It was the building of the Morfa works in 1851 which started the development of the tinplate trade in Llanelli town. The Dafen tinworks had been built in 1846 although it did not start production until 1848. The owner of the Morfa works was John Simmons Tregoning, a Cornishman who was a partner in the Liverpool firm of Clint, Tregoning and Company, metal merchants and ship-brokers. Soon after the partnership broke up, Tregoning built the Morfa works consisting of an ironworks, two rolling mills and a tinhouse. Tregoning, though, stayed in Liverpool where his son, John Simmons Tregoning II was born in 1842 and later joined the his father’s firm.
He came to Llanelli in 1865 and stayed with Octavius Williams, the Morfa works’ manager at his home, Highfield. When Williams moved to Hendy to build a tinworks there, Tregoning took over the house as well as the management of the works at the age of 23. He had married on taking over Highfield in 1866 and lived there for six years before moving to the magnificent Iscoed mansion in Ferryside. It is interesting to note that the works was originally called the Llanelly Tinworks but when many more works were built in the town, the name was changed to Morfa.
John Simmons Tregoning II was a generous man who had a genuine regard for his workers. He built 50 houses for them at a cost of £9,000, charging a rent of 12 shillings a week, so that his workers should not have far to walk to work. These were substantially built dwellings which are still occupied today in Cornish Place and Campbell Street. Tregoning was also a prime mover in the building of Christ Church and New Dock School. He built a reading-room and library for his workers in Cornish Place, a building easily recognized today as being larger than all the others. He retained the services of Dr Buckley to treat accidents and illness and organized a Sickness and Disability Fund for his workforce. Deductions from pay were made to support these benefits and Tregoning himself also contributed.
His paternalistic approach is clearly seen in a statement he made during the recession of 1868. ‘We must work as well as we can. Our people have worked with us in good times and it would be uncharitable to reduce their wages or work short-time.’ When matters failed to improve in the following year, he said ‘We must not look for profit in these times but consider ourselves fortunate if we manage to feed and clothe our people without sacrificing capital.’ He was a very good negotiator and was mainly responsible for drawing up a scale of wages for the whole of South Wales with the Union leader Lewys Afan. It was known as the 1874 List and remained in force, with adjustments, throughout the hand-mill period of the tinplate industry.
Tregoning played an important part in the public life of Llanelli and Carmarthenshire. He was very good at figures and was in great demand on all kinds of financial committees. He was elected to the Carmarthenshire County Council and fought the Parliamentary seat of Carmarthen Boroughs as a Conservative in 1866. After his defeat, he devoted himself wholeheartedly to local government. In 1896, he was made Chairman of the County Council and was also a respected Justice of the Peace. He travelled to and from his home at Ferryside by train every day. The train, in fact, was known as Tren bach Tregoning. It was perhaps appropriate that he should have died on a train near Wolverhampton. He had retired to the family home at Landue in Cornwall by this time but still retained a house, Brynhafod, in Llanelli. The local press paid eloquent tributes to a man who was respected, admired and trusted by the community at large. The Tregoning family carried on the business until 1936 by which time they had abandoned the iron works and acquired a 25% stake in Bynea Steel. The Morfa works became part of the Richard Thomas combine, thereafter, which took over half the tinplate works of south Wales.