Aberdulais - The Site of the First Copper Smelter in Wales
waterfall on the River Dulais, very near where it joins the Nedd
(at Aberdulais ), has provided the power for a variety of Industries
over the years.
In 1584 a Copper Smelting Works was built here by the Mines Royal Society. Their earlier works had been in Cumberland and Cornwall but the Aberdulais site had the advantages of coal and timber for charcoal in addition to being a remote site where the secrets of the Copper Smelting Production process could be safeguarded. The land was part of the Manor of Neath Ultra which formed part of the Lordship of Neath which was held by the Earl of Pembroke. He was also a Governor of The Mines Royal Society. The copper ores were transported from mines at Treworthy, St. Ives, St. Just, Perran Sands and Logan in Cornwall. The River Neath was tidal up to Aberdulais and ore may have been brought all the way up on high tides; at other times it may have been unloaded at Melincryddan and transported upstream by pack animal.
The expertise in Copper Smelting was initially provided by German craftsmen who were transferred from the Company`s Keswick works. The first manager was Ulrich Frosse.
|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; by 1667 the Aberdulais
site was occupied by an Iron Forge. The Iron it produced was supplied
to the Ynysygerwn Tinplate Works a little way up the River Neath.
The waterfall was also used to power a Corn Mill which in 1800 was owned by William Weston Young. In his book " Guide to the Scenery of Glyn-Neath " -1835, he describes how he " supplied Hirwaun, Merthyr , &c. during the scarce times, with many thousand sacks of flour on horses` backs."
The expansion of steam power in the 1800`s led to the demise of the Iron Foundry. The site is now owned by the National Trust who have excavated the area and the water wheel shown now produces electricity which is fed into the National Grid.
Mines Royal Company at NEATH
|The Mines Royal Company transferred
their operations to Neath Abbey. Their chosen site, on the bank of the
River near where it joined the Nedd, had all the same geographical
advantages as Aberdulais but was now closer to the sea and copper ores
could be unloaded at a quay close to the works. Documents show that they
took out a lease on this land from the Lords of the Abbey in 1790 but this
lease refers to an earlier one of 1751. When renovation work was being
done in the 1850`s much earlier foundations of small ancient furnaces were
found. These were probably remains of furnaces built when the work was
transferred from Aberdulais prior to 1667.
In 1862 the Mines Royal Society stopped production of copper. The works was later leased to Williams, Foster & Co. but operations finished in 1881.
Nothing now remains; the A465 road now passes through the site.
adapted from 1870`s OS : Rivers; Tennant
Canal - built 1820`s;
Roads; Railway- Built 1850`s; Mines Royal and Cheadle Works
Roe & Co. (Cheadle Works)
at NEATH ABBEY
|Roe & Co. erected their copper works very close to the Mines Royal Works on the bank of the Clydach River. The exact date is unknown but has been estimated at 1790. The firm had originally operated in Liverpool and Macclesfield but moved to Neath Abbey where labour costs were lower and coal cheaper. It was later succeeded by the Cheadle Copper Company who stayed in production until 1821. In 1824 the works were taken over by the Neath Abbey Iron Company who converted the buildings for ship-building and engineering. Note the Dry Dock in the centre of the works.|
The Cwmfelin Battery Mill and Dr. Lane`s Copper Smelter.
| The valley of the River
Clydach at Neath Abbey had always been known as Cwmfelin and was the site
of an ancient Corn Mill. It had also long been associated with Iron working
and in 1694 land described as " whereon a Furnace for the melting of Iron
Oars stood" was leased, for a Copper Battery Mill, to Thomas Scawen of
London,Esq., Merchant; Thomas Leeke of Chelsea, Gent; Thomas Neale
of London , Esq.; and Benjamin Gyles of London, mercer. It is probable
that this works was using pig-copper produced by the Mines Royal Smelter
and was then turning the pigs into sheet form by "battering" - reducing
by rolling or hammering. Power for the mills was provided by the river.
Shortly after 1780 it was converted to the rolling of Iron plate and in
1792 the works were leased to the Quaker Ironmasters who were about to
set up the Neath Abbey Ironworks.
About 1708 another works was set up in the valley , a little further north at Ty-llwyd. This was a Copper smelter set up by Dr. John Lane, a chemist from Bristol. The venture was not a great success and in 1716 Lane turned his attention to Landore where he founded the first Swansea Copper Works. There is some evidence that this works was still working in 1741.
The Crown Copper Works
|The Crown Copper Works was erected on the right bank of the River Neath about half a mile downstream of the Mines Royal Works. It is marked on a 1797 map as the "Red Works" and is thought to date from about this time.In 1804 the Rose Copper Company of Birmingham were in occupation. They were still in production in 1847 and were later taken over by Williams, Foster & Co.. Copper production ceased in 1881 and later part of the works was adapted for the production of zinc by the Laxey Neath Company. The Emu Spelter Works was established in the old buildings in 1916 and in the 1920`s the works was used for the manufacture of patent fuel.|
The Melincryddan Copper Works
To supplement the Great Pond, a further two ponds were constructed at the Gnoll and streams diverted from the neighbouring hillsides to maintain the water levels.
The Melincryddan Works continued to operate until about 1796. When the Mines Royal Society applied for a lease at this time they were refused by Lady Molly Mackworth who was of the opinion that the fumes from the works were damaging the Gnoll House. In 1797 the roof of the Works was sold to the Neath Abbey Copperworks, the roof of their works having been damaged by a falling stack.
The 1877 OS map shows no works on the site, only slag heaps. The site has now been overbuilt with houses.
Churches : Neath
Histories : Neath Abbey Ironworks Gnoll Estate Neath Valley & Canal Parson`s Folly
& Images Valley Villages & Burial Grounds Pontrhydyfen Merthyr Cynog Trevethin Pant cemetery
Neath Town Copper Industry
Family : Wagstaffe Tree Prosser & Owens in Neath Abbey
Links : Neath/PortTalbot Tourism
Documents : Gnoll Rent Roll 1811 1779 Fines