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Richard Burton Archives: Business History

Mae'r dudalen hon hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg

Sources for Business History

A wealth of information! Business archives can be an exciting and original research source for students, academics, and local or family historians.Part of handwritten ledger.

The collections at the Richard Burton Archives include the records of many local businesses, such as the Mumbles Railway. The metallurgical industries in the area are well represented, especially copper, tinplate and steel. Records in our business collections can include:

  • Photographs
  • Wage ledgers
  • Social and sports club papers
  • Correspondence
  • Staff newsletters
  • Apprentice agreements
  • Maps and plans

Potential topics might include the history of a company, technological developments, international trade, working conditions, effects of crisis or economic slumps, and how individuals, communities and landscapes were shaped by local industry. 

Tinplate & steel

Hands holding an open book over a map and photographs.

By the 19th century more than 80% of the world’s tinplate came from South Wales. Our tinplate and steel collections cover the ups and downs of an industry affected by American tariffs, world wars, changes in technology and so on. Collections include: 

Old Castle Tinplate Company Records, 1825-1958 (Ref. LAC/87)

Formed in 1866, the works were erected on a site called Pen Castell from which the company derived its name. Two mills were erected initially, and by 1893 this had increased to eleven mills. The works were acquired by the Steel Company of Wales Limited in 1947. The collection includes deeds and contracts relating to the foundation and development of the firm; directors' minute books; wages and stoppages sheets; stock books; patents, property records and material relating to associated companies and the general tinplate industry.

John Player and Sons Limited Records, 1861-1959 (Ref. LAC/92)

Operators of the Clydach Tinplate Works during the 19th and 20th centuries. The collection includes a comprehensive series of journals and letter books, as well as records of Ynystawe Estate (c1890-1932) and Clydach Emergency Committee/Local Distress Fund Records (1915-1931).

Click on the collections tab above for details of all of our tinplate/steel business collections.

Spotlight on Staff Records - Tinplate

The most common type of staff record to survive in the archives of a company are wage books which record lists of employees and their wage rate, but might also include other details such as production and output details of employees. 

Staff records such as rule books, contracts of employment or personnel files can be used to find out about individuals. They can also be useful for research into working conditions and a company’s attitude to its staff, particularly in economic difficulties or trade disputes.

This letter is written by a cold roll boy at Old Castle Tinplate Works, in 1899, apologising for leaving work and encouraging other boys to go on strike too. Alongside wage records and an agreement to return to work, it gives an interesting insight into young people at work and the handling of disputes by the company.

Handwritten declaration.

Declaration by Amos James, 9 September 1899 (Ref. LAC//87/D/8)

Co-operative Union

Inside of shop with products on the walls and hanging from ceiling, and staff by counters.

Co-operative store with Chocolate Club poster, from Pembroke Dock Co-operative Society (Ref. SWCC/MND/137/2/48/14)

The co-operative movement in Wales has a long and notable history. Following in the footsteps of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, which is generally considered to be the first successful co-operative enterprise, there has been a constant co-operative presence in South Wales from the 1860s. For over a century it was deeply embedded in local culture, and was a major economic and social phenomenon. 

We hold the records of co-operative societies located in the mining districts of the South Wales region of the Co-operative Union Limited. This includes minute books, financial records and administrative records. In addition the archive also contains periodicals, bulletins and other printed material published by the Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited and the Co-operative Union Limited, intended for the co-operative movement as a whole. The collection also includes Women’s Co-operative Guild material.

The content and dates of the material in the individual local society collections varies but a good representative is Ton Co-operative Society (Ref SWCC/MNA/COP/7) where the following types of material may be found:

  • General and Committee minute books, 1884-1927
  • Education Committee minutes, 1914-1922
  • Assorted financial records, as varied as branch balance sheets and order lists for the butchery department, 1917-1968
  • Various correspondence, including staff records 1927-1928 and Co-operative Union Education Department Study Course notes, c1945-1955

Find out more about the history of co-operative societies and the material held in the Archives in the Co-ops theme section of the Coalfield Web Materials site, as well as the Wordpress site created by MA history students at Swansea University as part of their Communicating History module.

