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

By Ronald Rees | Go to book overview

6
Copper Smoke and Public Health

King Copper, a mighty old monarch is he,
As he sits in his palace close down by the sea
That is commonly called the Atlantic;
The breath of his nostrils is glowing red,
And he lies all night in a red hot bed,
And with ore and bituminous coal is fed,
Still growling as if he was frantic;
And aye, as they feed him with ore and coke,
His breath goes out as a ponderous smoke,
And the land is all with his mass hid;
From his hundred mouths he breathes this breath,
And certainly somewhere breathes forth death,
For its mostly sulphurous acid;
Yet he has been breathing this breath for long
And so have we, though we know it’s wrong
But nobody ventures (for Copper is strong)
To make an expostulation,
Or else on his head would certainly fall,
The vengeance of King Copper’s myrmidons all,
For meddling with his – might I venture to call?
Diabolical respiration.1

For the Vivians and the Grenfells their legal fees represented money well spent. Their crushing defeats of the Llansamlet farmers guaranteed them, and their fellow smelters, virtual immunity from prosecution. Not for twenty years would a Welsh copper company again be seriously troubled by the courts. But the debate over copper smoke continued, its direction shifting with changes in circumstance and prevailing opinion. At the Carmarthen and Brecon trials, the issue had been damage to property, but in the middle years of the nineteenth century attention shifted from property to people – to the question of public health.

As soon as it became evident that Swansea’s fortunes were tied to copper smelting, attitudes to the smoke changed dramatically. Perceptions are notoriously prey to profit. An intolerable nuisance in 1770 had become, by 1830, a blessing. Prominent townspeople, among them several physicians, leapt to the defence of the smoke. For members of a

-90-

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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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