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British Industrial History

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Old Castle Iron and Tin Plate Co

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1876.
1882.
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of Castell Works, Llanelly, Carmarthenshire, Wales.

1866 The Machynys Iron and Tinplate Company was incorporated on 13 February, for the purposes of establishing a works on a site at Machynys near the New Dock. The company considered various proposals before abandoning their plans for their works at Machynys.

1866 The Old Castle company published a prospectus in which it stated it was proposed to erect a tinplate manufactory, on two acres of land, which formed part of Machynys, near New Dock. The new works would include forges, mills and a tinhouse with the necessary steam power, and every appliance to make 700 boxes of tinplate per week. It was proposed to complete the necessary works in 9-10 months at an estimated cost of £9,000.

On the basis of the report the shareholders decided to build the new works on the Old Castle site. It was stated that the original Machynys site had been rejected because the water supply was not of sufficient quality for the production of tinplate.

Because it was difficult to raise capital locally, most of the other established industries relied heavily on English investors who were mainly metal merchants and industrialists. The Old Castle Co was the exception and the first to be financed locally.

Early in 1866, the company leased land at the Old Castle site from the Stradey Estate at a low annual rental of £20 per acre. The contract for the buildings was signed on 2 June, and the builders undertook to complete the works within 4 months and to pay £2 per day for every extra day taken. Richard Jones built the works at a cost of £1,384 15s 3d. This comprised the Mill building; Annealing house; Cold rolls department; Tin house; Assorting room; Warehouse; Stores and Offices. Thomas Thomas, builder of Cross Inn, carried out the carpentry work and roofing at a cost of £1,424.9s. 8d. and Richard Nevill’s Foundry supplied the machinery.

Because the site at Machynys had been rejected, the name of the company was changed on 27 August 1866, to The Old Castle Iron and Tinplate Company. This name was chosen because the works were established near the site of Carnwyllion Castle, thought to have been destroyed by Rhys Grug in 1215.

1867 During the first quarter, the management sought to perfect the tinplate manufacturing process and establish profitable business connections. The original shareholders were drawn from a wide section of the industrial community.

The Old Castle Works started full-scale production in the third week of April 1867 when 504 boxes of tinplate were made. One box contained 112 sheets which measured 20" x 14" and weighed 108lbs. The company then appointed selling agents in Liverpool, London, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle. These agents with their expertise and knowledge of the markets and commercial trends provided a valuable service and allowed the manufacturers to concentrate on tinplate production.

During the early years, the proprietors kept tight control of the administration of the new works. This was achieved by selling the shares through the secretary Joseph Maybery (junior) who was in the best position to assess their current value. The company resembled the old style partnership rather than the modern limited liability company because ownership and control were not separate. The largest individual holdings in the company were held by directors and it was common practise for the company to offer both old and new issue shares to existing members first, which enabled the directors to consolidate their control.

During the years from 1867-70 the company made an average profit of £1,660 per year.

1868 Until July, the directors met twice a week and after that they held weekly meetings. In this way they knew everything that was going on in the works. The secretary kept strict control over all the correspondence and all cheques and bills had to be signed by three directors. A sub-committee was appointed to arrange and oversee a system of accounts and three directors were instructed to meet at the works to pay the wages. In this way ownership, management and financial control were closely linked.

1870s Joseph Maybery (junior) who had been secretary of the works from 1866, succeeded David Davies as manager. Maybery was the son of Joseph Maybery (senior), former manager of Richard Nevill’s Wern Foundry, Ann Street, who had been trained as an iron maker at Alnwick.

The quality of tinplate produced in the works generally depended on the skill of the workmen and recruiting an efficient labour force was very important when there was a shortage of skilled labour. Experienced mill and tinhouse superintendents were always in demand not only because they had their own particular skills but they could also encourage other skilled men to follow them.

1870 A forge was supplied and installed by Wern Foundry for £2,000, which included a forge engine costing £925 and a 2-ton hammer costing £500. This equipment had been originally ordered in 1866, but the directors had thought it prudent financial management to delay installation.

1871 The cold rolls situated between the annealing department and the tinhouse were removed and a mill erected in their place. They then had four mills with an engine to work each mill separately, also six pairs of cold rolls and room for another pair should they be required. The new mill came into operation in October, and with demand for tinplate increasing the company was able to increase output from 50,709 boxes in 1871 to 63,329 boxes in 1873. Other additions were made and because of the small initial outlay construction costs were spread over a number of years.

