on 23 May 2014
The book is primarily concerned with the industries which made the Swansea Valley famous, from their early development to their demise. The industries were dominated by the smelting of copper and other metals, the export of coal, and the production of tinplate and pottery.
In the business of copper production, the Swansea region dominated world production for many decades. Successful smelting of copper on a large scale was an immensely difficult process, heavily reliant on the hard-won skills of workers, particularly within the limitations of 18th and early 19th century science.
Far from being proud of their industrial heritage, the Swansea authorities seem to be at best indifferent, at worst ashamed. Fortunately, this book serves to provide an important counterpoint. In fairness to Swansea, its two main museums offer very good displays of aspects of Swansea’s industries. Outside their walls, physical traces of the old industries have largely been swept away. Fortunately, some important remnants have so far escaped destruction, although several allegedly 'preserved' buildings and important machines on the site of the great Hafod Copper Works appear to be undergoing demolition by neglect. The interpretation of these surviving remants, and of the nearby White Rock Industrial Archaeology Park, benefit greatly from this book’s extensive descriptions, photographs and maps. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, so visitors to the museums, who are inspired and keen to learn more, potential customers for this weighty, glossy, beautifully-illustrated book, will be out of luck. (It is, however, available as an ebook).
The first part of the book focuses on industrial aspects, covering technology, transport, and notable engineers, while two chapters deal mainly with social aspects, including housing, education, and religion. Among the engineers are several who deserve to be better known, including William Edwards, John Padmore, Watkin George, and a Mr Powell, whose obscurity even extends to knowledge of his Christian name.
The book’s scope is not limited to the Swansea Valley. For example, the close relationship with the Bristol area’s copper and brass industries is explored. The important role of the development of non-ferrous metal production in the wider Industrial Revolution has been largely overlooked, cast into shadow by the attention given to iron, steam, and textiles. This book throws much-needed light on the industry’s pioneering contributions to many aspects of that revolution.
The breadth and depth of research which went into the production of this book are remarkable, and the result is outstanding. It is profusely illustrated with photographs, drawings, paintings and maps. My only criticism concerns the somewhat arbitrary sizing of some of the illustrations. Several tantalising historic drawings of machinery have been reduced to a size which precludes any meaningful interpretation, despite the high quality of printing.
Although the book is nominally centred on Swansea, and on copper production, the treatment is sufficiently wide-ranging to appeal to anyone interested in industrial history, while its depth and reliability mark it out as an invaluable reference source for future generations.