Francis Crawshay 1811 - 1878

Ty Mawr House Hirwaun

The earliest known reference to any house in the Cynon Valley dates from 1253 it appears in a Judgement given at Worcester Cathedral, by the Abbot of Citeaux, and other Judges, in favour of Margam Abbey in the matter of a dispute between the monks of that Abbey, and Llantarnam Abbey over grazing rights on Hirwaun Common.

This Judgement allowed the monks of Margam to have exclusive rights of pasture over the common except the mansion house and wood of “Bolchoyth” and a hundred acres adjacent thereto. The Nineteenth Century Antiquarian scholar, G.T. Clark, claims that Boichoyth or Bolgoed, a mansion house built by the monks of Llantarnam Abbey, was situated where the stream Nant-y-Bwlch joined the River Cynon at Hirwaun. That is roughly where the house known as Ty Mawr, an eighteenth century dwelling, now stands, and it would be tempting to speculate that Ty Mawr incorporates the foundations of Bolgoed.

However Be that as it may, Ty Mawr has an interesting history in itself, being closely associated with the development of the Hirwaun Iron-Works.

It is however beyond the scope of this essay to deal with the history of these works and it is sufficient to say that Ty Mawr was the residence for the owners or managers of the Hirwaun Iron-Works. It is very likely that the house dates from a round 1760, and was probably the home of Anthony Bacon, the famous ironmaster whose will (dated 14th June 1785) contained this clause relevant to Ty Mawr. (I leave)

  "To the Rev Thomas Richardson my relative,  a room fitted up, and furnished at Hirwaun (Sic) at the dwelling house there, and the same shall be kept in repair for his use, and he shall have a horse found him and kept at the expense of the said furnace during his life.”

Other proprietors of the works probably resided there, such as Samuel Glover, Jeremiah Homfray, and George Overton. In 1812 the works became bankrupt. By then the house had fallen into a state of disrepair and was renovated, before being put up for auction, with the works, in 1813.

Ty Mawr was then described as "an excellent and commodious residence with accommodation for a respectable family,' the facilities included Dining and drawing rooms, gentleman's room, entrance hall, store room and Butler's pantry. Two staircases ascending to 4 principal bedchambers, drawing room, 3 nurseries, 3 servants chamber and W.C.

There were also, cellars for wine, beer etc., a very capital laundry, wash or brew-house, dairy, coal house etc. and spacious carriage yard with standing for 3 carriages and stabling for 6 horses, as well as a harness room. A good productive garden, walled round, lawn with carriage drive, shrubbery and plantations were included.

The works were re-purchased by Thomas Bacon in 1817, who immediately sold it to William Crawshay II, who came to live at Hirwaun. Crawshay died in 1834, and the management of the works was taken over by Henry Crawshay, who stayed on until 1847, when his brother Francis replaced him.

Francis spent very little time at the company house Ty Mawr, preferring to live in a small cottage adjacent to the works.

Francis Crawshay 1811 - 1878
Francis Crawshay 1811 - 1878
(Picture courtesy of RCTCBC)


Francis Crawshay was the second son of the ironmaster William Crawshay II, of Cyfarthfa Castle, Merthyr Tydfil. In the early 1830s, Francis was put in charge of the Hirwaun Ironworks, which his father had acquired in 1819, and the new tinplate works at Treforest, near Pontypridd. Francis was regarded as a somewhat eccentric character: he refused to reside at Ty Mawr, Hirwaun, preferring instead to live at a cottage to the north of the works called Tir Gwyn Bach.

Tir Gwyn Bach
Tir Gwyn Bach (picture courtesy of RCTCBC)

Crawshay’s Tower
Crawshay’s Tower (picture courtesy of RCTCBC)

During his tenure of the works he commissioned around 1848, the building of a folly, Crawshay's Tower, or Castle, on Hirwaun common to the west of the village, so that he could, during the summer months, live there and enjoy shooting and hunting.

The Tower stood on the mountain side. It was cylindrical, 30 foot high, 12 foot internal diameter, and 58 foot in external circumference. Built of local stone, it had three floors, one room on each floor with fireplaces. The roof was of beaten iron painted red, blue and green internally.

The building contained one round headed door, six arched windows, and six circular gun-ports in the wall, 2 facing north, 2 east, and 2 south. Their purpose was to fire through, as five brass cannon were housed in the tower.

As the tower contained ordinance another reason for its construction was that it was built as a retreat against industrial unrest, Joseph Bailey made similar arrangements at Nantyglo prior to 1836, and it should be remembered that Crawshay built his "folly" during the period following the Merthyr rising of 1831, and the Chartist riots of 1839. Little now remains of the tower.

