The end of the tinplate era at Aberdulais

William McKinley © Corbis

William McKinley

The success of the Welsh tinplate industry - pioneered at Aberdulais - brought vast wealth to Victorian businessmen. But it wouldn't last.

In particular, the Americans - probably our best customers - were keen to develop their own tinplate manufacturing, thanks in large part to an enterprising Welshman who stole the idea and told people in the US he could replicate it more cheaply over there.

So a young, up-and-coming congressman - William McKinley - persuaded Congress to impose punitive tariffs on Welsh tinplate imports.  Aberdulais's days were numbered. 

Within a few years, the Upper Works - with its earlier water-powered technology - closed and the workers transferred to the Lower Works with its more modern methods.

Darkest hour

This was Aberdulais's darkest hour. The once fiery furnaces fell cold and the once powerful waterfall and the surrounding structures were gradually reclaimed by Mother Nature.

The works offices were turned into a private house.  In 1915, Danygraig House was bought by a local GP, Dr John Prell, who used the adjacent Old Works Library - now our tea-room - as a surgery.

In the 1950s it belonged to another doctor, Norman Thomas, who sold the whole site to Neath Borough Council in 1975.

But the old tinplate works buildings remained untouched, serving only as a secret playground for generations of local children. Today they are grandparents, but they still tell us stories of the fun and games they got up to.