The Industrial Revolution - T. E. Davies

the Yankie VictoriaThe Industrial era arrived in North West Monmouthshire in the last few decades of the eighteenth century it was first due to coke fired blast furnaces that were re set up there.

There had been iron manufacturing on a much smaller scale in the district for centuries and there was still an array of small furnaces and forges scattered around the district, in particular the furnace and forge in the Clydach Gorge and the forge at Llangrwyney near the current bridge to Gilwern.

However once Abraham Darby's process of smelting iron ore in blast furnaces using coke as a fuel instead of charcoal became established, the coalfields of Britain were attractive sites for entrepreneurs wishing to enter iron manufacturing, provided the other minerals required such as iron ore and limestone, were also readily available.

In the North Monmouthshire area new coke furnaces were set up at Sirhowy, Beaufort, Blaenavon, Ebbw Vale, Nantyglo, Clydach and Tredegar, all between 1778 and 1800, virtually all the industrialists concerned with these new ironworks were English.

Walter Watkins was the exception. All the early management arrangements were partnerships and these partnerships included non-active partners who provided some of the capital. The iron produced in the region at this time was largely cast iron or increasingly wrought iron in the form of bars or later rails, as steel production on a commercial scale was not achieved fully until the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

The Founders of the Iron and Steel of Ebbw Vale
Waiter Watkins 1735 - 1799

Walter Watkins was born in about 1735 and, according to Breconshire' historian, Theophilus Jones, he lived for many years in Cwmdu and was descended from the

Watkinses of Pentatrig. Jones also wrote that Watkins acquired Dan y Graig, his estate near Gilwern, as a result of his marriage to Dorothy Morgan who was co-heiress of Thomas Morgan and, because of this marriage, Watkins became entitled to his wife's mother's other possessions in the area. Watkins and his wife Dorothy had just one child, a girl also Dorothy, who married Charles Cracroft, who at times was a partner with Watkins in his iron making enterprises. It is believed that Cracroft built Sunnybank, now Glangrwyney Court, and he certainly lived there in the late eighteenth century.

Watkins' forge at Llangrwyney was of the earlier charcoal fuelled type and was a relatively small concern. At Llangrwyney he relied on supplies of pig iron or 'stamped iron' from elsewhere. In the period 1787 to 1790 he acquired stamped iron from Edward Kendall's Beaufort works sometimes complaining about the quality of the iron. He melted this Beaufort iron in an air furnace at Llangrwyney and hammered it into bars which he sold at Bristol and elsewhere, sometimes for as much as £18 per ton.

It is believed that as early as 1768 Watkins may have leased mineral land in the Ebbw Vale area and he certainly leased the Blaenant and Pentwyn farms in 1786 with the aim of acquiring iron ore. Later in the same year he leased the Pen-y-cae and Hendre farms, the former the land on which the Ebbw Vale furnaces were to be erected later. It is not clear what type of furnace Watkins actually erected at Ebbw Vale in the period 1786 to 1788 but the nineteenth century Welsh industrial historian, John Lloyd, stated that Watkins' furnaces were 'little kilns rudely to smelt iron for working into bars at Llangrwyney'.

Hence it seems clear that Watkins did not build a coke-fired blast furnace at Ebbw Vale. It appears that he was keen to involve and work with an ironmaster who had experience of these coke furnaces as he entered into partnership with Jeremiah Homfray of the Penydarren ironworks in Merthyr on 3 April 1789, together with Charles Cracroft, his son-in-law. Shortly after, on 24 June 1789, the partners obtained a new lease for Pen-y­cae granting full permission for the erection of a blast furnace.

The first blast furnace was erected in 1790 but Watkins' partnership with Homfray was short lived and it broke up on 31 March 1791 when Homfray became sole proprietor. From this it would appear that Homfray played the more leading role whilst in partnership with Watkins at Ebbw Vale.

Following the break-up it was decided that Watkins was to supply Ebbw Vale with iron ore from the mineral lands he held in the area and Homfray was to supply him with pig iron for Llangrwyney.

Watkins had been a prominent figure locally, he was High Sheriff of Breconshire in 1766, and in addition to running his forge at Llangrwyney he was commissioned by the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal Company to build a wharf, warehouse and other buildings for the company at Llangrwyney.

