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British Industrial History

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Vivian and Sons

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Preservation, or demolition by neglect? Within the LH building is a Musgrave steam engine which drove a rolling mill
Rust in peace. Within the cage is the secondary flywheel which was rope-driven by the Musgrave engine, reversing mechanism, rolling mill stands

Vivian and Sons of Hafod Copper Works, Swansea

1809/10 John Vivian, a Cornish mine owner, established his own smelting works at Hafod, north of Swansea, going into partnership with his sons Richard Hussey Vivian and John Henry Vivian. Vivian and Sons soon established itself as a major manufacturer of copper.

By 1811 John Vivian had returned to Cornwall; John Henry managed the Hafod works.

By 1820 it was the second largest producer of copper in Britain, accounting for about 17 per cent of national output.

1835 Diversified into zinc smelting and shipping

1838 Acquired the Margam Copper Works from the English Copper Co.

1841 Started the Morriston spelter works to make zinc.

1842 Vivian and Sons began to manufacture Yellow Metal, an alloy of copper and zinc (see Muntz's metal).

Henry Hussey Vivian, John Vivian's grandson, introduced zinc-smelting at Morriston Works (Swansea), which had originally dealt with copper. He brought the trade and workmen from Germany[1].

The company (largely due to the influence on the business of Henry Hussey Vivian) diversified by producing gold and silver from ores, smelting nickel and cobalt, and manufacturing alkalis and superphosphates[2].

1855 Following the death of J. H. Vivian, Henry Hussey Vivian assumed most of the responsibility for policy decisions.

1855 Vivians also established a separate firm for nickel and cobalt production at Hafod Isha[3].

By the 1870s the company's capital was over £1 million.

From c.1870 the White Rock Copper Works were operated by Williams, Foster and Co and Vivian and Sons

1874 Vivian and Sons operated the White Rock Copper Works

1877 Built one locomotive (0-4-0ST) for their Pentre Colliery.

1901 Listed as Iron founders. [4]

1910 A uniflow steam engine by John Musgrave and Sons of Bolton was installed with rope drive to an external series of rolling mills. These were used to manufacture copper bar and plate. The engine house has been scheduled as an ancient monument (see photo); the engine retains its cylinder and piston, valve gear, crank, drive shaft and flywheel. It is one of very few steam engines which survive in situ in Wales and the only uniflow type of Musgrave example. The rope drive is believed now to be unique in Wales. The bar and plate rolls form a two-high line with pits beneath. [5]. One of the rolling mill stands bears the name Taylor and Farley. George Watkins photographed the 1910 Musgrave uniflow engine in 1959, when it was maintained in immaculate condition. He wrote that the system was unique for a reversing mill, in that the engine was non-reversing, but a steam-operated reversing clutch was provided. When heavy plates of Admiralty bronze were being rolled, chiefly for condenser tubeplates, skilful operation of the clutch brought into play the inertia of the engine's 20-ton flywheel plus that of the 50-ton flywheel, to roll the largest tubeplate slabs ever cast.[6]. The remains are located close to the Landore Park & Ride and the Swansea Museum Collection Centre.

1914 Vivian and Sons became a limited company.

1914 Copper, lead, zinc, silver and gold smelters, copper, yellow metal, sulphate of copper, brass tubes and lead (pig, sheet and pipe) manufacturers. Colliery Proprietors. [7]

1920 Letter from Thomas Hill in 'The Engineer' about the benefits of the Uniflow steam engine. [8]

1924 British Copper Manufacturers was formed by the amalgamation of the major copper smelting firms in Swansea, Vivian and Sons, Williams Foster and Co and Pascoe Grenfell and Sons.

Certain parts of Vivian and Sons Limited were not included in the sale - after 1924 they continued as a holding company, with shares, in British Copper Manufacturers Limited.

1927 Amongst the firms smelting lead and extracting silver were Vivian and Sons, Nevill, Druce and Co and James Stephens[9].

1936 it was decided that the company should go into voluntary liquidation. In the same year a new company (with the same name) was formed.

In 1950 Vivians White Rock Limited was incorporated as a limited company, as per a 1936 agreement with Vivian and Sons and the liquidator.

1966 Finally went into liquidation.

Part of the Hafod works, and the Musgrave rolling mill engine, continued in operation until 1980 in the ownership of Yorkshire Imperial Metals.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter IXX
  2. West Glamorgan Archives [1]
  3. Morgannwg - Vol. 23 1979 Enterprise and capital for non-ferrous metal smelting in Glamorgan, 1694-1924 [2]
  4. Trades Directory of Wales, 1901.
  5. West Glamorgan Archives [3]
  6. 'Stationary Steam Engines of Great Britain, Volume 4: Wales, Cheshire & Shropshire', by George Watkins, Landmark Publishing Ltd
  7. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  8. The Engineer of 24th September 1920 p309
  9. The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter IXX
  • British Steam Locomotive Builders by James W. Lowe. Published in 1975. ISBN 0-905100-816