Remains of Neath Abbey ironworks

button-theme-slavesRemains of Neath Abbey ironworks, Neath

These industrial remains include two of the world’s best-preserved blast furnaces from the 18th century. The furnaces were built against a cliff face. One is almost 20 metres (65ft) high. Raw materials were tipped in at the top and the iron removed at the bottom.

The business was founded in 1792 by the Fox and Price families, Quakers from Cornwall. The works was named after the nearby monastic ruins, where copper smelting took place.

The ironworks supplied iron to the company’s foundry and to the open market. The business made its first high-pressure steam engine in 1806. It provided stationary engines for industries across Britain and overseas. The long stone building you see here was the engine factory, built in the early 19th century. It was one of the earliest buildings with cast-iron roof beams.

The company supplied marine steam engines, initially for ships built elsewhere. Its first steamship, named Prince of Wales, was launched in March 1842 – when 250 employees were given a “substantial breakfast” to celebrate. In 1853 it built the world’s first 1,000-ton iron sailing ship.

Another of its steamships, SS John, was built in 1849 and continued to sail until 1945! It held the record for the oldest steamship in commission.

The company also built innovative railway locomotives – see our page about the nearby railway viaduct for details.

Joseph Tregelles Price, the company’s managing director from 1818, was famed as a philanthropist. He was a founder in 1816 of the Peace Society (a predecessor of today’s International Peace Bureau). He tried to win a reprieve for Dic Penderyn, hanged in Cardiff in 1831 and buried in Aberavon.

He also campaigned for Britain to abolish slavery, which happened in 1833. The following year he set up a fund to buy a Bible for every freed slave; more than £27 was donated by people in Neath alone, including £5 from ironworks employees.

The ironworks closed in 1886. Its 8,000 engineering plans, now held by West Glamorgan Archives Service, are part of the UNESCO Memory of the World programme (preserving documentary heritage). The Friends of Neath Abbey Iron Company are leading the site’s restoration.

Sir Benjamin Baker, who designed the Forth railway bridge near Edinburgh, was an apprentice at the ironworks. His father had been a manager at Tondu ironworks.

With thanks to the Friends of Neath Abbey Iron Company

Postcode: SA10 7NH    View Location Map

Website of The Friends of Neath Abbey Iron Company