He was also involved in the construction of a tramroad from Llangrwyney up the Clydach valley in 1794. Watkins died on 23 May 1799, aged 63, and was buried in Llanelly Church where there is a plaque to his memory. In his will, dated 20 May 1799, Watkins left the bulk of his estates in trust for his eldest grandson, Charles Watkins Cracroft, until he attained the age of twenty-three. Watkins also made a provision for his other grandson, Robert Cracroft, and interestingly, provisions for any further sons his daughter Dorothy Cracroft might have after W atkins' own death. Unfortunately Dorothy died just a few years after her father.

Watkins never became a great ironmaster in the district like Samuel Homfray (senior and junior), Edward Kendall, Joseph and Crawshay Bailey and the Harfords, and others listed in Table 1. HoweverWatkins had the vision to see the opportunities for entrepreneurs within the iron industry in this part of the South Wales in the late eighteenth century and he was certainly a remarkable man but maybe he lacked the single minded and determined nature of these masters listed above.

Jeremiah Homfray 1759 - 1833
Jeremiah Homfray was the eldest son of Francis Homfray (1726-1798), the other sons being Thomas and Samuel. Francis Homfray was a Staffordshire ironmaster and he, and his sons, leased the Cyfarthfa ironworks from Anthony Bacon from 1782 to 1784. Jeremiah and Samuel then set up an ironworks nearby in Merthyr, at Penydarren. In this enterprise they were helped financially by Richard Forman, a London iron merchant. Samuel Homfray built Penydarren House for himself annoying his brother so much that eventually Jeremiah left Merthyr for Ebbw Vale, though he retained his shares in the Penydarren enterprise. Samuel remained the ironmaster at Penydarren and in 1800 he widened his iron making interests further by obtaining a lease of mineral lands at Tredegar from the landowner, Sir Charles Morgan of Tredegar Park. Sir Charles was Samuel's father-in-law.

Shortly after Watkins left Ebbw Vale in 1791 Homfray acquired other partners, the Harford Partridge Company of Bristol. By this agreement Jeremiah was to be the resident partner and manager at Ebbw Vale on a salary of £1 00 a year. The capital of the partnership was to be £7,000 and Jeremiah was to put up one third of this to be made up out of his share of the profits. Until this was achieved Jeremiah was not to take any sum out of the company apart from his salary.

As it had been at Penydarren, Jeremiah's stay at Ebbw Vale was relatively short and in 1796 the Harford partnership assumed full control as Jeremiah left. From the leaving terms it would appear that his period in charge was of only mixed success. He assigned all his interests in the Ebbw Vale concern over to the Harfords in April 1796 for just £500, to be paid in £1 00 instalments, the Harfords being responsible for outstanding debts. In the same year Jeremiah had a serious quarrel with his brother Samuel and this ended with Jeremiah disposing of his shares in the Penydarren ironworks. In 1802 Jeremiah set up a works at Abernant with the Tappenden brothers but again Jeremiah left, after five years. He had also been a partner at the Hirwaun ironworks from 1803 to 1805.

Jeremiah, however, was a prominent figure in society and he was High Sheriff of Glamorgan from 1809 to 1811, being knighted in 1810.
Unfortunately he was declared bankrupt in 1813 and he moved to France where it was believed he lived in much reduced circumstances. He had married Mary, daughter of John Richards of Llandaff, in 1787 and Llandaff had been his home for many years. Mary died in 1830 and Jeremiah died three years later. Jeremiah had many achievements behind him and Charles Wilkins, the late nineteenth century Welsh historian, put the Homfray brothers in the same category as the Crawshays of Cyfarthfa and the Guests of Dowlais with regard to their physical energy and their ability.

The Harfords 1791 - 1840

The Harfords were a very "prominent family in the Bristol area in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and later. They had many interests including banking and the branch of the family that became involved in iron manufacture in the Monmouthshire valleys were merchants who already had ironmaking interests in South Wales. In 1768 a partnership including James Harford developed and extended the original works at the Melingriffith site. One of the original partners with James Harford was Richard Summers, the father of James' wife, Anne, and by 1775 more Bristol men joined the partnership as well as John Partridge of Ross and his son, also John, of Monrnouth. Most of these men were to form the core of Harford, Partridge and Company, later to appear at Ebbw Vale. In 1781 the partnership took over a furnace in Caerphilly and forges at Machen and Bassaleg. It is likely that the experience gained in these works enabled the partnership to make the transition from charcoal furnaces and forges to the larger coke fired furnaces they were to be involved with at Nantyglo and Ebbw Vale. The Harford partnership was one of the few such partnerships to make this transition successfully in this region of South Wales.

