History

The Aberdulais timeline sculpted in steel © National Trust / David Hammond-Williams

The Aberdulais timeline sculpted in steel

Aberdulais: an industrial revolution since 1584

In the beginning

The year is 1584, and Queen Elizabeth I needs to do a bit of what we now call quantitative easing. Luckily, the German engineer Ulrich Frosse had a solution, and he chose Aberdulais to put it into practice.

The mill years

Although little evidence of it remains today, milling has been the dominant feature of Aberdulais's history.  For 200 years or more, the waters of the Dulais river powered wheels to grind corn and prepare textiles.

Pioneering tinplate

1830, and as the industrial revolution gathers pace, Aberdulais is once again at the forefront, pioneering new technology.  Tinplate was the plastic of its day - and changed the way we live our lives.

Decline & fall

By the 1880s, Welsh tinplate exports were at record levels, around half a million tons a year, with much of it going to the USA. Of the 225 tinplate works in the UK, 205 were in South Wales. The Americans decided to act.

Modern times

In 1981, Aberdulais came under the wing of the National Trust, and a new chapter was begun after years of neglect, dereliction and decay.

Looking ahead

400 and more years on, things are still changing at Aberdulais. As we dig deeper into our past, we are always on the lookout for new ways to tell our unique story. 

JMW Turner

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner © National Trust / National Library of Wales

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, scores of artists were attracted to the Vale of Neath by its spectacular scenery.

Most celebrated of all is Joseph Mallard William Turner, then a young man of 21 honing his skills on a tour of Wales.  He visited Aberdulais in 1796.

 

John Ruskin

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner © National Trust / Aderdulais Archive

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was the foremost art critic of his day, a big fan of Turner and no slouch with a paintbrush himself.

He travelled extensively and although we can't be sure, it's likely that his visit to Aberdulais was inspired by his love of Turner's work.

Henri Gastineau

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner © National Trust / Aderdulais Archive

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner

Despite the name, Henri Gastineau (1791-1876) was an English artist and engraver.  His book 'Wales Illustrated' contains hundreds of images from all over Wales, of which this is one.

Thomas Hornor

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner © National Trust / Aderdulais Archive

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner

A surveyor by trade, Thomas Hornor (1785-1844) gained a reputation for his 'pictural [sic] delineation of estates', for which wealthy families were happy to pay handsomely.

George Orleans Delamotte

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner © National Trust / Aderdulais Archive

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner

George Orleans Delamotte was a teacher and landscape artist from a family of French refugees renowned for their artistic talents. 

His brother, William, enjoyed the patronage of King George III and the Royal Academy.

George's South Wales Sketchbook, from which this image comes, was published in the 1820s

John George Wood

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner © National Trust / Aderdulais Archive

Aberdulais Mill by JMW Turner

John George Wood (1768-1838) was best known as a watercolourist and engraver.

But this photograph - the earliest we have found - is also attributed to him.

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