SOME EARLY INDUSTRIALISTS IN LLANELLI AND BURRY PORT – A BRIEF OVERVIEW
The old saying ‘It takes two to tango’ can well be applied to the development of industry in Llanelli and district. On the one hand one needs the industrialist, the entrepreneur, the financier; on the other hand one needs the worker. How equitable the relationship should be has been the subject of much political debate and industrial action. In this article we look at some of the prominent industrialists who came in to the area of Llanelli and Burry Port.
One day in the year 1796 a coach and wagon brought Alexander Raby and his family across the Falcon Bridge into Llanelli. A wealthy ironmaster, he sold his estate in England and brought the money he made to increase his fortune in Llanelli. Raby took over a furnace in the area that is now also called Furnace, added a second and used them day and night to produce ‘pig iron’. Raby’s furnace was heated with coal in the form of coke, and he mined his own coal from under the Stradey Estate. Having first used mules and oxen, he built a tram road which connected his furnace with his forge at Sandy and his collieries and this led down to a shipping place at Seaside, known as Squire Raby’s Dock and later as the Carmarthenshire Dock. Raby was popular and paid his workers well – they were said to ‘eat pound notes on well buttered sandwiches’.
Charles Nevill, a Worcestershire copper works owner established his works in Seaside in 1805 which was further developed by his son Richard Janion Nevill. The conditions were favourable, there was coal to be mined and a new dock was built a year later to import the copper ore. The Nevills improved the flood defences and made safer the approaches with buoys to mark the channels and pilot skiffs to bring in vessels safely. Whereas their first dock was tidal, in the early 1820s the new Nevill’s Dock was probably the first ‘floating dock’ with sluice gates to allow ships to be loaded or unloaded at any time.
The early industrialists in the Llanelli area were predominantly men, but Mary Glascott along with her sons, George and Thomas Glascott, were the proprietors of the Cambrian Copper Works in Llanelli, established in 1830 by the English Copper Company. They are described as Copper Merchants and Brass and Copper Manufacturers from Whitechapel in London. It was not a successful venture and the works were taken over by Nevill and Co. in 1847 and used for the smelting of lead and silver. When in 1898 it was bought by the Welsh Tinplate & Metal Stamping Co Ltd. it produced among other things enamelled saucepans and its fame led to Llanelli being nick-named ‘Sospan’.
The outstanding pioneer of early industrialization in the Pembrey and Burry Port area was George Bowser. He moved from Middlesex to the area in the 1790s as part of the ‘black gold rush’ and opened a number of collieries. From his pits at Cwm Capel he first carted the coal along a rutted tramway to a shipping point at Barnaby Pill, east of Burry Port but by 1816 had laid a new tramway to Carreg Edwig, near the site of the old Pembrey Harbour. His vision was a harbour, canal and tramways in Pembrey and he went into partnership with others in the venture. The harbour opened in 1819 but Bowser withdrew and later backed the development of a new harbour in Burry Port and a new tramroad from Cwm Capel.
From fields, marshes and dunes the landscape of Burry Port was now changing and even more so with the horse-drawn tramroad converted to a standard gauge railway to take steam locomotives. This was the product of the new copper works owners, George Elkington and Josiah Mason, whose copper works was constructed in 1849 to supply copper to their electroplating factory in Birmingham and for general sale. The site alongside the harbour enabled ships to unload the copper ore which came from copper mines in Cornwall and increasingly from countries such as Australia, Cuba and Chile. To minimise the harm from poisonous fumes the “Stac Fawr” was begun in 1850, a massive chimney of over a million bricks and 82metres tall. The Copper Works employed large numbers in the works and even more in the company’s wider interests in the area, attracted other industries to the town, but it also benefitted from existing ones like coal mining, with the works’ management owning numerous mines in the vicinity.
GRAHAM DAVIES May 2022
Part 2 looks at the workers who made the industrialists’ vision possible.