W.T. Lewis “Lord Merthyr” 1837 – 1914

W. T. Lewis

It is said that his family were descended from Ivor Bach a Welsh Chieftain, his family of Lewis came from the Van, near Caerphilly who it said were the founder of Dowlais Ironworks and who claimed kinship with Ivor Bach.

William Thomas Lewis was born on August 5th 1837, at Abercanaid House, Merthyr and was the son of Mr Thomas William Lewis, engineer to the Plymouth Ironworks and collieries. The Lewis family had been connected with the iron trade of Merthyr ever since the formation of the great Dowlais Works by Lewis, of the Van, Guest and partners and an ancestor  of  Lord Merthyr named William Lewis was the first to superintend the shipment of iron from these works at Cardiff in the very early days.

William’s education was obtained at Merthyr in the school of Mr Taliesin Williams, son of the celebrated antiquarian and poet, Iolo Morgannwg. Here he was one of the large numbers of youths destined to rise in later life to a position of the greatest eminence in the world of scientific industry. Edward Williams, the son of the schoolmaster Taliesin Williams, attained a very high position as manager of one of the greatest of British Ironworks, Bolckov-Vaughan’s of Middleborough. He became a noted ironmaster himself and the founder of the South Wales Institute of Engineers, and participated in many South Wales industrial enterprises. Another great man who began life at Merthyr was William Jenkins, afterwards manager of the celebrated iron and steel works at Consett and a noted man in the industrial community.

In 1850 when only thirteen, William was articled to his father in the engineering office of the Plymouth works, and worked twelve hours a day learning the details of the various branches of engineering and in his few minutes of leisure he continued his education in other respects. His hard work and application, soon he made assistant engineer, he did not remain long at Plymouth Works.

In 1855 was a momentous day that which dawned in his history when Mr W. S. Clark, agent to the Marquis of Bute, talking with Mr Williams, of the Greyhound Hotel, who was partner with Mr Nixon in the Werfa Colliery, said he wanted an assistant engineer, and asked if he could recommend one. Mr David Williams, who was familiar with Plymouth, then at once recalled to mind the son of Mr Thomas William Lewis, of Plymouth Works, and named him; and the arrangement was made that Mr Williams should make inquiries, and, if young William Lewis would like, then he might call and see Mr Clark. At this time William Clark was at time busily engaged in the construction of the East Bute Docks in Cardiff and the Rhymney Railway, and the young engineer received valuable experience and un-exampled opportunities of insight into all the workings of the great Bute Estate.

Mr Clark’s failing health led him to rely more and more upon his young assistant, whom he perceived to be worthy of the responsibility and well able to carry out his plans.  Soon Mr Clark gave up all his active duties in connection with works and collieries and based his direction of the estate upon the reports of William Lewis.  He was entrusted with laying out the railway system in connection with the docks, and had sole direction of the Bute Merthyr Colliery in the Rhondda Valley, which had been sunk on Cwmsaebren by Mr Clark.

Mr Clark made him partner and from that time William Lewis virtually directed the development of the whole of the vast Bute mineral estate. On him devolved the preparation of evidence before various Parliamentary Committees with regard to numerous Bills then before the House of Commons in reference to industrial developments in South Wales.

On the death of Mr Clark in 1864, William Lewis though only 27, received the appointment of mineral agent to the Bute Estate at a salary of £1,000 a year and residence.

W. T. Lewis home
Picture given by Aberdare Library (RCTCBC)
In 1864 moved to The Mardy, in Aberdare, in the same year he married Miss Anne Rees, daughter of Mr William Rees, of Lletty Shenkin Collieries, and the grand-daughter of Mrs Lucy Thomas (1781-1847), John Nixon Coal Owner observed Lucy Thomas, “she sat in her office, a wooden hut near the pit’s mouth, and traded for cash, placing in a basket over her head the monies which she received from her coal” of Waun Wyllt, “Mother of the Welsh Steam Coal Trade”. Thus were united two great pioneer families of South Wales, thus he received a handsome fortune, and now William T. Lewis now went into colliery speculation apart from the Bute estate.