Funeral of the late Marquess of Bute 01.04.1848

A Company of Fifty Men

Who are in the employment of Francis Crawshay, Esq., and who were provided at that gentleman's £50 expense with silk hatbands and black silk gloves.

It relates to Francis Crawshay, Esq., of Treforest, and places in a striking point of view the warmth of attachment and generosity of feeling with which that truly popular gentleman is actuated. Anxious to pay the last tribute of respect to the memory of Lord Bute, he sent fifty of his men to attend the funeral all of whom were supplied with silk hat-bands and black silk gloves by him; and further, he defrayed the expenses of their journey. The following letter from him to a gentleman in this town ought be made known;  and we take upon ourselves the responsibility of publishing it, premising by stating that it has evidently been written in haste:-

Treforest, Thursday morning

My Dear Sir, “As I wish to show my respect for the late Marquess of Bute, I send a small body of men fifty in number, instead of sending a carriage, to join I the procession; and I shall feel much obliged if you will see to their being placed in the procession as you may think fit.”

Yours, very truly,
FRANCIS CRAWSHAY

P.S. They are mostly veterans from the Hirwain Iron Works now under my charge


Despite the possible sinister use of the building, Francis Crawshay should be remembered with some affection; he spoke Welsh fluently, had a great sense of humour, and refused to leave his workmen during the cholera outbreak of 1847.

He was known as 'Mr Frank' by the workers and learned to speak Welsh in order to communicate with them. He later moved from Hirwaun to Treforest, where he lived at Forest House with his wife and eight children. It was during this time that he became friends with Dr William Price, the Chartist and druid. Francis himself erected his own druidic circle at Forest House which was eventually demolished during the 1950s in order to provide space for the expanding college campus at Treforest. Francis was particularly fond of the sea and owned a steam yacht in which he often sailed to France. Following the closure of the Hirwaun and Treforest works, in 1859 and 1867 respectively, Francis retired to Bradbourne Hall, Sevenoaks, where it was said he enjoyed walking around in nautical dress.

The works were abandoned by the Crawshay family in 1857 and in 1861; the whole property reverted to the Bute Estate. The furnaces finally closed in 1905.


Note on Ty Mawr

One of the last connections between this house and the industrial past of the valley occurred in the early 1900's when the property was occupied by John Aubrey. He had been Crawshay’s agent for their Iron and Coal Co. and was himself an important person in the history of Glamorgan being descended from the Aubrey’s of the Vale of Glamorgan, a landowning family which included John Aubrey (1626-97) the famous antiquary and diarist.


A picture of Druidic Stones erected by Francis Crawshay in the nineteenth century, they were demolished to make way for the extension to the School of Mines, now the University of Glamorgan
(Picture courtesy of RCTCBC)

Francis Crawshay of Bradbourne Hall

When Francis Crawshay became owner of Bradbourne Hall and estate around 1849, he also acquired lakes, he owned the land to the north of the railway line to Riverhead, and from the main London Road at Braeside to the River Darent, the majority of the land he owned was woodland. When he came into possession of Bradbourne, the old chapel was included in the purchase.

Francis Crawshay moved from Wales to Bradbourne from Mid Glamorgan because of the fumes of the ironworks affected his health. We are not sure how he knew about this place it could have been through the acquaintance with the D’Aeth Hughes the previous owner. Despite his great wealth and rugged business sense, Francis Crawshay was very kind-hearted and very eccentric. 

The church had been built during the ownerships of the mansion by Ralph Bosville as a private chapel though by the time it was purchased by Crawshay it had long ceased to be a place of worship. Francis Crawshay fired his imagination and in order that it would not be recognised as a chapel, he erected a wooden belfry on the top of the tower. Each of the four sides were cut out as if to resemble a clock face and in the centre he placed an enormous bell.

His intentions became obvious to the residents of Riverhead and the surrounding area when the bell was rung as 5.30 every morning in order to wake up the lazy people of Riverhead. The bell was late removed from the clock house, as it eventually became known, and was placed in supports next to Bradbourne House from where Francis Crawshay continued to ring it as six every morning.

Crawshay had developed in Wales an interest in Druidism and the Druids way of life. His studies of the subject enabled him to become something of an authority in folklore and although his main interest had been centred on Wales. He brought to the grounds and surrounding areas of Bradbourne many stone monoliths from within the British Isles, These were erected in lines and circles according to Druidical practice and dominating them all he built a marble sun-dial that stood about fifty feet high, the myth being that the sun was the centre of the universe and the God of the Druids. The local people and the employees on the estate began to fear for their very existence with the mentions of demons and strange happenings that began to filter around the area. This was of course all without foundation although certain Druid rituals were observed on occasions by the Crawshay family.

