Richard Crawshay I 1739 – 1810

Richard Crawshay I 1739-1810

He was only sixteen years of age, but strong and stoutly built, and in those footpad days very likely did not tempt the highwayman by his appearance, so he reached London safely, after twenty days’ travelling, and found himself, as young adventurers invariably do, in the most crowded, yet the most desolate, of cities. Humanity abundant, friends none. His means were small; and when they were nearly exhausted, he sold his pony for £15, and was constant in searching for employment. This at length he found; and the story goes that with the £15 he hired himself for three years in an iron warehouse kept by one Mr. Bicklewith. His duty was to sweep out the office, to put the desks in order for his master and his clerks, and, in fact, to make himself generally useful. Such was his diligence, his integrity, and perseverance, that he soon gained general favour, and it was often remarked that “he was a good deal better than the boy who had been there before him.” He was known as the Yorkshire boy. One of the branches of his master’s business was that of flat irons; and it was a common topic that the swarms of washerwomen who came in to buy these articles generally managed to steal a couple when they purchased one. It occurred to Bicklewith that the sharp Yorkshire boy might prove a match for the thieves, especially if he made it worth his while; so the branch was entrusted to him; and step by step he gained his master’s confidence; and when that worthy retired Richard remained master of the cast-iron warehouse in his stead.

There was no sentiment in Richard, no farewells, not even with the mother who bore him. No lingering about the old home, and the scenes of his youth. We cannot picture him as doing anything but in a dogged, practical way starting forth. He had his way to make in the world, his own destiny to carve out, and he began it as resolutely as his old ancestry did when, poor enough in all conscience, they girded sword to side, and made for the fat lands of the Saxons.

Embarked in the iron trade, keen-witted and speculative, it was but natural that Richard Crawshay should be interested in the news that came to London of the iron land of Wales, and as it is stated that he married his old master’s daughter, and, in addition to his savings and her dowry, had £1,500 by a State lottery, he had means enough to warrant an expedition to see for himself what Guest, and Bacon, and Homfray were doing.

Of the details of his first entry into Wales little has been handed down. It would appear that he came at a critical time, when Tanner and Bowser were simply floundering, and by no means had doing as well as Anthony Bacon done. He saw a chance to acquire an interest at Cyfarthfa, and he took it.

Richard joined Cockshott and Stephens, and from the hour he did so Cyfarthfa entered upon its famous history.

Richard Crawshay’s first acquaintance with Merthyr village must have been of a private character, but his second entry, after he had become the principal partner, is a matter of memorable history. The news ran that Crawshay was master, and that he was coming to take possession; that he was going to increase the works and to employ a great number of men; that he was worth a mint of money, could even coin money! This last rumour was overwhelming. The great painter, the profound student, the clever statesman win a certain measure of popularity; but the man of money, with the vast power which money exercises, always wins a higher place in the popular mind. Merthyr was all excitement to see the man who revelled in guineas, and when the whisper ran that on a certain day he would arrive at the village from Cardiff, most of the villagers, even to the old, went down to Troedyrhiw, three miles away, to welcome him. What an expectant crowd gathered at the hamlet that nestled under the wooded height, every eye and ear directed to the road by which he would come, and when a carriage was seen approaching, there was no doubt it was that of the ironmaster. A rush was made for it, horses taken out, and, amidst deafening cheers, Richard was borne up the valley to the scene of his future labours and his greatness. Old people in the last generation described him as a stalwart man, with strongly marked features pitted with small-pox; a man resolute to a fault, and a born ruler of men.

According to the statement of his grandson, the second and redoubtable William Crawshay, Richard Crawshay had no easy task before him at first, and most of the money saved and the takings of the iron warehouse in York Yard, London, were used up in laying the foundations, as it were, of the works. One of his early undertakings was, in conjunction with Mr. Cockshutt, to visit Gosport, where, about the year 1789, Cort, at the small works of Fontley, was working iron by his new invention, the puddling process, and the method of rolling. They were much struck by it, so much that they arranged with Cort to pay him 10s per ton on all the iron worked under his patent, and returned to collect all the capital they could to carry it out. In the same year Homfray, writing of Cyfarthfa, commends the forge as a noble work, turning out three tons of blooms weekly. Crawshay worked with a will. He entrusted the putting up of the first pair of rolls to Thomas Llewelyn, who came originally from the Swansea Valley, the grandfather of Mr. B. Kirkhouse, of Llwyncelyn. Before Crawshay’s time, in 1795, a traveller, describing the works, stated that the produce of the whole of the works in the valley amounted to 250 tons weekly, and the quantity of coal consumed daily was 200 tons, a large quantity in those days. In 1801 two furnaces were built at Ynysfach from plans made by a Merthyr man, named Watkin George, and did excellent service.

