Excavations at the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks

We are currently working at the incredible Hafod-Morfa Copperworks, Swansea. We are excavating part of the site in advance of the refurbishment of the former Morfa Powerhouse and later Yorkshire Imperial Metals canteen (LB 11691) building into a distillery and visitor centre by Penderyn Whisky (our favourite whiskey!).

The principle discoveries found include the remains of a large pond noted on early maps (labelled number 46 in the map below) thought to have provided water power to early  mills on the site, possibly for ore crushing, before steam power was widely adopted in the mid-19th century.

Ordnance Survey 1st Edition Map 1879
Ordnance Survey Map of the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks in 1879

We have uncovered the remains of what we believe is one of the early Morfa Rolling Mill buildings built in 1828 to principally roll copper brought in from the Rose Copperworks. The rolling mill is known to have burnt down in the 1840s. Following the fire, the present rolling mill building was extended and is now the home of Swansea Museum stores.

View SE of Rolling Mill (bottom right of picture), Cast House (centre left of picture) and gable end of Laboratory Building (centre top of picture)

The gable end of the original Morfa Laboratory building was found on the western edge of our excavations. The laboratory was used to test the metal mixtures during smelting and alloying and dozens of small ceramic assaying cupels were found in demolition rubble; the building had been apparently demolished sometime after 1926. The aerial photograph below shows the building at this time standing in front of the great Silverstack Chimney.

1920s Copperworks in the lower swansea valley. Surrey flying services NMW 75.64I_14
1926 Copperworks in the lower swansea valley. Surrey flying services NMW 75.64I_14

The west and north walls belonging to the Yellow Metals Mill Cast House were found to have survived very well, indeed both walls have survived to second storey. Beneath the later 20th century floors, several furnaces were identified dating to the construction of the building in 1840. High levels of copper and zinc residues confirm the manufacture of Yellow Metal, a copper alloy of 60% copper and 40% zinc developed by George Frederick Muntz. This alloy largely replaced sheet copper used to clad the hulls of timber ships. Muntz later became a shareholder in the Upper and Middle Bank Copperworks, Swansea, which were later sold to Williams, Foster and Co.

Hafod site - 1951
ICI Plan of the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks in the 1950s

A WWII air-raid shelter was found tucked away in the west wall of the cast house, made of prefabricated concrete lintels. The shelter appears to have been used as a store room after the war.

1840 Cast House (view N)
1840 Cast House (view S) showing yellow brick furnace and chimney bases. The air-raid shelter doorway is located centre right of picture in the cast house wall

In the centre of the site, where once drams carried off coal from the Swansea Canal into the works, we found the well-preserved remains of an early 20th century bathhouse, complete with 12 ceramic shower trays, quarry tiled floors, urinals, toilets and a large boiler bay. The bathhouse has been subjected to detailed recording including the generation of scaled 3D models.

Quarry tiled Bathhouse (centre)
Bath House
3D Model of Bathhouse

You can view the 3D model here

One of the more recent discoveries made on-site is a large culverted filtration system for taking dirty water from the Swansea Canal into the works. The culvert was located on the northern end of the Weigh Bridge building and consisted of four concrete and brick-built chambers with inserted steel mesh filter curtains. Two large pipes brought the canal water into the filtration system, controlled by two large valves. You can view the 3D model here

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 14.27.11
3D Model of Culverted Canal Filtration System

An old photograph taken of the Silverstack Chimney may show that this filtration culvert was roofed at this point in time.

Silverstack Chimney (C) West Glamorgan Archives D3451
Silverstack Chimney and Yellow Metals Mill Cast House. Note the small hipped roof inside the works boundary wall, opposite the large boiler (bottom right of picture) (C) West Glamorgan Archives D3451

Finally, we discovered a long forgotten memorial garden to the servicemen and civilians from the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks who died during World War II. The memorial garden was located on the gable end of the surviving rolling mill.

ICI WWII Memorial Garden

A funnelled pathway with flower beds either side lead to several steps and a small a memorial finished in cement render on the gable wall. No plaque survived on-site but a quick search of the Landore Social Club found that the plaque had been removed when the Copperworks was closed in the 1980s and consequently placed in the club.

ICI Landore Works Memorial now in Landore Social Club

Brief history of the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks

View of the Hafod Copperworks – from George Grant Francis (1881), The Smelting of Copper in the Swansea District, from the time of Elizabeth to the present day

During the mid-19th Century the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks employed over 1000 people. Situated in the Lower Swansea Valley, this area at that time accounted for 90% of the world’s copper production. This was made possible by a abundant supply of coal in the Swansea Valley, brought down via the late 18th century canals, and the excellent facilities for shipping, which allowed the import of copper ore from Cornwall, North Wales, South America, South Africa and Australia.

Copperworks in Lower Swansea Valley 1865 Le Tour du Monde
Copperworks in the Lower Swansea Valley 1865 – Le Tour Du Monde

The Hafod Copperworks was established in 1808-9 by the Cornish entrepreneur John Vivian. In 1828 a Cornish firm, Williams, Foster & Co., opened the Morfa works on adjacent land. The works was initially a rolling plant for making bars and plates from copper ingots brought from the nearby Rose Works but smelting is believed to have started by 1835. Both the Hafod and Morfa works amalgamated in 1924 and was subsequently operated by Yorkshire Imperial Metals until it closed in 1980, when it was the last operating copperworks in Swansea.