He had experience in the Bute-Merthyr pits at Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley and Senghenydd his speculations in mining were very successful and I time he was appointed to serve on the royal commission on the action of coal dust in mines, on mining royalties, coal supplies and accidents in mines between 1878-1886. From the coal industry he was drawn into the working of the iron industry, he helped to revive the industry by applying the Bessemer process for the production of steel. In 1908 he was elected president of the Iron and Steel Institute.

In 1881 Lewis, was given entire control of the Marques of Bute’s Welsh estates, and, by reducing costs of working at the Cardiff docks “constructed by the Bute Family” he made possible the expansion necessary for the rapidly increasing trade in steam coal. In 1887 he had constructed Roath dock and by 1907 the Queen Alexandra dock. He also introduced the Lewis-Hunter crane of which he was part inventor.

When the Bute Dock Company was formed on 1887, he became managing director and some years later helped to secure direct access to the South Wales coal-field by opening up the Cardiff Railway, undoubtedly the growth of Cardiff and the prosperity of the coal-field are bound up with Lewis’s career.

It was said when he was presented with the freedom of Merthyr in 1908, he himself claimed that “he was one of the sixth generation of the Lewis family engaged in the working of coal and the manufacture of iron and steel in the parish of Merthyr.”

William Thomas Williams’s greatest work was done in the cause of industrial peace. After the strike in 1871 after the coal strike little had been done to organise the industry. He formed in with the help of coal-owner and iron-workers of South Wales the Monmouth and South Wales Coal Owners Association.

He brought in the sliding scale payments as the basis as a new agreement for the coal industry which went well with the work force and the coal-owners,  which brought and stability to the industry after many turbulent years, this was soon adopted by other the coal-fields.

W.T. Lewis taken in 1902
W.T. Lewis taken in 1902
He took a keen interest in education and in the social welfare and was a generous supporter of hospitals and other institutions. He played an important part in the founding in 1881, the Monmouth and South Wales permanent provident fund for the relief of colliery workers in case of sickness or accident, a scheme which anticipated by many years some advantages of old age pensions compensation for accident and insurance against sickness or unemployment.

It is said by Sidney and Beatrice that W.T. Lewis was “the best hated-man in the Principality”, an implacable opponent of trade unionism. He was owner of Universal Steam Coal Company at Senghenydd, the scene of the worst mining disaster when in 1913, 439 miners lost their lives in an underground explosion.

With his involvement with various royal commissions earned him a knighthood in 1885, and then in a baronetcy in 1896. In 1911 he joined the peerage as Baron of Merthyr and Senghenydd.

He lies buried in the family vault Cefncoedycymer Merthyr Tydfil, the vault is topped by a large Celtic cross.

Vault of W.T. Lewis’s Family
Vault of W.T. Lewis’s Family

In Aberdare in 1887  and the Commemoration of the Queen’s Jubilee, Sir William Thomas Lewis, offered to the town the plot of ground upon which the Constitutional Club now stands, for purpose of erecting a Free Library thereon and also promised on behalf of the Marquis of Bute the sum of £1000 towards the erection of such. To the lasting disgrace of Aberdare, however,  the offer was not accepted.

Lewis and Hunter Patent Coaling System

At an exhibition which was held 23rd February 1892 at the reception of the Institution of Civil Engineers, represent the mode of shipping coal. This invention of Sir W.T. Lewis general manager and Mr Charles L. Hunter of the Bute docks which was adopted by the Bute Docks Company, at their Roath Dock Cardiff. This system was adopted by the Bute Docks Company after mature consideration in 1887, as giving the best facilities for coal shipping, especially dealing with large cargoes, with a view to despatch and at the same time to reduce the breakage of the coal whilst being shipped.

The cranes, with their accessories, were first erected on a berth of 300 feet long, the advantages of this system became so apparent that the company had at one time eleven cranes of a quay space of 1,800 feet long.

