Report on the community excavation at the Hafod Copperworks

It’s with great pleasure that we can now publish the final report on our community excavation at the Copperworks.  We’re sorry it’s taken a while to get here, but we hope you enjoy it now.  Just click on the link below and read away.

http://www.ggat.org.uk/cadw/hafod/Hafod_Copperworks.pdf

We’d just like to say a big thank you to all our volunteers and everybody that helped us on site and to prepare the report.  We hope to see you on another excavation soon.

The team

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The end product of the copperworks

Back in the summer I took the opportunity for a trip on the Tawe river cruise, which was fantastic fun.  If you get the chance you should take a ride, it’s a really interesting way to see a different side of the city.

The Tawe river cruiser noses her way up stream.

The Tawe river cruiser noses her way up stream.

On the journey back the crew showed us a number of artifacts associated with the copperworks.  The most interesting of these to my way of thinking was one of the copper ingots, which would have formed the primary output of the Hafod Copperworks from the mid-18th century to the late-19th century, when it was owned by Vivian and Sons.

The ingot is lozenge shaped and divided into three peaks.  The central peak of which is stamped ‘V & S \ A’.  This particular ingot was recovered from the wreck of the Benamain, located some seven miles of Mumbles Head.  The Benamain was a London registered steam powered cargo ship.  Her final voyage took place on 28th March 1890, when she was bound for le Treport with a cargo that included 50 tons of copper ingots from Vivian and Sons.  On the afternoon of the 28th March she was steaming at six knots when she became stranded on the eastern side of Lundy in the fog.  She was refloated the following morning but floundered on her way back to Swansea.  Her crew was recovered by the pilot cutter Rival and the Benamain was left to sink.

A Vivian and Sons copper ingot recovered from the briny deep.

A Vivian and Sons copper ingot recovered from the briny deep.

Happily we didn’t have such an eventful voyage!

Extra cobbles uncovered

In early November Charlotte carried out a watching-brief on the restoration work being carried out at the copperworks, in the area around the original entrance to the site. During the watching-brief she uncovered a short section of cobbles which would have lead down from the bridge crossing the Swansea Canal, in front of the works main gate, to the tow path running along the edge of the canal.

The cobbles looking from the canal tow path up towards the bridge.

The cobbles looking from the canal tow path up towards the bridge.

The cobbles viewed from the southeast, looking down towards the canal.

The cobbles viewed from the southeast, looking down towards the canal.

The cobbles can be seen clearly in this superb photograph of the canal and entrance to the works taken in the 1920s.

Swansea canal and the entrance to the copperworks in the 1920s. (Copyright Swansea Museum.)

Swansea canal and the entrance to the copperworks in the 1920s. (Copyright Swansea Museum.)

Living history day got hot

At the living history day Dr Tim Young (an archaeometallurgist and experimental archaeologist) brought along his portable furnace, to demonstrate how copper would have been produced in earlier periods. Throughout the day he was helped by our resident glass expert Rowena, this is her working the bellows to pass more oxygen over the furnace.

Working the bellows on a copper furnace is hard work!

Working the bellows on a copper furnace is hard work!

As well as melting copper ore to produce copper ingots Tim and Rowena had a go at producing glass, using sand as their base ingredient.

As well as producing copper Tim and Rowena produced this white hot glass.

As well as producing copper Tim and Rowena produced this white hot glass.

Once the glass had cooled slightly (but was still pliable) it could have been worked into any number of objects including small bottles and little window panes.

Throughout the day volunteers provided guided tours of the Hafod and Morfa sites, including the recently refurbished laboratory building and the Whiterock Copperworks on the opposite bank of the river. To see some of the artefacts we recovered during the restoration work at the laboratory follow this link: https://hafodcommunitydig.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/collecting-a-chemistry-set/

Neil Maylan took groups of interested visitors on a tour of the recently restored lab building.

Neil Maylan took groups of interested visitors on a tour of the recently restored lab building.

Volunteers also took tours around the Whiterock Copperworks across the river.  This is the view from on top of the charging ramp.

Volunteers also took tours around the Whiterock Copperworks across the river. This is the view from on top of the charging ramp.

Perhaps my favorite part of the tour were the demonstrations of the new history points. At these stations you can wind-up a battery and listen to what copperworkers and ships captains might have said at the time the Hafod and Morfa works were open. They look and sound brilliant. Over 7000 people came and enjoyed the living history, I hope that you are one of them and that you had as much fun as I did. If not come down next year and have some fun!

One of the wind-up history points, crank the handle and listen to a little piece of history.

One of the wind-up history points, crank the handle and listen to a little piece of history.

A view of hafod copperworks

A view of hafod copperworks

I was doing some research in the West Glamorgan Archives when I came across a delightful book by George Grant Francis, published in 1867, called ‘The melting of copper in the Swansea District’. In the book he describes all of the copperworks strung along the Lower Swansea Valley. Included with the description of the Hafod Works was this wonderful engraving. Note the canal bridge in the middle ground, this is what the cobbles we found during the excavation were leading up to!

Finding radio waves

Back in May last year, on Day 5 of our excavation, one of our voluteers Katrina brought in some finds for us to look at (https://hafodcommunitydig.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/day-5-tuesday/), which she had dug up from her back garden.  Well Katrina has been at it again!  This time she brought her finds into the office for us to look at. The most interesting objects she brought in were a collection of ceramic insulators.  This is what I had to say about them in my report for our Portable Antiquities Scheme finds liaison officer:

“A total of fifteen fragments (weight: 1.356kg) of ceramic insulator were recovered from the area, equating to a minimum of six actual insulators.  All fifteen fragments originate from insulators associated with radio broadcasting and were produced by a company called ‘Rediffusion.  The broadcast relay services limited’, formed in 1928.

The fragments represented two different forms of insulator; the majority (80%) are dryspot insulators.  This form of insulator has a top which unscrews to expose openings inside the skirt and wire grooves to allow a telephone drop wire to pass through the insulator to provide a ‘dry spot’ from rain and decrease leakage loss.  The remaining 20% of fragments originate from radio relay insulators (Marilyn and Tod 1982); which would have been fitted to the outside of a building, enabling the radio wires to be safely brought inside.  The upper surface of one radio relay insulator is stamped ‘SRRS’.  By the late 1940’s Rediffusion had subsidiary companies operating throughout the United Kingdom, including one based in Swansea (www.rediffusion.info/BroadcastRelayService).  It seems likely then, that SRRS stood for ‘Swansea Rediffusion (or Radio) Relay Services’.”

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We’re very grateful for Katrina for bring her finds in to show us, let’s hope she keeps discovering more interesting objects. 

If your interested in the Portable Antiquities Scheme have a look at this: http://finds.org.uk/ 

A copper-bottomed dig

A copper-bottomed dig

I was doing a little research for our latest work at the Hafod Copperworks, when I came across this short clip from when Time Team excavated on the site.  The clip shows Professor Huw Bowen of Swansea University and Alex Pervays of Time Team discussing Morris Castle, Sir John Morris’ tenement for his copperworks, that looms over the Lower Swansea Valley.

It’s an interesting little discussion, why not watch it while your enjoying your pancakes this evening.  You could even go and visit the building and enjoy the fantastic views of the copperworks.