose of the business to which Mr Jones confined his attention to the manufacturing of the Machines.

At a later Court Hearing money was being recovered by Mr Jones, it was stated that this expenditure and the duty charges on exports to the USA all added to the financial problems faced by Mr Frederick Levick prior to the closure of the works. At this time Mr Levick and Mr Simpson were known in London as Levick and Co and in Monmouthshire known as Levick and Simpson.

In July 1867 it was announced in the Monmouthshire Merlin newspaper that Mr Frederick Levick had constructed a Gas Works at Blaina capable of supplying the whole town with gas though it had not been completed and since, partly demolished.

In 1867 Mr Frederick Levick sadly passed away.

The Blaina Iron and Coal Company.
In July 1869 the Blaina Iron and Coal Company was formed and leased the Blaina Iron Works. Mr James Clarke was the General Manager.

Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Company Ltd.
In July 1871 the Blaina Iron and Coal Company purchased the Nantyglo and Beaufort Iron Works and was re-named the Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Company Ltd.
Managing Directors were – Mr W. N. Massey (Chairman); Mr James Carlton Esq (Deputy-Chairman); Lieutenant Colonel P. T. French; Mr John Grave Esq, Mayor of Manchester; Sir Joseph Heron; Lord Henry G. Lennox, M.P. London; Mr E. J. Reed Esq, C.B. (Late Chief Constructor of Her Majesty’s Navy) London and Mr John Richardson:
Messrs Bischoff, Bompas & Bischoff (Solicitors of London). Mr John Roberts (Secretary).
Offices – 8 Great Winchester Street Buildings, London.
The New Company was formed to acquire the Iron Works of Nantyglo, Beaufort, Blaina, Cwm Celyn and Trostre Works and to amalgamate the whole under one company.

It was reported that the Nantyglo Iron Works was purchased for £480,000 and the Blaina Iron Works for £200,000. The works were carried on with many workers being employed, though in 1873 the Great Strike put many men out of work, the shareholders became dissatisfied with the administration and installed a new Board of Directors consisting of Mr Hugh Mason and Mr Richard Shaw. Mr Spencer was the Manager of the Works and lived at Nantyglo House.

The Iron trade was coming to an end and in 1874 and the Iron Industry at Nantyglo and Blaina came to a near standstill. The Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Ltd abandoned their Iron Works and was reorganised into a Land, Estate, Property and Mineral concern.

In 1874 Beaufort Works closed though was later leased by Mr William Lewis of Church Cottage, Beaufort, owner of several collieries.

In 1875 the Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Company Ltd suffered great financial losses and Mr Richard Shaw resigned the Chairmanship of the Company. Mr Hugh Mason Esq took control with a new Director Mr Samuel Ogden.

In 1877-78 some assets were sold off or leased.

In March 1878 the Collieries of the Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Ltd were leased by Mr John Lancaster of Wigan.

Mr P. S. Phillips.
In about 1878-79 the Blaina Forges were taken by Mr P. S. Phillips, proprietor of the Abertillery Tin Works who re-started the Tin Plate Works at Blaina. More information on Mr Phillips below.

The Blaina Iron and Tin Plate Company.
In September 1880 it was announced in the “South Wales Daily News” that the Blaina Iron and Tin Plate Company were erecting larger premises for the manufacturing of Tin Plate and the largest of the Furnaces was being blown-in.

In February 1881 It was announced that the Blaina Iron and Tin Plate Works at Blaina were successfully lighted for the first time with the “Electric Light”. The patent adopted was the Brush system and erected by Mr Gee of the Anglo-American Electric Light Corporation Limited, Lambeth. The machine used was a No5 Bs, which at 950 revolutions per minute produced six lights each equal to 2,000 candles.

The Blaina Iron and Tin Plate Company Limited.
In September 1881 the Blaina Iron and Tin Plate Company (Limited) was registered. The Company was formed to purchase the Blaina Iron and Tin Plate Works that was set up by Mr P. S. Phillips and leased from the Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Company Ltd. The Chairman and Managing Director was Mr P. S. Phillips of Crumlin Hall, Monmouthshire.

In the 1880s Mr H. W. Buddicom J.P., was the Managing Director of the Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Co Ltd.

