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George Thomas Clark

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George Thomas Clark (1809-1898) of Dowlais Ironworks and president of the British Iron Trade Association

Worked under Isambard Kingdom Brunel


1898 Obituary [1]

GEORGE THOMAS CLARK, whose death occurred at his residence, Talygarn, Glamorgan, on January 31, 1898, in his 89th year, was for many years intimately associated with the iron and coal industries of South Wales.

His connection with Dowlais dated from the death of Sir John Guest in 1852, who had appointed him one of his trustees and executors. Shortly after this he became resident trustee, with unusually large powers under Sir John's will, and devoted all his energies to the development of the estate. The best proofs of his success were the steady growth of the Dowlais Ironworks; the joint acquisition, with Consett and Krupp, of large and rich deposits of iron ore at Bilbao, in Spain; the establishment of blast-furnaces and rolling mills at Cardiff; and above all, the uninterrupted prosperity of the concern.

He was a magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant for Glamorgan, and High Sheriff in 1867. He was a strong supporter of the Volunteer movement in Wales, and was Colonel of the 2nd Battalion of the Glamorgan Rifles. He was a prominent member of the Society of Antiquaries, and author of several works on antiquarian subjects.

He was elected a Trustee of the Iron and Steel Institute's invested funds in 1880. A portrait of Mr. Clark has been presented to the Institute by Mr. E. P. Martin, President.


Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement

CLARK, GEORGE THOMAS (1809–1898), engineer and arcaeologist, was eldest son of George Clark (1777-1848), chaplain to the royal military asylum, Chelsea, by Clara, only surviving daughter of Thomas Dicey of Claybrook Hall, Leicestershire. Samuel Clarke, D.D. (1684–1757), was his great-grandfather.

George Thomas was born in London on 26 May 1809, and was educated at the Charterhouse.

Adopting engineering as a profession, he was entrusted by Brunel with the construction of two divisions of the Great Western Railway; the Paddington terminus and the bridges at Basildon and Moulsford being his principal works (cf. Sekon, Hist. of G.W.R. p.38). While thus engaged he compiled 'A Guide-book to the Great Western Railway, containing some Account of the Construction of the Line, with Notices of the Objects best worth Attention upon its Course' (London, 1839). This, the first guide to the line, was published officially without his name, and dedicated to Brunei. A more detailed account, which he subsequently wrote, of the geology and archaeology of the country traversed by the railway, was published, with numerous illustrations, as 'The History and Description of the Great Western Railway' (London, 1846, fol.); but the only name attached to it was that of the artist, John C. Bourne.

About 1843 Clark went to India, where he was employed by the government to report on the sewerage of the native town at Bombay, and afterwards upon the extension of the salt works of the district. Here he advocated the construction of the first railway in India, that from Bombay to Tannah, afterwards merged in the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, for the promoters of which he also reported on the feasibility of an extension through one of the mountain passes of the Sahyadri or Western Ghauts.

On account of the climate he declined an offer of the chief engineership of the new line and returned to England.

In consequence of an article on sanitary reform which he contributed to the 'Westminster Review,' he was appointed a superintending inspector under the Public Health Act, 1848, and reported on the sanitary condition of a large number of towns and districts, in many of which local boards were formed through his instrumentality (see his numerous Reports to the board published in 1849-51). His success as an inspector was recognised by his promotion to be one of the three commissioners which then constituted the general board of health.

Towards the close of 1852 Clark, however, became trustee of the Dowlais estate and ironworks, under the will of Sir Josiah John Guest. For some time previously the works had been carried on at a loss; but having procured the necessary capital and induced Henry Austin Bruce (afterwards Lord Aberdare) to share with him the responsibility of the trusteeship, Clark took up his residence at Dowlais and devoted all his energies to the development of the works and the redemption of the estate. As Bruce devoted himself to politics, the whole responsibility of management devolved on Clark alone, whose rare capacity for administration was displayed no less by his rapid mastery of a complicated situation than by his wise selection of heads of departments, chief among whom was his manager, William Menelaus.

To Clark and Menelaus belongs the credit of being the first ironmasters to assist (Sir) Henry Bessemer to perfect his process for making malleable iron direct from the ore. The inventor was invited to Dowlais to conduct experiments, with the result that the first rail ever rolled without the intervention of the puddling process was produced at Dowlais. The prompt adoption of Mushet's further invention enabled Dowlais to be first in the field in the production of steel rails, and to enjoy for some time the monopoly of that trade in Wales. The consequent expansion of the industry, and the difficulty of procuring an adequate supply of suitable ores at home, led Clark, in conjunction with the Consett Iron Company and Messrs. Krupp of Essen, to acquire an extensive tract of iron-ore deposits near Bilbao in Spain. To render the works independent of the vicissitudes of the coal trade he also purchased large coal areas, undeveloped for the most part, in Glamorganshire. To save the inland transport he finally procured the establishment, in 1888-91, of furnaces and mills in connection with Dowlais, on the seaboard at Cardiff.

