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

By Ronald Rees | Go to book overview

4
The Uneasy Crown

When George Nedham, the Elizabethan apprentice smelter, wrote of the ‘hurtfull humours’ carried away by steam and smoke from the roastings, dousings and meltings to which the German smelters subjected the ore, he meant only the impurities that were the enemies of copper. But once released into the air the ‘hurtfull humours’, as the inhabitants of Neath would discover, were enemies of more than just copper. The arsenic and sulphur in copper smoke offended the nose, shortened the breath and killed vegetation. At Aberdulais the works were so remote and their operation so intermittent and shortlived that the smoke was never a public nuisance. At Neath Abbey, too, the smoke caused little offence because the valley and the estuarine flats were wide enough for the smoke to mix freely with air and dissipate. Only when Sir Humphrey Mackworth built his smelter on the Melincryddan brook just outside Neath were there difficulties. Winds from the south and south-west carried the smoke over the town and onto the Mackworth estate that rose above it. As we have seen, Sir Humphrey ignored the nuisance but Lady Molly Mackworth, the widow of his grandson, would have none of it. In 1796 she refused to sign a lease of the works in favour of the Mines Royal Company.

The disagreement was the first of many in a century of discord between landowners, farmers and coppermasters. The sovereignty of the latter was never in danger, but there were enough challenges to it to prevent their kingdom from being an entirely peaceable one.1 In Wales the first serious disputes occurred at Swansea where the smoke nuisance was far greater than at Neath. There were more works, and the Tawe valley, being narrower than the valley of the Nedd, concentrated the smoke. The troubles at Swansea surfaced in 1809, a year before the opening of the giant Hafod works, when John Henry Vivian, manager and co-owner of Hafod, received a warning note from the landowner Rowland Prichard:

I hereby give you notice that if you erect any Works at or near to a certain
place heretofore called and known by the name of The Brick Yard, within
the parish of Saint John’s, in the County of Glamorgan, I shall commence
an Action against you for the injury that may be done to my Estate, situated
in the same parish.2

-63-

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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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