Until the marriage his wife Laura, had resided at Honingham Hall in Norfolk. She bore Francis 9/10 children and, though taken back to Wales in occasional business, the family were content to reside at Bradbourne for twenty nine years. The fresh air of the Kent countryside did wonders for his health and he was content to wander about the vast grounds and lakes, improving where he though necessary.

Though Francis Crawshay was a rich man, the upkeep of Bradbourne became a tremendous burden and when he died on November 6th 1878 aged 67, the inheritance of the estate went to his eldest son. This however proved too much of a financial strain on him and it was offered for sale soon afterwards. Francis Crawshay died at 14 Eccleston Square, Pimlico in the County of Middlesex on the 6th November 1878.

Francis Crawshay chose not to be buried at Riverhead Church: it was to Brasted that he turned for his final resting place. He was buried close to the main entrance of the church and his grave was surrounded by a chain fence incorporating many Druidical symbols. The sun, anchors and various signs of the zodiac are obvious and all of this is dwarfed by a granite obelisk some twenty feet high upon which is engraved the following words.

In Memory of Francis Crawshay
Of Bradbourne Hall, Riverhead and of Forest Isaf,
The Forest, South Wales who departed this life Nov. 6 1878
Aged 67

The faithful and devoted husband of 41 years of
Laura Crawshay of Honingham Hall Norfolk

On the opposite side is an epitaph to his wife

In loving remembrance of Laura Crawshay of
Bradbourne Hall Riverhead, Born July 12 1812
Died August 17 1896, for nearly 18 years the devoted widow
of Francis Crawshay

And the beloved father of
William aged 38
Laura Julia 36
Isabel Eliza 31
Richard 10 months
Francis Richard 29
Tudor 28
Helen Christine 27
Mary Stella 25
De Barri 21

 Deeply regretted by all who
Knew him
He rests from his labours


The grave of Francis Crawshay at St Martin’s Church Brasted

The grave can still be seen though it has fallen victim of the ravages of time and vandalism and much of the chain surrounding the burial plot is broken.

Of the original monoliths, some are still to be seen dotted around the various private gardens of the Meadway and Pontoise Close, both now residential areas of the old Bradbourne estate. In the garden of Mr Tony Andrews a large granite rock makes an impressive backdrop to a lovely Clematis but sadly many monoliths have been removed.

The marble sun-dial, the centre point of the circles and lines, still lingers on in the garden of No 5 Pontoise Close. Though surround now by trees, together with the remaining visible granite monoliths, it remains the only reminder of the eccentric Francis Crawshay’s occupancy of Bradbourne House, and of the house itself.

Crawshay’s Bell

It transpires that Crawshay had this massive bell cast at Lyons in France, by a founder named Burdin Aine, in 1871. The bell weighed over two tons (40 cwts 1 qr 25 lbs or 2205kg) and had a diameter of 59¼" (155mm), making it the second largest bell in Kent (after Great Dunstan at Canterbury Cathedral).



One the above bell was engraved the following:

I was born in Lyons, France, and was brought to Angle Terre to proclaim the wonders of fifty nine of the life of my parent Francis Crawshay.

The invention of: Rolling iron introduced to Wales from Staffordshire. The Water Balance, Machine for Lifting Coal and Minerals from Pits. Hot Air applied to the Melting (sic) of ores in the Blast:

 Furnaces, Furnace Gases used to Raise Steam for Blast Engines. The Rolling of Railway Iron for the Locomotive Engine for Railways (sic). The Locomotive Engine for great speed and Traction on Railways:

The Locomotive Engine applied to Common Roads. The Archimedean Screw to Propel Ships. The Great Eastern of 22000 Tone burthen built. Daguerreotypes and photographs

Produced by Lenses and Chemicals. Telegraph by Electricity. Iron Ships and Wooden Ships coated with armour plate. The Turret Ships. Breech Loading Guns and Rifles applied to:

The Navy Gun. Cotton invented. Revolver Pistols and  Guns. Central Fire. Needle Guns Etc. Tubular Bridges. Girder Bridges. And Lattice Work Bridges. Iron Tunnels under the Thames:

 And Iron Tubular Pillars sunk by pressure to support bridges on the Thames. The Short Stroke Engine and Large Diameter used for Screw Propellers and Winding Engines. Steam.

Plough. Steam Threshing. Machine and Horse Reaping Machine Steam Applied to Crossing the Alps at Mont Cenis and Boving (sic). Machine by compressed Air in the Mont Cenis Tunnel:

Gold discovered in Large Quantities in California, Australia, New Zealand. Suez Canal to Red Sea completed for shipping. The use of Chloroform for the Alleviation of Pain in:  

Surgical Operations and Obstetrics.

Golau 1871