Expanding the Iron Industry
In 1825 work started on the third set of furnaces in the Rhymney Valley, this time on the Glamorgan side of the river. No expense was spared on this building and in 1828 the Egyptian styled furnaces were given lots of publicity, including an exhibition of drawings and engravings at the National Academy.
It must have been around this time that the plans to build Bute Town were put in place. The price of iron was high 1827 – 28 but in 1829 the price fell and in 1831 iron miners were out of work for 8 months and it took a few years for all to be re employed.
In 1833 Andrew Buchan was employed to re-align the river – mainly to reduce the risk of flooding but also to make more space for another furnace to be built. This was also an important time for the people of Rhymney – as it was the start of the Company Shop, and the Brewery and other facilities soon followed.
The Bute and Union Iron Works combined to form “The Rhymney Iron Company” in 1837, and they raised £500,000 capital to invest in the site through the issuing of 10,000 £50 shares. This was a time of major investment in the business and workers were attracted to the area by better wages – even people working in important industrial communities such as Merthyr Tydfil were attracted to Rhymney.
The Company was involved in many aspects of the community – as well as the Company Shop and Brewery, they funded St David’s Church and established schools, and even paid £500 a year for the Works Surgeon.
Times were not always good – a strike took place at the Ironworks in 1841 and in 1846 the Iron Miners struck for high wages, copying the successful actions of the local coal miners (colliers).
In the 1860’s Rhymney specialised in producing rails, converting a Plate Mill to a Rail Mill. Rails were sent from here around the world, including China for the construction of their railway. The iron industry was changing to steel production, and despite local ores not being suitable for use in Bessemer Converters, the Rhymney Works installed a Bessemer in 1878, importing red ore, which at first was cheaper despite the transport costs. However, it was not viable, and the Ironworks closed by 1890.
The Children's Employment Commission
As families travelled to the industrial areas of the UK in search of work in the first half of the 19th century, stories of how people lived and worked began to circulate among the general public. It was said that there were no morals and that people were Godless and without education. Reports also showed that women and children worked long hours underground in cramped and dangerous places. Action was sought.
Commissioners were appointed and they were dispatched to examine the conditions in the coalfields, to take evidence and to report their findings back to Parliament. They interviewed coal owners, local officials as well as women and children. The reports give an insight into the lives of workers in 1842.
In Rhymney they met with a number of workers - here are some insightful quotes:
Elizabeth Evans, aged 11 said, "I have met with no serious accidents but my father was hurt in the pit where I am. The trams broke his arm by the horse going rash.......It was four months ago and he is not quite well yet."
Daniel Elias, aged 13 and Joshua Jones aged 11 said, "We help bore holes for blasting and to fill rubbish and mine into the trams. The air is good enough."
Thomas Price aged 13 reported that his father was killed by a fall three years ago.
Take the time to read the full report and discover more about the lives of workers 170 years ago .
The 1830's were a time of much social unrest - ordinary men (and women) wanted the right to vote and to control their future. The London Working Men's Association drafted a 6 point Charter and the Chartists were the men and women who sought there introduction.
The People's Charter
A vote for every man over twenty one years of age.
The secret ballot.
No property qualification for members of Parliament.
Payment of MPs.
Equally sized constituencies.
Annual Parliaments - to keep MPs accountable.
Many supported the campaign across south Wales - and this culminated in a march on Newport on 4th November 1839, which went disasterously wrong with over 20 men being killed outside the Westgate Hotel. The 3 high profile leaders were found guilty of High Treason at Shire Hall, Monmouth and transported to Van Diemenland for life.
Across south Wales you can find many exhibitions and memorials to the people who challenged the system in an attempt to get the vote for everybody. You can find out more about the Chartist Movement in Wales and the rest of the UK at www.chartists.net .
An interesting Engineer who apprenticed at Rhymney - E Windsor Richards
- Voices for the Vote published by Shire Hall, Monmouth
- Chartism: A New History by Malcolm Chase