Tudor Ironmaking in the Miskin area

(details of the documentary evidence are available here)

The iron resources of Cloune Park were rediscovered in 1532, under an operation funded by the crown, and managed by John Ellis, Hugh Norres and William Monmouthe. The furnace employed 4 blowers, and was capable of producing 2 blooms, each of 50kg, per day, from 150kg of ore. The operation was inspected by Christopher Morris and Mark Raffel in June 1532, with Raffel making suggestions that the blowing team could be reduced. It seems likely the charcoal source was within the park itself, with the operation employing its own colliers. Ellis and Monmouthe suggested they could lease the operation from the King, but there is no record of this occurring, but equally there are no further recorded payments to the operation after the summer of 1532. The continued operation of the site in late 1530s is only evidenced by Leland's observation, at some time between 1536 and 1539, that iron was being made in the park.

The current field evidence suggests the existence of one Tudor large smelting site (Mwyndy), and probably a second small one (Rhiwsaeson), close to the ore sources in the Parke of Cloune. The residues collected from these two sites appear very similar in texture and composition, and very similar ores are also present. The documentary evidence suggests that the iron mines were opened in August 1531, with smelting operations starting early the following summer. The smelting furnace must have been fairly close to the mine, since the carrier was required to make 16 round trips per day. There is nothing in the description of the operation to suggest that the "forge" was situated outside the lands held by the crown, but it is possible however that the forge might still be on crown land outside the park, for there were considerable demesnes lands close to the park itself. Two sites within the Park are possibly associated with the Tudor mining operation: firstly the water-powered forge site at Hendy (probably dating to the 1590s, but possibly on an earlier site), and secondly the supposed "Corn mill" adjacent to the Afon Clun, which was surveyed during HS2314 in 2002, yielding iron slag and crushed lead ore. The part of the Caergwanaf site close to the Ely was suggested as being Tudor on the basis of the 2000 geophysical survey.

Iron-making appears to have continued though the 1530s, as noted by Leland. The status of the operation, howver, remains unclear. The various reports, accounts and financial notes for 1531/2 are in stark contrast to the complete lack of documentation through the following 8 years. In 1540 the crown leased the iron mines, with a grant covering rights of mining and iron-making in and within three miles of the park, together with permission to build water-powered works in the same area where thought most appropriate. This would seem to imply that an expansion of the existing operation was likely. The judgement of 1544 in the Sadler v. Kendall case appears, at face-value, to indicate that only a single iron works was in operation at this time through reference to "the house or .. the grounds belonging to the mine", though the lease clearly provided for the construction of more than one "iron mill".

All of the bloomery sites describe here lie within the three mile limit of the 1540 lease. The nature of the residues and evidence for utilisation of water power both indicate a late medieval to early post medieval age for these sites. It would appear unlikely that there was major exploitation of the ore sources pre-1531, and there is little evidence (Merrick excepted) for continued bloomery ironworking in the district during the late 16th century. It therefore seems extremely likely that the three sites were all covered by the 1540 lease.

The usage of the term "myne" in the 1544 judgement in contexts which apparently refer to the whole operation is interesting. The origin of the house, and of its name, Mwyndy was briefly discussed by Davies (Meisgyn & Glynrhondda local history newsletter no. 109, 1995). He commented on the lower altitude of this house compared with all the neighbouring farms of this period. It seems reasonable to suggest that Mwyndy owes its location to the iron mill site. It is uncertain whether any of the fabric of the existing building is as early as 1540, but the site, and the extant property boundary along the line of the possible dam, are strongly suggestive of an origin at this period. Davies questioned whether the "Moyndey" occupied by Jennetta ferch William was actually on the present site of Mwyndy, or even necessarily within the bounds of the later Mwyndy tenement However, it is clear that her property and presumably the house had adopted this name before 1570, when it appears to be a farm, and since the present Mwyndy lies within an ironworks of the appropriate date it seems very likely that they are on, or very close to, the same site. An interesting possible link is also presented by the identity of the previous owner of Mwyndy (at the time of a 1540 survey), Morgan Matthew of Sweldon (the father-in-law of Jennetta ferch William according to Davies op. cit.). Sweldon lies adjacent to the outcrop of a goethite iron ore, near Wenvoe: the only significant iron orebody in the Vale of Glamorgan outside the main Llanharry-Taff's Well belt. Morgan Mathew of Sweldon (b. 1470) was the base son of Thomas Mathew of Llandaff (1438-1470), and therefore it may have been his nephew, George Mathew of Radyr (1500-1557; grandson of Thomas Mathew, and the father of William, b. 1531, and Edmund Mathew of Radyr, b. 1558, successive owners of the Pentyrch ironworks) who may have been the "Capt George Mathew Esquire overseer of the mine" in 1532 (although this identification is far from certain).

The post-1544 evidence for continuing iron-making is short comments in the works of Rice Merrick (1578) and Rice Lewis (1596-1600). Merrick states that iron was being made in the park, and describes the destruction of the forests "in our daye". Rice Lewis wrote specifically about the use of the forests of Garth Maelog and Allt Griffith for the iron works.

The Pembroke survey of 1570 contains no mention of iron-making. Leases on the forests were largely as pasture, or "herbage and pannage". Rights to timber and minerals seem to have been maintained by the Lord. If rights to these items were leased to others, then those leases are not recorded.

The description of the lease included with the grant of its reversion to William Herbert in 1549 suggests that there may have been additional iron making taking place within Pentyrch parish by this date. The end of the 1540 lease would have come in December 1560. Interestingly, the development of blast furnaces at Tongwynlais and Pentyrch appears to have occurred with a couple of years of this date, and it is possible to suggest that the end of the lease may have provided a new opening for entrepreneurial iron masters.

By this time, it is clear that new iron-making ventures were being undertaken, notably in the Taff Valley. The Tongwynlais blast furnace was rented by a partnership including Henry Sidney in 1564, and the earliest reference to William Matthew's ironworks at Pentyrch is in 1565. The Tongwynlais furnace apaprently operated in conjunction with the forge at Rhydygwern, which in 1569-70 passed to the Company of Mineral and Battery Works (in which the Earl of Pembroke was a shareholder). The two works lie at either end of a ridge along the South Crop of the coalfield, along which lay much of the demesne forests of Senghenydd.

In the 1570s further Herbert holdings in the Cynon Valley were exploited with the erection of furnaces and forges by Morely and Relfe. In the 1580s a furnace was built near Coity (Angelton) by Henry Sidney's son, Robert.