Richard Crawshay gradually began to take over complete control of the Cyfarthfa works, and on the 5th December 1791 the partnership with Cockshutt and Stevens was dissolved both men assigning their one third share each to Crawshay.

The termination of the period of Anthony Bacon II’s minority in 1793 also raised the problem of the ownership of the works. The Court of Chancery declared that Bacon was to be let into possession of Cyfarthfa and it seems that, at first, he was determined to obtain that part of Cyfarthfa premises which had not been included in the lease from his father to Homfray in 1793.  Crawshay was not at all anxious to relinquish his hold on these premises, which he had leased under Court of Chancery, and it was eventually settled that he should take the whole of Cyfarthfa works coupled with the benefit of the original lease.

The sum of money involved in the transaction is not known, but it is reasonable to suppose that herein lies the origin of Anthony Bacon’s royalty which was later to prove such a source of trouble and dissatisfaction.

Thus 20 May 1794 saw the completion of the purchase of Cyfarthfa by Richard Crawshay from the heir and founder.

Richard Crawshay was aided by some very able men in his enterprise at Cyfarthfa. There was:

  1. Watkin George, a Merthyr man and the mechanical genius of Cyfarthfa, who Crawshay had taken into partnership in 1792, and who, after a while, became charged with the active        management of the works. It is thought he left Cyfarthfa for Pontypool about 1805.
  1. Then there were the Bailey brothers, Joseph ad Crawshay Bailey, nephews of the sons of John Bailey of Wakefield and of Susannah, sister of Richard Crawshay.

Joseph Bailey (1783-1858) is supposed to have travelled to Merthyr on foot to seek his fortune with his rich uncle. After working hard, his industry and fidelity were rewarded by a grant of a participation in his uncle’s own share of the Cyfarthfa profits.

Crawshay Bailey (1789-1872) came to Cyfarthfa when he was twelve years old, and Richard Crawshay rewarded him by leaving him £1,000 in his will. Crawshay Bailey stayed at Cyfarthfa after his uncle died, as there is no indication that he left with his brother when the latter went to Nantyglo.

Also associated with Richard Crawshay at Cyfarthfa was Benjamin Hall (1778-1817), barrister-at-law of Lincoln’s Inn and son of Dr Benjamin Hall, D.D. Chancellor of the Diocese of Llandaff. On the 16th December 1801 he married Richard’s daughter, Charlotte, at Merthyr Tydfil, and in 1802 a son was born, who later to become Lord Llanover and to give his name to ‘Big Ben.’ He bought Hensol Caste, formerly the seat of the Jenkins family and of Lord Chancellor Talbot, Baron Hensol, and he sat in Parliament as a member of Totnes (1806-1812), Westbury.

By 1802 iron making in the district of South Wales had become so established that the ironmasters had an organisation of their own, which was regarded with attention by the Northern ironmasters. This was not to be wondered at, seeing that it was from the North of England came the iron pioneers of Wales, the Guests, Homfray’s, Hills, Fothergill’, Martin’s, Riley’s, and others, and from this quarter I may, somewhat in anticipation of my history, add, that the tide having attained its object, ebbed back to the North from the South, for it was hence went Edward Williams, of Middlesbrough, W. Jenkins, of Consett, W. Evans, Windsor Richards, and many more, the Dowlais centre producing a memorable list of metallurgists.

The organisation founded by the ironmasters of South Wales met at Abergavenny, and it was agreed to hold it quarterly, and to call it the “Welsh Quarterly Meeting,” members to pay £1 1s a year. After this it was arranged that new members should pay 10s. 6d, fee, which was to be devoted to the cost of a bowl of punch for the benefit of the meeting, at each gathering. Tait, of Dowlais, and Homfray, of Penydarren, are named as amongst the members. As a foretaste of the old club days, the Robin

Hoods, Druids, each member was required to pay 2s each for refreshments.

