A Cornish Family in Merthyr

In 1837, Samuel Truran, his wife Ann and their seven children travelled by stage coach, from Chacewater, to the village of Dowlais in South Wales. Samuel Truran had been appointed as a mechanical engineer to the Penydarren Ironworks. His family's move to Dowlais would mark the beginning of a journey, which would witness, first hand, the rise and fall of one of the world's greatest ironworks, within Britain's Industrial Revolution.

Samuel Truran was the third eldest son of William Truran/Mary (nee Biddick) and he was baptised in Kenwyn Church, 24th February 1799. Samuel was one of nine children and he started his career as a miner. His brothers William, John and Mark also worked as copper miners within the Chacewater district and many of their children continued to work within the mining industry. In 1816, his sister, Mary married Henry Hamm and on 13th May 1818, Samuel married Ann Hamm in Kea Parish Church.

In 1837, Dowlais was a village, situated on a hill, overlooking the town of Merthyr Tydfil (County of Glamorgan). Its community had served the great iron masters (Guest, Homfray, Wilkinson, Bacon) since the establishment of the first ironworks in 1759 and the district of Merthyr Tydfil was home to four of the world's largest ironworks: Plymouth (Est. 1763), Carfartha (Est. 1766), Penydarren (Est. 1784) and Dowlais (Est. 1759).

During the American Civil War, the iron companies had answered the need for producing more iron (weaponry) and in 1804 Richard Trevithick used the Penydarren Tram road for his trials into the first rail-using steam locomotive. The rapid growth of Merthyr's tram roads continued to fuel the production of more wrought iron and there was a growing urgency to recruit more engineers. In 1835, the Dowlais Iron works was producing 20,000 tons of wrought iron per year (1) and Merthyr Tydfil was rapidly outgrowing Cardiff in becoming the largest urban settlement within Wales.

In 1837, Samuel's family moved to a company house in Dowlais. His post as a company engineer provided him with a wide variety of development work and included the maintenance of the company's blast engines, mines and collieries. During the early part of the 1840's, Samuel was appointed as an engineer for the Dowlais Iron Company and his salary of 200 per year included a house, taxes and coal (2). His last daughter, Victoria, was born in 1841 and his move to the Dowlais Iron Company enabled him to work under William Menelaus, the East Lothian-born engineer, whose apprentices also included; E.P Martin, William Jenkins, Edward Williams and William Evans. In 1846, the Dowlais Iron Company became one of the world's largest ironworks and the works employed seven thousand men (3). Eighteen blast furnaces were also used to fuel the ironworks and as a company engineer, Samuel Truran became involved with the company's steam experiments to generate more power.

During 1850, the Dowlais Iron Company suffered severe financial losses and there was an urgent need to reduce the company's operational costs and produce larger quantities of iron. In order to maintain the company's viability, a larger blowing engine was needed and Samuel Truran was assigned the task of designing the engine and managing its installation. According to John A Owen's book, "A Short History of the Dowlais Iron Works", the No 1 Blowing Engine was "the largest in Britain and probably the world" (4) and was capable of fuelling eight furnaces. In 1851, Samuel redesigned the blowing engine to serve twelve blast furnaces and the company was able to raise its profits. In 1856, this achievement enabled Samuel to secure promotion and eventually, he succeeded William Menelaus (now the Work's Manager) as the company's Chief Mechanical Engineer.

During the years of 1858-1860, Samuel was at the height of his career and one of his greatest achievements was realised within the construction (management) of The Goat Mill project. The Company's manager, William Menelaus, had designed The Goat Mill to incorporate the mechanisms and capacity of three working mills. According to John A Owen, the mill was capable of producing a thousands tons of rail per week (5). John A Owen also describes the seventeen furnaces used to serve each of the three-storey high mill's sections and the main engine was noted as providing "double the power of any engine yet built in Britain"(6). The mill's innovative design not only helped to maintain the company's long-term survival but it also increased the status of both engineers. In 1857, Samuel Truran and William Menelaus were amongst the founding members of the South Wales Institute of Engineers at the institute's first meeting in Dowlais and Samuel was later elected to the council, under the institute's president, William Menelaus.