The Harfords at Nantyglo.

Although the Harfords had already become involved at Ebbw Vale in 1791 when they formed a partnership with Jeremiah Homfray, it was at Nantyglo that they first became actively involved in iron making in the area. Thomas Hill and his partners at the Blaenavon ironworks decided, in 1792, to utilise a section of the land they rented from the Earl of Abergavenny which they did not need themselves, by forming a partnership with the Harfords.

The partnership was to build a furnace at Nantyglo and it was to be run by John Harford and Richard Summers Harford. Local historians such as Arthur Gray-Jones and Sir Joseph Bradney believed that this John. Harford was the brother of James Harford, the principal partner, rather than John Harford, James' son. There must be some doubt about this assumption however as John Harford is listed as a partner in an agreement of 29 April 1796, after Samuel Harford, unlikely if John was Samuel's uncle. Further, there is an absence of evidence of a John Harford, James' brother, leaving the partnership after 1796.

The Harford's agreement with Hill was that each party would put up half the cost of erecting a furnace. Apparently Messrs. Hill and Company believed that their share of the cost of the works should not exceed £10,000 but by 1793 the Harford partnership had already expended £16,831 compared with [Ell's contribution of £10,483. Much correspondence took place between the two sides without agreement and on 27 January 1795 Messrs. Harford and Co. decided to layoff the miners and to put the furnaces into blast only to run down the stocks of iron ore that had been mined by that date. The Harfords obtained legal advice from Lincolns Inn, the advice confirming their right to use the proceeds of the sales of pig iron to offset their over supply of capital to the Nantyglo concern.

The works were stopped in 1796 and after a period of inaction an accommodation must have been reached with Thomas Hill around 1800, the works finally passing into the hands of Joseph Harrison. The future of the Nantyglo works was not secure however until 1811 when control passed to Joseph Bailey and Matthew Wayne, both of whom had worked for Richard Crawshay at Cyfarthfa.
The Harfords - The early years at Ebbw Vale.

John Harford left Nantyglo for Ebbw Vale when the partnership with Jeremy Homfray broke down and he started the extant Ebbw Vale Memorandum Book (Gwent Record Office) in 1796. This book gives an insight into how the works was run in its very early days. From the book it is clear that John Harford, as ironmaster, worked very closely with the men, signing agreements himself with masons, iron ore miners and others. The day labourers' schedules listed in the Memorandum Book give an indication of how small the workforce was in 1796 with the works employing according to demand probably between 30 to 60 men at the furnace site that is excluding external workers such as colliers and miners.

There were some key changes in the partnership in the first twenty years of the nineteenth century. At the turn of the century the principal partners were James Harford, who was the leading partner although he did not reside at Ebbw Vale, Samuel Harford, John Partridge and Phi lip Cracker. However John Partridge of Monmouth retired from the Ebbw Vale partnership on 1 July 1807, the partnership then becoming Harford, Cracker and Company. James Harford's son, Richard Summers Harford had joined the partnership by 1810 and by this time also, the John Harford listed as a partner, must certainly have been the son of James Harford. In 1810. the partnership shed some of their other interests such as the Melingriffith works and their involvement in Cornwall ended at the same time.
steelworks-1818
Richard Summers Harford had been the key active member of the Harford partnership in this period having moved from Nantyglo to Ebbw Vale around 1800.

From about this time he started to sign agreements and it seems likely that John Harford left the area probably returning to Bristol.

Demand for iron nationally was high in the early years of the century in view of the need for ordnance, and the iron industry in Britain and in Monmouthshire, was expanding rapidly.

The iranmasters of the region held meetings to discuss iron prices and Richard S. Harford represented the Ebbw Vale works at such meetings. For example a meeting of ironmasters held at Newport on 2 November 1811 settled the price of three-foot tramplates at £7.15.0 to £9.0.0 Harford was still signing agreements with particular workmen or artisans right up to 1817 and beyond and was thus still very close to the workforce on a day-to-day basis. James Harford, the principal partner for decades died on 17 May 1817 and he left his shares in the partnership to his three sons, Richard Summers, Samuel and John.