Malkin, writing of South Wales in 1803, stated that Crawshay’s works had become the largest in the kingdom. Upon an average, 60 to 70 tons of bar iron were made weekly, and that, with the two new furnaces recently built, he would soon make 100 tons a week. In 1804 another traveller said: “Mr. Crawshay has four blast furnaces at work, with others of smaller size, accompanied by ranges of forges and mills, and they have lately been further improved by the addition of an immense waterwheel, 50ft. in diameter and 6 1/2ft. in breadth. The weight of the gudgeon alone was 100 tons.” He adds: “One thousand hands are employed at the works, which are the largest in the kingdom, perhaps, in the world.” The wheel worked four furnaces, and consumed 25 tons of water a minute. It was regarded as one of the wonders of the country. Magazines described it, poets lauded it.

With all this great improvement the means of transit at the time were very primitive. Coals were conveyed to Cardiff on horses and mules, each carrying a load of 1301b, a woman or a lad having charge of three or four. Iron was taken down to port in wagons, each laden with two tons, and drawn by four horses. Large quantities also went to Swansea, which then had greater facilities for despatch than Cardiff, now first coal shipping port in the world. One of the men taking iron to Cardiff was known as Will Rhyd Helig, and this man was reputed one of the most powerful in the district. Will’s load sometimes was half-a-ton on a large wheelbarrow! Amongst the early ironworkers men of great strength were common. There was a carpenter at Penydarren who could carry on his shoulder an iron pipe weighing 700lb., and another man at Dowlais, said to look like Pan, with his hairy breast and short diminutive legs, who could do remarkable things. A Plymouth workman came next, who could wheel nearly 400lb. from the weighing machine to the furnace, but he wore himself out.

Cyfarthfa in 1806 had six furnaces and two rolling mills at work. The number of men employed was 1,500, some of whom earned as much as 30s a week, and the total monthly payment of wages was £6,000. A little before this time the Rhymney Iron, works had been started by a company of Bristol merchants, who had noticed the success at Cyfarthfa, Dowlais, and Plymouth, and strove very hard to emulate it. For some reason or other they did not succeed, and Richard Crawshay acquired the works for the sum of £100,000.

Money by this time was becoming plentiful. Watkin George the mechanical genius of Cyfarthfa, netted no less a sum than £100,000 in the thirteen years by his service at Cyfarthfa, equal to one share, and then he left for Pontypool, joining a Mr. Leigh. It is on record that Crawshay was one of the most liberal of men in his bounties. Watson, the Bishop of Llandaff, was a personal friend of his, and coming up to see him one day, Richard offered the Bishop £10,000 if he could do any good with it amongst the poor, physically or spiritually. A volume might be written giving characteristic anecdotes of his goodness. One must be given. His banker was Wilkins, of Brecon, and once a week

Joseph Bailey, afterwards, Sir Joseph, rode there for the money. Wilkins, the banker, had been in India, and seen the evils, as he believed, of Pitt’s statesmanship, and when he became M.P. he resolutely and upon all occasions voted against him. Pitt for some time paid no attention to this; other and graver subjects than individual opposition occupied his mind. Yet, at length, even he began to notice the persistent antagonism of the banker. “Who is that little man in the snuff brown coat,” he said one day to a friend, “who is always going into the lobby against me?” He was told, and like the keen diplomatist he was, kept his opinions and intentions to himself. He set about, however, finding more about the banker of Brecon, and discovered that, in addition to a large business locally, his bank was the one selected by Government for revenue collection. Into it from all parts of the county the revenue money was paid in to the credit of Government, which drew upon the bank when money was required. Pitt laid his plans. The money was allowed to accumulate; none was called for until there was a considerable sum in Wilkins’ hands. Now it is very well known that it is one of the points of a successful manager to keep as little idle money as possible, but to put it out at usury or in safe investments.

Our banker did this all unsuspicious of the trap, and then suddenly, without warning, a demand was sent for all the money to be remitted instant. For a time it seemed as if the ruse had succeeded, that the bank must go. A happy thought! Wilkins would go and see Richard Crawshay and tell him all, for the trick was now apparent. If there was anything that roused Richard Crawshay more than anything else it was injustice or oppression. Anything mean, no matter how diplomatic, stirred up his Yorkshire manhood. He gave vent to a mighty oath as he listened, and then added, “No, dam it man, they shan’t break thee,” and advanced him £50,000, and informed the Government that another £50,000 was ready if required. Pitt was done. A few years after, when Crawshay was dead, the same game was played, but the old banker was too shrewd to be caught tripping.

