Dafen Tinplate Works - A Retrospective Summary
My research into the history of the Dafen Tin Plate Works and the growth of the eponymous village culminated in the publication of “Dafen Recollections” published by Carmarthenshire County Council in 1991. Since then further research has been done and additional information has come to light regarding the Dafen Works that augments my research and clears up one or two long-held inaccurate facts. Local industrial historians are now fortunate that an authoritative, definitive work of reference is readily available, and this summary is derived largely from that source:
“The Industrial and Maritime History of Llanelli and Burry Port 1750 – 2000” by Robin Craig, Robert Protheroe Jones and Malcolm Symons, published by Carmarthenshire County Council in 2002.
The Dafen Iron and Tinplate Works was built in 1846-7 by John Winkworth, Thomas Motley, James Motley and Arthur Motley. Winkworth was a Bath surgeon and the Motley family, originally from Leeds, had been partners in Maesteg Iron Works and Margam Tin Plate Works. Their venture at the Margam Works had lasted less than two years. Winkworth would thus appear to be a co-partner recruited by the Motleys to finance a fresh venture in the field of iron and tinplate, despite repeated failures of their businesses.
Dafen was the first tinplate [a] works in the region. The choice of Dafen as the location probably derived from one of the partners’ contact with R.J. Nevill because he leased the partnership part of the land the works was built on, and was to supply its coal for the innovative steam-powered rather than water- powered machinery. The Dafen Works is unlikely to have achieved production under Winkworth and Motley who failed at the start of 1848. The works was purchased by Sidney Phllips, London, and especially Robert Smith, who had been involved in a number of iron and tinplate works in south west Wales, and also briefly with the Motleys at Maesteg Iron Works. The Dafen Works was remodelled and commenced production in 1848, employing 240 people. Rowland Maclaran succeeded Smith as works manager in 1854 and was admitted to the partnership which henceforth operated as Phillips, Nunes and company, even after the Nunes family relinquished their shareholding following the death of B.P. Nunes in 1868.
Owing to the absence of ancillary industries at this time the proprietors felt remote from foundry and engineering support necessitating a degree of self-sufficiency. The owners built a foundry within their works some time prior to the late 1860s, possibly in 1848 when the works was remodelled, or more likely in the 1850s when it was greatly expanded and a high degree of self-sufficiency achieved. The foundry still existed when the works was sold in 1897; it probably closed the following year when the works was extensively remodelled.
Being the first tinplate works in the region the Dafen Works was obliged to erect its own box works. Tin plates required protective packaging and a form of box was standardised. Different sizes of tin plates were packaged in different numbers. In the nineteenth century this typically varied from 112 to 450 per box, although 112 and 225 were the most common. Output was reckoned in the number of boxes manufactured and in due course a basic box or standard box was arrived at for the calculation of output, consisting of 112 sheets of 20ins. X 14ins. size. . The box works was still in existence in 1898 but it seems likely that the extensive alterations to the works that year may have resulted in its closure.
Dafen Works was unusual in erecting a plant to recover spent pickling acid and manufacturing sulphuric acid by recycling the spent acid, with iron sulphate as a by-product. This was around the 1850s, a period when the new owners Phillips, Smith and Company were considerably extending and improving the works as well as facilities for installing that made it almost self-sufficient. Copperas [b] was stated to be a by-product. Although the plant appears to have worked until at least around 1879, nothing further is heard of it which suggests that its success was limited. The works ensured a supply of coke for their iron forges by open heap coking: this was the dominant fuel for iron manufacture in the region before the advent of coke ovens [c] David Williams manufactured coke at his own colliery which was contiguous to the Dafen Works, also using, presumably, coal mined at the nearby Bryngwyn Colliery.
