Andrew Buchan - Merchant of the Parish
Andrew Buchan was born in Perth, Scotland in around 1793 – so how was he an important character in the development of Bute Town and the Rhymney Valley??
Andrew Buchan together with his wife Sybel and young son Stuart arrived in the Rhymney Valley sometime in the late 1820’s or early 1830’s (it seems that his 5 brothers and sisters all moved to America). Andrew was a carpenter by trade and found work and the Maerdy and Abertysswg Farms. However, he had bigger ambitions, and secured a project to straighten and deepen the River Rhymney for the Bute Ironworks Company in 1833-34.
To alter the course of the river gangs of poorly paid Irish labourers were employed. To ensure that they could purchase food and other essentials Buchan wrote notes for them to obtain goods from The Carno Shop which Buchan would then pay for. This was the start of a local Truck system – a system that in some areas took advantage of the workers.
Buchan took over the Carno Shop in 1835. The following year he became the first manager of the Company Shop for the Rhymney Ironworks Company. He was a shrewd businessman and negotiated an agreement that entitled him to ¼ of the profits which they guaranteed would be no less than £200 per annum. The Company Shop expanded and soon The Lawns was the main shop and a focal point for the Rhymney population, with warm fires in the winter and everything that you needed to buy.
A vast amount of produce was needed to keep the shop stocked. Drovers would bring live animals to the back of the shop where there was a slaughter house and butchery. As well as provisions coming from Company farms, goods were brought in from as far away as Carmarthenshire and Hereford. At one time there was such a shortage of food in the area that a ship load of Rhymney iron was sent from Cardiff to America and when sold food was purchased and brought back to help the starving community. All in all it was a significant business to manage.
In 1838 permission was given for investment in another associated venture – a Brewery initially intended to “supply beer to all employed in the works” as it was safer than water. Buchan took on the responsibility for this business and immediately new equipment was installed and the first beer was sold the following year. 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”.
Whilst obviously a sharp business man, he was also a respected member of the community. His wife Sybel is remembered at St Davids Church in Rhymney, and there are stories of his efforts to learn Welsh. He also knew how to handle men and on one occasion he made an agreement with men who had tapped barrels and stolen beer rather than instigate legal proceedings. The agreement meant that a weekly stoppage of ½d was taken from their wages – a sum that they continued paying for many years, more than covering the costs of the beer taken!!
Probably the most famous story is that if he saw a small boy with a shabby cap he would toss it over a hedge and then take the boy to his Shop and give him a new one along with a bag of biscuits.
The community was genuinely saddened when he died on 4th February 1870 leaving a fortune of over £50,000. His position was taken over by his son but only for a short period as he had never recovered from the death of his only child and soon showed signs of mental illness, and he is said to have died insane in 1874 at his home in Oldbury.
View across Rhymney - The Company Office and Company Shop in the centre of the picture whilst St David's Church is on the hill
Article - The Truck Act 1831 by G. W. Hilton
Article - Gwent Local History Journal
Wikipedia entry The Truck Shop
Buy a copy of "A History of Andrew Buchan's Rhymney Brewery" by Marion Evans
Bute Town is just 100m from A465, on A469. Leave A465 at The Twisted Chimney!!