Interestingly, Samuel's management of The Goat Mill project, under its designer William Menelaus, had maintained the company's tradition in using Cornish-made products. The Goat Mill was designed to incorporate the use of six Cornish boilers, weighing 120 tons and supported by a cast iron frame, weighing 850 tons (7). In 1851, Samuel Truran had previously purchased cylinders (Perran Foundry, Truro) for the work's No 1 Blowing Engine. However, this wasn't the first occasion in which the company used Cornish materials.

During the late 1830's, Samuel had invited his cousin, William Truran, to work for the Dowlais Iron Company as an engineer. His arrival from Ireland, with another relative, had marked the beginning of a number of items, ordered from foundries in Cornwall. In Laurence Ince's book, 'The South Wales Iron industry 1750-1885', he describes a number of William Truran's Cornish orders including the purchase of a blowing cylinder from the Copper House Foundry (Hayle) at the Ivor Ironworks (1839) and the acquisition of two beam engines from Harvey and Company (Hayle) in 1839 (8).

According to Samuel's great grandson, Edgar Truran, the publication of Samuel's book entitled " The History of Iron Ore" was his greatest lifetime achievement (9). In his notes, Edgar Truran also mentions the fact that the book was housed in The British Museum for many years. However, no one has been able to comment on whether Samuel produced his book, before or after, William Truran had published his famous work "The Iron Manufacture of Great Britain" in 1855. Throughout their careers, both Samuel and William continued to produce articles for engineering publications and examples of their work can be seen in The Mechanics publication.

In October 1860, Samuel's career was brought to an abrupt end when he was found dead at his desk within his office at the Dowlais Iron Company's works. According to Charles Wilkin's book entitled, "The History of Iron, Steel, Tinplate and Other Trades of Wales", a culvert, responsible for taking the waste gasses from the furnaces to be reused within other areas of the works, was later found to be faulty and Samuel had breathed in its toxic fumes. In his honour, the Dowlais Iron Company commissioned and erected a white marble wall tablet, in St John's Church, Dowlais.

The tablet contains the following words:

"In memory of 

Samuel Truran

for twenty three years

Engineer to the

Dowlais Iron Company

and one of their

most energetic, skilful

and honest agents.

He died, suddenly

whilst discharging his duties

in the works,

5th October, 1861, aged 1861 years,

leaving a widow and eight children

to lament his loss.

This stone is

in testimony of his worth

is erected,

by his grateful and

sorrowing employers "

Despite Samuel's early and tragic death, his children remained committed to working within the Dowlais Iron Company. His son, Samuel continued to follow in his father's footsteps as a mechanical engineer whilst another son, William, worked within the company's drawing office. Later, he was given a managerial position within the company's Rolling Mill but he sought greater success further a field. During the mid 1850's, William and his family joined many other people who were hoping to make their fortune within the mines in New South Wales (Australia). However, his early death, in 1860, brought the family back to Dowlais. William's brother, John trained as a civil engineer in Merthyr but he later moved to Victoria (Australia) shortly after William's death.

However, it was Samuel Truran's son, Matthew, who enjoyed the greatest career success within the Dowlais Iron Company. Matthew was born in the parish of Chacewater (18th March 1833) and was just four years old when his family moved to Dowlais. He spent many years at the Dowlais schools before becoming an apprentice to George Martin, a colliery engineer who worked for the Dowlais Iron Company. Within the company's colliery department, he joined George Martin in a project to sink a pit at Vochriw and later, Matthew took over the sole responsibility of sinking the pit at Bedlinog.

In May 1853, Matthew, George Martin and Wales were invited to the North of England. The visit was used to witness modifications within the use of the long wall working technique and it was hoped that this method could be used in Dowlais, in order to maximise the amount of harvested coal (10). Years spent as an apprentice to George Martin finally proved their worth and eventually, in 1857, Matthew was promoted to the post of Chief Colliery Manager for the Dowlais Iron Company. In 1857, he became a founder member of the South Wales Institute of Engineers and in 1859 he was also elected as a member of the North England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers.