Adding furnace to furnace, forge to forge, and building up the great Crawshay dynasty was engrossing work enough, and yet the ironmaster remained a homely and asocial man. He had his friend Guest at Dowlais and a “chum” in the village, a baker, whom he visited once a week to smoke a pipe with and chat on the principal topics of the day. He was quick in anger and as quick in repentance and mercy. His walking-stick was often applied to the shoulders of an idle workman, but if he accidentally hurt him, there was an instant salve of a guinea, and it is not unlikely that some of the beer-loving men of that day put themselves in the way of punishment so as to get the inseparable “ointment.” He was often to be seen on the steps of the dark smoke-coloured house opposite the works with his hands deep in his breeches pockets, and the pockets, everyone believed well lined with guineas.

Such was his attitude one day when Nelson, accompanied by Lady Hamilton and another lady, came to see him and his works, now becoming famous, and he took them in to entertain them in his genial and hearty way. The news that the great Nelson was a guest with Mr. Crawshay spread, and soon there was a big crowd. From the remotest parts of the village old and young flocked Cyfarthfa-wards to see the naval hero, and everyone was hoping to have a peep. Richard guessed as much, and, taking Nelson to the front door, introduced him to the multitude in his own characteristic fashion, “Here’s Nelson, boys; shout, you beggars!” and the cheers that went up Nelson never forgot. There were great doings that day and the next, and work was abandoned for rejoicings and festivity. Nelson put up at the Star, where a memorial of him is still retained. And to the inn Nelson invited two of his old veterans who had found employment at Dowlais, Jibb and Ellis, and during the evening Mr. Rowlands, parish clerk, was called in to give Nelson an idea of the Welsh language by proposing his health in Welsh, which he did.

True friend, with a hearty regard for the men whom he had gathered around him, Richard pursued the even tenure of his way until June 27, 1810, and then came the end, and, amidst the general regret of everyone, the great ironmaster died, aged 71. We borrow a leaf from the “History of Merthyr” in giving the final scene: “A sunny day in June.” There is mourning and weeping in the village. A different procession starts through the winding lane of Nantygwenith to that which welcomed Crawshay. Then it was a vigorous hero, borne in his carriage by a hundred cheering and stalwart sons of Vulcan. Now it is the same hero stricken down. And so they bore him through the village, the scene of his triumphs, like a Roman, to Llandaff Cathedral, and the grave. Fifty years before the daring youngster had been on the road to London, a farmer’s son, with all his fortune in his stout arm and active brain. Fifty years! He had gained an eminence undreamt of. Works in Wales and lands in England were his, and he had died the possessor of one million five hundred thousand pounds.” And more than this, how vast the services, rendered in transforming the shepherds village into a thriving township and giving thousands comfort and happiness.

Cyfarthfa Works for some years previous to the death of Richard Crawshay had been developing yearly, turning out, a large make for the period, of about 10,000 tons of iron in the year. There were six furnaces from 1806, two rolling mills, and four steam engines for blast power, and the weekly wage totalled £2,500.


It is one of the wise provisions of nature that, big as the man may be, the world goes on well without him when he is summoned off the stage. Man is only really missed in the circle of his home. In the industrial life, as in the national game, a player is bowled out, and it is “Next man,” or a rank and file man drops down, and another-steps into his place. It wounds one’s little vanity that such should be, but it is the inevitable, the unchanging law, that there is no indispensable man.

Scarcely had Richard Crawshay’s funeral procession ceased to reverberate through the streets than his son and successor, like the old kings of Israel, “reigned in his stead.” The disposition of Richard’s will was as follows: “Three-eighths to his son William, three-eighths to Mr. Benjamin Hall, and two eighths to Mr. Bailey. The works were free from mortgage, having been purchased from the descendants of Mr. Bacon for £95,000.

The will of Richard Crawshay was one of the most singular of productions. It was referred to many years ago in a quaint collection of curiosities and eccentricities as follows:

“To my only son, who never would follow my advice, instead of making him my executor and residuary legatee, as till this day he was, I give him one hundred thousand pounds? Proved 26th of July 1810, by the oath of Benjamin Hall, Esq, the sole executor.”

