Carmarthen Smelting House

A late 18th century lead smelting operation.

Location and operation

This smelting house was located on low-lying ground adjacent to the old priory at Carmarthen, just upstream from the Towy Bridge. It was erected by John Campbell (later Lord Cawdor) on a site leased from a Mr Williams, at a rent of 4 per annum under an agreement dated 30th June 1781 which superseded one of earlier date.

Whilst the primary purpose of the smelting house was to treat ores from mines on Campbell's estates at Rhandirmwyn in the upper Towy valley, ores from other mines may have been smelted. In mid 1785 the lessees of the Llanfyrnach Mine, in Pembrokeshire, made various payments to the smelters there, probably in respect of expenses in trying the ore from that mine.

Detailed accounts for the smelting house are available for the year 1797. Four smelters were employed; three part-time (25 weeks being the longest period), with a fourth full-time but spending only 21 weeks on smelting, the remaining time being employed on smith's work and labouring. Some idea of production can be gathered from carriage detail, with a total of 90 tons of lead leaving and 513 tons of ore and over 57 wheys of coal arriving during the year. Two yards and a storehouse being rented on the quay for that purpose. Repair work on the furnaces took up a substantial part of the expenses, 41 out of 268, with a mason being employed 18 days on the work.(1)

The furnaces, four in total including a slag hearth, chimneys and associated buildings were in poor repair by September 1810, by which time smelting had ceased and the smelting house was vacant. At that time a Mr Salisbury proposed taking a sublease of the property and purchasing Lord Cawdor's ore for smelting. Nothing appears to have come of this proposal but in the following year estimates were obtained for repairs to the smelting house, amounting to 800. Subsequently it was suggested that only one furnace be repaired, perhaps an indication of reduced mine production. The suggestion met with a protest that time spent on routine maintenance would prevent continuous operations and a revised estimate was supplied for repair to two furnaces (500) as an alternative.

As it turned out, the smelting house was not repaired and operations were transferred to Llanelli, later coming under the control of the Nevills. No physical evidence of the smelting house and its furnaces survives and the site is now occupied by a gas pipeline installation.

Notes and sources

  1. No technical detail on the furnaces is available but the use of coal as fuel would suggest they were a form of reverberatory furnace.

Based on material in the Carmarthenshire Record Office, Cawdor 2/39, and originally published in the newsletter of the Northern Mine Research Society in May 1988.


Peter Claughton / SHiPSS
Last modified 22 November 2004