Life within the Dowlais Iron Company wasn't always purely confined to the requirements of work. In 1859, Matthew became a member of the Volunteer Corps under the guidance of the Company's Trustee, Lieutenant Colonel George T Clark. In 1862, a photograph was taken outside Dowlais House and it features many of the Dowlais Iron Company's officials dressed in their Volunteer Corps uniforms. The photograph, now in possession of the Glamorgan Records Office, includes the following company officials: Dr Burns, M.C Harrison, Matthew Hirst, William Jenkins, Edward Williams, George T Clarke, Matthew Truran, William Menelaus, Dr Pearson Cresswell, George Martin and David Jones.

During his coal management career, Matthew witnessed few serious mining accidents and within the Dowlais Iron Company, he achieved a remarkable safety record. Ironically, during the Ferndale disaster in 1867, Matthew was the leader of the first rescue team who provided assistance to the neighbouring company's managers/owners of the Ferndale pit. The same source in Merthyr Tydfil Library, dated 18/3/1973, also describes the time when Matthew gave evidence at the Commission of Accidents in Mines in October 1879 and described himself as a colliery agent, responsible for a workforce of 3000 men and ten pits.

In 1882, poor health finally forced Matthew Truran into early retirement but he still continued to act as an engineering mineral consultant. During the late 1880's and early 1890's, Matthew resided in Bedlinog Hall and was still committed to representing the Dowlais Iron Company. In 1890 and 1895, the same Merthyr source, dated 18/3/1973, also describes how Matthew, assisted by E P Martin, represented the Forest Iron and Steel Company on the Cardiff District Board of Coal Owner's Association.

In 1896, Matthew returned to Merthyr Tydfil and he purchased Oakroyd House, within the grounds of Penydarren House/Park. Matthew continued to pursue a role within public life and during his last years, he held a number of prominent posts: JP for Glamorgan, Chairman of Gelligaer and Rhigos Rural District Council, Chairman of Gelligaer Highway Board, Chairmen of Merthyr Board of Guardians and Governor to Merthyr General Hospital. In August 1898, as Chairman of the Gelligaer and Rhigos District Council, he unveiled a foundation stone for the new council offices in Hengoed and it was Sir T Marchant Williams (Stipendiary Magistrate) who later led the tributes after Matthew's death in 1910.

"I have known Mr Truran on this bench (Merthyr Court) for a number of years. He was a singularly straight forward man, the very essence of honour, clear-minded and just...He was a conspicuous figure in this town and district for a large number of years and I am sure that he will be missed by many of his friends"

Despite the death of the last Cornish Truran in Merthyr, Matthew's children still continued to enjoy success within the Dowlais Steel and Iron Company. Matthew/Jane Truran's eldest son, William, followed in Samuel's footsteps as a mechanical engineer and later, he moved to work in the ironworks within the Middlesbrough's industrial area. Interestingly, William married Lydia Belk, the grand daughter of Edward Williams, whose work at the Dowlais Iron Company had brought him significant managerial success. A contemporary colleague of Matthew, he had left the Dowlais Ironworks to become the General Manager of Bollow Vaughan and later, he was promoted to Director of the Treforest Iron works and the proprietor, of the Linthorpe Dinsdale Iron works (Middlesbrough).

Matthew's son George also trained as a mechanical engineer but he soon followed in both Matthew and his uncle William's footsteps. In Dowlais, George spent many years as a mining agent but later, became chief draughtsmen within the Drawing Office. His brother, Edward, also worked for many years within the company and became the company's Furnace, Washery and Brickyards Manager.

Interestingly, their sister, Alice Mary, married Thomas Benjamin Hirst, whose mother was a descendant of Iolo Morgannwy. Thomas' uncle, Matthew, another contemporary of Matthew Truran had worked as an official within the Dowlais Iron and Steel Company and he married Miss Maskelyne, whose sister was the first Maskelyne of Maskelyne and Devant. Not surprisingly, Alice's husband, Thomas, also achieved notable fame within the iron industry and became the Manager of the Blaenavon Iron and Steel Company. Later, he was also appointed as the Director of the Dowlais Gas and Coal Company.       

