The First Ironworks

The use of coal (coke) instead of timber (charcoal) to produce iron lead to the expansion of the industry in south Wales. In 1760 John Guest established the first Dowlais Ironworks blue_link_icon.png, and 3 years later Anthony Bacon was involved with the Cyfarthfa Ironworks blue_link_icon.png, and later the Plymouth enterprise. By the end of the century there around 10 ironworks on the edge of the coalfield using the local iron ore, coal, limestone and water to produce pig and wrought iron.Extract from Rhymney Iron Company property plan 1838

Work to build the first furnace in the Rhymney Valley started in 1800 near Rhymney Bridge when 4 pioneers from Bristol (David Evans, Thomas Williams, John Ambrose and Richard Cunningham) acquired land and mineral rights. Works started to charge the furnace on 5th June 1801 (a process that took 6 days) and 8 days later records show that there was a shortage of water to power the blast engine, and so 40 men were employed to dam the river. The furnace was tapped for the first time on 23rd June 1801 – and so started the iron industry. This site later became known as “The Union Iron Works”.

Work on the Managers House (now the Rhymney Hotel) finished in 1802 and shortly after Richard Crawshay from Cyfarthfa became interested, and in 1803 he established a new company with Benjamin Hall and Watkin George, as well as Williams and Cunningham from the original company. This company built a second furnace in 1804 further down the valley. Upon the death of Richard Crawshay in 1810, Benjamin Hall became the sole owner. Upon his death in 1817 his son, another Benjamin Hall blue_link_icon.png(who was only 14 and who went on to be an MP, to have “Big Ben” named after him, and to be made Lord Llanover) inherited the estate which was later sold to the South Wales Mining Company in 1824 for £126,100.

Union Ironworks and workers houses

The Union Ironworks with the Managers House in the background

Useful Links

Merthyr Tydfil - Iron Metropolis 1790-1860 by John A Owen green_link_icon.png

BBC History website green_link_icon.png

Publications produced by Merthyr Historical Society green_link_icon.png



Bute Town is just 100m from A465, on A469. Leave A465 at The Twisted Chimney!!

© 2011. Can Do Team. Written by Kim Colebrook.