Truck Shops and Brewers
It is hard to imagine moving to an area in search of work and not finding any of the facilities that we take for granted nowadays - things like shops and transport. This is what would have greeted the new workers who flocked to the area for jobs in the first few decades of the 19th century.
Andrew Buchan was employed by the Bute Ironworks Company to re-align and deepen the bed of the River Rhymney, primarily to reduce the risk of flooding but also to provide more space for an additional blast furnace in around 1833-34. This work was mainly undertaken by pick and shovel gangs of Irish labour who were poorly paid. To help the workers and to ensure that they had food, he wrote notes that they could exchange for goods at Carno Shop - and he then paid the shop and deducted the monies from the workers' pay - this was a form of Truck or Company Shop - which had infact been outlawed in 1831.
Andrew Buchan took over the business in 1835, and became the first manager of the Company Shop on 31st December 1836, having negotiated a deal which entitled him to ¼ of the annual profits, guaranteed to be not less than £200 per annum.
The Company Shop became a huge undertaking with a large shop, butchers, bakery and store at The Lawn, Rhymney and shops at Carno, Pontlottyn, Brithdir and Deri, as well as farms. Goods were delivered by horse and cart from as far as Carmarthenshire and Herefordshire. So big was the enterprise that there was hardly anything that you couldn't buy at the Rhymney Shop!!
After Andrew Buchan died in 1870, William Pritchard took over as manager of the Company Shop and the Brewery. In 1885, whilst he was in charge, legal proceedings were against the trading methods of the Company Shop; this finally brought to an end the local Truck System - click here to download the notice issued after the case . William Pritchard died in tragic circumstances in 1898 and was replaced by David Benjamin Jones, known as DB, from Llangeitho. He continued as manager until the shop finally closed in 1911.
View across Rhymney - with the Rhymney Iron Company office and the Company Shop, and St David's Church in the background
In the 1830's beer was much safer to drink that local water - and so the Rhymney Iron Works Company agreed to open a local brewhouse in 1838. Within weeks of a decision being taken, plans were underway and a London firm, Messrs. Pontifex were installing the necessary machinery.
Andrew Buchan was appointed to manage this as well as the Company Shop and the first beer was produced in 1839. By 1858 the brewery was a substantial business, described in a trade directory “brewing is carried on to a considerable extent by Andrew Buchan & Co at Rhymney, where the Brewery is considered the largest in South Wales”.
The Brewery continued to grow in importance. In the 1890's the Brewery had 40 Clydesdale & Shire Horses to take the beer around the beer houses of the area. A Draysman would earn 18s 6d per week as well as 1 gallon of beer a day!! The Brewery purchased its first steam lorry in 1908, and the horses were requisitioned and sent to France in the Great War.
Capt T Edwards became manager in 1900, and in 1902 he left to buy Crown Brewery in Pontypool, in competition to Andrew Buchan & Co. In 1911 the Company Shop closed so the Brewery was the last remnant of this major business. The Brewery merged with Griffiths Brothers on 16th August 1929 becoming Andrew Buchan Breweries Ltd, increasing the number of tied pubs by 28. The Brewery continued to grow and in 1930 it purchased the brewery of DF Pritchard, who had been at Rhymney 30 years previously. With this purchase they acquired the Hobby Horse logo which rapidly became their mascot, with the tagline "Where the Hobby Horse Roams" used to show the extent of the Brewery.
The Brewery became Rhymney Breweries Ltd Cardiff in 1957 and in 1966 was taken over by Whitbread & Co Ltd, eventually closing in 1978. It is estimated that around 7 million barrels of beer were produced by this brewery during its life.
Rhymney Brewery is once again in production, and a new brewery and visitor centre are to be opened shortly in Blaenavon where you will be able to find out more about the people that made this great brand.
What was a Truck Shop?
The rise of manufacturing industry saw many company owners cashing in on their workers by paying them in full or in part with tokens (local coins), rather than coin of the realm. These tokens were exchangeable for goods at the company store, where in some instances poor quality goods were sold at inflated prices. The Truck Act of 1831 made this practice illegal in many trades, and the law was extended to cover nearly all manual workers in 1887.
David Morgan came from Breconshire to work in a drapery business at Carno. Five years later he opened his own haberdashery shop at No. 6 Cwm Shop Matthews Square. By 1862 he opened another store in Pontlottyn and eventually another in Abertillery (one of the biggest commercial centres in Monmouthshire) in the name of Morgan and Oliver.
In 1879 he moved to No. 23 the Hayes, Cardiff, which gradually grew to become one of the biggest department stores in the Welsh capital, only closing in 2005. He married at St Catwg's Church in Gelligaer in 1868 and he installed a beautiful wood and glass screen at the entrance to the Lady Chapel to commemorate this event.
A Rhymney Ironworks apprentice made good - E Windsor Richards
Abstract of The Truck Act 1831
Wikipedia - The Truck Act
Buy a copy of "A History of Andrew Buchan's Rhymney Brewery" by Marion Evans
Wikipedia - David Morgan Department Store
Bute Town is just 100m from A465, on A469. Leave A465 at The Twisted Chimney!!