1873 Before the early 1870s there was little sign of active trade-unionism in the Llanelli area, but by 1873, the Independent Association of Tinplate Makers had been formed by workmen from both east and west Wales.

1874 In February, the new union presented the masters with a demand for new wage rates which resulted in the great conflict of the ‘Lock-Out of 1874’. After long protracted discussions the masters gave the workers one month’s notice of lock-out. All the Llanelli works were closed by the beginning of May; the Old Castle closing on April 2. A 20-week struggle ended in complete victory for the masters, with the men returning to work at the old rates of pay. The Old Castle was the last works in Llanelli to re-open on 13 July.

1875 As a result the employers decided to introduce a uniform list of wages which became known as the ‘1874’ list. The list came into force on January 4 1875, and remained the basis of the tinplate wages until the closure of the pack-mills.

1887 The Old Castle Works were extended when another mill was added.

1888 A further 4 extensions were carried out to Old Castle Works making it an 11 mill works. Around this time a reservoir (Pond Twym) was created for the Old Castle Works within the bounds of the former meander of the River Lliedi.

1896 Old Castle Works converted one of their tinplate mills to produce the cheaper alternative of blackplate and sheet.

1897 Old Castle Works made its own iron until the introduction of steel production when it was one of three companies, which contributed financially to the construction of the Llanelly Steel Works.

The Railway network underwent a period of great expansion, and three local companies, the Western, Old Castle, and Briton Ferry Steel, formed the Llanelly Steel Co to ensure regular, relatively cheap supplies, of bar.

1898 The end of the century saw other tinplate works come under the hammer and Llanelli’s future as a tinplate centre was described as being in the hands of Richard Thomas and Co and the Old Castle Company.

1907 Between 1907 and 1912 the Old Castle Works Company built 7 mills.

1914 Tinplate manufacturers. Specialities: tin plates, black plates and terne plates. [1]

1914-18 During the war years when supplies of raw materials, shipping and transport were restricted, the Mills were forced to operate at half capacity and a shortage of coal encouraged Old Castle to invest in the coal industry.

1923 Production had increased to about 1,000,000 boxes a year and the main brand was "Castell" Coke.

1923 The South Wales Tinplate Corporation was registered - which represented a selling organisation for: [2]

  • a) Richard Thomas and Co (who own six works in Carmarthenshire);
  • b) Kidwelly Tinplate Co;
  • c) Ashburnham Tinplate Co, Burry Port;
  • d) The Old Castle Iron and Tin Plate Co, Llanelly;
  • e) The Western Tinplate Works, Llanelly.

1931 The last four works above resigned from the Corporation.

1937 British Industries Fair Advert for Welsh Tinplate Works. Tinplate and Blackplate. (Engineering/Metals/Quarry, Roads and Mining/Transport Section - Stand No. D.328)

1939 The Llanelly Associated Tinplate Companies Limited were formed and comprised[3]:

This amalgamation saw the end of the independent tinplate manufacturer in Llanelli. The only Tinplate Works that did not belong to either Richard Thomas and Company or Llanelly Associated Tinplate Companies Limited, were the small Pemberton and Old Lodge Works.

Llanelli remained an important Tinplate centre, but Ebbw Vale with its new Strip Mill was beginning to emerge as a rival.

1953 The Western Works, the Old Castle Extension and the Richard Thomas Mills, all closed.

1957 Old Castle Works, which at one time was the largest independent tinplate works in South Wales, closed. A local newspaper reported on 13 April: The Old Castle Tinplate Works of the Steel Company of Wales are to close at the end of June. The decision to close and declare redundant the works was announced yesterday by the Steel Company of Wales. The decision arises from the Company’s continued difficulty in disposing of the product of the old-type works in competition with modern cold-reduced tinplate. The total number of employees involved at the Old Castle is 440, of whom 50 are Italians and 70 are women. The works were built on the site of an old British fortification in 1867. It derived the name Old Castle from the fortification – Hen Gastell. For 20 years or more it made its own iron.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  2. [1] A History of Carmarthenshire
  3. The Times, Apr 12, 1939