The Pyle Company of Glamorganshire.
At some point in the 1880s the Pyle Iron Company of Glamorganshire acquired a lease on the Blaina Iron Works and produced Ferro Manganese + Spiegel Iron.

Messrs Poulaine Family.
In the late 1880s Mr Eugene Poulaine, Manager of the Blaina Iron Works lived at Blaina House. Mr and Mrs Poulaine were both of French descent. Mr Eugene Poulaine had been the Manager of the Pyle Works of Glamorganshire based in Blaina since 1886.

In 1882 Mr P. S. Phillips, proprietor of the Abertillery Tin Works and the Tin Plate Works at Blaina also purchased the Lion Mill Tin Works at Nantyglo with the Waun Level and Mr Morgan Morgan’s Coal Yard.

The Pyle and Blaina Iron Works Co.
In August 1889 a new company was formed called the Pyle and Blaina Iron Works Co. This new company was formed to take over the old Pyle of Glamorganshire works based at Blaina. The Works covered a large area (as seen centre on the map left). They continued producing Ferro Manganese + Spiegel Iron and the Managing Directors were Mr H. Borner and Mr J. O. Fowlie. The General Manager of the works was Mr Eugene Poulaine.

In September 1890 Mr H. W. Buddicom, Manager and Mr James Abbot and Engineer at the Blaina Tinworks announced they were to open a new Foundry at the Southern end of the Works. The two men had invented a patent for cleaning Tin Plates and had built machines for such purpose, they decided to erect a new Works at Blaina to produce the machines and hoped that there would be great demand for them.

In September 1890 the Blaina and Pyle Works Company erected a powerful Cameron Pump to utilise water from the nearby Lower Deep Colliery. It was stated that owing to the shortage of water it was impossible to work the furnaces to their full extent. The Cameron Pump was an American invention, it consisted of a Cylinder 20″ inches in diameter with a 15″ inch stroke, Double Engine and Rams. The Rams were 16″ inches with a 15″ inch stroke which displaced 11 gallons of water with each stroke. It was stated with 40 strokes per minute the pump raised 1,267,200 gallons in one day equal to 5,657 tons. Mr W. D. Griffiths erected the pump under the supervision of Mr Jones the Engineer to the Company. Mr Monte Varneligo of the Works started the engine.

Messrs Willans.
In November 1892 Mr Benjamin Willans succeeded Mr Poulaine as Manager of the Pyle and Blaina Iron Works

In 1894 Mr Benjamin Willans, candidate for the Bedwellty Guardians was living at Blaina House. Mr Willans was also nominated to be a Local Councillor, he was elected in December 1894 and was a District Councillor.

In July 1896 the Blaina Market and Public Hall was sold by Auction, the Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Company Limited were the purchasers for the sum of £950.

In February 1901 it was resolved that the Blaina Iron and Tin Plate Company Limited be wound up voluntarily. Mr William Davies of the Royal Metal Exchange, Swansea was the liquidator.

The Swansea Steel Company Ltd.
In November 1902 at a Court Case – “The Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Co Ltd” v “The Swansea Steel Company Ltd”, it was heard that the lessee wanted to remove the Tin Works as it was not profitable and they intended to put another business there. The Lessors said they had to wait until the term of the lease had ended – when at that time they had the right to purchase the land at a valuation. So it seems the Swansea Steel Company leased the Tin Works at this time.

In October 1903 the The Nantyglo and Blaina Iron Works Co Ltd purchased at Auction portions of the property of the Coalbrookvale Estate, Nantyglo. The Lots included Houses, Rents and its Collieries,

The Pyle and Blaina Works closed in February 1908 owing to a depression in the industry. It was stated over 300 men were employed at the Iron Works in Blaina.

By 1914 all Iron production had ceased at Blaina. The property of the Pyle and Blaina Iron Works was in the hands of the liquidator. Messrs J. Lancaster used Blaina House as a Managers House and in 1916 Mr T. Jenkyn Williams M.E., was living there. Mr Jenkyn Williams was the General Manager of the Roseheyworth and Cwmtillery Collieries under the John Lancaster Company later becoming their Agent.

