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British Industrial History

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Plymouth Ironworks

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1800. Rails and Wagons, Plymouth or Hill's Tramway.

One of four main ironworks at Merthyr Tydfil; the others being Dowlais, Cyfarthfa and Penydarren.

Plymouth Ironworks

1763 John Guest collaborated with Isaac Wilkinson in starting the Plymouth Ironworks

1766 Anthony Bacon purchased a share in the works from Isaac Wilkinson and John Guest

Needing transport facilities and because the owners of the Cyfarthfa Ironworks dominated the management of the Glamorganshire Canal, the other ironworks, including Plymouth, built the Merthyr Tramroad to bypass the upper sections of the canal.

1786 In his will, Anthony left Thomas Bacon (his son by his mistress) the Plymouth furnace.

1800 The railway known as The Plymouth, or Hill's Tramway as constructed under the Glamorganshire Canal Co's Act - 36 Geo. III., c. 69 - and opened in 1800, to carry coal from the Plymouth colliers and iron from the Penydarran and Dowlais works in the vicinity of Merthyr to the Aberdare Canal at a point near the Abereynon Station of the Taff Vale Railway - formerly known as Aberdare Junction Station - a distance of 9 miles paralell with the canal. This tramway remained in use until the year 1875, and the rails were taken up in 1890. When the World's Columbian Exhibition was held in Chicago in 1893, the Plymouth Company sent ten of the rails and two of the original wagons to it. See figure 1 on the right[1]

1803 As soon as he came of age Thomas sold the works to Richard Hill.

Richard Hill and his son were anxious to improve their business by adding a forge and mills but were very short of capital for such an extension. They obtained an injection of capital from A. Struttle and from Hill's son-in-law, John Nathaniel Miers, to form the Plymouth Forge Company.

1806 Richard Hill died

By 1813 Struttle and Miers had left the business; the three Hill brothers (Richard II, John and Anthony) became partners. They enlarged Plymouth.

In 1815 a fourth furnace was built at Plymouth.

The Plymouth Works relied on water power, long after its use had ended elsewhere. In order to re-use the water, the works expanded by adding 2 other, separate units: the Pentrebach Forge and Dyffryn Furnaces[2].

1819 Erected the first furnace at Dyffryn

c.1824 two additional furnaces and a steam-blowing engine were projected and another water-wheel put up at Pentrebach, called afterwards the Little Mill. When the 8th furnace was built, Mr. Mushet described it as the largest in the world[3].

1824 Plymouth was producing 12,000 tons per annum[4]

1835 Richard's son, Anthony, by then owner of the Plymouth Ironworks, asked Isambard Kingdom Brunel, to estimate the cost of building a railway from Merthyr to Cardiff and to Bute Docks, which became the Taff Vale Railway.

Steam power was finally introduced following the dry summers of 1843 and 1844. This led to a dramatic increase in output.

1862 Richard Fothergill, owner of the Aberdare Ironworks, acquired the whole of the Plymouth Ironworks on the death of Anthony Hill; he converted them from the cold blast system to the hot blast so that these works were serious competition for the great concerns at Dowlais and Cyfarthfa.

1875 As a result of the introduction of the Bessemer process, and owing to coal strikes, Fothergill's companies failed, as did many others[5].

Plymouth Forge Co

1803 Plymouth Forge Company was set up.

1807 When a third furnace was erected at Plymouth, a company was formed under the name of Plymouth Forge Co composed of Mr. R. Hill, senior, Mr. R. Hill, junior, Mr. Myers, and Mr. Strattel. They erected the Pentrebach Works, with the aim of making up to 100 tons a week of bar iron[6].

While the site of the Plymouth Works, the earliest works, lay to the northeast of the area, the Pentrebach Forge and Dyffryn furnaces were located on the west side of the Taff. The remains of the ironworks were the subject of two large reclamation schemes undertaken during 1974.

Pentrebach Forge

By 1919 the sites of the former ironworks had been put to alternative uses: a brickworks occupied the site of the Pentrebach Ironworks.

Dyffryn Furnaces

1819 The Hills erected the first furnace at Dyffryn

1824 Two new furnaces were erected at the Dyffryn Ironworks by Anthony Hill[7].

By 1919 the Dyffryn Furnaces had become the Dyffryn Boiler Works

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1924/07/11
  2. Historic Landscape Characterisation of Merthyr Tydfil[1]
  3. The history of the iron, steel, tinplate and ... other trades of Wales (1903) by Charles Wilkins [2]
  4. The Times, 23 October 1824
  5. The Times, Jun 01, 1875
  6. The history of the iron, steel, tinplate and ... other trades of Wales (1903) by Charles Wilkins [3]
  7. Wikipedia [4]
  • Welsh Biography Online [5]
  • Historic Landscape Characterisation - Merthyr Tydfil [6]