At least fifteen significant structures, in varying degrees of condition, survive across the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks site. These include the rolling mill (LB 16878) now used as the museum stores, the laboratory building (LB 11690) and the former Morfa Powerhouse and later Yorkshire Imperial Metals canteen (LB 11691). The Hafod Limekiln (11694), Copper Slag Abutment, Pier and Canal Boundary Walls (LB 11692 and 11693). The Vivian Engine House (LB 11695), the Chimney (LB 11696) west of the Vivian Engine House and the Boundary wall for the Hafod Copperworks Canal Docks (LB16881). Finally, the in-situ Musgrave Engine and Rolls (SAMGm483) in the Musgrave Engine House and Chimney (LB 11697).

Previous work at the copperworks

We have been supporting C&CS on the site of the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks for the past few years. A selection of these reports are available to download and read below:

Copperworks Discovery Project

In the spring of 2018 we delivered a very successful community history and archaeology project at the world renowned Hafod-Morfa Copperworks. We provided opportunities to get involved with historical and archaeological research workshops to explore the copperwork’s past and on-site building survey workshops. Our community project formed part of the wider regeneration project that aims to turn the renowned copperwork site into a world class heritage, innovation and education destination.

Hafod-Morfa Copperworks Field Evaluation

In February 2018, Black Mountains Archaeology Ltd undertook an archaeological evaluation on behalf of the City and County of Swansea in advance of proposals to convert the site of the former Hafod-Morfa Copperworks into a world class heritage, innovation and education destination.

Twelve 20-metre-long evaluation trenches were strategically excavated across the site of the former copperworks, in three defined areas, in order to achieve the most comprehensive understanding of the archaeological potential of the site. The results of the evaluation revealed a deep layer of waste and debris overlying extensive archaeological remains of the former copperworks. These remains included: the floors and walls of various buildings, culverts, reverberatory furnace bases, machine bases and various foundation layers. The overlying debris and waste were the result of copper production and the demolition of the copperworks.

Powerhouse Design Pattern Recording Project

Black Mountains Archaeology Ltd, in partnership with ArchaeoDomus – leading historic building specialists, were commissioned by the City and County of Swansea (C&CS) to undertake a photogrammetric and photographic record of a significant number of timber design patterns, many in very poor water condition, located in the basement of the Powerhouse (Canteen) building (LB11691), Hafod-Morfa Copperworks, Swansea. The survey work was carried out to produce a comprehensive record of the timber design patterns for archival purposes and provide for further study and research. The survey was undertaken between the 3rd December 2018 and 14th December 2018 in particularly challenging site conditions.

All timber fragments were painstakingly sifted and analysed for suitability for recording, both photographic and to produce at least five measurable 3D photogrammetric models. Many hundreds of pieces were either too fragmentary, unidentifiable or in such degraded state that survey was impracticable. However, despite the challenges a total of 97 timber objects including 39 design patterns were recorded together with five fully measurable 3D photogrammetric models.

Vivian Engine House – Archaeological Watching Brief

The City and County of Swansea requested Black Mountains Archaeology Ltd to carry out an archaeological watching brief at the Vivian Engine House (LB11695/NPRN33743), on the former Hafod-Morfa Copperworks site, Swansea, during ground contamination mitigation works.

Smith’s Canal, White Rock Copperworks and Silverstack Canal Bridge, Hafod-Morfa Copperworks

Black Mountains Archaeology Ltd were commissioned by City and County of Swansea to carry out an archaeological field evaluation to inform on the nature and extent of any archaeological remains at the old Smith’s Canal, White Rock Copperworks and the Silverstack Canal Bridge, Hafod-Morfa Copperworks on the Swansea Canal.

An open excavation (clearance) was carried out around the base of the demolished Silverstack Canal Bridge and five trenches were machine excavated along the Smith’s Canal followed by hand cleaning and recording. The investigations identified the remains of the Silverstack Canal Bridge abutments and the canal walls belonging to the Smith’s Canal.

Powerhouse Site Investigation – Archaeological Watching Brief 

Black Mountains Archaeology Ltd were commissioned by the City & County of Swansea to carry out an archaeological watching brief during ground investigation works by Hydrock of a derelict area in between the Powerhouse (LB11691) and Rolling Mill (LB16878) buildings on the former site of the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks.

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9 Comments on “Excavations at the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks

  1. Really excited about this as my father’s family are from the Hafod and my great grandfather was a furnace man at the Works. He died in 1910. I know my grandfather worked there as well but not sure of his job.

  2. Superb tour today of the Hafod site, thank you Richard & team

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  5. This blog of yours is like a little time traveling with those black and white images having old constructions too. I love to study this type of project; hope will keep getting the improvements of the project. Great blog indeed!!

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  8. Pingback: Copperworks Discovery Project 2021 – Black Mountains Archaeology – Archaeoleg Mynydd Du

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