This son, William Crawshay I, never resided at Merthyr. He was reputed to have one of the richest men in England, and so extensively engaged in foreign speculations, largely in West India business that the growing works even of Cyfarthfa had no interest for him, and he was quite satisfied that under the care of his son William they would be successful. The financier and West India merchant did not long survive his father, Richard. He died a few years after the great ironmaster, leaving three sons William, George, and Richard. It will be interesting just briefly to follow the fortunes of these sons. George remained at Cyfarthfa, and for some years was part-proprietor of the works, and after him the large section of Merthyr known as Georgetown was called. Then he left for France, where he married the daughter of a French nobleman. Returning to England, he, establishing an ironworks at Gateshead, became mayor on several occasions, a dignity afterwards held by his son.

Favorite poem of Richard Crawshay
The Bailey’s, Sir Joseph and Crawshay Bailey
The Shoeless Lad becomes a Baronet

Before closing the career of Richard Crawshay, I am happy in having a relic handed down from his day, in the form of his favourite poem, which I transcribe in order to show that he was not the harsh iron man he has often been reputed to be, but beneath an exterior that was, perhaps, a trifle austere, had many of the homely virtues. It was preserved in the Kirkhouse family, and without more prelude, here it is, just as he was heard reciting it:

In the downhill of life, when I find I am declining,
May my lot no less fortunate be?
Than a snug elbow chair can afford for reclining,
And a cot that overlooks the wide sea.

With an ambling good pony, to pace o’er the lawn,
While I carol away idle sorrow;
And blithe as a lark that each day hails the dawn.
Look forward with hope for to-morrow.

With a porch at my door, both for shelter and shade to,
As sunshine or rain may prevail;
And a small plot of ground for the use of the spade to,
And a barn for the use of the flail.

And while peace and plenty I find at my board,
With a heart free from sickness or sorrow.
With my friend I will share what to-day can afford,
And may God spread the table tomorrow.

With a cow for my dairy, and a dog for my game,
And a purse when a friend wants to borrow,
I’ll envy no nabob his riches or fame.
Or what honours await him tomorrow.

From the bleak Northern blast may my cot be completely
Secured by a neighbouring hill;
And at night may repose steal upon me more sweetly.
At the sound of a murmuring rill.

And when I, at last, must throw up this frail covering,
Which I have worn for three score years and ten;
At the brink of the grave I’ll not seek to keep hovering.
Nor my thread wish to spin o’er again.

But my face in a glass, I’ll searching survey,
And with smiles count each wrinkle and furrow;
And this old worn-out stuff, which is threadbare today.
May become everlasting tomorrow.

Mr. Richard Crawshay amassed a large fortune, dying it is stated, a millionaire, and his son William I, father of the gentleman just deceased, succeeded him in the business, which continued to grow in wealth, magnitude, and importance.

There is a good story told of this old gentleman. Inheriting the iron will and strong feeling of sturdy independence which had characterised his sire, he always maintained his leading position in the business, and, although his son was admitted a partner and allowed a certain share in the concern, kept, as he was wont to express it, “the staff in his own hands.” Yet, at times, he was apparently seized with a desire to loosen his grasp from the staff and to retire from business upon which occasions the determination he supposed himself to have arrived at was communicated with due solemnity to his son. “William,” he would say, “I shall give it up. I am sick of it; have the books made up to such a date (mentioning the time), and let me know the result. I shall retire.” But this fit was not of long duration; the resolution was no sooner apparently formed than it was abandoned when the balance-sheet was presented to him he would scan it over curiously, then put it carefully aside in his desk, observing, with a half cunning, half humourous glance at his son, “Ah, well! I won’t give up the staff yet, William; I think I’ll hold on a little longer.” Upon one occasion, however, he wrote to his son from London, desiring him to come up to town and to bring the necessary papers with him, as he had determined now finally and positively determined to retire from business. The son, willing, and perhaps a little eager, that his father should carry out his resolution, lost no time in obeying the paternal command, and, as soon as circumstances would permit, he met Mr. Crawshay, by appointment, at one of the hotels in Covent Garden. Well, William,” said the old gentleman, “you have come.” “Yes, sir,” was the reply, and have brought the papers as you desired; would you like to sign now F” Well, no, not exactly now, let’s have dinner first. Go and see what they can give us.” Dinner was ordered and eaten, the viands being accompanied with a proportionate supply of liquids, and the old gentleman evidently enjoyed the repast, and was in excellent humour. Availing himself of what he considered an opportune moment, the son again suggested that the signature should be affixed to the necessary documents, but his suggestion was abruptly cut short by the father proposing that they should go to the play.” I have not,” said he, seen a play for years let’s go to Drury Lane, William.” And to Drury Lane they went, and there Charles Kemble the great Charles then in the zenith of his fame, was depicting, as perhaps has never since been depicted, the most piteous tale of “Lear.” The wretchedness and grief, the maddened agony of the poor crazy king, and the base ingratitude of his daughters “Goneril” and “Regan,” “to whom he had resigned his power,” evidently made a deep impression on Mr. Crawshay, senior. We watched the play throughout with intense interest, and, at its conclusion, he walked back to the hotel with his son, to whom he spoke not a word. On reaching the hotel door, however, he gave utterance, to his feelings. His words were brief, but to the purpose. “William,” said he that Shakespeare was a clever fellow, a d-d clever fellow; that old gentleman, the king, was a fool, a d-d fool. D–e. William, I shan’t retire at all; “I’II keep the staff in my own hands as long as I live.” And he kept his word.

