Francis Crawshay was the third 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.
There was an eccentric streak about Francis. While at Hirwaun he refused to use the big house where Henry lived, but built a cottage and, instead of a brass plate on the front door, he had a huge block of coal with his initials cut on it to show this was his residence.
His father said once that, “Frank is spending my money as a devil of a pace at Forest,” grumbled William Crawshay. Francis annoyed him because of his extravagance and indolence and complete indifference to the Crawshay, motto, “Perseverance.” He was always ready to take a day’s holiday and go shooting rabbits on Barry Island, a place he later bought and which was called by one of his descendants as “Crawshay rabbit—shooting box.” He was popular with the workmen because he was the only one of the family that could speak Welsh and he was much fonder of chatting and swearing with them in that language than with hurrying up the production of iron bars and rails. He was also a great humourist and fond of practical jokes.
Francis was an extremely kind and brave man. After Henry went to the Forest of Dean, Francis was given charge of Hirwaun as well as Treforest, and he was at Hirwaun during the cholera epidemic of 1849. This was so severe that, to reduce infection risks through passing of money, each workmen had to pick his wages out of a pool of water into which they had been thrown, Francis refused to leave, even when the epidemic was at its height, gave lavish help to the sick and bereaved, visiting any of his workmen who were ill with the disease. Although not a religious man, he helped to establish several chapels and churches in the district.
Francis had married his cousin in 1837 (Richard Crawshay II) daughter.
The cottage was built and instead of a brass plate on the front door, he had a huge block of coal with is initials cut on to it to show that this was his residence.
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.
Francis was certainly a colourful figure, who had a great zest for life. The double wedding of two of his daughters at Treforest was the sensational event of 1862. The bridegrooms were the sons of Rowland Fothergill of Lowbridge House, West Moreland, Thomas Rowland and George. The novelty of escorting two brides simultaneously to the altar appealed to Francis’ delight in the unusual and he organised the ceremony and wedding reception with even more extravagance than usual. He had a private works band and this was re-enforced by belonging to his brother Robert (Cyfarthfa Band), so music preceded the bridal procession from Treforest all the way to Llantwit Fardre church, while work people and others lined the route, cheering loudly. Francis sat with the brides, Laura Julia on one side and Isabel Eliza on the other, and they drove in a carriage drawn by four greys, Francis enjoying every minute as he acknowledged the shouts of the crowd. It was more fun even that his own wedding day.
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,
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.
The Crawshay Tablet and Grove
In the centre of a circular Grove of Pine Trees, a short distance to the North of Forest House, Treforest, enclosing a circle of great upright stone is a stone with the following inscription carved in it:
William Crawshay 1650
William Crawshay 1713
Richard Crawshay 1737
William Crawshay 1810
Francis Crawshay 1811
Henry Crawshay 1813
Robert Crawshay 1817
The following appear to be either names omitted from the proper order in the list, or those of another branch:
Richard Crawshay 1786
George Crawshay 1794
Most of the above named were born in Wales, and were designated Iron Kings. They had a leading hand in developing the iron trade of Glamorgan, and were in their day’s mighty men. At Treforest the name is now but a waning memory. The family, though non-resident are still active in Merthyr. This monument and circles of pines and pillars were placed by Francis Crawshay, born in 1811. He spent the closing years of his life at Seven Oaks, Kent, and the Isle of Wight. He christened his yacht “Mamgo,” the South Walian Welsh for Grandmother.
The Iron Tower on the hill south of Taff Valley, was erected by the said Mr Francis Crawshay.
Speech by a Stone Column
In a smooth, bordered space, in front of the flat pillars forming the outer circle in Crawshay’s Grove, a stone is presented saying of itself as follows:
“Duw ni feddaf,
Haf ni ofalaf
Gauaf ni theimlaf
Angau nid ofnaf.”
“I have no God,
I heed no summer,
I feel no winter,
I fear not death.”
Other pillars have the following inscriptions; “William Crawshay, 1841.” “Julia.” “Emily Matilda.” “Corn Law Repealed 1847.”
The Crawshay Grove appears to have had prepared for it an artificially constructed circular elevation of green turf, for it slopes backwards from the circle all around, like the shape of a beehive, after the ancient Druidic method. The fine grass is rich, and plentifully dotted in summer with daisies and buttercups, In Welsh, daisies are called “Llygaid y Dydd,” or Eyes of the Day. It does not require much imagination to make one feel somewhat awed in this silent grove. The Uprights are like giants all around, bearing silent record of the old Iron Kings of the Crawshay family, who have one by one departed to the silent shades. One feels glad that a member of the family in his lifetime, constructed this enduring record of their “days of nature.”