He was induced by Lord Wimborne to continue his administration of the Dowlais undertakings down to the end of March 1897, though his trusteeship had expired more than twenty years previously. Under his regime Dowlais became in effect a great training school which supplied to similar undertakings elsewhere a much larger number of managers and leading men than any other iron or steel works in the country.

On the formation of the British Iron Trade Association in 1876, Clark was elected its first president, and his 'Inaugural Address' (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) attracted much attention, provoking considerable controversy in the United States by reason of its trenchant exposure of protection. Few employers of labour have ever studied the social well-being of their workers so earnestly as Clark. At his own expense he provided a hospital for the Dowlais workmen, while the Dowlais schools, the largest in the kingdom, owed their success almost entirely to his direction. He was an early supporter of the volunteer movement, and himself raised a battalion in the Dowlais district. He was chairman of every local authority in the place, and his manifold services in the work of local government are commemorated by a marble bust, the work of Joseph Edwards, placed in the board-room of the Merthyr poor-law guardians. He was sheriff of Glamorganshire in 1868.

Clark's reputation, however, mainly rests on his archaeological work, and, to a lesser extent, on his historical research, though these were but the relaxations of an otherwise busy life. For quite half a century he was recognised as the highest authority on all medaeval fortifications, and was the first to give a clear insight into the military and historical importance of the earthworks of this country, and especially to show the use made of the mound - 'the hill of the burh' - in Norman times (Hartshorne).

Before going to India he took a prominent part in the movement which brought about the foundation in 1843 of the Arcaeological Association (now the Royal Arcaeological Institute), and, after his return, was constantly associated with its work for the rest of his life contributing papers to its journal, attending its annual meetings, and acquiring a unique reputation as a field-lecturer, inasmuch as the castles visited were 'called up to their first life by his massive vigour' (Freeman, English Towns and Districts, p. 5). He was also one of three trustees of the Cambrian Archæological Association. Commencing with an account of Caerphilly Castle as early as 1834, he contributed to the 'Transactions' of various societies, and to the 'Builder,' a large number of articles dealing with his favourite subject. (For his communications to the Archæologia Cambrensis, beginning in 1850, see the ' Index ' to the first four series, 1892.) In 1884 these were collected in his 'Mediæval Military Architecture in England ' (London, 2 vols. 8vo) a work which is not likely to be superseded, though its information may be supplemented with minor additions of detail.

Next to his purely archaeological attainments should probably be ranked his knowledge of heraldry and genealogy. He wrote the article on heraldry for the 'Encyclopædia Britannica,' while his privately printed pedigree of the Babington family has been described as 'perhaps unsurpassed for its dimensions and grandeur of type.'

His other works were for the most part elaborate contributions towards the history of his adopted county of Glamorgan, the following being the more important among them: 1. 'Thirteen Views of the Castle of St. Donat's, with a Notice of the Stradling Family,' Shrewsbury, 1871. 2. 'Some Account of Robert Mansel and pf Admiral Sir Thomas Button,' Dowlais, 1883. 3. 'The Land of Morgan, being a Contribution towards the History of the Lordship of Glamorgan,' London, 1883, 8vo. 4. 'Limbus Patrum Morganiae et Glamorganiæ. Being the Genealogies of the Older Families of the Lordships of Morgan and Glamorgan,' London, 1886, 8vo. Most of these pedigrees had been published 'nearly a quarter of a century' previously in the 'Merthyr Guardian.' 5. 'Cartæ et Alia Munimenta quæ ad Dominium de Glamorgan pertinent.' Sumptuously printed, for private circulation only, this great collection of Glamorgan charters extends to 2,300 quarto pages, making four volumes, of which the first was issued in 1885 from a private press at Dowlais, and the other three (in 1890-1-3) from Cardiff. Clark also edited some devotional works by his father and his ancestor, Samuel Clarke (1599-1682) [q. v.], and wrote numerous articles on the history and antiquities of Glamorgan.

Clark died on 31 Jan. 1898 at Tal-y-garn, near Llantrisant, where he had resided during his later years, and was buried there at St. Ann's Church, which he had built to the memory of his wife, Ann Price, second daughter of Henry Lewis of Greenmeadow, near Cardiff, and coheiress of Wyndham Lewis. She was married to Clark on 3 April 1850, and died on 6 April 1885, leaving a son (Godfrey Lewis Clark) and a daughter


1898 Obituary [2]

"...death of Mr. G. T. Clark, for many years with the late Lord Aberdare, resident trustee of the Dowlais Works. Mr. Clark, who was a personal friend of Sir John I. Guest, come upon the scene at an opportune moment, when the iron industry was giving place to steel, and it was by the free hand he gave Mr. Menelaus, and the vigour of his financial administration, that the works rallied from the depressing influences under which so many in Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire succumb, and, taking fresh life, have attained their present great proportions. He may be stated to have presided at the initiation of the Bessemer Process, ..."More




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