Mining in South Wales

It is difficult to examine the Fosters of the 19th Century without understanding something of the iron industry of South Wales, and its attendant mining activities.

In order to produce iron from iron ore, a good deal of fuel is required. In the interest of efficiency and cost, it is desirable that the ore, and the fuel to smelt it, are located in the same area - and in South Wales they were both available in abundance. The beautiful valleys of the area had sustained small-scale iron production, using charcoal, since pre-Roman times, but the coming of the Industrial Revolution - with the concomitant need for huge quantities of iron - led to the establishment of what eventually became the Iron Capital of the World. This was Merthyr Tydfil, the population of which grew rapidly from a few hundred to around 80,000 as workers poured in from all over Britain.

Iron production had quickly outgrown the limited supplies of charcoal, and it was the discovery of vast coal seams in the surrounding valleys that now supported the industry. The local coal-mines were soon utilised to not just fuel the smelters, but also to supply fuel for the British Navy and the factories of Britain’s rapidly expanding industrial base.

It was a tough industry to work in, with children entering the mines as young as 8 years of age. Working conditions were harsh, and often unsafe, with frequent floods, gas explosions, or roof falls.

It was in this environment that our Fosters first appear in the public records – initially in Merthyr Tydfil, then Monmouthshire, and finally around Pontlottyn as new ironworks and collieries were opened in the Rhymney Valley.