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Work starts to restore iconic Welsh industrial building in Swansea

CONSERVATION specialists have started crucial restoration work to preserve one of Swansea’s most iconic former industrial buildings.

Personnel from the city’s John Weaver Contractors have set up site around the Musgrave Engine House on the historic Hafod Morfa Copperworks complex.

The project, led by Swansea Council, involves Swansea University and volunteers from the friends of the Hafod Morfa Copperworks. Funded by the council, Cadw and the Heritage Lottery Fund, it will see around £330,000 spent on the site.[aoa id=”1″][/aoa]

The building and machinery inside are listed by Cadw as a scheduled ancient monument. It allowed Swansea to continue producing copper through the 20th century – and the very last copper to be rolled in Swansea was powered by the Musgrave Engine.

The building – with its associated machinery – is designated by Cadw as a scheduled ancient monument. It allowed Swansea to continue producing copper through the 20th century – and the very last copper to be rolled in Swansea was powered by the Musgrave Engine.

The Hafod Morfa Copperworks site is of international importance, being the world leading centre for copper smelting in the 18th century.

The engine house was built in 1910 and housed a groundbreaking engine – known as the Musgrave Uniflow – manufactured by Bolton’s John Musgrave & Sons. The Uniflow engine cut the cost of the copper making process and allowed this works to continue well after the end of other local copperworks.

Robert Francis-Davies, the council’s cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, said:

“The importance of this site to Swansea’s heritage cannot be under-stated. Having been unused since the 1980s it is in such a condition that it is danger of being lost forever; this work will stabilise its condition.

“It will be at the heart of the resurgent copperworks site and, in years to come, careful consideration to the best future use for the engine house.

“The copperworks site has the potential for World Heritage Status in future if sensitive regeneration can be delivered – and the Musgrave Engine House will be part of this.

“The council will contribute more than half the core funding of this engine house project – that demonstrates our commitment to preserving the site’s rich heritage.”

Swansea University history lecturer Dr Alex Langlands said: “We are delighted to see work starting after many years of discussions and preparatory work by the team of dedicated and skilled volunteers.

“The significance of this building cannot be understated. The greater efficiency of the engine installed in 1910 is one of the main reasons why Hafod Morfa Copperworks could stay afloat decades after the other copperworks in Swansea were closed due to increased international competition.

“The very last copper to be rolled in Swansea was powered by the Musgrave Engine.

“The university-led element of the project will focus on the restoration of the gantry crane and aims to restore the sound of machinery to the copperworks for the first time since the machinery and rolling mills fell silent in 1980.”

The works to the gantry crane will involve volunteers and community groups such as the Friends of Hafod-Morfa Copperworks who will carry out the work. 

Tom Henderson, of the friends group, said: “I’ve been dreaming of this important step forward since first becoming aware of the engine in the late 1980s.

“We are delighted that Swansea Council and Cadw have created this opportunity to restore the crane as part of the restoration of the building. If we are successful with the crane, we hope to move on to the engine itself.

“We have been making the case for three years that the engine itself can be restored.

“In the years to come, the restored engine could be a real driving force in restoring pride in Swansea’s huge industrial past.”

“Another long-term dream is to install innovative digital interpretation which could even reintroduce the sound of machinery to the copperworks – although that’s a long way off yet. Local school pupils would be involved in this project.

“We have been struck by the support of a number of local businesses such as CT Lewis and Phoenix Asbestos Recovery.”

Terry Edwards, managing director of John Weaver Contractors, said: “We are thrilled to be working on this project so close to our base in Hafod.

“Our duties will focus on installing a new roof to the building, repairing damaged brickwork and installing new security coverings to the windows and door openings.

“Our apprentices will gain valuable experience and we are offering two work placements for previously unemployed individuals to gain an insight into the construction sector and to help them onto the employment ladder.”

John Weaver Contractors expect to finish their work in early 2019.

Richard Bellamy, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Wales, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, HLF grants preserve fine examples of Britain’s industrial genius that not only helped create the nation, bringing jobs and economic prosperity, but also influenced the world.

“HLF is pleased to support the restoration and interpretation of the travelling crane in the Musgrave Engine House; it will pass on experiences and achievements from our working past to future generations.”

The Friends of Hafod Morfa Copperworks are eager to recruit new volunteers to assist with the restoration of the gantry crane. To express an interest, email [email protected].

Future work planned for nearby areas of the wider copperworks site includes the creation of a Penderyn Whisky visitor centre with shop, tasting bar, exhibition space and distillery. The transformation would be home to the Penderyn Experience whisky tour that would educate people about the site’s rich industrial history.