We brought down the memoirs of this great and successful family to the death of Richard Crawshay, Richard I. He was buried at Llandaff, and when the funeral left the old, gloomy-looking house at Cyfarthfa, the solemnity of the scene, the dense crowds that thronged the highway surpassed any funeral ceremony of prior or later date.

It is said that in a little house, known as Wern Vach, behind Llwyncelyn, lived an old man, venerable looking, contented, and happy, who worked in Cyfarthfa Works when Richard Crawshay was alive, and well remembers him as a fine, stalwart specimen of an Englishman a rough diamond, with a voice that made boys quake and men obey, and yet having a mature singularly generous and confiding. This old man has lived through three generations of the Crawshay’s. He worked with Richard, continued during the life of William, then of the present William, and survives during the management, and enjoyed the bounty of Mr. Robert Crawshay.

It was related of Mr. Richard Crawshay, and old men yet cherish the notion, that one of the great ironmaster’s intention was to have paid off all his workmen’s debts! That gentleman possessed more consideration for his workmen than to have done anything of the kind. He was the man to encourage honest exertion, and shrewd enough to see that the men who worked hard for their money knew properly its worth; that with men of unrestrained passions a super abundancy of money was the greatest evil they could suffer, as it brought so many others in its train.

William Crawshay I, never resided in Merthyr, and so, when his father died, he entrusted the sole management of the works to his son, the present William Crawshay. The new manager was, however, not new to the management, or to the details of iron-making, having in connection with the late Sir Joseph Bailey served a good apprenticeship at Cyfarthfa.

Llandaff Cathedral

Llandaff Cathedral, where sleeps the first Crawshay, Richard, only a farmer’s son at the starting, wealthiest of commoners at his death. Unlike Norman noble memorialised in marble, who won lands and renown by his sword, Richard developed the mineral riches of a great district, and by his iron will, his un-resting perseverance, aided in the up-rise of a great town from an insignificant hamlet, and in the earning of honest bread and substantial comfort by thousands, and tens of thousands of working men. The tale of Richard Crawshay has no greater one to surpass it in our industrial history, and the hand of annalist and chronicler will never tire in preserving it as a lesson for the industrious throughout all time. Richard Crawshay was born at Normanton, near Wakefield, in Yorkshire; and those who need his ancestry must consult the now-fading leaves of local history, where they are traced back to the time of James I., when one Miles Crawshay flourished as a farmer. Normanton is stated to have had its name from a settlement of Normans; but long before his day, the sword had been exchanged for the scythe and reaping hook, and the land had become fattened by other means than with the slain of battlefields. It is told of him that he grew up to his sixteenth year a sharp, vigorous lad with a mind fitted for other things than to rust away in village life. Some difference arose between him and his father. Very probably both were strong willed spirits; neither would give way, and about the year 1757, he arose early one morning saddled his pony, and started for London, the goal then, as now, of lads of enterprise, of adventure, and of genius.

