Richard Thomas, founding Father of the British Steel Industry.

Richard Thomas was born in Bridgwater, Somerset on 5th December 1837, into a shipping family trading between Bridgwater, South Wales ports and Liverpool with a small fleet of sailing ships. At the age of 19 Richard was drawn to the rapidly expanding town of Cardiff starting a business as a "Coal Exporter and Commission Agent". Richard prospered and on the 18th February 1859, married Anne Loveluck, a daughter of a local Farmer, belonging to an influential local family. A Miner strike soon placed Richard's business venture in jeopardy and he moved with his wife to work in a partnership with his uncle, a Draper, at Oxford. There his first child, Richard Beaumont was born 25th May 1860. Not being happy with working in the drapery trade, he left Oxford and became the Works Manager for his father who was a partner in a colliery and firebrick works at Briton Ferry. Shortly afterwards he was recruited by Philip W Flower an Ironmaster. Richard became the accountant and sub-manager of the Melyn Tin and Iron Works at Neath where he remained for four years. Richard then persuaded a group of business men to form a limited company to take over an iron works on the point of closure at Ynispenllwch. Even though the works became very successful, Richard became frustrated at only being the General Manager and Secretary.

In 1871, Richard moved into the Forest of Den where he found the Lydbrook Iron Works, built in 1806 by Thomas Allaway, a tenant of the Partridge family, lying idle. Richard leased the works and his own venture proved highly successful. The village of Lydbrook was situated in a thickly wooded valley through which flowed the Lyd brook which gave the village its name. Upper Lydbrook was in the Forest proper, whilst Lower Lydbrook is where the brook empties into the Wye. The works were situated in the valley to make the most of the water power. The Thomas family settled into the Poplars, of which some parts remain as the local Memorial Hall. In March 1875, Richard expanded his business leasing the Lydney Works. In the first few months of 1883, due to money problems (caused by the flooding of the Lydbrook Colliery, which Richard also owned), both works were closed. The Bank had every confidence in Richard, and a new company was floated "Richard Thomas and Company" 12th September 1884. Richard stepped aside in favour of his eldest son, Richard Beaumont becoming Managing Director. Richard was not idle and in 1888 the Melingriffin Works were acquired. Despite the McKinley tariff imposed in the USA on tin sheet imports, the Richard Thomas Co. was able to withstand the resulting recession. In the late 1890s, despite strikes, and the misfortune of others, the careful management of resources by the Thomas family allowed the business to continue to grow. Tin Works after Tin Works were acquired as the company grew and expanded in South Wales. Even though the Richard Thomas Company had become a large British firm and a major player in the steel industry, Lydbrook was always considered the birthplace of his Company.

Richard and Anne experienced their share of sadness and disappointments, and early childhood illnesses took their toll of six of their children. The East Window of Lydbrook Church was given to the Church, by Richard and Anne in memory of those children. The original inscription of 1908 commemorates, William George, Sydney Loveluck and Ann Lillian, interred at Lydbrook Churchyard, Samuel Treherne and Alfred Ivor, interred at Lantwit, Neath, and Stanley Rendell, interred at the English Cemetery, Rome.

Richard and Anne were graced with a long life together and had seen their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1909. Richard Thomas went to his rest, after a full and successful life on the 28th September 1916, having outlived his wife who died two years earlier. He was laid to rest in Lydbrook Churchyard.

During the latter part of the War, in 1944 the Richard Thomas Company merged with Baldwins, to become, Richard Thomas & Baldwins. In 1947 this Company became the basis for the Steel company of Wales. From its beginnings in Lydbrook, the company had aquired, or built 294 tinplate mills and 81 sheet mills. Nationalised in 1950, the Company became a constituent part of the British Steel Corporation through the Iron and Steel Act of 1967.



Last modified : 19 Nov 2006