However, it was left to Matthew Truran's son, Matthew, to maintain his father's trade within the industry of coal management. In 1884, aged 21yrs, Matthew was appointed as Colliery Manager at Penshoel Colliery, in Pontypridd and he became the youngest manager within the South Wales coalfields. During his time at the Pontypridd Colliery, he was also responsible for installing the first electrical plant in Wales and in 1888, he was elected as a member of the South Wales Institute of Engineers. For many years, he lived at Abercanaid House where one of the level pit exists was conveniently located at the bottom of his back garden! Under the ownership of the Crawshay brothers, he later managed the Newbridge Rhondda Colliery and before his retirement, he undertook the management of Burn pit (Merthyr) and finally, Cwm pit in Cyfarthfa.      

As Dowlais turned its attention away from iron to steel production, it was Matthew Truran J.P's sons, George/Edward, who were probably the last Trurans to work for the company in Dowlais. As earlier as the 1860's, the Dowlais Iron Company had switched its attention to the production of steel and during the First World War the demand for iron/steel had helped the company to maintain its market share. However, even the might of its owners, now known as the Guest, Keen and Nettles Company Ltd couldn't secure its future and during the 1920's, it faced growing financial problems within the economic depression.

In 1930, the company's owners merged with Baldwins Ltd to form the British (Guest, Keen and Baldwins) Iron and Steel Company ltd. Despite all attempts at trying to maintain the company's profitability, the Dowlais Iron Works was closed and by 1936, all the main sections of the works were no longer in operation. The company's name was changed to Guest Keen Baldwins Iron and Steel Company Ltd and a small work force was left in Dowlais in order to manage the remaining foundries and engineering workshops.

Although the remaining part of the works still continued to run in profit, under its last manager John A Owen, most of the work was transferred during the 1930's, to the Guest Keen Baldwins Iron and Steel Company Ltd site on East Moors (Cardiff). Despite, the Dowlais Iron Work's closure in 1936, it took another fifty-two years before the site finally closed its doors to the iron industry in 1988.

Within the period of one hundred years, a Cornish family and its descendants had not only witnessed the growth and decline of the world's largest iron works but they had also played a key role within Britain's great, industrial revolution.


1) Page 77, Owen, John. A, A Short History of the Dowlais

     Iron Works, Reprint 2001, Merthyr Tydfil Library Service.

2) Page 31, Owen, John. A, A Short History of the Dowlais

     Iron Works,  1973: Merthyr, (publisher unknown)

3) Page 46, Hilling, John. B, Cardiff and the Valleys

     1973: London, Lund Humphreys.

4) Page 29, Owen, John. A, A Short History of the Dowlais

     Iron Works, Reprint 2001, Merthyr Tydfil Library Service.

5) Page 36, Owen, John. A, A Short History of the Dowlais

     Iron Works, Reprint 2001, Merthyr Tydfil Library Service.

6) Page 36, Owen, John. A, A Short History of the Dowlais

     Iron Works, Reprint 2001, Merthyr Tydfil Library Service.

7) Page 35, Owen, John. A, A Short History of the Dowlais

     Iron Works, Reprint 2001, Merthyr Tydfil Library Service.

8) Page 49, Ince, Lawrence, The South Wales Iron Industry

     1750-1885, 1993:London, Ferric Publications

9) Page 1, Truran, Edgar, The Truran Family notes

     Oct 1962: Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil Public Library archives

10) Page 47, Jones, Edgar, GKN 1759-1918

       Reference material: housed in Merthyr Tydfil Public Library


Additional Sources

 1)  Truran, collection of papers, dated 18-3-1973, housed in Merthyr

       Tydfil Public Library archives

  2)  Wilkins, Charles, The History of the Iron, Steel, Tinplate and 

        other trades of Wales, 1903:Merthyr Tydfil, Joseph Williams

  3) Merthyr Tydfil Express Newspapers (extracts from microfiches

      held in Merthyr Tydfil Public Library)

Copyright: Helen Truran
Last updated: December 31, 2008.