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Edward Williams (1826-1886)

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Edward Williams (1826-1886)

1826 Born in Merthyr Tydfil, son of Taliesin Williams, a schoolmaster, and grandson of Iolo Morganwg, itinerant poet.

c.1842 Started work for Dowlais Iron Co.

1845 Moved to Cardiff to manage the company's shipping operations

1848 Returned to Dowlais

c1853 Married Mary Elizabeth Trick

1855 Appointed forge and mill manager under William Menelaus who had just been appointed general manager

1856 Read report of Henry Bessemer's paper at the British Association at Cheltenham. Immediately tried experiments with blowing air through molten iron. Dowlais took up the process

1856 Birth of son Illtyd Williams

1858 First rails rolled from Bessemer's steel at Dowlais

Introduced use of waste heat from coke ovens in burning bricks ,etc; experimented, with Menelaus, with mechanical puddling.

1864 Moved to London to manage the commercial arm of the company Guest and Co (2)

1865 Edward Williams, Dowlais Iron Works, Merthyr Tydvil.[1]

1865 Appointed general manager Bolckow, Vaughan and Co

By 1867 he had reproduced the Dowlais revolving puddler on an experimental scale. For fettling he mixed with the cinder scale from the shingling hammers and roughing down rolls. These he melted down in a furnace and ran very slowly into the revolving puddler, keeping the outside cool meanwhile by means of a copious stream of water. By this means he obtained a lining 2in. in thickness. He moulded the iron fettling into blocks with which he lined the sides of the ordinary puddling furnaces which was the beginning of the practice of lining furnaces with liquefied fettling, as well as of moulding it into blocks[2]

1869 Helped to found the Iron and Steel Institute and later became its President[3]

1871 With William Menelaus, Sir W. T. Lewis and others acquired the Forest Furnaces at Pontypridd

Subsequently, with others, acquired the Tredegar Iron Works. Both works were remodelled.

c.1876 Resigned from Bolckow and Vaughan. Advised other companies

1879 purchased the Linthorpe Blast Furnaces at Middlesbrough.

Designed the steelworks for Cyfarthfa and supervised the erection and start-up.

1886 June 9th. Died


1887 Obituary [4]

EDWARD WILLIAMS, son of Taliesin Williams, a schoolmaster of Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire, and grandson of another Edward Williams, well known throughout Wales as Iolo Morganwg, was born on the 10th of February, 1826, and died at Cleveland Lodge, Middlesbrough, on the 9th of June, 1886.

Iolo Morganwg was by trade a stonemason, as his father had been before him, but being of a very studious, as well as restless disposition, he spent most of his life wandering over South Wales, and backwards and forwards between there and London - always on foot - publishing poems in English and Welsh ; attending Eisteddfodan ; incurring the hostility of the English Government for his radicalism and his correspondence with the French Revolutionists ; acquiring a variety of languages and other learning, but especially in gleaning every scrap of Welsh tradition and literature.

Taliesin Williams also learned the trade of a mason, and further distinguished himself as an antiquary and bard. In his school - one of the best known of those days in South Wales - was educated his son Edward, along with several others who afterwards achieved distinction. Helping his father from an early age, both in and out of school, he had, as he himself once said, 'but little childhood.' At one time a nomination was offered which would hare taken him to Jesus College, Oxford, and in all probability ended, as he always supposed, in his taking holy orders; but this was not accepted.

He had always felt a strong inclination towards the iron trade of the district, and at the age of sixteen he entered the Dowlais Iron Co’s service, the then general manager of Dowlais, Mr. Thomas Evans, having offered his father to give him 'something to do.' When he went to the office, the General Manager was engaged. He waited hour after hour; at last the General Manager came out and saw the lad he had quite forgotten ; whereupon, taking him into the general office, he called to the head of it : 'Here, Harrison; give this young fellow something to do;' shut the door, and was gone.

So the boy was started; but having once got grip, he never let go. His first introduction to the out-door work came by writing reports for one of the staff who was illiterate.