The company owned its own colliery in the 1850s and 1860s and worked its own coal at the Bryngwyn Colliery. Phillips, Smith and company achieved a degree of self-sufficiency that no subsequent tinplate company in the region felt obliged to attain. The establishment and success of the Dafen Works, after an uncertain start, and subsequently the Morfa Tin Plate Works, undoubtedly attracted further firms to the town to establish tinplate works.
Dafen, amongst others, specialised in the manufacture of sheet bars and sheets for external use. In 1884 87% of Britain’s tinplate capacity was located in South Wales, and Llanelli’s works comprised one-eighth of that capacity. The 1880s saw the tinplate industry convert from wrought iron to steel. As bulk steelmaking was first shown to be practical by Henry Bessemer in 1856, Phillips Smith and Company purchased a licence from Bessemer to make steel within weeks of the first public announcement of the new process. However, the mills of the time, designed to roll relatively soft wrought iron were too light to roll steel. Many works largely converted to using steel but the Dafen Works retained a small forge department until at least 1891.
In 1892 the company was re-structured and although S.J. Phillips and Rowland Maclaran, the former owners, had an interest in the Dafen Tinplate Co. Ltd. The major source of capital was the family of David John, owner of Felinfoel Brewery, who had worked in coal mining and in the tinplate industry as a young lad. The brewery enterprise prospered and John was in a position to take over the Dafen Works in 1892. The works re-opened in 1893 after a one-year closure during which extensive replacement of plant had occurred. Further considerable investment in new plant was continued down to 1897 when the company failed. The works had been virtually re-built. The closure of the forge occurred in 1891 or 1892 and it was demolished the following year at the start of the re-building of the works.
Dafen Works was re-opened in 1898 by a company closely related to its predecessor which had failed in 1897. The family of David John of Felinfoel Brewery dominated the list of shareholders, of whom Llewellyn John was particularly closely associated with the works, ultimately becoming chairman. Phillips and Maclaran ceased to be connected with the works. A number of local businessmen were interested in this new Dafen Tinplate Co. Ltd., including W.H. Protheroe, a metal merchant and former manager of the Burry Works.
The Gorse Works was the last of the old style works to be opened in the region in January, 1914 with a promise of work for hundreds.
After 1913 the Dafen Tin Plate Co. Ltd. was in the anomalous position of holding shares in two competing steel companies, namely Llanelly Steel Co. (1907) and Bynea Steelworks Ltd. However all tinplate companies that owned shares in steel companies – and most came to do so – were not obliged to purchase their steel from those companies unless binding contracts had been entered into. Llanellly Steel found this out to their cost when, in 1920, it unsuccessfully attempted to force the Dafen company to relinquish its shareholding because that company had been purchasing its sheet bars from Bynea Steelworks until 1913.
In 1927 the Dafen works was re-registered as the Dafen Tin Plate and Galvanizing Company Ltd., the John family retaining a dominant interest. In 1931 the overwhelming proportion of British galvanized sheet production was still being exported. At this time 90% of the output of Dafen Works and at least 50% of the output of Gorse Works was exported.
There were notable and successful attempts to diversify the product range of the companies with which the John family were associated. Vitreflex Ltd. was formed in 1931 and took over part of Dafen Works for the manufacture of enamelled rainwater goods and soil goods. The company was owned jointly by the Dafen Tin Plate and Galvanizing Co. Ltd. and the Gorse Galvanizing Co. Ltd. who supplied the steel sheets. By 1936 a further outlet was obtained for the steel sheets manufactured by Gorse Works when the Gorse Galvanizing Co. Ltd. began manufacturing Aristelle patent embossed architectural panels. These panels embossed with brickwork, stonework and roofing tile patterns were recommended for the construction of garages and outbuildings but required painting because they were supplied with an uncoloured galvanized finish.
Dafen Works introduced the manufacture of galvanized sheets [d] in the early 1920s and in 1925 ceased tinplate manufacture (save for some minor production in the 1930s). Government control commenced in 1940 and many plants were temporarily closed. Those workers not conscripted into the armed forces were transferred to other steel producing areas. Plants selected for closure were the older, less productive works. The Dafen Works closed and the plant was used for storage.
