Heavy industries

Curator: Jennifer Protheroe-Jones BSc

The special industries of Wales - coal; iron, steel and tin plate; non-ferrous mining and smelting; and slate quarrying, ensured an international prominence for the nation in the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century. The historic subsidiary industries - woollen manufacture, founding and engineering, stone quarrying, brick and tile manufacture, and chemicals were the most notable - were all closely linked to the main industries and their communities. The coal, slate and woollen industries are interpreted in situ at Big Pit National Coal Museum, the National Slate Museum, and the National Wool Museum. The vast scale of the iron, steel, tin plate and non-ferrous smelting plants precludes their conversion into museums and so these industries, together with the subsidiary industries, are interpreted through representative small artefacts, models, photographs and archival material, films and oral history recordings. Most of the canals and horse drawn tramroads of Wales were closely connected to the iron industry.

The heavy industry collections

  • A representative selection of hand tools
  • A wide range of product examples
  • A representative collection of models.

The massive changes in the traditional industries of Wales in the 1950s were a considerable spur to the creation of the Department of Industry which came into being just in time to collect material from the steel and tin plate industries which were undergoing the most profound changes of all Welsh industries at that time. During the 1960s most significant metal mining and smelting sites were photographed by the Department's staff and a wide range of artefacts collected during land reclamation schemes, enabling many gaps in the collections to be filled. The very nature of heavy industry has resulted in the collection of historic photographs being crucial to our understanding of peoples' working experiences.

Researching the Welsh metal industry