Isaias White and his brother Thomas
Thomas was born on 25th January 1824. He was thus a couple of years older than Isaias. Thomas married Ann Evans and they went on to have six children—John, Ann Alice, Mary Jane, George Henry and Thomas Lewis.
In his early days Thomas, like Isaias worked at the Maesteg Iron Works as an engineer. Clearly he was also out of a job when the Maesteg works closed in 1848. It seems that initially he and his family went out to Spain to join Isaias as his second son George Henry was born at Plaza de Armas 7 in Seville on 3rd October 1865. However, things possibly did not work out for him in Spain, or he and/or his wife felt homesick for Wales, as it seems he was back there by 1867. This is clear because he bought the lease of Lliw Forge in Pontlliw near Swansea around this time and he and his family lived at Lliw Forge House. He may have been encouraged or helped to do this by Isaias.
On 1st March 1867 a notice appeared in The Cambrian, a local newspaper, that stated:
“In consequence of the death of Mr Richard Edwards. The lease of the old established well known premises Lliw Forge Manufactory situated in the Parish of Llandeilo Talybont, in the County of Glamorgan belonging thereto, will be sold by Private Contract together with the new and commodious house and grounds. Application to be made to Henry Jones, 23 Queen Street, Neath. The above is well worthy the attention of investors, being present in full work and plenty of orders; the position which is much improved by the opening of the Dunvant Valley Railway, which runs close by the same.”
The Forge supplied local farmers, ironmongers and collieries. Isaias must have known the forge before this as the account books give details of his various orders from Richard Edwards, the former owner. He ordered connecting rods, cranks and crossheads for Portilla White. There were also orders at a later date for the same items and said to be for gunboats for the Spanish Navy. One can perhaps conclude that there was not yet the expertise for making these close tolerance machine parts for the steam engines etc. in Seville.
Around the turn of the century Pontlliw was no more than a mere scattering of dwellings, one chapel, two public houses and one general store cum post office. A village of very few inhabitants and even fewer amenities, none of the necessities one takes for granted today, no gas, electricity, or running water, the latter having to be carried from the nearest well or stream, no made-up roads except of loose stone or cobbles, no public transport, not even its own school, the village children having to trek the two miles to Penllergaer for their education.
Pontlliw could best be described as a mining village, as the major employer was the 'Graig Merthyr' colliery, or 'Cory' as it was known to the locals, after its owners, the Cory brothers. But Pontlliw did boast an industry of its own, that of the Lliw Forge, from where metal castings and machine parts were exported to all parts of the world, and which in its heyday employed some sixty men. The Lliw Forge was renowned for its workmanship, and an article and illustration published in the 'Daily Mail' on December 5th 1908 clearly shows that it was a respected member of the South Wales iron, steel and tinplate industry.
This was the village of Pontlliw at the beginning of this century, but its roots go back much further, at least to 1740 when it can be proved that the Lliw Forge was in existence. Developed by a descendant of the Huguenots, the forge was situated to make use of the water discharged from the Mill wheel, so it must follow that the Lliw Mill was in operation even before this date. It was no accident that the Lliw Mill was situated next to one of the highest points of the village, but part of an ingenious plan. The man-made watercourse which feeds the mill was diverted from the River Lliw at a point known as Penfach and its level was maintained by a weir and sluice gate. The contour of the 'Mill Race' was kept as level as possible, not following the natural fall of the River Lliw, to the extent that at the point where it feeds the mill wheel its level is some 15 feet above that of the river.
Even after providing all the power needed to turn the mill wheel and its associated machinery the work of this little stream was not over, for just a hundred yards or so along was another set of sluice gates, these diverted the course yet again to feed the three ponds which stored the water to power the heavy jack-hammers and lathes of the Lliw Forge, which was itself built below the level of the ponds therefore reaping the maximum possible benefit from the power of the water. In today's energy conscious age this would be a credit indeed to its designers, but one must remember that this was all at least 250 years ago. The Lliw forge stood for the most advanced development of the iron industry of the old period, and showed how far this had developed before the coming of the newer inventions. It is very saddening to think that this major part of our local and indeed national heritage has been allowed to deteriorate beyond any hope of repair.
The reputation of Lliw Forge was clearly extremely good and Isaias was not the only one from abroad ordering castings and machined parts. In the 1871 National Census Thomas was described as a ‘Spade and Shovel Manufacturer’ and in the 1881 Census as a ‘Mechanical Engineer employing 20 men and 6 boys.’ As above in its heyday the Forge employed 60 men. Thomas had printed business cards which stated that he was an ‘Engineer, Millwright, Iron and Brass Founder’ with items for sale as:
Moorwood & Cookley’s Tinning Sets, complete or in parts;
Rolls and Frames always ready;
Horizontal and Vertical Engines, Steam Hammer, and all kinds of Piston Rods repaired.
Manufacturer of Pins and Boxes for Roll Standards in Steel and Iron;
Ladle Plates and Turned Ladles;
Shear Moulds and Plough Beams, Sledge Moulds and Coal Wedges, and every description of Hammered Uses;
Every kind of Iron and Brass Castings;
Solid Steel, Steel and Iron, and all kinds of Shovels and Spades, made and supplied at short notice;
Repairs of every description executed with despatch.
Thomas died in 1883 and his widow and only surviving son George Henry carried on the business at Lliw Forge. No doubt they relied on the existing workmen’s skills, as George was only 18 years of age when his father died. In due course George expanded the range of work, and continued there until his retirement and the consequent closure of the works after World War I in the great recession.
Thomas’ daughter Mary Jane stayed on in Seville after Thomas had returned to Wales, and some years after her father died she married a Joseph Williams in Seville on 18th January 1890. However, she herself returned to Wales in due course.