John Powell, born in 1824, started up his own business in a workshop in Copperworks Road in 1850 as an iron founder, chain and chain cable manufacturer and general ships’ smith for the busy shipping port nearby.
In 1873 he acquired land alongside the Great Western railway, west of the station, where he erected a small foundry and machine shop – The Glanmor Foundry.
The works covered several acres and was a landmark in the Glan y Mor district. At its busiest over 400 people were employed there with some families retaining their links with the company for generations, passing down their trade and skills from father to son. Work at the foundry was physically exhausting and ruinous to health, but generally there was a happy working atmosphere and a great spirit of camaraderie among the work force.
The firm specialised in moulding and casting chilled and grain rolls for the tinplate industry at home and abroad, as well as brass bearings for marine work.
John Powell died in July 1889 and in September of that year the foundry together with the ‘Old Foundry’ at Copperworks Road was sold by public auction for £6,000.
The new company reorganised and rebuilt the entire works.
Throughout its history only two families were involved in its ownership and management, they were the unrelated Powell-Rees and Rees families.
William Powell Rees, born 1870 became secretary and director, until he severed connections with the company in 1925. His son, Tom Powell Rees, followed him into the company, eventually becoming managing director
William John Rees was associated with Glanmor Foundry for 52 years, starting as secretary in 1890 and finally as managing director. His son, Gordon, started with the firm at the age of 18, gaining experience in various departments of the foundry before becoming works manager, director and chairman of the company.
In 1939 Glanmor Foundry Company Limited merged with Thomas and Clement Limited (Morfa Foundry), but it was not until 1953 that the two companies traded under the name Glanmorfa Limited.
During World War 2 the company concentrated all its efforts on the war effort producing cast steel bomb casings for the Air Ministry, as well as anchors, tank and anti-aircraft gun parts. Sections of the Mulberry Harbour Bridge were manufactured at Thomas and Clement’s foundry.
During the duration of the war women comprised 30%of the work force.
After the war the foundry supplied cast steel chains and anchors to the Ministry of Defence, and sea-moorings to port and harbour authorities and oil companies. It also provided cast steel castings to the major steel producers in the country.
A characteristic of Glanmor Foundry was its willingness to experiment and innovate, in which the Metallurgical Department played a vital role in the overall production process.
A predicament, which had threatened the foundry’s closure on previous occasions, finally came to reality in October 1979. As a result of poor demand for iron and steel castings in Britain and Europe, Glanmor was faced with mounting difficulties. The foundry closed and the company went into liquidation, putting 170 employees out of work.
Thus ended a significant chapter in the industrial history of Llanelli; an inevitable end, perhaps, in a period which saw the demise of practically all of the areas traditional industries.
From modest beginnings in 1850, Glanmor Foundry played an important part in the industrial scene for nearly 130 years, contributing to the town’s prosperity and reputation as a major manufacturing centre.
The site of Glanmor Foundry was acquired by Llanelli Borough Council for housing development known as Llys Glanmor, Clôs Sant Dafydd and the aptly named Llys y Gôf (Blacksmith’s Court). Llanelli Community Heritage plan to commemorate the site with a Blue Plaque.
By the author and historian Byron Davies, Member of Llanelli Community Heritage Advisory Panel.
Picture from ‘The Glanmorfa Foundry and Engineering Co. Ltd. by the same author