 

Points of Interest –
Mr George Jones 1781-1857.
Mr George Jones was born at Broseley in Shropshire in 1781. In 1807 he moved to Wolverhampton to work at the Colliery, went on to become a Ground Bailiff and Mining Agent. Mr Jones become a lessee of mines, was the owner of a great deal of valuable mining property and of extensive Iron Works in Wolverhampton, of large landed estates in Shropshire and established the Blaina Iron Works in 1820. Mr Jones retired in 1855 in favour of his son Mr John Jones of Ruckley Grange who succeeded him to the bulk of his property.
Mr George Jones sadly passed away at Shackerley Hall, Albrighton, near Wolverhampton on Saturday 14th March 1857.

Mr Phillip Samuel Phillips 1836-1911.
Mr Phillips was born in the Midlands in 1836 and migrated to South Wales in the 1860s. Mr Phillips came to Monmouthshire to assist his brother-in-law Mr Daniel Whitehouse owner of the Abercarn Tin Plate Works.

In 1869 Mr Phillips purchased the Abertillery Tin Works from the trustees of the estate of the late Mr John Pierce who was partner and part owner with Mr J. Conway.

After the purchase of the Abertillery Tin Works he then extended his interest of the Tin Plate enterprise by acquiring the works at Blaina-Nantyglo, Pontymister and Machen and became the Managing Director of the Blaina Tin Plate Company. He was also the proprietor of the Coed Cae Tillery Coal Levels (located close to where the top site Arael View is today). Later Mr Phillips was also responsible for the construction of the Coke Ovens which was close to where the Roseheyworth Millennium School now stands, with which he produced Coke for his Tin Plate Works. 

Mr Phillips was the chairman of the Wolseley Sheep Shearing and Machine Company, Birmingham. He purchased the Crumlin Hall from the late Mr Kennard and considerably enlarged it.

Mr Phillips was a very fond of cricket and granted the old Abertillery Cricket Club the use of the Glandwr cricket field which was part of his land. He was also a great friend and supporter of the Volunteer Movement. Along with the Late Colonel Charles Lyne took the command and Mr Phillips and Mr Williams of Maesruddud were the chief officers in the valleys, he was also justice of the peace for Monmouthshire.

Mr Phillips also resided at various times, in North Wales, Wiltshire and Panty-Bailie, Gilwern. Mr Phillips married Miss Robothan of Risca, their family consisted of six sons and four daughters.

One of his sons took to the Tin Plate business, they became known as keen cricketers. His sons were as follows – Mr Cecil Phillips; Mr F. A. Phillips, became a County Cricketer for Oxford and Somerset; Mr Clive Phillips; Mr Gerald Phillips; Mr Edmund Phillips. His son Mr Lyndsay Phillips, died in Nigeria.
Two of the sons later lived in India, one in the Navy and one went into the Farming business in Cardiganshire, Wales.

Mr Phillips’ daughters were not named.

Mr Phillips moved to Tynygraig near Builth Wells in 1901 and retired there. He passed away in September 1911. At the time of his death Mr Phillips was the Chairman of the South Wales Colliery Company, taking over from the late Mr Lawrence Heyworth.

Scotch Cattle.
From the mid 1820s the Coal Masters reduced the workers wages, resulting in some hardline workers forming groups of men calling themselves Scotch Cattle, they threatened the working men with bodily harm if they continued working at the prices agreed upon between themselves and their Masters. The Scotch Cattle were active in the South Wales area at Clydach, Blaenavon, Nantyglo, Blaina, to Argoed and Merthyr from the 1820 to the 1830s,

These groups of Scotch Cattle went out at night with their faces blackened. At this early point in their activities there were large rewards placed on their heads, and (as seen left) some amusing articles written about them.  The 23rd Regiment of Infantry stationed at Usk and troops of the Monmouthshire Yeomanry Cavalry were on duty.

At Blaina, Messrs Russell and Brown’s of the Blaina Works made a proposition to their men to accept lower wages between 5 to 6 per cent, at the same time promised to make advances in cash 3 to 4 times per week and also to lower the prices of provisions at the Company Shop between 10 to 15 per cent. The majority of the men agreed to the reasonable and advantageous proposal, some went back to work while others stayed out as of the consequence of threats from men from the other works.

