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British Industrial History

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Penydarren Ironworks

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Penydarren was the fourth of the great ironworks established at Merthyr Tydfil; the other three were Dowlais, Plymouth and Cyfarthfa.

1784 Ironworks built by Samuel Homfray, Jeremiah Homfray and Thomas Homfray, all sons of Francis Homfray of Stourbridge. His father (also Francis) managed a nail warehouse there for Ambrose Crowley. Most of the family were involved in trade as ironmasters or ironmongers (in this context meaning a manufacturer of iron goods).

Richard Forman I advanced more than £10,000 to the Homfrays to assist in funding the Penydarren Ironworks and became a partner in the concern.

By 1796 the Penydarren partnership included members of the Homfray family, Henry Forman of Woolwich, and Richard Forman I's son William.

After the Homfray family withdrew, William Forman became co-owner of the Penydarren Ironworks with William Thompson (senior) of London.

1801 James Birch, who had been manager at Penydarren, left to go into partnership at Abernant Iron Co.

Because the owners of the Cyfarthfa Ironworks dominated the management of the Glamorganshire Canal, the other Merthyr Tydfil ironworks built a tramroad bypassing the upper sections of the canal. This Penydarren Tramroad (more correctly, the Merthyr Tramroad) was used for a trial of one of the first steam locomotives, built by Richard Trevithick. This successfully hauled wagons but was so heavy that it broke many rails. The engine was then used for other purposes as a stationary engine.

The business was financed by William Forman, who provided all the capital, partly on mortgage but taking a share in it himself.

1813 Samuel Homfray left the business.

1817 Homfray's connection with Penydarren was reestablished when his daughter Amelia married one of the works' owners, William Thompson

1819 the partners were William Forman and William Thompson of London.

1824 Penydarren was producing 14,000 tons per annum; Alderman Thompson owned more than one third but not a half[1]

By the early 1820s William Thompson was the sole owner of Penydarren[2].

By 1830 the works were operated by Thompson, Forman and Co

1834 'Accident, with Loss of Life, at Penydarran Iron Works.— On Thursday afternoon, the tube of the Trevethick steam engine burst with a loud explosion, threw down in large fragments great parts of the cylinders of the engine, scattered in all directions the roofs of several buildings belonging to the works, and shook a considerable number of the houses around. We deem it a most providential circumstance that, on a spot on which generally many persons are present, only two were seriously injured. These were at work in a shed adjacent, the roof of which, made of iron, fell upon them, and they were taken out dreadfully scalded, and nearly in a state of suffocation. One of them expired on Friday morning.'[3]

1859 William Forman offered the works for sale; the Dowlais Ironworks Company bought the mineral ground.

1865 Penydarren had 7 blast furnaces but none of them were in use; the works belonged to R. Fothergill and Co[4]

c.1873 Acquired by Richard Fothergill, owner of the Aberdare Ironworks.

As a result of strikes, the works were closed and Fothergill indicated he would not re-open unless he could do so at a profit[5]

1883 The works were used intermittently by various others until 1883.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Times, 23 October 1824
  2. Biography of William Thompson, ODNB
  3. Coventry Herald - Friday 16 May 1834
  4. 1865 Blast furnaces in South Wales
  5. The Times, Feb 06, 1873