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

By Ronald Rees | Go to book overview

8
The Cwmafan Disputes

Stac y Foel and the smelters at Cwmafan were also at the heart of the two final disputes in the long conflict over copper smoke. One was a heart-warming David and Goliath contest in the mould of the first Carmarthen trial, and the other a taut legal struggle between two evenly matched heavyweights. The legal battle, as a spokesman for the copper workers put it, matched the heiress of the richest commoner in England against the directors of one of the wealthiest and largest companies in the world. The heiress was the formidable Emily Charlotte Talbot, and the company the giant Rio Tinto.1 To smelt its Spanish ores Rio Tinto, in 1884, bought and extended the disused plant of the English Copper Company in Cwmafan. Adjacent to the works, on the left bank of the Afan, were lands belonging to the Margam estate. In 1893, tenants of the estate farms complained of damage to crops and stock by copper smoke from the Cwmafan works. On clear and blustery days sea winds carried the smoke across Port Talbot and up the Neath valley, but in heavy, wet weather the smoke came down and settled on nearby farms and fields.

Margam estate was the property of Emily Charlotte Talbot, the second child and eldest daughter of Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot, Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan, and owner of both the Margam estate and the Penrice estate in Gower. C. R. M. Talbot’s presumptive heir was his son Theodore, Emily’s senior by a year, but a hunting accident in 1876, which proved fatal, deprived him of his patrimony. When C. R. M. Talbot died in 1890 Emily inherited an estate valued at nearly £6 million, divided fairly evenly between railway investments and property. Rents alone, from 34,000 acres of land, brought in £44,000 annually. At fifty, Emily Charlotte Talbot was one of the richest women in Britain.2

She divided her time between the various Talbot houses: a London house in Cavendish Square, Penrice Castle (a Georgian mansion built by her grandfather) in Gower, and the more recently built Gothic Revival mansion at Margam Park. Margam, with its graceful orangery, flower gardens and rose-covered arched pergola, appears to have been her favourite residence.3 She delighted in the gardens and when in London she arranged for daily deliveries by rail of flowers, fruit and vegetables. She was also much involved in the management of the Margam estate and

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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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