It was about this time also that Richard's two sons, Summers Harford and Charles Lloyd Harford appeared on the scene. In 1818 Samuel Rogers, one of Monmouthshire' s industrial inventors, announced a change to the bottom of puddling furnaces, by substituting an iron base for the sand based units that had been the norm. The iron base which was water cooled had a much longer life than sand based ones and was cleaner. Rogers' invention was to improve the productivity of puddling furnaces considerably but he did not patent his invention and he offered it freely to the local ironmasters.

It was only the Harford partnership that showed interest initially indicating that the Harfords were not slow to look at potential innovations. The Harford partnership also had a strong sense of responsibility for their men and they sponsored the Ebbw Vale and Beaufort United Society, a friendly society set up in 1812. They also gave opportunities for men of obvious ability such as John Thomas, son of Thomas Thomas a mine weigher, who in January 1819 was to be apprentice to Samuel Harford in Bristol for seven years.

The acquisition of the Sirhowy Ironworks.

The major change in this period however was the expansion of the business due to the acquisition of the Sirhowy ironworks. The Sirhowy works had been run jointly with Tredegar ironworks since the latter had been built and the Sirhowy lease came up for renewal in 1818 but some years earlier the Harford partnership had acquired this lease. A dispute arose between the Harfords and the ironmasters of the Sirhowy works who thought that the rental proposed by the Harfords was not acceptable, to them. The result of the dispute was that the Sirhowy works passed to the Ebbw Vale Company.

Communication between the Ebbw Vale works and Sirhowy was 'very difficult at that time and eventually the Harford partnership were forced to construct tunnels through the mountains to assist transference of ore and metal. The first such tunnel was opened in 1832 at considerable cost to the Ebbw Vale Company. Local historians assert that as a result of the 1818 dispute there was antagonism between many of the men of Sirhowy and those of Tredegar for a number of years. Large stones with 'SI818' etched into them were placed, marking the boundary between the two towns and one such stone can still be seen today where Dukestown Road meets the main Beaufort Road in Sirhowy.

The later years at Ebbw Vale.
A feature of the British iron industry in the first half of the nineteenth century was the continual fluctuations in demand for iron products. In boom times the ironmasters tended to increase their capacity, increasing the supply but often demand would fall away leaving the ironmasters in an oversupply situation. The Harford partnership, like some of the other ironmasters in difficult economic circumstances, had to borrow from time to time. In 1822 the partners arranged a loan facility of up to £20,000 with their bankers, Jones, Jones and Davies of Abergavenny and in the 1820s the Harford partnership took out loans of £30,000 and £20,000 on the security of their properties.

These loans were called up for payment in May 1829 and the Harford partnership agreed to payoff an amount of £10,000 themselves and negotiated with the Baileys of Nantyglo ironworks for a loan of £40,000 to payoff the remainder. Philip Crocker died in the early 1820s and for a time the partnership seems to have been known as Harford Brothers and Company, the brothers being Richard Summers Harford, Samuel Harford and John Harford, though William Green and William Weaver Davies were also partners at the time. The period to 1830 was one of considerable growth of iron output in South Wales and for the ironworks ofMonmouthshire.

The figures for 1796 are clearly estimates and can only be used as a guide. The figures for 1823 and 1830 were supplied for specific purposes, there being no official annual returns of iron output until the 1850s. The figures show how important the local group of ironworks were producing 45% of the South Wales pig iron output in 1823 and 36% in 1830. This latter percentage is lower because of output by the newer works established lower down the valleys such as those at Coalbrookvale, Blaina, Bute, Abersychan and Pentwyn.

By 1830 the Ebbw Vale/Sirhowy concern was the largest producer of the local group. Competition, however, increased substantially in the 1830s for the ironworks of South Wales following the invention of the hot blast process by James Beaumont Neilson. This process greatly assisted the Scottish ironmasters as it allowed the use of raw coal in blast furnaces and Scottish coals had never made good coke.