Catalogues: Co-operative Societies in South Wales (Ref. SWCC/MNA/COP; SWCC/MNC/COP and SWCC/MNC/137)

Catalogue: Co-operative Union, Western Section

Chemical Works

Felinsha Chemical Company Limited Records, 1770-1935 (Ref. LAC/35)

In 1837 the site of the old Felinfach Isha Mill at Pontardulais [Pontarddulais] was acquired by Lewis Weston Dillwyn of Sketty Hall and chemical works were established on the site. The Felinisha Chemical Company Limited operated the works. In 1893 the site was sold and became the joint property of the Teilo and Clayton Tinplate Companies. The company was later called the Pontardulais Chemical Company and in 1935 it went into voluntary liquidation and was absorbed by the Clayton and Teilo Tinplate Works. In 1939 the works were acquired by the Llanelli Associated Tinplate Companies and ceased to trade as a separate company.

The collection includes title deeds, papers relating to the property of the company and papers concerning the lawsuit with the Graigola Merthyr Collieries Company. 

Pontardawe Chemical Works Records, 1809-1969 (Ref. LAC/93)

Pontardawe Chemical Works at Alltwen was founded c1849 by Jacob Lewis, a Swansea draper. The works supplied the local tinplate industry with vitriol or sulphuric acid which was used in the pickling process. Pontardawe Chemical Works was in severe decline by the 1940s and the site was eventually closed in the 1970s.

The collection includes deeds relating to the works site and other property belonging to the Lewis family, manufacturing chemists at the works, including title deeds for Pontardawe, Brynheulog and James Street. 


Llandarcy Oil Refinery Records, 1919-1958 (Ref. LAC/66

The oil refinery was sited at Llandarcy near Skewen by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company Limited in 1921, opening in 1922. It was built in order to treat imported mineral crude oil and was the first large commercial oil refinery to be established in Britain. Llandarcy was built as a model village in which to house a number of the refinery workers. 

Part of handwritten ledger entry relating to British Petroleum Co. Ltd.

The distributing company of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company Limited was the British Petroleum Company Limited. The collection consists of the records of the accounts department of National Oil Refineries including journals of accounts, estate rentals, and other financial papers.


Other records

  • Copy of notebook written by Hiley William Dever Addington, mechanical engineer, whilst working for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Llandarcy, 1950. (Ref. 2005/8)

Gallery- Business Letterheads

CWS order form letterhead.

Order form used for letter to Co-operative Union Limited, 1939 (Ref. SWCC/MND/137/2/31/1)

Mumbles Railway and Pier Company letterhead.

Letter used to record minutes of directors meeting, August 1915 (Ref. LAC/85)

Galloways Limited letterhead.

Letter to Old Castle Tinplate Company, 1904 (Ref. LAC/87/H/8)

John Elwell letterhead and handwritten note.

Letter to Morriston Tinplate Company, 1870s (Ref. LAC/82/9)


Our copper coPart of plan of Vivian & Sons Ltd works, Swansea.llections include the business records of some of the key families and organisations that developed the copper industry in the Swansea region. These include collections relating to Vivian and Sons, Williams, Foster and Company, Pascoe Grenfell and Sons, and Yorkshire Imperial Metals.

Plan of Hafod Works, 1918 (Ref. LAC/126/C/16)

Records provide an insight into the development of the industry, links with companies in other countries, financial developments, production patents and the social problems of copper smoke.  

White Rock Works Records, 1736-1947 (Ref. LAC/122)
Established in the Lower Swansea Valley in 1737 by John Hoblyn. The works were operated by Williams, Foster and Company from c1870; Vivian and Sons from c1874; and British Copper Manufacturers’ Limited between 1924 and1928. The collection includes material relating to partnership and company affairs, new production processes, and assorted deeds, plans and estate papers. 

Yorkshire Imperial Metals Records, 1740-1956 (Ref. LAC/126)
A joint company of Yorkshire Metals and Imperial Chemical Industries Limited (ICI). In 1927 it took over British Copper Manufacturers’ Limited which in 1924 had been formed by the amalgamation of Vivian and Sons, Williams, Foster and Company, and Pascoe Grenfell and Sons Limited. The collection includes papers relating to the Cornish metal trade and records from all those related companies. 

Grenfell Family Papers and Business Records, 1783-1897 (Ref. LAC/45)
Founded in the late-eighteenth century, Pascoe Grenfell and Sons merged with Williams, Foster and Company in 1894 and Vivian and Sons in 1924, before becoming part of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1926. The collection includes partnership agreements, directors’ meetings minute books, and plan of Middle and Upper Bank Copper Works.

Click on the collections tab above for details of all of our copper business collections.

