William Crawshay I (1764 – 1834)

William Crawshay I

William Crawshay disliked Merthyr because of the unhappy memories of painful quarrels with his father, and he also hated Richard Crawshay’s old house, Cyfarthfa House (Gwaelodygarth House), where William II lived until 1815. He wrote to his son in 1813 “The weather is so hot I dare not come now. I should die in some or other, if not in my Father’s. My nerves are all unstrung when I think of Cyfarthfa even.”

William Crawshay I found it very inconvenient with all the mineral rights held by Anthony Bacon junior, the illegitimate son of Bacon who inherited them from his father, but by challenging young Bacon’s right and eventually frightening him with a lawsuit, William I bought for £95,000 in 1814. On this occasion he wrote an excited letter to Benjamin Hall, telling him “Cyfarthfa is emancipated. The power now is mine and I will use it honourably.”

Living in London, seldom visiting Wales, and no longer seeing a father showering favours on Charlotte and her husband all made it easier for William I to maintain a dignified, polite attitude towards Hall, especially as Joseph Bailey’s former shares gave him a majority vote, but he still wanted the Cyfarthfa ironworks for his own and must have bitterly regretted the quarrel which resulted in Richard Crawshay depriving him of this heritage.

William was cunning and ruthless in business though he was William I he had certain standards of honour to which he always adhered, and one of these was maintaining correct behaviour in dealing with his cousin and partner. He gave strict orders about this to his second son, who represented his interests in Merthyr. William II must treat Hall fairly, “as I would expect him to treat me. You cannot less love or esteem Hall than I do, but we must not in our Hate overlap Moderation and Prudence.” Benjamin Hall did on 31st July 1817 and, about this time, William I was able to buy the shares. It is not clear whether Hall himself or his heirs sold them, but in 1817 William I became the sole ruler of the works and felt he could now do as he wished without any opposition.

At least that is what he imagined, but he soon discovered that absolute power can be challenged. Very soon his favourite son, and the one he had appointed manager at Cyfarthfa, was pressing hard for a partnership, also emancipation from the London concern.

This was a business house in George Yard, developed enormously for the old Bicklewith warehouse, and now personally run by William I who regarded it and the Cyfarthfa ironworks as integral parts of a whole. One was the selling agency, the other only concerned with manufacture, while William II, though he ought to be allowed to sell iron himself, not submit every order to his father. The haggling and arguing went on for years, with occasional open rows, but no complete rupture between father and son as in the previous generation.

The opening months of 1831 saw a fall in price, William I experiencing great difficulty in restraining his colleagues from selling at £5 at Cardiff. Prices in Shropshire and Staffordshire were quoted lower than ever known before. A glut of iron was present in every market; the East India Company’s annual order did no come at its usual time in March, and Robert Moser wrote that he would not be surprised to find that the company ordered no iron at all that year.

Despite a faint stir in the trade due to several railway bills then before Parliament, and also to the rumour of continental war, neither of which materially affected conditions in general, William I expressed is as his policy to reduce Hirwaun to two furnaces and work down the iron ore stocks there and at Cyfarthfa. A meeting at Gloucester proposed a similar diminution in iron production, and William II gave notice to all his levels to get less ‘mine’ or ironstone. Thirty-one furnaces were blown out at Staffordshire as a result of the Gloucester meeting and of the strikes there, the make of Shropshire and Staffordshire being lessened by one-third.

Those events seemed to indicate that by the spring of 1832 the demand would revive. The hope was not realised and in May 1832 William I wrote to his son that it was his intention to abandon Hirwaun, as a prelude to a more general reduction of make. William II expressed his disapproval of these measures, but nothing could move his father, who was convinced that it was the only way to meet the times. The first step he recommended was the continued decrease in the ironstone getting’s, and the working up of the stock of iron at Hirwaun before any furnaces were blown out.