Throughout the 1820s and 1830s the brothers, Summers and Charles Lloyd Harford were the active ironmasters in the area with Summers tending to look after Sirhowy and Charles largely based at Ebbw Vale. Their father, Richard Summers Harford whilst not being so active remained a partner, the concern becoming known as Harford, Davies and Company. William Weaver Davies joined the partnership in around 1819 and remained until 1843 when the company went bankrupt. Samuel Harford retired from the partnership on 30 June 1830 and his shares, rights and interests were transferred to the remaining partners at that time, Richard Summers Harford, John Harford and William Weaver Davies.

By 1835 Richard Summers Harford who by virtue of his age and infirmity had not been active in the management of the firm for some time passed control of his assets and concerns to his two sons. Although they were still not partners, this meant that Summers Harford and Charles Lloyd Harford were able to affect decisions at partnership level. In 1836 Richard Summers Harford's sons finally became full partners though he died in the following year. Apart from household furniture etc., which he left to his wife, Richard left the vast majority of his property and lands to his sons.

The failure of the Harford Partnership.

There were times in the 1830s and early 1840s when the ironmasters of the area experienced considerable difficulties due to falls in demand and it is not surprising that some of the iron companies were put up for sale. In 1833 the Blaenavon Company was put up for sale though it was not sold until three years later when it became a joint stock company. In 1833 also an unsuccessful attempt was made to sell the Clydach ironworks and in the same year the Beaufort ironworks was sold to the Baileys of Nantyglo.

The Rhymney ironworks was put up for sale in 1835 and like Blaenavon it was converted to Joint stock status. 1841 was also a bad year for the area with the Victoria ironworks, the British Iron Company at Abersychan and the Coalbrookvale works all in difficulties. In 1842 the Monmouthshire Merlin recorded distress amongst the people of the hills of North Monmouthshire and reported on 11 June 1842 'The Abergavenny workhouse has its full complement of paupers and the neighbouring iron masters, with the exception of the Messrs. Bailey (of Nantyglo ironworks]) are discharging their workmen continually and those remaining are little better than half employed'.

The same newspaper commented on 16 June 1843 that the ruinous state of the iron trade in Britain that had already marked the failure of some ironworks in other areas has now finally taken its toll on the population of 'the Hills' with the stoppage of the Sirhowy and Ebbw Vale works. The paper claimed that the failure of these two works would have been a disaster for the area with about 3,400 people employed by these works and many more thousands dependent on these concerns.

Fortunately it was decided at the bankruptcy court at Bristol that the works should be carried on as usual. The creditors of the Ebbw Vale Company met in August 1843 and agreed to press for the works to continue until a further decision might be arrived at, the works thus being saved. Loan capital had been vital for some of the ironworks of the area, such as Clydach and the Ebbw Vale Company. In fact the historian A. H. John stated that the Ebbw Vale Company in the period 18l0 to 1842 was financed up to about one half by loans and this reliance on loans and mortgages seems to have been a major factor in the eventual bankruptcy of the Ebbw Vale partners in June 1843.

The Bath Chronicle reported in July of that year that the Ebbw Vale partnership had unsecured debts of £349,000 whilst available assets of the company were then only £93,000. There was also a secured debt of £100,000. However, very welcome news reached the hills of Monmouthshire in early 1844 when it became known that the Ebbw Vale and Sirhowy concern had been taken over by a partnership lead by Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale.

Both Summers Harford and his brother, Charles Lloyd Harford, had left the partnership in 1841 and hence the partners at the time of the bankruptcy in 1843 were John Harford and William Weaver Davies. It is not clear why the two brothers left the partnership, they had been the active partners at Ebbw Vale and Sirhowy until then. Summers who had been a magistrate became the MP for Lewes in Sussex on June 1841 though he was unseated in the following March. He was also Sheriff of Monmouthshire in 184l. Whatever the reasons for their departure, the two brothers had a claim against the estate of the partnership in 1843.

blast furnace 1873It should be said that despite the unfortunate end to the Harford period at Ebbw Vale, in general their term of around fifty years was remarkably successful. In the thirty five years from 1805 to 1840 their works had achieved considerable growth in output per year on average, a performance only slightly lower than that of the Nantyglo concern, the most successful works of the local group.

