W.S. Clarke, C.E., F.G.S. 1817 – 1864

Mineral Agent
The first train of steam coal from the Rhondda
William Southern Clarke was born on the 17th December 1817, in the Parish of Wallsend-on-the-Tyne, Northumberland. He started work as colliery viewer, where he served his time at the age of twenty five, he was recommended by Mr Joseph Gray, who was then chief viewer of the Marquis of Bute for his Durham Collieries.  In 1843 William Clarke was asked to take charge of Lord Bute’s mineral estates on Glamorgan which he agreed.

It was no until the nineteenth century that attention began to be directed to the vast mineral resources of the Rhondda Valley. In 1840 this magnificent coal area was unspoiled its native beauty and was simply pastoral land. It is now conversely known as one of the richest coalfields in the world. Around this time the steam coal in the Cynon Valley, was opening up for exporting coal, William Clarke was largely consulted  as to the sinking of the pits and the opening out of the collieries, which at the time were considered to be deep pits in the South Wales Basin.

Mr W.S. Clarke was the first to advocate the sinking of pits to the steam coal measures in the Rhondda, and much to the surprise of the mining authorities of that day, recommended Lord Bute’s Trustees to purchase the Cwmsaebren property belonging to the Davies family, for the purpose of developing the steam coal in that land adjoining Bute properties.

£500 Offered for First Pit

It is difficult to realise now that even as late as 1850 a great deal of doubt existed as to whether the coal seams extended to the Rhondda Valley, and in order to test the matter the Taff Vale Railway Company, whose main line then extended from Cardiff to Merthyr, made an offer of £500 to anyone who would sink a pit 120 yards below the bed of the River Rhondda at the upper end of the valley. The Bute Trustees, on Mr Clark’s recommendation, sunk two pits on Cwmseabren, and won the upper four feet seam at a depth of 125 yards. This was in the year 1853, and after the coal had been proved, the Taff Vale Railway extended a single line up to Treherbert.

The first train of steam coal was taken from the Rhondda Valley on the 17th December 1885, and the event was widely celebrated Mr and Mrs Clark and Mr W.T. Lewis, afterwards Lord Merthyr, accompanied the train from Treherbert to Cardiff.

Coal Mines

Amongst other works he advised upon were Deep Duffryn pits, which, owing to the quantity of water met with, practically failed, until Mr Clarke advised the adoption of tubbing the water back and it was in fact the first coal mine that the tubbing of shafts was practiced in through the districts “tubbing; is a method used to line a shaft, first made of cast iron, the shaft was lined with cast iron which was adopted when shafts were sunk though sandy or unstable conditions, it also made the shaft water tight”. He also helped a close friend of his John Nixon, in connection with the sinking and opening of the Navigation Collieries, which at that time were the deepest and most extensive collieries in the area.

In addition to all this work on the Bute Estate, he was also mining engineer until his death of the Lords of Neath Abbey “Lord Dynevor, Mr E.P. Richards and the Earl of Shrewsbury” and others; between 1854 and 1864 for the renewal of Cyfartha lease and the leases of the Neath Abbey collieries.

Bute Docks Cardiff

William Clarke was also engaged by the Marquis of Bute, and the trustees “after the death of the aforesaid Marquis of Bute” in the laying out of the Bute West Dock and the Bute East Dock. This included the construction of the coal shipping arrangements and the system of railways around those docks. He also was one of the engineers for the Rhymney Railway at its inception, and for carrying out the various Bills through Parliament as well for a great portion of its construction, until he had to give up for ill health.

A Man of Wide Interests

In the diary of William Clarke, contains occasional remarks about the supervision of the laying-out of land in upper Rhondda, and it may be assumed that the alignment of streets on Bute property at Treorci, Treherbert, Aberdare and else-where was the work of the subordinate officials working under the supervision of W.S. Clarke and later by W.T. Lewis. (It said that the main in Treherbert which is called Bute; what made wide so the Marquis of Bute could turn is horse and carriage around).

He died on the 17th May 1864 at Mardy House Aberdare and is buried at Cefn Cemetery; he married Susan Halliburton from Brampton in Cumberland.

Plaque dedicated to Mr W.S. Clark St Elvan’s Church
Plaque dedicated to Mr W.S. Clark St Elvan’s Church
Mardy House

In 1854 work begun on the construction of a mineral office ar Aberdare, together with a residence for the agent; the house and office known as “Mardy House” it remained the centre of Bute mineral affairs until the nationalisation of mineral reserves in 1938.

The House

The building was a two story asymmetrical building in the “picturesque” tradition, the varied plan, contrasting architectural elements and interesting silhouette “providing by chimneys, gables and dormers” create a house very much high in the Victorian tradition entirely opposed to the symmetry and order of the classical tradition.

In terms of style, the “garden” front is a mixture of Italianate overhanging eaves and “Tudorbethan” bay windows. The courts elevation is basically a Victorian interception of the eighteenth century classical tradition, with rusticated quoins and sash windows (originally with glazing bars?)

The tower is a later edition and adds considerably to the composition. It is however, extremely utilitarian in detail and may have been subject to more recent alteration.

The building is basically “ecletic” in style, combining Classical, sixteenth century, and Scottish baronial elements in a wildly picturesque organic composition.