The Copper Smelting Works, circa 1880
The scene is inside the Long House copper smelting shed Landore, Swansea.
The Copperworks were first established in 1810 by John Vivian. The Vivian Family were originally from Cornwall but built the Hafod copperworks because of the availability of a cheap coal supply. By 1848 the works employed 500 men and 500 women and children, although the wages were good, working conditions were poor and dangerous. The smelting process also produced a lot of poisonous and toxic waste and life expectancy at the factory was only 36 years of age. Copper ore was brought to Swansea on tall ships called copper barques from many countries around the world as far afield as Chile and Australia. In 1835 William Foster & Co opened the first Morfa works in competition with the Vivian family. At this time Swansea was producing 90% of the worlds copper. Workers from the Hafod copper works were forbidden to talk to workers or family from Morfa for fear of stealing processing information. The Hafod copper works contained two long rows of furnaces with each one being fed from the top with copper ore and lime. The process used reverberating furnaces (they shook) to separate the copper from impurities. Using a cold water dip the copper would form small granules of pure copper. This process could be done many times to improve the quality of the copper, they would then all be melted down and moulded into copper ingots. The supply of coal was abundant in the Swansea region which was necessary for the output, as it took 3 tons of coal to smelt 1 ton of copper ore. In 1924 Hafod and Morfa amalgamated, but by this time other countries were producing copper nearer to the copper mines and the industry went into slow decline. The process of smelting copper produced high levels of poisonous and toxic waste in the air, land and water around the Lower Swansea Valley region and the landscape of Swansea looked quite different than it does today, lifeless and scarred.