In the year 1845, being still under twenty years, he was chosen to look after the Company’s shipping-matters at Cardiff. Dowlais had been a rough school, where none but those who had plenty of energy could live ; and Cardiff was by no means a bed of roses.

A small place with rapidly growing shipping, all the labour at the boats was claimed as an hereditary monopoly by a certain class of men, who demanded exorbitant pay, and even then would not do the necessary work : he engaged outsiders, and thereby incurred their hatred. One night, going home to his lodgings (his way was a lonely one by the waterside), he observed, before he was clear of the streets, that some of his enemies were skulking along and dogging his steps. He turned back, and slept that night at a friend‘s lodgings, thereby in all probability saving his life.

After three years in Cardiff, he insisted upon returning to Dowlais, even against the wish of the Company. His father died about this time, 1847, and leaving his family as ill provided for as a student and schoolmaster usually does, left a heavy burden upon his eldest son. Fighting against this, and against endless disappointments of his just hopes at Dowlais, he became at length, in 1S55, forge and mill manager. This was when the general monagership became vacant, and passed to the late William Menelaus, his senior by several years, who had previously been engineer ; but Edward Williams took the second place, and bore thenceforward no small part with his friend in the management and development of the works. He was thoroughly master of every detail of wrought-iron making as then understood, and even in later years would take the tongs and show an obstinate workman exactly how a rail should be rolled ; but at the same time he was ready for new ideas, and often carried out experiments upon his own initiative and authority.

One evening in 1856, reading, as he always did, The Times, he found that a Mr. Bessemer, in a Paper before the British Association, at Cheltenham, had declared that by blowing cold air into molten iron, it was possible, without any fuel, to make it hotter and produce steel. Forthwith he put up a little furnace, expecting to prove the falseness of this. To his surprise, the iron really became hotter, instead of growing solid. He had no notion when to stop blowing; but when at length, the stuff was rolled into a bar, with wonderful readiness to seize a great result, he turned to a leading hand beside him and said : 'Tom, puddling’s done!' - all this within some three or four days of the reading of the Paper. The bar, however, when cold proved as brittle as earthenware, and piling and annealing, &C., &C., made it no better. Dowlais took up the Bessemer process, and Edward Williams worked hard to bring it to a practical result.

After Sir Henry Bessemer, he was the first who made Bessemer steel; and, in 1858, he rolled at Dowlais, from ingots supplied by the inventor, the first rails ever made of that material. Only a few weeks before his death, his efforts in this direction were recognized by the presentation to him of the Iron and Steel Institute’s Bessemer Medal for 1886.

In 1864 he left Dowlais. From practical iron-making he went to manage the commercial part of the firm’s busincss, as head of their London house of Guest and Co. In this new line, his ability and success were as conspicuous as they had always been in the old ; but in little more than twelve months he accepted the post of General Manager to the new limited company which had just taken over the vast concerns of Bolckow and Vaughan. Henceforward he lived in Middlesbrough.

He was now thirty-nine years old, and had from the first perhaps nine thousand men under him, with charge of collieries, mines, blast-furnaces, mills, &C., and not only were the various undertakings of the company remodelled and modernized by him, but they constantly grew. New mines, new collieries, new furnaces; a Bessemer steelworks at Gorton, near Manchester, were among the additions, and just as he was about to commence, in lieu of the last, a steelworks at Eston, he resigned his position. The ten years and a half of his management began with the commercial gloom of 1866, but they were wonderful years of prosperity for the whole trade, and scarcely for any firm so much as for Bolckow, Vaughan and Co. He controlled its widespread concerns with as much success as he had achieved in a narrower sphere. One of his first tasks was to fight the terrible twenty weeks' strike, and lock-out of 1866, but there never was another of anything like so great moment in his time.

He was an incomparable manager of men; they found him stern and hot tempered, but always just, kind-hearted and merciful.

Mr. Williams, in the year 1871, with the late Mr. Menelaus, Sir W. T. Lewis and others, purchased the Forest Furnaces at Pontypridd, and subsequently, in connection with other influential persons connected with the iron and steel trades, acquired the Tredegar Iron Works, both of which establishments were entirely remodelled and successfully carried on for iron- and steel-making.