On Wednesday the 24th of September there was launched from the Beach of Barry Island, a fine schooner named the Master de Barri, of Barri Isle, port of Cardiff. She was built by Thomas Davies, master builder, of Newquay, for Francis Crawshay, Esq., the proprietor of the island, and registers about 100 tons, but will carry 180; length overall eighty feet. She is an extraordinary strong vessel; the materials are of the first quality, and will be classed at Lloyd’s. Among the gentlemen present were Henry Fothergill, Esq., of Aberdare Iron Works (who named the ship), Richard Roden, Esq., of Pontypool iron Works, Capt. Ellderton, commander of the Bermondsey Yacht Club, William Crawshay, jun. Esq., Hirwain. Francis Crawshay Esq. of Treforest, and Messrs Edward Payne and Joseph Elliott, Cardiff. A large number from the surrounding villages witnessed the launch, and about 60 persons partook of refreshment on board, kindly provided by F. Crawshay, Esq.
He spent the closing years of his life at Seven Oaks, Kent, and the Isle of Wight. He christened his yacht “Mamgo,” the South Walian Welsh for Grandmother.
The late excursion to Barry 21.08.1863
We have been requested to publish the following letter addressed to F. Crawshay, Esq:
St. Mary Street, Cardiff, 19th Aug., 1863.
It would be doing violence to my own feelings, and an act of injustice to the portion of the excursion which landed at Barry Island on Monday last, if I did not make some attempt at returning you our warm and heartfelt thanks for your more than kind attentions to us on that occasion. Be pleased, therefore, sir, to accept of our humble, but sincere, feelings of gratitude for the kindness and extraordinary condescension which you evinced towards us and be assured, sir, that your kindness and your humility will not soon be forgotten by most of us. When your genuine goodness and kindness was made known to all, when we got on board to return to Cardiff, the band played “In a cottage by the sea,” after which three hearty rounds of cheers were given for F. Crawshay, Esq., the most perfect gentleman I have as yet met with (if I am any judge) in this part of the country. Hoping, sir, that you have escaped a cold in consequence of your getting your feet wet in landing the women and children into your boat, and again thanking you very heartily, and assuring you that your kindness has taken deep root in our hear, I have the honour to be, sir your obedient servant,
W. C. Goldrich,
“F. Crawshay, Esq. &c.” Sgt, 53rd Regt,
The Barry Island property charged hands last. Monday morning. Mr. Crawshay had everything taken away that belonged to him, and free possession was given to Mr Jenner’s agent. This is an important step in connection with the projected railway to Barry. John Dunscomb, of Cadoxton, has been appointed keeper of the Island.
Francis Crawshay at 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.
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.
In 1873 Francis Crawshay sold the works to a consortium which set up the Trefforest Iron and Steel Company, but kept much of the surrounding land and Forest House as a home for his son Tudor, who with his brothers owned the lease-hold on many houses in Trefforest until well into the twentieth century
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
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
Helen Christine 27
Mary Stella 25
De Barri 21
Deeply regretted by all who
He rests from his labours
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 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.
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.
Funeral of Mrs Crawshay of 15.08.1896
The funeral of Mrs Crawshay, widow of Mr Francis Crawshay, of Bradbourne Hall, took place on Wednesday afternoon amidst many manifestations of regard and esteem. The deceased, who had been a sufferer some years, died on Friday morning from paralysis at the age of 84, and leaves several sons and daughters to mourn their loss. The coffin, of polished oak, was covered with wreaths. Service was first held at Riverhead, which was conducted by the Revs. Burn, Murdock, Sidebotham, and Weller, her remains being interred at Brasted churchyard with those of her husband. The mourners were: Wm. Francis and Richard Tudor de Barri (sons), Mrs Fothergill and Mrs Clark (daughters), and Messrs C. Fothergill, T. Aldworth, Francis G. Crawshay, R. Bicknell Richard, and C, Crawshay (nephews), Mr John Jones (Welsh agent), &c.
Information as come from:
The History of the Iron, Steel, Tinplate and other Trades of Wales, by Charles Wilkins 1903.
The Crawshay’s of Cyfarthfa Castle by Margaret Stewart Taylor