Copper Industry                                  The Copper Industry in The Neath Valley

Aberdulais - The Site of the First Copper Smelter in Wales

     This 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 ABBEY

The Mines Royal Company transferred their operations to Neath Abbey. Their chosen site, on the bank of the Clydach 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.
Map 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

In 1695 Sir Humphrey Mackworth, squire of the Gnoll Estate, erected furnaces at Melincryddan to reduce copper ores. They were located on land which he held on the north bank of the Cryddan brook and a dam was built about half a mile upstream to feed a leet which flowed parallel to the stream and was used to turn water wheels which operated the bellows, hammers and grindstones. He  re-formed the Company of Mine Adventurers and the smelting works was leased to the Company in 1702.
   The Melincryddan works were supplied with coal from Mackworth`s own mines which were located close to the Gnoll House. The coal was brought to Melincryddan on waggons, each containing about 18 cwt, which were drawn by horses along wooden rails. The waggonway followed the contour of the hillside and  Mackworth experimented with sail power to supplement horse power. The waggonway was about 2/3 mile long.
In 1695 the Smelting House (97ft x 23ft) contained 8 furnaces. The Copper House (36ft x 22ft) housed 2 large furnaces for refining copper.  The Stamper Room (24ft x 7ft) housed a 26ft diameter wheel which drove 6 stamps for grinding the ore and a pair of Bellows for Copper Smelting and smaller bellows for refining. By 1700 the Smelting House had been enlarged to 135ft and a new refining house built (60ft x 28 ft); there were now 6 refining furnaces.
 Over the next 60 years the works was further enlarged until by 1766, when the plan shown was drawn by William Jones, it had doubled in size.
   Although the works was originally built to reduce Copper ores from Cornwall this was quickly overtaken by the reduction of Lead Ores from Cardiganshire Mines which Mackworth had acquired. In addition to Lead the works was also able to profitably extract the small quantities of Silver in these ores and also produced Litharge - Lead Oxide which was sold to Glassmakers, potters and Apothecaries.
 By 1720 Mackworth was also reducing Zinc ores which , with the Copper, enabled him to produce Brass.  Rolling Mills were built at the Gnoll for rolling ingots of Brass, Lead and Copper. These were built in the valley below the "Great Pond" utilising the water power to drive the mills. One of the products was Brass kettles.
  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. 

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