Richard Crawshay I 1739-1810


We understand that the original lease of the Cyfarthfa mineral bears date the 29th August, 1765; the lessors being cue Right Hon. William, Earl Talbot and Baron Hensol, Lord Steward of HH Majesty’s Household, and Michael Richards, of Cardiff, Esquire and the lessees, Anthony Bacon, of the City of London, Esquire, and William Brownrigg, of Whitehaven, Enquire. The demised premises consisted of all the lessors’ ore, coal, ironstone, iron ore, and quarries of stone and slate for building works and other conveniences in the parish of Merthyr Tydvil.  A term, 99 years from the 25th March, 1705, annual rent of £100. This lease expired on the 25th March last (1864), and the present lessee is William Crawshay, of Caversham Park, Esquire, under a lease dated in 1862, from the Right Honourable Lord Dynevor and the Trustees of Miss Richards, of Plasnewydd, near Cardiff, a minor.

Position of Richard Crawshay Vault, Llandaff Cathedral

Richard Crawshay and a Gold Medal 28.09.1926
by Dr Frank R. Lewis

A letter from the early ironmaster, Richard Crawshay, was discovered in the archives of the Royal Society of Arts a week or two ago.

It throws interesting light on early work at Cyfarthfa which was to become famous under the guidance of Richard Crawshay’s descendants, William Crawshay (1788-1867), and Robert Thompson Crawshay (1817-1879). The letter reveals, moreover, that Richard Crawshay was a personal friend of Samuel More, secretary to the Society of Arts from 1769 to 1799.

In the “Transaction of the Society of Arts,” for the year 1798 we read that the following premium was offered:

“To the person, in Great Britain, who shall make the greatest quantity of Bar-iron, not less than ten tons, with Coak, from Coak Pigs, equal in quality to the best Iron imported from Sweden or Russia, and as fit for converting into Steel; the Gold Medal.”

“SAMPLES, not less than one hundred weight; with CERTIFICATES that the whole quantity is the equal quality to be produced to the Society on or before the first Tuesday in January 1799.”

Richard Crawshay and his son, William Crawshay, both served as stewards of the Society of Arts, but the gold medal was not awarded to the former for his sample of iron. He was not so fortunate as Thomas Johnes, who was awarded two or three medals about this time for planting oaks and larches at Hafod. It might be mentioned however that in 1872 the Society conferred its highest distinction the Albert Medal, on Sir Henry Bessemer, thus recognising a great scientist whose inventions transformed the character of the Cyfarthfa works.

Crawshay’s letter and its accompanying certificate are as follows:

4 Nov 1798

Samuel More Esqr

Dear Sir,

Last week I sent from hence a box containing 130lbs of my R’C Iron to go per Bristol Waggon directed to you.

From which I expect such report as will entitle me to the Society’s Gold Medal – enclosed is a certificate by the persons who best know the facts –15 Tons of same sort is sent to Deptford Yard for use of the Navy – 20 to Mr Wildly for Conversion & 80 tons to roll into Hoops for Victualing Board & Conversion to my house in London I intend being in Town in all this or beginning of next Month & can then give the Committee ocular demonstrations of its utility if the vessels are then safe arrived.

Marquis of Bute writes me he will personally attend the Cultivation of Hemp. I expect he has or will soon see you on that subject.

My daughter has been dangerously ill is now mending apace, Franklin, Miss Moses and she unite best wishes for you with

Dr Sir,
Your obedient Servant

Richard Crawshay

The certificate reads:

We the underwritten Managers and Workmen do certify that the Box of Iron sent hence 24th past directed for Samuel More Esqr, was made at Cyfarthfa Iron Works, from the materials of this place, with Coke Pig Iron, and with Pit Coal, and they only are used in these works for Fuel, and that the 15, 20, and Eighty Tons mentioned in Mr Crawshay’s Letter of this date was all made in the same way and is of equal Quality with the Sample, which we believe equals in goodness to any Iron made. Witness our hands the 4th December 1798

Watkin George                         Head Managers
William Jones
Thomas X Gates                       Master Pudler
James Owen                              Master Shingler
Thomas Llewelin                      Master Millman
Benji. X Millward                     Master Finer
Matt. Wayne Jun.                     Clerk of Works

He Made for Merthyr its place in the Sun 20.03.1939

By J. Ronald Williams

Two hundred years ago there was born in the village of Normanton, in Yorkshire, a boy who was destined to become one of the greatest of the early Iron Kings. He was Richard Crawshay, a member of an old-established farming family.

Although not the first of the English pioneers to come to Merthyr Tydfil during the eighteenth century, he became the most successful. Unlike the other ironmasters he entered into possession of furnaces and forges which were already in operation.