These are the benefits and a brief description of the advantages and capabilities and working with mode of shipping.

  • With this system as many as four cranes have been employed simultaneously loading the same vessel, as the cranes can be brought into such positions as to plumb he steamer’s hatchways. This in itself is a great advantage, for the ship is not then dipped by the head or stern, nor is great weight put amidships, leaving the ends empty, a condition which is not good for any vessel. The cranes are not only movable and provided with a swing motion of some 40 feet radius, but they are also provided with a derricking motion, so that they can plumb both hatchways and coaling pits at will; this derricking motion also enables the cranes to steer their loads clear of rigging, funnels etc.
  • The speed of loading coal had proved to be 293 tons with one crane in an hour.
  • The coal is shipped in very much better condition than with the old system, and owing to the construction of the carrying boxes with the cone valve or bottom which is only released tolet the load out when it is lowered down into the hold of the vessel within some 18 inches ofthe flooring of the ship, or the cargo, as the case may be, the breakage is greatly reduced in   fact there is scarcely any perceptible difference in the appearance of the coal in the vessel to what it is coming from the collieries to the port, which, of course, it is a very great advantage, especially with friable coal.
  • The value of this will be understood by all who take any interest in shipping matters, and who know that a heavy percentage of the losses of coal-laden ships is attributed to the liberation of the gases from the coal when broken in loading, this gas being unable to escape from the ship’s hold through being covered by the great heap of coal which falls in one place, viz., directly under the shoot or wagon.
  • From the ingenious manner in which the coal is tipped into the carrying box from the railway wagons-the cranes, having a lifting power of 18 tons, deal with a whole wagon at each operation, carrying full 10 tons per waggon, the breakage is very much less than by any of the other systems hitherto adopted. The greatest and only fall the coal can possibly have by this system is 5 feet, and this only applies to the first few lumps, after which is it obvious    that as the box fills the fall is reduced until it becomes nil.

With the old system the coal is tipped into a shoot with a fall of 4 feet, it then has to roll down the shoot 24 feet long after which it has an actual drop of between 20 and 30 feet according to the depth of the vessel.

The shop’s berth which these cranes serve, supply a want felt for years past that is, a fixed quay berth for steamers of any size for discharging their inward cargoes, the cranes being provided also with a 2-tons lift for the purpose and taking in their outward coal cargoes, simultaneously or otherwise as occasion may require, with the maximum of despatch and the minimum of breakage a great desideratum of the shipment of coal. Every person who had dad experience of the ordinary ”tip” method of loading will know how to appreciate the blessing of a fixed quay berth, and understand the great saving of time and labour, which means money to the ship-owner, by the use of adjustable cranes.

The two lines of railway along the quay which the cranes span, enable the railway companies trucks to be placed alongside the vessel, the group of lines or sidings outside the pits to and from which the cranes work when dealing with coal, serve for holding and keeping up a constant supply of full wagons and working off the empties.
Thus it will be seen that such facilities are present as will. When used. Discharge and load a steamer carrying, for example 6,000 tons in an incredibly short space of time.

The overlookers of the largest steamers using the port of Cardiff state there are no berths equal to them in the world, and are eagerly sought for by them, and they frequently elect to wait for a crane berth rather than go to the tips.

W. T. LewisW. T. Lewis

Mr Charles Hunter 1839 – 1902

Charles Hunter was born in Tredegar in 1839 and was chief engineer of the Tredegar Iron and Steel Company, as well as Locomotive Superintendent of the Sirhowy Railway. He moved to Cardiff in 1874 to become resident engineer of the Cardiff Railway Company. He was joint consulting engineer of the construction of the new dock, besides being the co-inventor of the Lewis Hunter crane he also built several locomotives used on the railway system. He died on the 8th February 1902 at his home in Penarth Cardiff.

