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

By Ronald Rees | Go to book overview

5
The Great Copper Trials

John Henry Vivian’s reasonable expectation that his efforts to suppress the smoke would moderate public demands, and mollify neighbouring farmers and landowners, proved vain. At the very time he was heightening stacks and extending flues at the Hafod works, farmers a few miles up the valley were organizing a legal campaign against him and his fellow coppermasters. By failing to absorb the sulphurous acid gas, long flues and shower chambers had produced no appreciable diminution in the toxicity of the smoke. Nor, too, had there been any noticeable reduction in the amount of smoke drifting up the valley. Ignoring Vivian’s example, and the exhortations of Davies Gilbert, William Grove and the Committee to the Fund for Obviating the Smoke, neighbouring smelters had not lengthened their flues, heightened their stacks or installed shower chambers. Surrounding Hafod were hundreds of low stacks and chimneys, each one sending a spiral of smoke into the great white cloud that hung like a mantle over the Tawe. On clear days, when high-level temperature inversions capped the smoke and prevented it from dispersing, the cloud could be seen from distances of twenty and thirty miles.

Vivian’s prediction, too, that smoke issuing from tall stacks would clear the sides of the valley and dissipate harmlessly in the upper atmosphere had been optimistic. He had failed to allow for the weight of sulphurous acid gas and the unusual configuration of the lower Tawe valley. Deep and narrow in the neighbourhood of the Hafod works, the valley trapped the smoke and, with the help of the prevailing westerlies, channelled it upstream. When the smoke eventually came to ground, a few miles above Hafod, local farmers claimed that it affected a larger area than it might otherwise have done because of its longer passage through the air.

Unmoved by the Vivians’ appeal for restraint, a group of farmers from Llansamlet, a village in the Tawe valley about four miles above Swansea, demanded compensation for injuries to land, crops and stock from Hafod itself and from each of the other copper works downwind of the village. In a letter to the Cambrian their solicitor, William Meyrick, pointed out that the farmers expected only ‘reasonable compensation’ but in all cases their requests had been rejected, or simply ignored.1 To retaliate, the

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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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