They had provided employment for increasing numbers of men over their term and by 1843 they had a stock of about one thousand workers and agents' houses in Ebbw Vale and Sirhowy. According to the sale document, they passed on to the Darby partnership iron making sites which included nine blast furnaces, three blowing engines, fineries, a mill, and nearly 3,000 acres of mineral land.

The Harford family were Quakers and this fact influenced their attitude to the development of the Ebbw Vale area, they were opposed to the sale of alcohol on their land or in their works. They were a Whig or Liberal family politically and as such they were more sympathetic to the political reforms of the period. In fact, remarkably, at one Chartist meeting at Dukestown near Sirhowy, Summers Harford was referred to as the Chartists' friend with considerable cheering coming from the crowd. The ironmasters of South Wales in this early period have been the subject of considerable criticism by some writers in recent years but possibly, with the Harfords as an example, a more balanced view might be appropriate.

Thomas Brown 1804 -1884 - N. Brown

thomas BrownThomas Brown and his brother James, were said to have been born with "Iron in their Blood". Their father. Richard Brown, a Worcester Ironworker had moved to Merthyr Tydfil in 1786, "brought to the commencement of the Penydarren ironworks by Samuel Homfray Snr." (reported in a speech by James Brown) 0. In 1803 Richard Brown made the mechanism for Trevithick's locomotive and in 1811 he moved with his family and set up the wrought iron bar mills at Nantyglo Monmouthshire. On their father's death a large fortune was left to the two sons, Thomas and James, who owned ironworks at Blaina and Cwmcelyn.

Thomas Brown, always insisted that he was "the son of a working man" and identified himself more with the workers and their day to day problems than with 'upper class' mill and mine owners. He was regarded throughout his working life as a man of great benevolence raising his workers wages by between 10 and 12%, giving them "the benefit of the improvement".

He also donated £20 to starving Irish people, and many more charitable gifts to various Chapels and Churches in the district'. In 1842, Thomas Brown was one of the owners of Blaina Ironworks, situated within 5 miles of Ebbw Vale, he would have been very much aware of the problems being suffered by the Harfords at Ebbw Vale. The Harfords, a Quaker family, having owned the Ebbw Vale works for nearly 50 years from 1796, with great investment and expansion including the purchase of Sirhowy works in 1817.

During 1841 and 1842 it was reported that all ironworks in the country were experiencing considerable financial difficulties, due to falls in demand, with subsequently the Company. going into liquidation in 1843. Trustees were appointed to keep the Works and Collieries open until a buyer could be found.

Thomas Brown, was not only aware of the problems at Ebbw Vale, he was also very aware of how profitable the EV works had been and the extent of all attached works and collieries. He would certainly have had a great say when he and a group of Midland industrialists bought the Ebbw Vale works for £216,000 in 1844. "Darby had a bargain Ebbw vale. Headed by Abraham Darby". the other Partners were Alfred Durby,  H Dickinson, F.Tothill and Thomas Brown - designated "Managing Partner".

From January 1844, Thomas and James Brown had also put the Blaina and Cwmcelyn Ironworks up for sale, with adverts appearing in the Merlin in January, March and June of that year. The sale being completed on 2ih July 1844 to the resident director of Blaina works, Henry Stothert of Bath and others. Thomas moved to Ebbw Vale, as General Manager, living at Victoria House (later to become Park House), where he maintained a retinue of 10 servants 1. James meanwhile, moved to Newport, as Selling Agent, for the output of the Ebbw Vale Companies' Pits, where he thrived both in business and in public affairs, thrice becoming Mayor of Newport.

Thomas embarked on a programme of continual improvements at Ebbw Vale using some of the ideas learned at Blaina and expanded the business further with purchases of Ironworks, Tinplate works with Engineering involvement. In 1848 the lease of Victoria Ironworks, was acquired from Lord Llanover (Sir Benjamin Hall). The works which were located 2 miles South consisted of 3 Blast Furnaces and Puddling mills built in 1836 by the Monmouthshire Iron and Coal Co. In 1849 he introduced Cox's Patent Coke Ovens, thereby saving huge amounts of waste used in making coke. Previously coke was produced by cooking coal in open clamps, a method which had a 43% wastage.