Grenfell Family Papers and Business Records, 1783-1898 (Ref. LAC/45)

White Rock Works Records, 1736-1947 (Ref. LAC/122)

Yorkshire Imperial Metals Records, 1740-1956 (Ref. LAC/126)

Related collections

Cecil Lewis Collection, 1910-1940 (Ref. LAC/61): includes material relating to Middle Bank Copper Works

Morris Papers, c1587-1987 (Ref. LAC/81): papers of the Morris family of Swansea, industrialists 

Hugh Vivian Collection, 1824-1942 (Ref. LAC/117): managing director of Vivian and Sons Limited

Strick and Bellingham Solicitors (Swansea) Collection, 1841-1918 (Ref. LAC/140): includes material relating Vivian and Sons’ mineral and industrial properties

Terrill Collection, [c1870]-1953 (Ref. LAC/141): Bertie Terrill was Technical Manager at the Morfa Copper Works

Lower Swansea Valley Project Records (Ref. LAC/69): 1960s project which aimed to remove the industrial dereliction and pollution of the valley following the decline of the copper industry and return the area to active use

Spotlight on Minute Books - Copper

Part of handwritten entry in minute book.

Page from Directors Meeting minute book, 1890-1897 (Ref. LAC/45/A20)

Spotlight on minute books

‘An industrial soap-opera full of the trauma and tribulations of a once mighty force in global copper trading’

Dr Tehmina Goskar, describing the directors’ minute book of Pascoe Grenfell and Sons, copper smelters, during the The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded project 'Global and Local Worlds of Welsh Copper'. The project made use of business archives of major copper companies, held here and at West Glamorgan Archives. The records helped inform a unique 3D computer generated animation of the Hafod Copperworks of Vivian and Sons, a major exhibition on the Welsh involvement in the world copper trade, and provided the basis for digitised resources for learning. The project also identified the potential use of these archives to unlock wider themes based on the copper industry, such as the use of products, demand, and national and international networks.

Company minute books detail high level decision making, reflect local and national events, and show the internal mechanisms of the company. This minute book contains notes of board meetings as the company ran into difficult times and in 1982 went into voluntary liquidation. 

South Wales Transport (Mumble's Railway) Collections

In 1807, the Swansea and Mumbles Railway became the world's first passenger railway service. 

The Mumbles Railway collections are a comprehensive resource for bus, railway and tramway transportation in South Wales, mainly for Swansea and the surrounding areas. 

They contain records from all of the companies associated with the Mumbles Railway-

  • South Wales Transport Company
  • Swansea and Mumbles Railways Limited
  • Mumbles Railway and Pier Company
  • Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company. 

The collections contain a significant number of items relating to the history of Mumbles Pier. Title deeds, correspondence and other papers detail the development of the Pier and the activities that took place. 

Postcard cartoon of packed Mumbles train.

Postcard 'Mumbles Express' from the Wishart Collection (LAC/125/34-5)

Gallery - Mumbles Railway

Handwritten train timetable.

Schedule of trains using the railway, Feb 1885 (Ref. LAC/10/3/4/1/1)

Letterhead with handwritten minutes of meeting.

Letter used to record minutes of directors meeting, August 1915 (Ref. LAC/85)

Steam locomotive and carriage.

Steam loco “The Pioneer”, 1877 (Ref. LAC/85/A19)

Swansea and Mumbles Railway Ltd. share certificate.

Page from Swansea and Mumbles Railway Ltd. share certificate ledger (Ref. LAC/85/D/8)


Man standing beside very large colliery fan.

Image of Waddle fan (Courtesy of Carmarthenshire Archive Service)

Waddle Engineering Company Records, 1884-1964 (Ref. LAC/119)

This company (also known as Waddle Patent Fan and Engineering Company Limited) was located in Llanelli and made fans for collieries. The collection is made up of technical drawings of colliery fans, engines, bed-plates etc.

Millbrook Engineering Company Limited Records, 1734-1966 (Ref. LAC/76)

The Millbrook Engineering Works, Landore [Glandwr] was established in 1825. The company manufactured plant and equipment for the copper and tinplate industries. The works became particularly well-known for the Millbrook Pickling Machine which was installed in many tinplate works locally and abroad. The firm operating the works when it was founded was the Millbrook Iron Company. In 1901 the Millbrook Engineering Company was registered.

The collection includes title deeds and material relating to the history of the company, financial papers, work specifications and processes and company correspondence. 

Sources Elsewhere

Sources at Swansea University