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The 'Butters' Crane

Dowlais Works, Merthyr Tydfil.


The ‘Butters’ Mould Breaking Crane

 I believe that this crane was commissioned in the 1950’s. Ingot moulds that had been made at the Dowlais Ivor Works, and sold to steelworks throughout the country, returned to Dowlais for breaking up after they had come to the end of the their useful life. After the breaking up of the moulds they would be melted down again in the cupolas and recycled into the casting of new moulds.

My father, John Rees Williams (Jack), had worked as a young man at the Morlais Quarries and was trained in the use of explosives under guidance from his own father. He furthered his knowledge of explosives during World War Two. 


Breaking of the Moulds 


The returned moulds were lowered by the ‘Butters’ crane into a pit which was deep enough to accommodate a large number of moulds below ground level (roughly 20 moulds). The moulds were then filled with water, and a length of wood was placed over the top of each mould, from which the individual charges were dangled into the water for the maximum effect of the explosive blast. This blast was sufficient to fracture and break the moulds into numerous large pieces, thereafter, a large steel ball was picked up to a great height by the electric magnet of the ‘Butters’ crane. The ball (Breaker’s ‘Bomb’) was then dropped onto the broken mould pieces to reduce them to a small enough size to be recycled in the furnace.


 Unrelated Anecdote


As an unrelated and light-hearted anecdote, I well remember as a young apprentice working with several tradesmen at the ‘Butters’ crane when along came a newly recruited engineer, who I shall refer to as ‘Captain ?’ who thought he ‘knew it all’. As a ‘teach you a lesson’ prank the tradesmen lifted the rear of his car and placed bricks under the axle so that the back driving wheels were only just above the ground. Needless to say when Captain ? started his engine and revved the guts out of it, the back wheels spun at high speed, without the car moving. Captain ? was never seen at the ‘Butters’ crane again. Ironically, one of these tradesmen (who shall remain nameless) became a highly respected engineer himself, some years later.  

Doug Williams. 

"Butters" Mould Breaking Crane being comissioned - June 1959

(Photograph courtesy of the John Owen Collection)

"Butters" Mould Breaking Crane - 2nd September 1959

(Photograph courtesy of the John Owen Collection)


'Butters' Mould Breaking Crane


1970s photograph of the 'Butters' Mould Breaking Crane

(Photograph Courtesy of Doug Williams & Phil O'Brian)



Charging the 'Worn Out' Ingots - 1967

Doug Williams' father Jack (left) laying the gelignite in the ingots.


Firing the Charges! - Late 1950's / Early 1960's

Here we see a plume of water gushing high into the sky after the explosive charges were detonated to break-up the old ingot moulds.


Also,on the right hand side of the photo can be seen some old buildings of the Dowlais steelworks and also the remains of the Dowlais steelworks coal washery, on the left of the 'Butters' crane, and in the distance, can be seen the shining roof of the Ifor works clay mill. The clay was made from crushed shale and used to re-line the furnaces. Some of the clay was also sold to other iron and steelworks. 


Shale is a fine grained sedimentary rock composed of mud that is a mix of flakes of clay materials and tiny fragments of other minerals

(Information Courtesy of Doug Williams)


Butters Crane being dismantled - May 1987

(Photograph courtesy of the John Owen Collection)


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