High Constables of Aberdare


Sir William Thomas Lewis, The Mardy, July 4th 1869, a Meeting was held at the Temperance Hall, Aberdare to advocate the formation of a Permanent Relief Fund for Miners who met with accidents in mines. This meeting was convened by the High Constable, but he was unfortunately unable to present to preside thereat.

A Committee of which Sir William was the Chairman was appointed but several years passed before the Permanent Society was established. The movement at that time took form owing to the second explosion at Ferndale whereby 60 persons lost their lives on June 10th 1869, and it was strongly felt that a national relief fund was sadly needed.

On July 27th 1869, the Public Park, the pride of Aberdare was formerly opened, Messrs. Richard Fothergill and Henry Richard, Members of Parliament for the boroughs attended on the occasion. Sir William was at that time a member of the Aberdare Local Board of Health   and was a member of the Park Committee of that Board. The draining and laying out of the Park and the erection of the lodges, &c., cost £6,308 9s 11d. In March, 1870 the late Canon Jenkins succeeded the Rev. T.H. Edwards as Vicar of Aberdare.


Mr Herbert C. Lewis “Son of W.T. Lewis”, the Mardy. Unfortunately during his term in office Mr Lewis, who has always indentified himself with all movements for the advance of the interest of Aberdare, was unavoidably abroad for the benefit of his health, and he took but little part in any public movement in the town. This year Mr D.A. Thomas M.P., entertained the Deaf and Dumb connected with the Glamorganshire Mission to dinner and tea, Colonel T. Phillips kindly granting the use of the Armoury for the occasion.

In January 1891, the Aberdare Steam Laundry Company was formed, and the Memorial Stone of the Laundry was subsequently laid by Lady Lewis. The committee of the Intermediate School this year was secured the plot of ground near the town park gate for the erection thereon the Intermediate School. Mr Lewis, in March convened a meeting to consider the advisability of presenting Inspector James Thomas with a Testimonial on his appointment as Superintendent of police in Neath; and as a result of the meeting at which the High Constable was unable to preside an Address and a handsome gold watch was presented to the Superintendent Mr David James 58 Dean St Aberdare, being the Secretary of the Committee. In March of this year one of the Ex-High Constables, Mr W. Thomas J.P. Bryn Awel entertained some 100 of his officials and others to a banquet at the Boot Hotel in commemoration of his 50th year of Colliery work.

St Issell’s Church Saundersfoot

There are many stained glass windows in this church donated by W.T. Lewis and his family over the years and in 1978. In memory of the third Lord Merthyr a flight of circular steps and doors were on the South porch.

This picture is of his wife, and is depicted in St Issell’s Saundersfoot,
This picture is of his wife, and is depicted in St Issell’s Saundersfoot,
St Elvan’s Church Aberdare.
St Elvan & St Tudful St Issell’s Church Saundersfoot
St Elvan & St Tudful St Issell’s Church Saundersfoot
Llandaff Cathedral

Windows in regards to W.T. Lewis

East Window

The East window was given by Sir W.T. Lewis, in memory if his wife in 1909, initially he had wanted it to be place a window in the nave, but the Dean and Chapter declined and suggested the present position. Mr Lewis submitted two designs for the Chapter’s consideration early in 1910 and with minor amendments; the design by C. Powell of Highgate was accepted, manufactured and installed by the end of July in the same year.

W.T. Lewis Coat of Arms

Lewis of Merthyr Gold, on a fess Sable three bees Volant proper (in their proper colours), in chief a dexter arm embowed (bent at the elbow), couped at the shoulder and vested (clothed) Sabel, holding in the hand a scroll Silver, and in a base a lion rampant Gules, and in the dexter canton a Baronets escutcheon.

East Window

North window this was placed came from the Hon. Mrs Green “daughter of W.T. Lewis” wife of Archdeacon Green was dedicated on the 6th of December 1920. It reads “AMDG In loving memory of Sir William Thomas Lewis, Baronet, First Baron Merthyr and Senghenydd GCVO Born the 5th August 1837 died 27th August 1914. This window is erected by his children AD1919.”