On the night of the 17th February 1832 about 150 to 200 men met at a place called the Cornish Pit, they were commanded by the leaders to turn their coats and to blacken their faces, they obeyed and proceeded, headed by a man blowing a Horn to the cottage of a “marked man” which was situated close to the home of Mr Thomas Brown, Iron Master at Cwm Celyn. They broke the door to the cottage, smashed the windows and furniture and brutally beat all the occupants. The commotion was heard at the home of the Brown family where Mr Brown along with members of his family and an Agent armed themselves with guns and pistols and set after the men. The men of the Scotch Cattle were unrecognisable and got away in the darkness.

The next morning Rev William Powell and Mr F. H. Williams Esq went to Blaina and swore in a great number of Special Constables. Messrs Russell and Brown put up a reward of £50 (equivalent to £4,000 in today’s money) for any information on the perpetrators. Rev W. Powell was the Secretary for the Home Department, His Majesty offered a further reward of £100 with a promise of a free pardon to any accomplice. One of the Scotch Cattle who had been an accomplice on the night of the 17th had gone back to work and in turn was attacked by his former companions, he informed against five of the gang. Arrest Warrants was issued and the five men were apprehended, they were brought up in from of the Magistrates who committed them to trial at the Assizes.

In April 1832 the majority of the workers at Nantyglo and Blaina were still out of work. It was reported that while Mr Thomas Brown was making an inspection of the Iron Works he had been shot at and many stones had been thrown, Mr Bird the Agent had been badly cut on the head. Mr Thomas Brown was only able to continue the establishment by keeping all the men who were willing to work at his own premises at an enormous expense. Later in the day an order for the Dragoons to go to Blaina was sent out. It was stated that the Vicar was accompanying the Troops.

On the 14th April 1832 it was reported that the 98th Regiment who had been at Blaina and Nantyglo had been withdrawn to Brecon from where they will be dispatched to South Africa via Pembroke. They were succeeded by the 14th Dragoons under the command of Capt Smith accompanied by Capt Ellis, a Magistrate to relieve Mr F. H. Williams Esq. The 11th Regiment of Foot was dispatched to Nantyglo and Blaina from Cardiff, this regiment was more effective in the boggy and mountainous terrain. It was stated that the Officers of the various Regiments were lodged with Mr Thomas Brown and the Magistrate was staying with Mr J. Bailey Esq, Nantyglo.

In April 1832, five men, all members of the Scotch Cattle were caught and took to the Monmouth Assizes – Mr Edwyn Williams, aged 31; Mr David Lloyd, aged 23; Mr Henry Davies, aged 29; Mr William Hughes, aged 22 and Rees Williams, aged 28; were placed before the bar, the prisoners pleaded guilty, though through a very unusual act of clemency on behalf of Messrs John Russell and Thomas Brown of the Blaina Works, asked for the men of the Scotch Cattle to be bound over to keep the peace, they were all discharged and told that the masters did not wish to procure severe punishment on the offenders but that the case was a warning that they should bear in mind that the law would not tolerate the actions. Upon their release they said they were grateful for the lenient manner in which they had been treated.

In August 1834, the workmen at Blaenavon had to sign a declaration not to belong to either a Union or the Scotch Cattle. At this time it was stated the troop of the 12th Royal Lancers under the command of Capt Pole were stationed at Blaenavon.

In April 1835 Mr Edward Morgan from Merthyr was sentenced to death for being part of the gang of Scotch Cattle when attacking the home of Mr Thomas Thomas, Mr Thomas’ wife Mrs Joan Thomas was shot and killed as a gun was discharged by the gang of rioters.

From the mid 1830s the exploits of the Scotch Cattle were few and far between, many went unreported and the attacks in the neighbourhood slowly faded away.

The 1840 Map.
Shown on the main featured map above is, clockwise direction – At the (bottom centre) on the junction of the roads is the Red Lion Inn, just above the Inn is St Paul’s Church (Black-Block), a few houses on Station Road and far (upper left) are a couple of rows of Cottages on West Side. The Iron Works are in the (centre) with High Street going up through the middle showing a few rows of Cottages on Queen Street at a 45 degree angle off the main road with a small reservoir at the top end of Queen Street. Far (middle right) is the Lower Deep Colliery buildings.

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