Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Richard Crawshay

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1797-8 drawing of Cyfarthfa House by Richard Crawshay's gardener, William Pamplin. Original on display at Cyfarthfa Castle

Richard Crawshay (1739 – June 27, 1810), was a South Wales ironmaster.

Richard Crawshay was born in Normanton in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the first child of William Crawshay (1713–1766), a farmer, and his wife, Elizabeth (1714–1774), née Nicholson. He had three sisters.

According to family tradition a bitter quarrel with his father led to the sixteen-year-old Crawshay setting out for London.

Initially starting work aged 16 selling flat irons in an iron warehouse in London, he eventually became sole proprietor of the business.

He married Mary Bourne in 1763 and they had a son William and three daughters, Anne, Elizabeth and Charlotte.

By the 1770s he was probably London's leading iron merchant. He invested his wealth by acquiring a cannon-boring business at Cyfarthfa, Merthyr Tydfil in industrial South Wales, and subsequently leasing then buying Cyfarthfa Ironworks.

This he developed substantially as one of the most important ironworks in South Wales. He was very ambitious and imperious in manner, being called 'The Tyrant' by some, but was without social pretension.

He was active in protecting the interests of the iron trade and was a major promoter of the Glamorganshire Canal which immensely improved transport of iron to Cardiff docks.

Samuel Homfray made a bet with Richard Crawshay of 500 guineas that Richard Trevithick's steam locomotive could haul 10 tons of iron along the Merthyr Tramroad from Penydarren to Abercynon.

1804 Crawshay lost the bet when Trevithick's locomotive was probably the first to haul wagons along a "smooth" iron road using adhesive weight alone.

At his death in 1810 his estate was worth £1.5 million.

In his will he left three-eighths of the Ironworks to his son William Crawshay, three-eighths to his son-in-law Benjamin Hall and two-eighths to his nephew Joseph Bailey.

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