From the beginning of 1876, he acted as adviser to many undertakings, and in the year 1879 purchased the Linthorpe Blast Furnaces at Middlesbrough, which he carried on with great energy up to the time of his death.

He had been the first to use waste heat from coke ovens in burning bricks, &c. ; he had experimented considerably with Mr. Menelaus in mechanical puddling, and under his supervision the early machines of Tooth, Walker, and others were thoroughly tested at Dowlais, whilst later he was one of the Committee appointed by the Iron and Steel Institute to investigate the whole subject.

He was one of the earliest advocates in this country of taking the molten iron from the blast-furnace to the converter. His last great work was designing the Cyfarthfa Steelworks, and superintending their erection and starting. The old Cyfarthfa wrought-iron works were admittedly unsurpassed in their day, and it is believed the same may now be said - not in respect of size, but so far as convenience of arrangement and excellence of plant are concerned - of the steelworks which occupy their site. In spite of sadly-failing health he stuck to this task, and saw it completed and put to the test of a year’s working. Others would have given up under a small part of the physical suffering which he unfortunately disregarded.

As a young man he was Secretary to the South Wales Institution of Engineers, of which, indeed, he was one of the founders. In 1881, he renewed his more intimate connection with that Society on being elected its President for the twenty-fifth year of its existence. None were more prominent than he among those who in 1869 organized the Iron and Steel Institute. He was from the first a Member of the Council, and succeeded the late Sir William Siemens as President in 1879-81. He was elected a Member of this Institution on the 19th of May, 1868, and was connected with many other technical and scientific societies. His Papers 'On the Manufacture of Rails,' read before the Iron and Steel Institute at Middlesbrough, when it held its first provincial meeting in 1870, on the Progress of Iron and Steel Making from 1869-79, when he first sat as President of the same society, and his inaugural address as President of the South Wales Institution of Engineers, all contain matter very valuable at the time and likely to remain so in the literature of iron and steel.

He several times acted as arbitrator in wages disputes, and had always a generous sympathy with the aspirations of the labouring classes. Nothing irritated him more than to hear them decried ‘by a fellow who looked as if he had just come out of a bandbox.'

His energy and interest were by no means confined to his business. He inherited a large part of the family inclination to literature, and was a most admirable public speaker. He took an active part in municipal affairs and in politics.

His quick temper occasionally led him into saying and doing things none regretted more than he did himself. His sense of justice was so keen, that on the spur of the moment he may have given utterance to words that sometimes vexed, but he never lost a friend and never made an enemy. His quiet unostentatious but real charity was great, and under his apparent roughness he hid B most tender, loving heart. His good sound advice to young people commencing their career, was often accompanied by liberal assistance of another kind, and his loss was deeply deplored by all who knew him


1886 Obituary [5]

EDWARD WILLIAMS was born at Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire, on 10th February 1826, being the son of Mr. Taliesin Williams of that town, and grandson of Edward Williams — Iolo Morganwg - the celebrated Welsh antiquarian and poet.

He received his education in his father's school, and was for some time an assistant there.

In 1842 he entered the service of the Dowlais Iron Company, and after filling various positions at Dowlais and Cardiff became the manager of their extensive forges and mills. When Sir Henry — then Mr. Bessemer — read his paper before the British Association at Cheltenham in 1856, Mr. Williams seeing the report in the Times built within three or four days an experimental furnace for trying the process at Dowlais, which resulted in such success that the metal produced was rolled into a bar, of which a portion is now preserved in the office of the Iron and Steel Institute. He also rolled, and with his own hands stamped, the first Bessemer steel rails ever manufactured.

In 1864 he left Dowlais to manage the house of Messrs. Guest and Co. in London; and in the succeeding year be accepted the position of general manager of the new firm of Messrs. Bolckow Vaughan and Co., Middlesbrough, with whom he remained for ten and a half years; their great prosperity during that period is the best evidence of the energy and skill with which he conducted their affairs. He almost entirely remodeled their various works, pulling down the small old-fashioned blast-furnaces, and erecting in their stead the tall and more economical ones now generally in use. He also for the first time made use of the waste heat from the coke ovens for raising steam and drying bricks on the flats at Byers Green Colliery.