In 1850 he encouraged research at the works laboratory under the then works chemist George Parry, who was credited with creating the first method of sealing the tops of blast furnaces, using the "Cup and Cone" method. Huge savings were made on energy and gas losses and also enabling the loading of raw materials in a uniform manner. The Cup and Cone method was soon adopted by all other blast furnaces and is still in use today. In 1852 The Company bought the Abersychan works consisting of 6 blast furnaces and in 1853 Iron Ore fields in Somerset, Forest of Dean and Bilbao, Spain were acquired.

During 1854/5, under Thomas Brown's patronage, George Parry experimented in making Steel, using a similar process to Bessemer's. Parry's process had been invented by an American J.G.Martien of New Jersey, with the patent rights being bought by the Ebbw Vale Company in 1855. Parry successfully made "Good Hard Steel" by blowing air through fixed pipes in the bottom of a vessel holding molten iron. Although Parry had made Steel, the experiment was abandoned because of extreme wear to the furnace, making it impossible to contain the liquid metal.
Between 1854/56, Bessemer was conducting experiments in using his pneumatic process to remove impurities from molten iron by blowing air through it. Eventually, by using Blaenavon iron, which was low in phosphorus, he produced malleable iron, which he patented in 1856.

On writing a paper on the subject "on the manufacture of malleable iron without fuel", he exhibited samples of the new Bessemer metal and his paper was published, in full, in the Times of 11 th August1856. This paper created a sensation amongst Iron Masters who flocked to London to see demonstrations of this new process and take up licences'.

Thomas Brown realised the importance of this huge step forward in the conversion of Iron to Steel and approached Bessemer in the hope that he could acquire exclusive rights to use this process, under licence, for the sum of £50,000; Bessemer refused, preferring to issue licences to Dowlais Ironworks, amongst others.

Undeterred, Thomas Brown sought the help of his friend Robert Mushet, a metallurgist, in Coleford, Forest of Dean and at Mushet's suggestion built a small converter, on the same line as Bessemer's at Ebbw Vale. However the first "Steel" that this furnace produced, cracked on forging, as Mushet observed the ingot "resembled an old fashioned puddle bar from the worst redshort iron, only far more deeply cracked'. Meanwhile other ironmasters, having bought licences from Bessemer also found that they could not produce satisfactory metal. Bessemer himself, in order to quell rising anger vowed to spend £20,000 to solve the problem, but Bessemer, although a great inventor, was no metallurgist.

Mushet recognised the need for De-Oxidization of the mix and introduced an additive called Spiegeleisen (a compound of Iron, Carbon and Manganese). Manganese has a powerful affinity for oxygen, and what Mushet had done with his spiegeleisen was to remove the occluded oxygen by the manganese. The oxide of the manganese passed off in the slag; the carbon of the spiegeleisen remained in the molten metal, conferring upon it the properties of Steel.

A ingot from Ebbw Vale was sent to him at Coleford, where it was re-melted and an additive was introduced. The ingot was returned to Ebbw Vale for rolling, it proved to be rolled into a perfectly sound, double headed steel rail. This was the first Bessemer Rail ever rolled.
Mushet took out a patent on this process in 1857, but possibly on the advice of Thomas Brown substituted the name of Martien for Bessemer. In 1860, Mushet's patent ran out and Bessemer was finally able to use the process.

Eventually Bessemer decided to deal with Thomas Brown at Ebbw Vale Works and paid the Company £30,000 for Parry's and Martien's Patent - Parry received £1000 and the Company switched to constructing a "Bessemer" plant consisting of 6 ton converters. During the 1850's, under Thomas Browns' patronage, the company gave two very important buildings to the town of Ebbw Vale. The first, agreed by Brown was sanctioned in July 1852, honouring a previous verbal agreement, was to supply a building called The Ebbw Vale Literary and Scientific Institute.

Work commenced almost immediately, opening in 1853, providing a large lecture hall, a reading room, library and 3 classrooms. Brown also contributed £500 for books for the new library. Thomas Brown was their President in 1854 and records constantly refer to his personal interest and generosity in providing books and monies to enable the scheme to develop. The total cost of the building was £3000 and for the next 30 years it served as a public hall for town meetings and concerts. It was also used as a post office, school and police court. It was reported at the opening that through Brown's "interest and advocacy that the building became possible" also, "erected for the use and convenience of the inhabitants of Ebbw Vale at the sole expense of the Ebbw Vale Company".

