Smelter’s Choice: Ticketings and ore purchasing in Cornwall and Swansea

Plan showing the copperworks of the Lower Swansea Valley, 1822 with detail of Upper and Middle Bank belonging to Williams and Grenfell (credit: National Waterfront Museum, Swansea)

Plan showing the copperworks of the Lower Swansea Valley, 1822 with detail of Upper and Middle Bank belonging to Williams and Grenfell (credit: National Waterfront Museum, Swansea)

Belatedly, you can now read my paper and view the presentation on ticketings and ore purchasing in Cornwall and Swansea in a formative period of the industrial history of both regions. I presented the paper in Santiago de Chile as part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded international network World of Copper.

Read Smelter’s Choice on Academia.edu

You can browse the presentation below full screen.

Reflection

It was a formative experience and edifying to be in the company of scholars from around the world with a common interest in the copper industries particularly as they pertained to what Prof. Chris Evans calls the ‘Swansea moment’ from about 1830-70. The stand-out ‘thought for the day’ was mule trains (and indeed canal and river navigation conveyance) and their almost obliteration from the history writing of heavy industry. But more on that another time.

The theme of this workshop focused on copper’s markets. As I am undertaking a material-led supply chain study, which means I am interested in tracing the journey of copper from its ore to the astonishing array of products that comprise it, looking for markets first meant finding out more about the markets for copper ore and related products (e.g. precipitates).

“Did you know that copper ore from Levant ended up at the Middle Bank works in Swansea who then sold copper products to a foundry in Shoe Lane, Lambeth to make one and an eighth inch nails?”

My paper elicited many questions and comments from the audience and other readers of my paper, some of which have led me to refine my ideas and try new avenues for investigation. I don’t think I was particularly successful in convincing some that by the late 1820s, early 1830s the science of ore blending and the logistics of transport were having as much of an influence on the joint purchasing practices of copper smelters as was their desire to control prices. But I remain convinced and I have an awful lot more of the ticketing records to microscopically analyse to prove my hypothesis.

Most of my colleagues are interested in quantifying the copper industry, they are on the trail of outputs in the form of tonnages and fluctuations in prices. These are, of course, important but they do mask the greater complexity of copper industry logistics that I am interested in revealing. For the first time, through this research, I can link the products of specific mines to specific smelters.

Now I have to fill in the gaps and take a look at how the ore was dressed and in what state it was loaded onto ships bound for the smelters.

I also tantalisingly dangled some of the other types of business archive I have been studying, coppersmith’s ledgers for example. In these we can begin to see the onward supply chain from smelters and refiners to factories and foundries that created manufactured goods. An awful lot of them were based in London and the Thames Valley, further diversifying our understanding of the locales of supply and demand.

Apart from anything I think this kind of analysis used in interpretation at relevant heritage sites would really excite a visitor: “Did you know that copper ore from Levant ended up at the Middle Bank works in Swansea who then sold copper products to a foundry in Shoe Lane, Lambeth to make one and an eighth inch nails?”

Uses of Chilean copper in smelting

As part of my programme of self-improvement regarding the science behind the economics of the (mainly) 19th century copper industry I have been reading Percy’s Metallurgy, 1861, the classic work on metallurgical processes in use at the time.

Part of the remains of Las Compañías, a smelter established by Charles Lambert, now a rubbish tip (credit: Frank Vicencio López)

Part of the remains of Las Compañías, a smelter established by Charles Lambert, now a rubbish tip (credit: Frank Vicencio López)

An ongoing exchange between me and a colleague in Chile who is assiduously documenting the country’s lost smelting heritage encouraged me to make a note of any sources that would be helpful to his research.

While going through Percy’s Metallurgy I transcribed some of the contents regarding the types of ore that were extracted from Chilean mines and the particular form of smelting that was conducted there. Chilean ores and copper products in the form of blister copper and sometimes regulus were a major source of raw materials for the Welsh smelting industry in the mid-19th century.  Continue reading

Glossary of mining and ore processing terms used in Devon and Cornwall

Mining Almanack, 1849 by H. English

Mining Almanack, 1849 by H. English

Do you know your Attle from your Pril? Did you know a Cornish ton was different to a regular imperial ton? Or that the ores raised from the mine were known as Work before they were dressed? No, neither did I.

That was until I got to work on the Mining Almanack for 1849. The Almanack was compiled by Henry English, Mining Engineer under the patronage of Prince Albert, then Duke of Cornwall and Lord Warden of the Stanneries.

Mining almanack, 1849

The almanack contains, as you would expect, an array of interesting data about the mining industry of the day, as well as more general content about related industries and even a directory of the current peers of the House of Lords.

The kind of information you can get from here include original articles/essays on topics such as the jurisdiction of the Stannary Courts, the Newcastle and Durham coalfields, the science of geology and innovation in the production of iron (as opposed to hemp) rope.

It contains statistical data on engine work, foreign weights and measures for assaying, weights of various items like metal and alloy pipes, tubes and wires, directories of useful contacts, general statistics, legislation and regulation, geological information, miscellanea such as the cost of materials for the Cornish mining industry, and the ever-diverting advertisements including for one for private contracts on mines e.g. Tywarnhaile Mines belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall, geological maps, patented wire and wire rope (iron), patented safety fuse, gutta-percha rubber bands, tubing, valves and buckets.  Continue reading