Little was done in the way of reduction, however, by August, and the move was still being discussed in September. William II, although in receipt of clear instructions from his father, blew out two furnaces without sufficiently restricting the intake of mine, causing great misery among the work-people. William I, surprised and annoyed at this misunderstanding, requested William II to blow out no more furnaces and ‘do no injustice or even unkindness to any of the Men.’ The matter was ended by a grant of full authority to the manager of Cyfarthfa to act as he thought best as to a reduction to make.

William Crawshay had invested the family’s considerable fortune, and it was against his father’s wishes that William II, tired of waiting to inherit, began using his own capital to rejuvenate got the tin-works and the foundries located at Trefforest. Another reason why output fell into temporary decline was at the Trefforest works may have been that the cannon which some believe were manufactured that were no longer required for use against the French. But that as it may, in 1834, having waited patiently for his father’s death William II came into his own sole owner of the Cyfarthfa Empire.

Shortly afterwards he lost interest in the tinplate work at Trefforest, delegating the completion of the modernizing process to his son Francis Crawshay. Two years later, Fforest was back in full production and the tinworks had become the largest in Britain. Francis Crawshay moved immediately into the large and handsome house known as Ty Fforest or Forest House, which had been built for his grandfather William I. The house stood on the site of a farm Fforest Isaf (Lower Forest), in the wood called Coed Berthlwyd which still serves at the back drop to the University of Glamorgan: there is another farm further up the hillside which is known as Fforest Uchaf (Upper Forest.

It was Fforest Isaf, farm and house, which gave its name to the Fforest works and, in due course, the works gave its name to the village. The old house, now owned by the University and known as A Block, is a listed building. The grounds of Forest House were extensive: Llantwit Road and its side streets stand today in what was once was its orchards.

It is believed also that Gwaelodygarth House was built by William I for his own use after his father’s death in 1810, which was owned by the firm it was also known as Crawshay and Hall, but in the end he detested it. It was let for a year from 1814-15 to George Overton. It was then occupied by William II when he remarried eighteen months after Elizabeth Homfray’s death. Although his father hated to Merthyr Tydfil like Gwaelodygarth House for, after the shock of learning of his son’s grand plans for a castle he wrote:

“If you do build I request that the present house may neither be sold nor let to anybody but left for me. I will occupy it. I am sure your excellent wife would do all in her power for me. I could visit you and the works then at any time.”


William Crawshay I

Gwaelodygarth House

William Crawshay I

Fforest House Picture courtesy of RCTCBC

Now in August 1825, he was either too busy or did not feel well enough to travel. William I was always complaining about poor health and forecasting his imminent decease. “My enjoyment of life is very limited and my Fear of Death none.” Then again “I have a cold, fever, bile, rheumatism, debility, and everything that is bad. I have taken James’s powder without any benefit, my Head is full of Pain and seems too heavy my Body.”

William outlived his wife my nine years. Soon after her arrival at Cyfarthfa she had a stroke which seemed likely to be fatal. Immediately the news was sent to Stoke Newington, but William hesitated about coming, then said George had left and he would follow later with Richard. There is a shockingly callous know-all tone about his letter. “I have always thought her case apolitique. I feared her journey would accelerate he end that before this may have happened,” so evidently disapproved of her going to see the new castle. He does conclude “if she still lives give her the assurance of my love and affection.”

George and the Wood’s soon arrived, but a slight improvement in Mrs Crawshay’s condition was quite enough to make her selfish husband delay longer, then to decide there was no need for him to leave London as she would be well to be moved home. His morbid interest in any illness prompted him to consult his own doctor about the treatment for a stroke and he sent full directions in the post. The patient appeared to be recovering, so he said he should not be visiting Wales after all and therefore Captain Wood “need not shorten his stay to avoid me.” For he still banned Mary’s husband from his presence and had given orders that if he came to Cyfarthfa Castle, then the Captain must have left before he arrived.

Elizabeth Crawshay lingered until the end of September, dying with all her children round beside but not her husband. After receiving the news, William wrote an effusive letter, full of grieve and lamentations, and saying he was coming to Merthyr “to follow her remains to her grave.” The funeral took place at Llandaff, but it is not known whether Captain Wood was allowed to attend or not. William I returned to London as soon as he could, and told Eliza, who passed on the remark to her brother, “I am glad to get home. The climate and the life there would neither of them suit me.”

