The story of tin
Painters in pursuit of the picturesque
In the 18th century, when the waterfalls at Aberdulais drove picturesque corn mills, this was a place of pilgrimage for famous artists.
Painters – notably JMW Turner, Wood, Ruskin and Bonner – flocked to this spot at the lower end of the Neath valley: it was one of the most popular scenes for painters in the whole of Britain.
Alas, it was not to remain such an idyllic setting.
By the 19th century trams rattled along: the sound of the tinworks was deafening, drowning the age-old roar of the falls.
Thunderous rolling mills, with stifling heat of 100 degrees F, borne skywards by brick chimneys rising above the gorge.
Here men, women, boys and girls (some as young as 12) toiled from dawn to dusk in conditions it is hard for us to imagine.
A contemporary account of what life was like for the workers proclaimed ‘It was so hot, the sweat ran out of our shoes‘.
The heat and commotion generated within what remains of these buildings is almost palpable.
To visit this site is to step back in time and be thankful for our lifestyle today.
Wales canned the world
… as the Victorians ruled the waves
Wales led the world in the production of tin: it was shipped globally. In 1891 Britain boasted 225 tinmills: 205 of those were in south Wales.
Tinplate revolutionised life and packaging – it was the plastic of its age.
And the tin town of Aberdulais was at its heart as ‘tinopolis’.
Wales invented the ‘tinny’
Yes, it’s true! Felinfoel brewery in Llanelli made history in 1935 – the first to put beer in tin cans.
But long before this time we can say the tin can was invented in Wales. Tinplate ticked all the boxes: it didn’t rust; it sealed tight; it kept food fresh for years. And it revolutionised commerce for more than two centuries.
For providing and managing visitor experience, the National Trust is second to none. It is to be congratulated on delivering a typically accomplished experience at Aberdulais Tinworks and Waterfall.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit on 9 June 2016 and heartily commend the venue.