History of Aberdulais
Discover how Queen Elizabeth I needed money to spend on warships to combat the threat from Philip of Spain’s Armada, and luckily, a German engineer, Ulrich Frosse, has a solution. A quiet location is needed, and Aberdulais fits the bill perfectly.
Smelting copper at Aberdulais
Frosse has perfected a new method of smelting copper to turn into coin of the realm. But it’s hush-hush stuff and he needs somewhere quiet and secluded to ply his trade, far from the prying eyes of his competitors.
That was 200 years before the Industrial Revolution and ever since, this narrow gorge at the mouth of the Dulais River outside Neath has been at the heart of the Welsh industrial story, thanks to its bountiful supplies of coal, timber and water.
Copper-smelting gave way to ironworking, the milling of textiles and grain and – most significant of all – the manufacture of 19th century tinplate.
How things have changed
It’s difficult today to imagine the heat, dust, noise and dirt that must have dominated the scene. Today, its picturesque surroundings are a haven for wildlife, native plants and visitors with curious minds, keen to explore.
'It was so hot, the sweat ran out of their shoes’
- Victorian tinplate worker, aged 8
In its heyday, tinplate from Aberdulais was exported across the globe, until the Americans moved to protect their own infant industry and slapped huge tariffs on tinplate imports. Aberdulais’ days were numbered.
Except it didn’t turn out quite like that. A century on - in 1980 – the National Trust acquired Aberdulais Tinworks and Waterfall and took over its care.
Little remains of Aberdulais’ early history, but over 30 years of restoration and conservation by the National Trust have brought the tinplate era back to life. The waterwheel turns in the original wheel pit; interpretation and films paint vivid pictures of what life was like.
Handed down tales
Local schoolchildren recount on film the stories of their forbears, who were put to work from the age of eight. And descendants of the tinplate workers recall the tales handed down to them by their great grandmothers and fathers.
As the water of the Dulais river continues to flow, so too is the tradition of using the waterfall as a source of power - driving Europe's largest generating waterwheel and creating green energy.
The waterfall at Aberdulais truly is a force of nature. Whether it's a torrent or a trickle, it always looks beautiful. Discover more about its historic past and what to see during your visit.
The waterwheel at Aberdulais generates green energy for the site as part of a ground-breaking hydro-electric scheme. A tradition dating back 400 years continues.