Plaque Llandaff Cathedral

In this Cathedral were deposited the remains of Elizabeth, wife of William Crawshay Esquire of Cyfarthfa Ironworks in this country and of Stoke Newington Middlesex. She died at Cyfarthfa on a visit to her son on the 30th day of September 1825 in the 65th year of her age. (William Crawshay I wife)


This was the only time that William I saw Cyfarthfa Castle, which was built against his wishes, but paid with his money.

The usual mourning conventions were observed, whatever the feelings of William I’s family. On August 20th and 21st the Gwent and Dyfed Royal Eisteddfod and Musical Festival was held at Cardiff Castle, but a notice stated that, “The death of Mr Crawshay deprived us of the family of Hensol Castle, of the Rev George Thomas and lady of Llandaff Court, of the large party from Glanusk Park (Joseph Bailey, Esq.) who had fully intend being present.”

William I kept his promise to leave Cyfarthfa and Hirwaun ironworks absolutely to his second son, who was also a shareholder in the London concern and began to dictate policies to Richard II, George, and the other partners. William II became much more involved with the George Yard side of the firm, and from 1834 onwards he left Cyfarthfa affairs to the manager-ship of William III. The other two sons were at Cyfarthfa, Frances and the seventeen year old Robert. In 1835, tinplate works were bought at Treforest, between Merthyr and Cardiff, and Francis was sent there. In 1837 Francis married his cousin Laura, a daughter of Richard Crawshay II. They had nine children, but Francis is reputed to have had a large number of illegitimate offspring by local girls and provided for them by the gift of a hundred pounds and a job in the tinplate works or in his household, according to sex. Apparently Laura Crawshay raised no objection to this method of recruiting domestic staff. She probably had the mothers as well in her kitchen.

William Crawshay I

Clissold Park & House (Crawshay Farm) home of William Crawshay I

Crawshay Farm

William Crawshay bought the house and estate in 1811 and it became known as ‘Crawshay’s Farm’. Crawshay was from a family of ironmasters, key figures in the Industrial Revolution. William chose to live far from the furnaces in Wales which had made his fortune, buying the house and estate in Stoke Newington as a route into wealthy ‘polite’ society. William Crawshay refused permission for his daughter Eliza to marry Augustus Clissold, the curate from St Mary’s Church, next to the park. Once William died in 1834, Eliza inherited the estate and soon married Clissold, who gave his name to the park and house. Eliza and Augustus were in their forties by the time they married. They had no children.

Augustus Clissold was a follower of Swedish religious philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, whose writings were fashionable at the time. Clissold withdrew from the Anglican Church by 1840 to concentrate on promoting and funding Swedenborg’s work. When Augustus Clissold died in 1882, the house and estate passed back to the Crawshay’s in Wales but they rarely visited Stoke Newington or Clissold Park.

The Crawshay’s did not sell to the committee, instead selling to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for £65,000 in 1886, the equivalent of over £3 million today.

Tyrant as he was, he was conscientious about the workmen and opposed any lowering of their wages during a bad period, “I cannot bring my mind to propose any reduction of the men’s pay, they, they do not receive too much; it may be that the Masters have the Power with Military Aid to force them to work for what they please to give them, but I will not join in such meanness.” This was not in accordance with the usual practice of other Merthyr ironmasters. Neither there was a command to his son in the boom year of 1825 to give the workmen a share in the general prosperity by increasing wages. “There will be profit enough for every good mind.”

It is also said that William I’s was scrupulously correct fair treatment of his partner, Benjamin Hall, although he hated the man, yet he treated his cousin Crawshay Bailey, very meanly. Crawshay was trying to buy Rhymney ironworks, that were be sold by auction, and for some reason William I wanted to thwart him, so bid at the auction, forcing the price up and up beyond Crawshay Bailey’s resources. Another time he was angry with a Merthyr ironmaster, Anthony Hill, and waited for the opportunity to have his revenge.