As the result of a quarrel with his father when he was 16 he mounted his pony and left hurriedly for London, which was reached after a three weeks ride. The pony was sold for £15 and with this sum he hired himself to a Mr Bicklewith who kept a cast-iron warehouse in York Yard.

After working for some months as a general servant his diligence and efficiency won him promotion He was made responsible for the sale of flat-irons to the London washerwomen who were, at that time, notorious for their quarrelling and thieving, and there can be no doubt that his Yorkshire wit and strength served him in good stead.

Sole Possession

Gaining the complete confidence of his employer he was rapidly promoted to more responsible posts. Marriage to the daughter of the house followed, and with it the control of the business passed into his hands. Later, when his father-in-law retired, he entered into sole possession.

Richard Crawshay had by this time acquired a fair amount of wealth and he wished to invest it wisely. The increasing demand for iron made him consider the possibility of engaging in the manufacture of that metal. As a dealer in iron goods he had heard of the success of those English ironmasters who had settled at Merthyr Tydfil. He journeyed there in 1785, and was particularly interested in the Cyfarthfa undertaking of Anthony Bacon, the most successful of these ironmasters whose will he witnessed in June of the same year.

In February of the following year, a month after Bacon’s death, the lease of the Cyfarthfa Furnace was granted to Crawshay and two others for nine years as a rental of £1,000 a year. About the same time the lease of the Cyfarthfa Foundry, which had been separately owned, was also transferred to him.

Though he had established his interest in the Cyfarthfa property, Richard Crawshay does not appear to have taken permanent residence in the district until later. This was in May, 1794, when after a legal dispute between the beneficiaries and executors of Anthony Bacon’s will be completed the purchase of the property. The work people, when they learnt that the works were to continue and that Crawshay was coming to reside in the district, went to Troedyrhiw, three miles away, to welcome him on his arrival, and haul his carriage to Llwyncelyn, the house overlooking the works in which he was to reside.

Visit of Henry Cort

With the assistance of the gifted Watkin George as mineral manager and engineer, Richard Crawshay made a careful study of smelting methods and resolved to introduce those that would improve quality and increase output. He therefore visited Henry Cort at Portsmouth to examine the puddling process, the new method of rolling iron and the use of coal as a fuel for smelting, which the latter had introduced a few years previously. As the 4,000 acre Cyfarthfa estate was rich in coal as well ae iron-stone Crawshay decided to introduce Cort’s methods and agreed to pay him 10s for very ton of iron manufactured.

The great demand for the iron manufactured at Cyfarthfa led to the rapid expansion of the works and two new furnaces were erected in 1801 at Ynysfach, a little lower down the banks of the Taff. By 1803 the works were the largest in the kingdom and in 1806 the 1,500 people who were directly and indirectly employed produced nearly 200 tons of iron weekly to be sent along the canal to Cardiff, from which it was shipped to the chief ports of the country and to America. This was the output of six furnaces and two rolling mills, to operate which four steam engines were employed.

The ingenious contrivances introduced to overcome natural difficulties and increase production were many, chief among them being a huge water wheel, which was 50ft in diameter. Curious visitors came from all parts of England to see the works and some of them used the material for articles in the London magazines. Among the people who visited Cyfarthfa were Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton.

Rhymney Enterprise

Richard Crawshay received great assistance from his son-in-law Benjamin Hall, and his nephews, Joseph and Crawshay Bailey. In 1804, in association with Benjamin Hall and Watkin George, he purchased the Union Ironworks in the Rhymney Valley to give the former an opportunity to make his own way in the iron industry.

The fact that he had able assistants to manage the works enabled him to enter into semi-retirement a few years before his death, which occurred in June 27 1810.

His chief characteristics were great organising ability, generosity, sociability, and sense of justice. Bankers and iron-masters were indebted to him for financial help in times of crisis. Though quick-tempered and hating slothfulness he appreciated skill and diligence in his workmen and was generous not only in praise, but in reward. He had come into a strange land, where the people spoke unfamiliar tongue, but he was able to make himself one with them.

Cyfarthfa continued to prosper, and even achieve greater success, under the control of his descendants for nearly a hundred years. Then, with the coming of the steel age, they were acquired by Messrs Guest, Keen, and Nettlefolds before being closed down early in the present century.