Thomas Brown, after being made High Sheriff in 1854, he was honoured by the people of Ebbw Vale by having a full size oil painting placed in the Institute, paid for by subscriptions of the townspeople.

The second important building was Christ Church. During the early 1850's the company was concerned as to the 'spiritual welfare' of their employees, as "the Tump"( Drysiog Estate) boasted 25 public houses, open from early morning until midnight and was known locally as "Bloody Spot".

The company raised money to build the church by selling landed properties in the district of Hay for a substantial profit. It was this money that was applied to the construction of Christ Church.

Sir John Beynon, was reported to have said later on, that the cost of building the church was in the region of £60,000 with at least £15,000 being spent on the foundations. The stone for the church was quarried 45 yard at Risca, being transported by rail and deposited on the site by way of a light railway from the rail sidings at where Eureka Place stands now. Work commenced in 1859 and on December s". 1861 the church was opened for worship. The Bishop of Llandaff was so struck by its beauty that he later declared it to be "The Cathedral of the Hills", a description still used today.

In 1862, Thomas Brown retired with Abraham Darby 4th taking over as Managing Partner, bringing in fresh ideas, buying up more iron and tinplate works mainly in the Abersychan area. Thomas Brown is found on the 1881 census, living at Cheltenham with his daughter Anne - his profession listed as Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant. He died in the last quarter of 1884, at Cheltenham '.

constructing the first continuous strip mill - M. G. Warrender
The reason for constructing the first continuous strip mill outside the U.S. at Ebbw Vale in 1936 has not been fully explained. To locate the integrated works at the redundant iron and steel plant owned by the Ebbw Vale Steel Iron & Coal Company did not appear to make sound business sense. The first article, based on an extract from a Master of Philosophy thesis by
Mel Warrender, goes some way towards providing an explanation.

The announcement in October 1929 that the iron and steelmaking operations at Ebbw Vale Works would cease was further bad news for the population of Ebbw Vale and the surrounding districts. The area was already suffering from the effects of high unemployment only to be burdened with further problems that unemployment would inevitably bring. This article will attempt to evaluate the social and economic consequences that the Works' closure would have on the inhabitants of the area, and how the situation would reflect on the 1935 decision on where a 'new' continuous strip mill should be located.

The article will also include notes on the Government's attitude to its industrial and social responsibilities, which in the late twenties was changing from a laissez-faire approach to one of greater involvement in the country's needs. Identifying 'Special Areas' and the appointment of Commissioners in an attempt to resolve the problems was one step in that direction. By the time the Brassert Report had been published the world had slipped into one of the greatest financial collapses in history. Typical features of that depression were a marked fall in prices, collapse of banks and high levels of unemployment.

The heart of capitalism was first hit when the U.S. Wall Street stock market collapsed in 1929. Towards the end of the twenties the consumer-led market, e.g. cars, consumer durable goods, housing etc., was running out of customers; productivity was rising but wages and the ability to purchase goods was not. The American 'depression' spread throughout the world and the repercussions were felt in many ways. Trade was affected, falling American incomes meant less materials were purchased so imports were reduced and exporting countries like Britain could not export into the U.S., added to which the Americans introduced further tariffs already considered to be a difficult market for Britain.

In addition to these problems was the American over-production of food, which the less well off, and there were many, could not afford to buy at home, and the agricultural industry failed to export abroad. The result of the 'depression" prompted the American banks to reclaim their outstanding debts, and that in turn resulted in countries like Britain attempting to recover their debts from debtor countries. The downward spiral continued. Industry in South Wales, and in particular Monmouthshire, was feeling the effects with unemployment rising on an unprecedented scale, affecting manufacturing and small support businesses alike.

On 31 October 1929, without warning, the Ebbw Vale Steel Iron & Coal Company iron and steel plant was closed permanently, placing over four thousand of the workforce on the 'dole', and as a result of the knock-on effect a further six thousand colliery workers became unemployed. Two large blast furnaces, Bessemer converters, hot rolling mills, coke ovens and engineering shops were amongst the casualties. Two small blast furnaces and Open-Hearth furnaces remained in operation to dispose of the existing inter-process stocks. The sheet mills were the only major units to continue in operation.
These articles are printed with the permission of the E.V.W.A.T who retain all copyrights to the articles