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British Industrial History

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Alexander Raby

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Alexander Raby (1747-1835)

1747 April 5th. Born in West Smithfield in the City of London and baptised at St Sepulchre’s Church on 24 April the same year, the eldest son of Edward Raby ( -1771), an ironmonger, and Mary Master whose family had been involved in the iron industry for some considerable time. Edward Raby, in partnership with the Master family, operated the Warren Iron Furnaces in Sussex.

1762 Apprenticed to his ironmaster uncle, Alexander Master.

1771 Married Anne Cox, sister of Thomas Hill Cox who became an active proprietor in the Monmouthshire Canal.

By 1777 Alexander was a Freeman of the City of London and he traded from various addresses in the London area. He is known to have operated from the River Thames waterfront, which would have been essential, because water transport was the main method of transporting heavy iron goods.

Raby became a wealthy English Ironmaster and Speculator, owning properties in London, Worcestershire and Surrey. He had industrial interests in many parts of England and Wales and coal from his interests in Worcestershire and Staffordshire, probably used for iron smelting, was exported to London, copper works and collieries in Neath and Llanelli

Following Abraham Derby’s experiments of 1730 to 1740, coke had begun to replace charcoal for smelting iron and Industrialists were looking to place their smelting works on or near abundant supplies of coal. Alexander Raby, in partnership with his brother-in-law Thomas Hill Cox, proprietor of the Monmouthshire Canal, were keen to become part of the Industrial Revolution and invested in copper works and collieries in the Neath area.

Alexander Raby is said to have first taken an interest in Llanelli around 1792 when he considered leasing coal under land belonging to Sir John Stepney. However, he seems to have been undecided because in 1794, Sir John Stepney’s coal was leased to William Roderick instead.

The ironmaster probably became interested in the town through his association with John Givers (John Gevers) and Thomas Ingman. These two industrialists may have taken over an old iron furnace on the Stradey Estate, dating back to 1750, originally worked by Daniel Shewen. Raby may have helped Givers and Ingman financially, being instrumental in persuading them to come to Llanelli where they began to build an iron furnace and foundry on land at Cwmddyche (later known as Furnace).

Raby took over their ironworks, obtained coal leases and embarked on establishing an industrial empire on Stradey Estate lands belonging to the Mansel family.

Alexander Raby was reputed to have sold his home in Cobham, Surrey, for about £175,000, just before he arrived in Llanelli. Modern day historians dispute this, but he was a very wealthy industrialist and did bring an enormous sum of money to Llanelli to finance his ventures.

It is not difficult to imagine the flamboyant Raby arriving in Llanelli, cloak flying in the wind as his coach and horses rattled across Falcon Bridge, followed by wagons packed with his possessions and a stout wooden chest, holding his fortune.

Although primarily interested in iron, Raby intended to use steam engines in his coal mining enterprises and link all his activities with a network of tramroads to a dock he planned to build.

Before the end of the 18th century, Raby had invested heavily in his industrial empire, modernising and expanding the ironworks at Cwmddyche, installing steam engines and an extra furnace. He started to build a railway, which connected his ironworks with the new pits he had sunk, and the shipping place he formed at Llanelli Flats now known as Seaside.

Raby worked a number of pits on the Stradey Estate including Cae’relms, Caemain and Caebad and constructed more than 100 cottages, some near his collieries and furnaces, including a row of cottages built around 1800 called Cae’relms, and a row of 34 cottages near his forge, aptly called Forge Row, which had a public house at the end called the Raby Arms.

He obviously believed that there was potential in the Llanelli area and was the first speculator prepared to commit his entire fortune. The fact that he lost his fortune does not detract from the fact that he was instrumental in bringing about Llanelli’s Industrial Revolution.

The first item produced at Raby’s ironworks is said to have been a domestic fire but it was not long before he was supplying forge hammers for Ironmaster Robert Morgan’s Cwmdwyfran Works in Carmarthenshire.

In 1802 Raby’s works produced armaments and ammunition for the Napoleonic Wars and his furnaces were said to have been kept busy day and night. However, he was said to have misused the assets from the Carmarthenshire Railway, by installing unauthorised tramways to his furnaces, forge and collieries, and had avoided paying tolls to the company, which in time led to his downfall.

Following the Acts of Incorporation of 1807 and 1810 Alexander Raby the Elder was appointed as one of the Trustees to the Burgesses. He was described as ‘a remarkable character, a tall, handsome man who wore silk black stockings and knee breeches, with cloth gaiters, being very proud of a well shaped leg. He was said to be high-minded and eccentric, always performing strange acts of kindness’.

By 1815 Raby’s problems were mounting, his furnace was ‘blown out’, his collieries were said to be in a depressed state and by 1820 the Forge had ceased working.

1823 Relinquished his interests in Llanelli to his younger son Arthur Turnour Raby.

1824 Alexander’s 78 year old wife died and was buried in Llanelli Parish Church.

The following year saw the complete collapse of the business interests of Alexander Raby. Alexander and his family left Llanelli and spent the next five years travelling between France and Jersey in the Channel Islands. When the Raby family finally returned to England he settled at a Manor House at Burcott, near Wells in Somerset. According to reports he was often seen walking the streets of Bath.

1835 February 24th. Died at Burcott House aged 88 years and buried at St Cuthbert’s Church, Wells, Somerset. [Note: The churchyard has been largely cleared, leaving only a handful of semi-legible gravestones].

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