In 1875 he entered into business as an adviser in matters relating to iron and steel works, and acted as consulting manager to the Rosedale and Ferryhill Company and to the West Cumberland Iron and Steel Company.

In 1879 he purchased the Linthorpe Iron Works, Middlesbrough, which he carried on until his death. He designed and superintended the erection of the new steel works at Cyfarthfa for Messrs. Crawshay Brothers (see Proceedings 1884 page 380); in arrangement and suitability for economical working these works are believed to be as good as any in this or any other country. To questions of economy in the working of iron and steel he always gave great attention, and was one of the first to advocate taking iron in a fluid state from the blast-furnaces to the Bessemer converters.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1861, and was an original member of the Iron and Steel Institute, having been chairman of the meeting held at Newcastle-on-Tyne for the purpose of establishing the Institute, of which he was a member of council from the first, and President from 1879 to 1881; and at the meeting in London this year the Bessemer gold medal was presented to him in recognition of his valuable services to the iron and steel trades. He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a founder and Past-President of the South Wales Institute of Engineers.

His death took place at his residence, Cleveland Lodge, Middlesbrough, on 9th June 1886, at the age of sixty, after an illness extending over many months.


1886 Obituary [6]

MR. EDWARD WILLIAMS. At page 33, ante, the presentation by the Council of the Iron and Steel Institute of the Bessemer medal to one of its most distinguished members — Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS of Middlesbrough - in recognition of his eminent services to the iron and steel trades, is recorded; and now the sad duty devolves upon us of chronicling his death, which took place at his residence, Cleveland Lodge, Middlesbrough, on the 9th of June last. By his decease, the Iron and Steel Institute has lost one of its most zealous supporters. An original member, the chairman of the meeting held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to establish the Institute, a member of the Council from the first, a member of the Puddling Committee appointed to investigate the subject of Mechanical Puddling, and a past President - Mr. Williams was well known to many of the members of the Institute, and his presence will be much missed at the meetings, at which he always took an active part.

The son of Mr. Taliesin Williams, a schoolmaster and author, of Merthyr Tydfil (himself a son of Edward Williams, better known as Iolo Morganwg of Welsh literature), Mr. Edward Williams was born in that town on February 10, 1826, and had, therefore, only completed his sixtieth year when he was taken from a life of usefulness and activity, not only in the trade with which he is so strongly identified, but in the town of Middlesbrough, where he passed the last twenty years of his life, and where, he occupied a very prominent place, which will not be easily filled.

Mr. Williams was educated at his father's school, and in 184.1 entered the service of the Dowlais Iron Company, in which he continued until 1864, rising during that period to the position of second in command of the works, to whose prosperity, as has been recently testified by Mr. G. T. Clark, he so greatly contributed, bringing, as Mr. Clark stated when the Institute held its meeting in Wales, "their mills and forges to a state of perfection never before attained."

It was during the period of his service with the Dowlais Company in 1856 that Mr. Williams was attracted by the paper read by Sir Henry Bessemer (then Mr. Bessemer) at Cheltenham before the British Association, which was reported in the Times on the day following its reading (Wednesday). He was struck by the novel proposal, and, with the energy which always characterised him, resolved to try whether it was a great fact• or a great fallacy. He built a small fixed converter, and on the following Saturday rolled a bar of iron—the first ever rolled from the Bessemer process. A portion of this bar was exhibited by Sir Henry Bessemer at the Inventions Exhibition in 1885, and is now preserved at the offices of the Institute, with other specimens presented by Sir Henry.

After the Dowlais Iron Company took out a license to work the new process, Mr. Williams devoted much time and energy to making it a success, but owing chiefly to the want of knowledge of the effect of phosphorus in iron and steel, which was then general, the experiments were eventually abandoned. Mr. Williams, however, rolled, from blooms sent to Dowlais by Sir Henry Bessemer, the first steel rails ever made, and he never ceased to be much interested in, and a strong upholder of, the Bessemer process.

