Copper, Toys and Buses by David Beynon

"Part of my duties every Thursday was to distribute the wages around the works and rather than disrupt production, it was practice to take the wage packet to the individual workman's workstation. Thus, I visited all parts of the works  - including the two engine houses which were maintained in a spotless condition."

Last two remaining Vivian and Sons engine houses, Hafod (Tehmina Goskar)David Beynon started his career in the copperworks at Hafod, Swansea. At this time the works were run by Yorkshire Imperial Metals (1927-1981), a joint company of ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) and Yorkshire Metals.

David remembers...

My first, and quite truncated, job on leaving school was as a wages clerk in the Hafod works working for Yorkshire Imperial Metals where I was given the task of looking after the furnacemens' bonus payments. From memory, the furnace names that still stand out are the Ajax 1, Ajax 2 and Ajax Twin and each generated a different bonus rate.

Landore Social Club, formerly Hafod works offices (Tehmina Goskar)The former works offices - now Landore Social Club - had become the works social club and all the administration was located in the large red-brick-built office block at the top of the site. The entrance to the offices was under the lower of the two bridges while the other, now used by the Park & Ride buses, was also the main pedestrian route into the works. This crossed the Swansea Canal at the side of which was the office of Ivor Tolley, the Timekeeper, and where I used sometimes to be sent to collect the timecards used to calculate the wages of the men clocked-in.

Part of my duties every Thursday was to distribute the wages around the works and rather than disrupt production, it was practice to take the wage packet to the individual workman's workstation. Thus, I visited all parts of the works  - including the two engine houses which were maintained in a spotless condition.

The works manager, Mr Lampitt, a gruff, Yorkshireman, had a fearsome reputation and only the office manager was allowed to speak when he visited.

Our meals were taken in the great canteen building with clock tower (now wrecked) where the managers ate behind a metal screen, away from the eyes of their staff. Remains of Morfa Canteen Building, Landore Park and Ride, Swansea (Tehmina Goskar)

As I intimated, my time at Yorkshire Imperial Metals was short and ended on the day that, having been given an unnecessary and unwelcome instruction by my immediate manager  - remember, I was only 16 and straight from school -  he suddenly turned, unexpectedly, and caught me  making faces at him behind his back .  I was doomed. 

Shortly afterwards, I was taken to Mr Lampitt's office where I was surprised to find my father, who, having been summoned,  was already seated. I was instantly dismissed - at the age of 16 - and on the scrapheap.

Out of the frying pan into the toy factory

I found work initially in the Accounts Section and then, within twelve months, via an internal move, with the Production Control Department of Mettoys – maker of the famous Corgi and Husky model cars, Mettoy tinplate products, Fisher Price toys through an acquisition and the importer of Jouef model railways.

I was responsible for ensuring that there were sufficient quantities of each component part of a product to allow production to be continuous over its programmed manufacturing period.

These included the metal castings forming the body of the cars, the plastic injected windows, spring wires, tyres and appropriate plastic figures such as James Bond and Odd-Job or Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion which starred in the TV programme Daktari. These were imported from Hong Kong where they were manufactured by a company called Swatow.

Mettoys was a growing concern and as well as the factories at Swansea there were warehouses scattered throughout the district, on Fforestfach Industrial Estate, in Skewen and in J Shed in the Prince of Wales dock, now converted and in use for retail purposes. The venue for the conference was also one of these locations.

Then known as the Coast Lines warehouse, it was stacked to the roof with boxes of manufactured goods and packed completed orders for onward despatch or export. As a member of the production control team, I regularly visited the shed where the conveyor belt to get goods to the first floor and the wide metal chutes to get them back down again, stick in my memory.

On the buses

I left Mettoys in 1970 and spent the major part of my employment life as a bus driver for South Wales Transport.  I was one of the drivers that started Swansea’s first excursion into Park and Ride in Christmas  1977 when  we used touring coaches to get people into town from a Park and Ride car park created by bulldozing the tips opposite Morfa, roughly, where Frankie & Bennys now stands.

The introduction of minibuses to the streets of Swansea generated changed conditions and accompanying the new buses came a new breed of bus driver and a whole raft of new employment conditions. .

Driven by these changes to employment conditions and the fact that I did not want to be getting up at 3.00am or work until after midnight as I got older, I applied to enter Swansea as a mature student. Having been interviewed and set some work by the late Dr David Jones, at the age of 39, I entered university in 1986 where I did one of the last Joint Honours courses in Economic and Social History.

As part of my finals, I opted to do a dissertation on the economic case for the abandonment of Swansea’s Street Tramways. This led to the publication of a book on behalf  of the Swansea Maritime & Industrial Museum which dealt with  Swansea Street Tramways and the previously unconnected relationship between the company and the Mumbles Railway.

Copper smoke and Swansea's electric trams

By now, you must be wondering where does the copper industry fit into this story?  My research revealed that in June 1900, Swansea became the first town in Wales to have electric trams running through its streets. However, within days there were reports of services grinding to a halt all over the system but mainly on the company’s main line – the route from Swansea to Morriston which passed through Hafod and Landore.

Investigations soon showed that the damp weather combined with the copper laden atmosphere had deposited copper on the insulators holding up the overhead wires of the tramway system. As a result, the insulating effect was being broken down and the electricity was going straight to earth and causing the fuses in the power station and lineside pillars to blow. Some fast work by the tramway company engineers led to the replacement of all the fixed insulators in use by suspended insulators which could move and were disturbed, each time a tram passed thus, preventing the copper being deposited as a continuous coating. No more problems were subsequently reported.

One of the photographs used in the book had been taken at an unknown location but,  the fact there were garden walls topped with cast copper slag allowed the location to be identified as Vivianstown.  

Here, at 9 Tip Row, lived my great grandmother and great grandfather Evan and Catherine Morgans. They lived in a Vivian company house and after my great grandfather died at an early age, such was his reputation, that the company  allowed her to remain in the company house  with her son and  daughter in recognition of the high regard in which he had been held and his reputation for hard work. Catherine remained in the house, even after the marriage of her daughter, Mary, to William Beynon who became my grandmother and grandfather.

Evan Morgans was born in Narberth, west Wales and his father was a tailor by profession who brought his family to Swansea in the 1860s. Catherine Morgans, nee Richards’ father was described on her wedding certificate as a “Copperman.”

About David Beynon

Until my retirement in February 2011, I procured and managed local bus services, Home-to-School and Special Education Needs transport for a local authority - and as transport crosses so many boundaries I was involved in planning and development issues, regeneration projects and the future planning and managing of our socially necessary bus network. I was chair of the Rail Group of Sewta - a consortium of ten regional authorities forming the South East Wales Transport Alliance and represented south and west Wales on the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers National Rail Group.