King Copper: South Wales and the Copper Trade, 1584-1895

By Ronald Rees | Go to book overview

Foreword

The idea for a book on the impact of copper smelting upon society and environment in south Wales came from two disparate sources several years ago. The first was a romantic novel, Copper Kingdom, by Iris Gower who then lived in Manselton, an industrial suburb of Swansea that once was in the heart of the smelting district. One of the more dramatic incidents in the novel is a ‘copper smoke’ trial in Carmarthen attended by copper workers who had walked the twenty-five miles from Swansea. Sensing a story, I went to the newspapers of the day and in March 1833 issues of Swansea’s Cambrian and Carmarthen’s Welshman I found the detailed accounts of the trial I was looking for. Neither reporter referred to a march of Swansea copper workers to Carmarthen but if the workers were not there in person they were certainly there in spirit, for had the action (brought by aggrieved Tawe Valley farmers) been successful it might have threatened their livelihoods. Here, clearly, was the beginning of a story and a little digging revealed that there was more. The Carmarthen trial was the but the first action in a long campaign conducted by farmers, landowners and concerned citizens against the coppermasters.

The obvious frame for the story was the nineteenth-century debate over public health in and around Britain’s towns and cities; protection of amenity and environment were of some concern but they were not yet major issues. Happily for me, the public health debate in Swansea found a gifted modern interpreter working in that most restricting of forms, a postgraduate thesis. Gerald Fielder’s study of public health and hospital administration in nineteenth-century Swansea is a rare phenomenon, a work of detailed, rigorous scholarship written with verve and style. Had Fielder chosen to concentrate on the copper industry there would have been no need for this book.

My other great debt is to the sponsors of the book. Few histories can be written and published without public or private subsidy. For their generous grants, I am most grateful to the West Glamorgan Archive Service and to David Grenville Thomas, formerly of Neath and Morriston, and now of Navigator Explorations, Vancouver, British Columbia.

RONALD REES

-viii-

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King Copper: South Wales and the Copper Trade, 1584-1895
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vi
  • Foreword viii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Creating the Kingdom 3
  • 2 - Shipping and the Ports 23
  • 3 - The Copper Works Towns 46
  • 4 - The Uneasy Crown 63
  • 5 - The Great Copper Trials 75
  • 6 - Copper Smoke and Public Health 90
  • 7 - The Nedd Valley Disputes 114
  • 8 - The Cwmafan Disputes 133
  • 9 - The Decline of the Kingdom 144
  • Notes 149
  • Bibliography 166
  • Index 172
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