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The Crawshays of Cyfarthfa

The Crawshay Family Coat of Arms.


Richard Crawshay c. 1800

Painting by Richard Wilson


RICHARD CRAWSHAY                                                                                           

Contrary to popular belief this family did not set up the Cyfarthfa Ironworks although they eventually managed to obtain sole ownership. The first Crawshay to travel to Merthyr Tydfil was Richard Crawshay (1739 - 1810), the son of a Yorkshire yeoman born at Normanton, near Leeds. He quarrelled with his father and at only 16 years of age travelled to London without money. He sold his pony for £15, and took employment in an iron-warehouse selling flat-irons. After marrying the owner’s daughter he became sole proprietor and wealthy. Hearing of the iron-works in South Wales offering scope for investment, he came to Merthyr, took over Homfray 's lease at Cyfarthfa for boring cannon, and after the death in 1786  of Anthony Bacon he  secured the lease of the Cyfarthfa works during the minority of Bacon’s eldest son. Through cunning business methods he bought this young man’s share and became sole proprietor in 1794. He adopted Cort 's methods of puddling (known later as the Welsh Method),  established rolling mills, built new furnaces and forges. Richard also became one of the chief promoters of the Glamorgan Canal which was opened from Merthyr to Cardiff in 1794. He took full advantage of the boom in the iron trade and of the need for cannon caused by the Napoleonic wars. A contemporary described him as a large red faced man with a pock marked face and a loud voice. Richard’s proudest moment was in 1801 when he welcomed Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton to his ironworks. At first he did not put any faith in steam power and the new experiments of Richard Trevithick and he placed a bet against the historic journey made by Trevithick in 1804 when he made a journey from Penydarren to Abercynon.  He assisted by his two young nephews, Joseph and Crawshay Bailey and Benjamin Hall (the man who Big Ben is supposed to be named after) also had shares in Cyfarthfa.  It has been said that in 1810 Richard Crawshay was amongst the 50 richest men in Britain. 




  WILLIAM CRAWSHAY I  (1764 - 1834), Richard 's only son, did not take a great deal of interest  in the manufacture of iron but took charge of the selling agency at the George Yard , Upper Thames Street , London, leaving his son, William Crawshay II to manage the works at Cyfarthfa and Hirwaun . It is said that he was ‘the most statesmanlike of the Crawshay Iron Kings,’ and guided the huge enterprise in all its aspects with a steady hand maintaining its production and commercial success. He bought both Benjamin Hall 's and Joseph Bailey 's shares and became the sole proprietor. William was successful and the probate of his will was granted at £700,000. He left three sons and two daughters and his elegant portrait is in Cyfarthfa Castle.    
William Crawshay II c. 1830

  WILLIAM CRAWSHAY II (1788 – 1867) was the day to day  manager of the Cyfarthfa and Hirwaun works, and bought other iron-works at Treforest and in the Forest of Dean. It is he who is generally called the ‘Iron King’ and who built Cyfarthfa castle and the Caversham Park mansion. His father thought that spending £25,000 on Cyfarthfa Castle was a needless extravagance. During his period the works grew immensely, and enormous quantities of iron were manufactured and great quantities of coal raised to feed the furnaces. His attitude during the celebrated riots at Merthyr tended to exasperate and defy the men. His account in the Observer newspaper lack all sympathy for those involved. He left Treforest iron-works to his son Francis, the Forest of Dean to Henry and the Cyfarthfa works to his youngest son, Robert Thompson Crawshay Besides these important works, he also held many shares in the Taff Vale Railway.  
Robert Thompson Crawshay

  ROBERT THOMPSON CRAWSHAY (1817 - 1879) was born at Cyfarthfa. He was the youngest son of William II and his mother belonged to the Thompson family of ironmasters from Cumbria. During his father’s lifetime Robert was given Cyfarthfa works and its castle to manage. His ‘reign’ started optimistically as he and his wife, Rose Mary Crawshay, helped in the provision of  local schools and libraries for the workforce and in providing books to read. He had an interest in music and began the Cyfarthfa band but, after becoming deaf, he took up photography. The two disasters in the Cyfarthfa owned Gethin pits earned him a lot of criticism in the 1860s. He was buried at Vaynor parish churchyard under a heavy stone slab engraved with the words ‘God Forgive Me’. This has been interpreted as meaning that he was sorry for closing the Cyfarthfa works in 1874. By refusing to speak to the Unions he had made over a thousand workers destitute. On the other hand a finger has been pointed at the strange way he behaved towards his own family; especially his relationship with the daughter who helped with his photography but was disinherited when she married. It is clear that he became a tyrant after a stroke in the 1860s which caused him gradually to become crippled and deaf with deteriorating sight.  His sons carried on the business under the name of Messrs. Crawshay Bros. until they sold to Messrs. Guest, Keen, and Nettlefolds in 1902.  
Francis Crawshay c. 1845


Francis Crawshay's racing schooner 'Mamgu' under construction at Shon Harri Bach's Boatbuilders yard, Wotton, Isle of Wight.

(Photograph courtesy of Cyfarthfa Castle Museum and Art Gallery)





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