In 1864, Mr. Williams left Dowlais to manage the house of Guest & Company, in London; but in 1865 he was offered, and accepted, the position of general manager to the new firm of Bolckow, Vaughan & Co., Limited. For this position his energy and determination, and his thorough and practical knowledge of his business, eminently fitted him; he held it for ten and a half years, during which time the firm prospered greatly, and extended its operations widely. While with Bolckow, Vaughan & Co., Mr. Williams established the Gorton Steelworks, near Manchester, and he was busily engaged with the Eston Steelworks when he severed his connection with the company. He then entered into business as an ironmaster on his own account, becoming the proprietor of the Linthorpe Ironworks at Middlesbrough.

Mr. Williams designed and established for Messrs. Crawshay Brothers the new Bessemer steelworks at Cyfarthfa, which are considered, in point of arrangement and suitability for economical working, equal to the best in this or any country, and are among the most recently erected in the kingdom.

It is needless to say much here of Mr. Williams' connection with the Iron and Steel Institute. He was always deeply interested in its welfare, and anxious that it should carry out the purpose for which it was established, so as to be an active and useful means of assistance to those engaged in metallurgical industries. In 1857, along with some other leading Welsh ironmasters, Mr. Williams was a founder of the South Wales Institute of Engineers, an active and prosperous undertaking. He was also an active worker in all kinds of trade organisations. He was President of the North of England Ironmasters' Association in 1868, and again in 1884-85. He was also President of the Iron Manufacturers' Association, and took a great interest in the Board of Arbitration for the Manufactured Iron Trade of the North of England from the date of its formation in 1869. He was one of the masters' representatives on the Standing Committee of the Board almost from its foundation, and he sat as arbitrator, along with Mr. A. J. Mundella, in the wages dispute that occurred in 1876, and again in 1878. Mr. Williams bore a high reputation for his knowledge of ironworks' engineering, and was consulting engineer to several companies.

As a business man the deceased was regarded as most upright and straightforward, and all who came into intimate contact with him bear testimony to his sterling worth.

Mr. Williams had many friends among the members of the Iron and Steel Institute, and his death, at an age when he might have looked forward to years of the work in which he was so deeply interested, will be widely deplored. As one of the best practical ironmasters (as Sir H. Bessemer called him at a recent meeting), he leaves a vacant place at the Council which will not be easily filled, and as a man pre-eminently genial, having an excellent heart, and ready to do a kindness to everybody, he will be sincerely regretted by all who knew him.

In Middlesbrough, the town of his adoption, Mr. Williams is deeply mourned, both for his practical benevolence, and for his interest in all matters relating to the prosperity of the town and his fellow-citizens.


1886 Obituary[7]

"The Late Mr. Edward Williams, of Middlesbrough.—On Saturday the remains of Mr. Edward Williams, of Cleveland Lodge, Middlesbrough, who died in his sixty-first year on the 9th inst., were interred at Marton in the same graveyard where lie the bodies of Mr. Bolckow and Mr. Vaughan, the pioneers of the Cleveland iron trade. Mr. Williams was a native of Merthyr Tydvil and spent his early years in the famous Dowlais Works, which he afterwards represented in London. In 1864 Messrs. Bolckow and Vaughan converted their firm into a limited liability company, and shortly afterwards Mr. Williams was appointed general manager of the vast concern, which included ironstone mines, collieries, blast furnaces, quarries, iron works, and steamers, with a capital of over three millions. For many years the deceased gentleman successfully conducted the affairs of Bolckow, Vaughan, and Co., at Middlesbrough, Eston, and Witton Park, and a few years ago he himself became an ironmaster by purchasing the Linthorpe Iron Works at Middlesbrough. One of the founders of the Iron and Steel Institute, he was afterwards president, and only last month he was the recipient of the Bessemer medal. He was a member of the Corporation of the town of his adoption, and had the honour of bding mayor and a borough magistrate. He had a seat on nearly all the public boards, and took a very great interest in municipal affairs. As might be expected his funeral was largely attended, all the public bodies with which he was connected being represented."


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • Obituary of Edward Williams [1].