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William Thomas Lewis

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William Thomas Lewis (1837-1914)

William Thomas Lewis, 1st Baron Merthyr (5 August 1837 – 27 August 1914), known as Sir William Lewis, 1st Baronet, from 1896 to 1911, was a Welsh coal mining magnate.

Lewis was the son of Thomas William Lewis, an engineer, of Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire.

He at first worked for the Bute coal mining pits in southern Wales, but between 1870 and 1880 he acquired his own pits in Rhondda, which became known as Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Limited.

He was also the founder of the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coal Association as a response the growing strength of the trade unions.

In 1889 he was elected as a member of Glamorgan County Council and was immediately made an alderman.

1897 Sir W. T. Lewis MP was Chairman of the Cardiff reception committee for the visit of the Iron and Steel Institute

1900 Retired from the chair of the Coalowners' Association

Lewis was created a Baronet, of Nantgwyne, in 1896 and in 1911 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Merthyr, of Senghenydd in the County of Glamorgan.

Lord Merthyr died in August 1914, aged 77, and was succeeded in his titles by his eldest son Herbert.


1914 Obituary [1]

William Thomas Lewis, BARON MERTHYR OF SENOHENYDD, G.C.V.O., was born at Abercanaid, on 5th August 1837, being the eldest son of Thomas William Lewis.

He went to school at Merthyr Tydfil, and at about the age of thirteen was apprenticed at the Plymouth (Merthyr) Iron Works, under his father, who was mechanical engineer at the works. Before the completion of his apprenticeship he became assistant to his father, owing to his close attention to his duties and studies.

On leaving the Merthyr Iron Works he was engaged as a junior assistant to Mr. W. S. Clark, viewer for the Bute Mineral Estate in South Wales, and from 1857 to 1861 he acted as chief assistant.

In the latter year he was taken into partnership with Mr. Clark and was engaged on the widening and deepening of the entrance to the Bute Docks, making a tidal dock and breakwater, erecting coal and ballast staiths, constructing high-level and wharf lines of railway, etc.

On the death of Mr. Clark in 1864 he was appointed raining engineer to the Bute Estates, and also acquired a large private practice as mining engineer and valuer.

In 1867 he became a colliery owner himself by the purchase of a large interest in the Hafod Colliery, and, as the result of a prolonged strike in that colliery, he succeeded a few years later in forming the organization which ultimately became known as the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coalowners' Association.

He was also the founder of the Sliding-Scale Committee which followed the great lock-out of 1875.

Upon the retirement of Mr. Boyle in 1880, the late Marquess of Bute placed the sole management of the Bute Estate in South Wales, with its docks, railways, and colliery property, under Mr. Lewis's control.

In 1908 be retired from the management of the Bute Docks, but retained the management of Lord Bute's colliery interests and landed estates.

He acquired very large interests of his own in some of the principal undertakings in the South Wales coalfield, including the Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries, the International Collieries, etc. His work in the interest of industrial peace was frequently in request.

In 1900 he was successful in settling the Taff Vale Railway strike after the Board of Trade had failed, and again, in 1908, when the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants threatened to bring about a national strike, he rendered great assistance to the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Lloyd George) in effecting a settlement.

He was knighted in 1885, and received a Baronetcy in 1896.

In 1907 be was created a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, and was promoted to be a Knight Grand Cross of the same Order in 1912. In the previous year he was created a Baron.

During his career he occupied the positions of President of the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire; Member of Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers; President of the South Wales Institute of Engineers, the Mining Association of Great Britain, the Institution of Mining Engineers; and Vice-President of the Iron and Steel Institute.

He was elected a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1884, and served as a Member of Council from 1901 to 1904, and a Vice-President from 1905 to 1913. On the occasion of the Cardiff Summer Meetings of this Institution in 1884 and 1906 he acted as Chairman of the Reception Committee, and his assistance was invaluable in achieving the success of the Meetings.

He served on various Royal Commissions dealing with ,the coal industry and trade disputes. He was a Deputy-Lieutenant for Glamorganshire, Justice of the Peace for the Counties of Glamorgan, Monmouth, Brecon, and Pembroke, and for the City of Cardiff; and was High Sheriff of Breconshire in 1884.

His death took place at Newbury, Berkshire, from congestion of the lungs following an operation, on 27th August 1914, at the age of seventy-seven.


1914 Obituary [2]

THE Right Honourable Lord MERTHYR of SENGHENYDD, G.C.V.O., died on Thursday, October 27, 1914, at a nursing home at Oakhurst, near Newbury, Berkshire, after an operation followed by congestion of the lungs. He was in his seventy-eighth year, having been born at Merthyr Tydfil on August 1, 1837. He was the eldest son of Mr. Thomas William Lewis, of Abercanaid House, Merthyr Tydfil, and, in accordance with the custom prevalent in Wales, was christened by his father's names in inverted order.