The Labour Government elected in 1945 was committed to nationalisation of key industries. The criterion for nationalisation of the iron and steel industries excluded firms producing less than 50,000 tons a year and those in which less than 15% of employees were engaged in manufacturing specified products. The Dafen Tin Plate and Gorse Galvanizing Co. Ltd. and Vitreflex Ltd. were so excluded.
The dissolution of the Dafen Tin Plate and Gorse Galvanising Co. Ltd. In 1952 and its replacement by Dafen Securities Ltd. probably reflected a company reorganisation prompted by nationalisation of all the other companies connected with Bynea Steelworks. The John family remained closely connected with both Dafen Works and the Vitreflex Works.
Dafen Works closed in 1958 (after 100 years in operation)
Gorse Works closed in 1960 (after 50 years in operation)
Vitreflex Works closed in 1967 (after 37 years in operation) Its enamelled constructional sheets and rainwater goods were unable to compete with more sophisticated coatings.
In 1968 the formed Dafen Tin Plate Works was converted to the production of welded steel tubes by O’Connor and Davies Ltd. The works closed in 1982 at the low point of the economic recession.
Tinplate manufacture 1848 – 1930s
Iron forge operating 1828 – 1891/92
Galvanized sheets manufactured 1922 – 1925 – 1958
Steel tube manufacture 1968 – 1982
1847 – 1849 Winkworth and Motley (no commercial manufacture)
1848 – 1866 Phillips, Smith and Company
1866 – 1892 Phillips, Nunes and Company
1893 – 1897 Dafen Tinplate Co. Ltd.
1898 – 1927 Dafen Tinplate Co. Ltd.
1927 – 1941 Dafen Tinplate and Galvanizing Co. Ltd.
1941 – 1946 Requisitioned
1946 – 1952 Dafen Tinplate and Galvanazing Co. ltd.
1952 – 1958 Dafen Securities Ltd.
Most of the works, together with part of the contiguous Vitreflex Works were converted to a steel tube works by British Steel Construction (Birmingham) Lt.d in 1968, small portions of the site being used by a number of occupiers.
Galvanized sheet manufacture 1913 – 1951
Gorse Galvanizing Co. Ltd.
1951 - 1953 Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain/Gorse Galovanizing Co. Ltd.
1953 - 1956 Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency/Gorse Galvanizing Co. Ltd.
1956 - 1957 Iron and Steel Holding and Realisation Agency/Bynea Steelworks
1957 - late 1950s Bynea Steelworks Ltd. (John Tregoning and Co. Ltd., Ductile Steels Ltd. and Robert Benson, Lonsdale and Co. Ltd.)
Late 1950s - 1960 Bynea Holdings Ltd. (Ductile Steels ltd. And Guest, Keen and Nettlefold Ltd.
The site was subsequently used as an engineering and steel fabricating works by a number of occupiers, and for steel stockholding.
(colloquially known as “The Vit”)
1930 – 1947 Steel sheet forming and enamelling
1930 – 1967 Vitreflex Ltd.
Not known whether requisitioned during World War II.
The site was used for storage, and subsequently occupied by Llanelly Foundry 111 and later by Radnage, an architectural reclamation company.
Notes and Citations
[a] Tin plates are sheets of iron and steel coated with a thin layer of molten tin. In mid-nineteenth century tin plate comprised 98% iron and 2% tin – today it is 99% steel and less than 1% tin. back
[c] Coke is a coal which has been partly burned under controlled conditions, to drive off most of the sulphur and other impurities until almost pure carbon remains. It was adopted for iron making from the mid- eighteenth century in place of charcoal because it was cheaper and enabled a larger quantity of iron to be made. back
Dafen Blue Plaque lat: 51.6903 lon: -4.1289
Ref: Dafen Recollections by Byron Davies