Richard Fothergill

In 1819 the Works were purchased by Fothergill & Co., at the head of which firm stood Rowland Fothergill, a man of remarkable enterprise. Trading as the Aberdare Iron Company, and personally directing the fortunes of Llwydcoed, he continued for a number of years to conduct Tredegar Works, under the name of Fothergill & Forman.

One of the Aberdare Company was Mr T. Fothergill, owner of a works near Chepstow, a brother of Rowland Fothergill. The eldest son of the Chepstow ironmaster was Richard Fothergill, and as soon as he had passed the curriculum of the schools he went to Aberdare, and was placed under the direction of his uncle, with the understanding that he had to acquire all the knowledge possible of iron-making, and not iron-making as a genteel amusement but as a good paying venture.

Old Aberdarians remember well the early years of Richard Fothergill’s entry into Aberdare. As age settled down upon the uncle, and he retired to the quietude of Hensol Castle, the nephew became the recognised head, and carried on his works with energy and success. One of his principal agents at Llwydcoed was Mr Rees Hopkin Rhys, and numerous incidents are on record testifying to his ability. It was when occupying an important post under Mr Fothergill that he formed one of a party to attend an experimental trip to Morlais Castle for the purpose of testing gun cotton. It was a terrible ending. A more expectant and happier party never wound its way up the mountain, crowned with the ruins of an Edwardian castle, than on the eventful morning in question; and a more dejected one never returned than when they bore the blinded man, the life of the group, strong in physical vigour, keen intellectually, and a head and shoulders above the rest in that world -wisdom which is never taught by book, but gleaned in the long days of bitter experience.

Mr Richard Fothergill as M.P. for Merthyr Tydfil

One of the principal men of South Wales, who has attained a distinguished position by his own great merit, once remarked that the important events of life often hang upon small hinges. You may plan and plot and work out ingenious theories for advancement, but some fine morning a friend is met, or a letter received, which upsets all calculation and makes or mars.

If Henry Austin Bruce, M.P. for Merthyr, had accepted the principle of the Ballot, Mr Richard Fothergill would have lost his chance for representing the great iron and coal districts of Merthyr and Aberdare.

Mr Bruce had made an excellent representative, and even the great Chartist element regarded him with approval as an honest man, who, if he did occasionally take more Conservative views that they approved, still at his annual meeting with his constituents was able to give sound reasons for his conduct. But when the question cropped up of the Ballot as a protection for the working man who could give his vote without fear of consequences, the great mass of colliers and ironworkers regarded it as a splendid boon, and demanded that whoever should seek to represent them in Parliament should support the Ballot.

Merthyr Tydfil, in 1868, instead of one representative, was, by virtue of its large constituency, to have two; and in addition to the old Member, there came forward Mr Henry Richard and Mr Richard Fothergill. Of Mr Richard no one knowing the borough and the great majority therein of Nonconformists and Liberals had any doubt. A certain section also favoured Mr Bruce, while the industrial communities of Plymouth, Abernant, and Llwydcoed, in the opinions of grave lookers-on, augured favourable results for Mr Fothergill, especially if his views on the Ballot were in sympathy with those of the majority. And the result of all the preaching and speaking day after day, and of systematic canvassing in every possible corner, was the return of Mr Henry Richard at the head of the poll and of Mr Fothergill as second Member. Mr Bruce was out. It was to be regretted that the mob forgot their old Member in the disrespect thrown upon him upon the day of election.

Those who wore Mr. Fothergill’s favours or displayed the pure white of Mr Henry Richard, had all possible respect. Not so the smaller number who carried the colours of Mr Bruce. They were marked out for insult and attack. That Mr Bruce felt the defeat is unquestionable. He retained his friendship for a “few,” but the “many “were forgotten. As it happened, the defeat was, perhaps, victory writ in another way, for it was not long before Mr Bruce, as Lord Aberdare, entered upon still more important functions than in representing a borough; and not long ago, full of age and honour that no breath of slander ever dulled for a moment, passed away, having done his part well for his generation; and, if he failed in some respects to prompt youth to keep pace in moral and intellectual life with his dreams and hopes, it was because such progress shows but little in the compass of a man’s life.

Behold, then, the ironmaster of Aberdare and Merthyr one of the Members for the Borough. His friends say that, though he made a most useful member, it was to some extent at the sacrifice of his position as a successful ironmaster. To his credit, he did good work for the coal district generally in bringing, with Lord Swansea when Sir Hussey Vivian, the superiority of Welsh steam coal before the Admiralty, and prompting the crucial trials which gave it prominence before Northern and Scotch coal. Nixon on the Seine and the Thames, and wherever steam coal was in question, and Fothergill and Vivian in Parliament, gave the impulse which has done good service ever since.
The skill of Mr. Richard Fothergill as an ironmaster, and his efforts with “steely iron,” a forecast of steel, will be remembered; and equally so the taste displayed in beautifying the grounds around Abernant, clothing unsightly tips with trees, diverting the heated waste water from the works, forming tropical ponds, and making his hot-houses, under the direction of a large staff of gardeners, a great exhibition of fruits and flowers. Upon these things we prefer to dwell rather than the sudden and disastrous ending of a career so brilliantly begun.

With his retirement practically ended the history of Plymouth and of Abernant, which passed from the roll of iron works to that of collieries. It should never be forgotten that Sir W. T. Lewis, in remembrance of his native place and of the terrible blow sustained by the stoppage of Plymouth, made a strong effort to acquire and to restart them for the benefit of the district, but was, unfortunately, unsuccessful.

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