After a brief period spent at school he was apprenticed to his father, who was an engineer at the Plymouth-Merthyr Ironworks, and passed through the pattern shop, the fitting shop, and various other departments, finding time also to complete, to a very considerable degree, his education by attending every evening a school kept by Mr. Williams. On leaving the Plymouth Ironworks he became associated with Mr. W. S. Clark, of the Bute Mineral Estate in North Wales, who was then engaged in the construction of the East Bute Dock at Cardiff, and the Rhymney Railway and colliery undertakings at Treherbert. William Thomas Lewis having made a strong impression on Mr. Clark, he was engaged as one of his assistants, and in 1864 was taken into partnership. In this capacity he was closely associated with the many improvements which were carried out at the Bute Docks, and in the development of the surrounding district, and, on the death of Mr. Clark in 1864, he was appointed mining engineer to the Bute estates. In that year he married Anne, the eldest daughter of Mr. William Rees, colliery owner, of Lletty Shenkin, and a granddaughter of Mrs. Lucy Thomas, who was the first to export a cargo of Welsh steam coal, and was known as "The Mother of the steam coal industry." In addition to his work for the Bute estates, Mr. Lewis carried on a large private practice as a mining engineer and valuer, and, in 1867, acquired important interests in the Hafod colliery. A strike at that colliery a few years later led to the formation of the Monmouthshire and South Wales Coal Owners' Association, in which Mr. Lewis took an active part. He also founded a Sliding Scale Committee after the great lock-out of 1875. This was the first attempt to introduce the principle of conciliation in the affairs of employers and workmen of the South Wales coalfield, and it secured for that district a period of many years of settled trading conditions which conduced greatly to its prosperous development.

In 1885 Mr. William Thomas Lewis was knighted, in 1896 he was created a baronet of the United Kingdom, in 1911 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Merthyr of Senghenydd, and in the following year he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.

His close association with industrial concerns, and his wide knowledge of labour conditions, led to his services being widely sought on Boards and on Councils for the settlement of labour disputes. Although on many such occasions an opponent of the Right Honourable William Abraham ("Mabon") M.P., he always entertained feelings of the greatest respect for him, and testified to the value of Mabon's cooperation and helpfulness on those occasions when they had acted in co-operation. He invariably refused any financial recognition of his services to the Sliding Scale Committee, and although he was made the recipient of large sums for his services, he invariably devoted them to charitable, educational, and other public bodies in South Wales. On the retirement of Mr. Boyle in 1880, the late Marquis of Bute placed under his control the entire management of the Bute estates in South Wales. This position he retained until 1908, when he retired from the management of the Bute Docks, but continued to control the Marquis's colliery interests and landed estates. In 1900 lie successfully settled the Taff Vale railway strike after the Board of Trade had failed, and subsequently submitted a scheme for the formation of Boards of Arbitration for the prevention of similar disputes.

The scheme was adopted by the Barry and Cardiff Railway. In 1908, when a national railway strike was threatened, Sir William Thomas Lewis co-operated with Mr. Lloyd George in bringing the contending parties together. In referring to that occasion, Mr. Lloyd George said: "I sought his advice, and, what is far more than most people can say when they get good advice, I followed it, and the results are patent to the whole country."

Lord Merthyr's interests in the South Wales coalfield comprised the Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries, the International Collieries, and others. He was also actively engaged in the reconstruction of the Cardiff-Dowlais Steel Works, and other works in South Wales. Lord .Merthyr was an active member of many Royal Commissions dealing with labour and trade, including those on coal mines, royalties, labour, coal dust in mines, coal supplies, shipping rings, and trade disputes.

He was a member of the Tariff Commission of 1904, and also served on the employers' panel of the Board of Trade Court of Arbitration and on the British Commissions for the Paris Exhibitions of 1878 and 1901. He belonged to many learned and educational societies, in connection with which he frequently held high office. He was President of the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, a Member of Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers, President of the South Wales Institute of Engineers, President of the Mining Association of Great Britain, President of the Institution of Mining Engineers, Vice-President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and Chairman of the Monmouth and South Wales Board of Examination for Mining Certificates. In 1880 he contested Merthyr Tydfil in the Conservative interest, but was unsuccessful. He was a Justice of the Peace for the counties of Glamorgan, Monmouth, Brecon, and Pembroke, Deputy-Lieutenant of Glamorganshire, and, a Knight of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. He was Sheriff of Breconshire in 1882.

His association with the Iron and Steel Institute, of which he was a warm supporter, was long and intimate. He became a member in 1871, and was elected a Member of Council in 1890, and a Vice-President in 1897. In 1908 he was nominated for the Presidency of the Iron and Steel Institute, but at the last moment he found himself unable to undertake the office. Sir Hugh Bell, the retiring President, thereupon kindly consented to retain the office of President for another year.

His health, which during the last few years had been failing, was further impaired by the news of the disastrous explosion of the Universal Colliery, Senghenydd, which affected him greatly. Lord Merthyr leaves two sons and six daughters, and is succeeded in the title by his elder son, the Hon. Herbert Clark Lewis.


1915 Obituary [3]



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