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The industrial legacy of David Davies

Davies Davies of Llandinam

David Davies (1818-1890)
David Davies (1818-1890)
This image shows him in a rare moment of repose. Private collection (Lord Davies)

The gifts and bequests of Gwendoline and Margaret Davies completely transformed the range and quality of Wales's national art collection. The sisters were the granddaughters of David Davies of Llandinam, one of the great entrepreneurs of 19th–century Wales.

Gwendoline and Margaret Davies were the granddaughters of David Davies of Llandinam, one of the great entrepreneurs of 19th–century Wales.

David Davies started in life as a tenant farmer and sawyer. He made his fortune during the industrialisation of Victorian Wales. He built much of the railway system in mid-Wales, became a pioneer of the coal industry in the Rhondda valley and was the driving force behind the construction of Barry dock in south Wales.

Railways

Starting with the construction of the Newtown & Llanidloes Railway in 1859, he became involved in the construction of a number of railways in mid-Wales, the Vale of Clwyd and Pembrokeshire.

His greatest achievement as a railway engineer was the great Talerddig cutting on the Newtown & Machynlleth Railway, completed in 1862 and the deepest in the world at that time.

Not all the ventures in which Davies was involved succeeded — the grandly named Manchester & Milford Railway reached neither destination!

Coal – 'Davies yr Ocean'

The completed Talerddig cutting, the deepest in the world at that time.
The completed Talerddig cutting, the deepest in the world at that time.
Private Collection (Lord Davies)

1864 marked a decisive turning point in David Davies's career when he took out a pioneering mineral lease in the south Wales valleys. It took two years before the first pits were in full production. Five more collieries were opened by 1886.

In the following year they were vested in a new public limited company, the Ocean Coal Co. Ltd.

At the time of Davies's death in 1890, it was the largest and most profitable coal company in south Wales.

From pit to port

The crowning achievement of David Davies's career was the construction of the dock at Barry, south Wales.

Davies and a number of fellow Rhondda colliery owners came together to solve congestion both on the Taff Vale Railway and at Cardiff's Bute docks. They promoted the construction of a railway from the coalfield to a new dock facility at Barry, then a tiny hamlet. Despite fierce opposition from the Bute faction, the dock opened in 1889.

The application of wealth

No.1 dock in 1913, when Barry docks exported 11m. tons of coal. What appears to be a solid level surface in the right foreground of this scene in is fact dock water coated with scum and coal dust.
No.1 dock in 1913, when Barry docks exported 11m tons of coal. What appears to be a solid level surface in the right foreground of this scene in is fact water — thick with coal dust.

David Davies was a passionate supporter of Calvinistic Methodism — a strict non-conformist faith unique to Wales and distinct from Wesleyan Methodism.

Like all of Gwendoline and Margaret's family he was a life-long Sabbatarian and teetotaller. It instilled in him a profound sense of philanthropy and public service. He gave generously to religious and educational causes.

Having received a very basic schooling himself, the provision of university education in Wales was a cause close to his heart. He was a staunch supporter of the first college at Aberystwyth, opened in 1872.

He served as Liberal MP for Cardigan Boroughs during 1874-86 and was elected to the first Montgomeryshire County Council upon its creation in 1889.

After David Davies

David Davies died in 1890 and was succeeded by his son Edward, who found the stresses of running the business empire so overwhelming that he died just eight years later.

He in turn was succeeded by Gwendoline and Margaret's brother David, later 1st Lord Davies, who had to contend with the depression of the inter-war years.

The post-war nationalisation of the coal, dock and railway industries saw the family lose control of their vast undertaking.

Today, all the Ocean pits have closed, as has much of the railway system created by David Davies, and Barry dock sees little activity.

Article Date: 29 July 2007

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Glossary

Industrialist
Someone who manages or has significant financial interest in an industrial enterprise.

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