William Crawshay II first started a tinplate rolling mill on site in 1794, and following a rebuild in 1834, by the mid 1800s it was the largest tin works in Britain. It was managed by Crawshay’s son Francis. The works were abandoned by the Crawshay family in 1857 and in 1861, the whole property reverted to the Bute Estate. In 1896 the works was leased to the Waterhouse Brothers of Bradford, but output declined throughout the 20th century. The furnaces finally closed in 1905. Its final owner was Richard Thomas & Co.
Production ceased in 1939 when the works had 4 working mills. In 1941 the works was requisitioned for storage by the Ministry of Supply. In or around 1946, the remaining machinery was removed and 2 large blocks of the rolling mill were demolished under the Tinplate Redundancy Scheme. The site was then sold on to the South Wales and Monmouthshire Trading Estate.
The extant buildings were taken over by a company called Leiner, to manufacture hide gelatine. In 1943 they expanded the plant to produce bone gelatine based on imported animal bones from India and Pakistan, where they later installed their own bone mills. Unfortunately, some of the bones used at the former tin works were contaminated with anthrax…
By 1961, Leiner had become the largest bone gelatine manufacturer in the world. After 1959, Leiner tried to manufacture pigskin gelatine; this proved to be a financial mis-step and eventually resulted in the bankruptcy of the company by 1980. The whole site was reduced, with some bone gelatine production remaining, and the remaining buildings either left abandonded or repurposed by a timber yard merchant, Webb’s Timbers. Some of the long buildings were full of long lengths of hardwood, and there were also a joinery shop situated on the site. Rhydyfelin Rugby Club and Glyn John Transport were also based on the site.
The next bankruptcy for Leiner took place in 1985, and at this point, the plant was acquired, and the company became PB Gelatines UK (The company still exists today, but operates from Treforest Industrial Estate, a few miles further south).
Unfortunately, the anthrax contamination on site had reared it’s ugly head, and 16 people apparently contracted the disease (but I cannot find much in the way of information to back this claim up). Site examinations in 1985 further confirmed the presence of anthrax spores, and recommendations were made to excavate the site and re-fill for any future light industry use on the site.
Webb’s eventually ceased trading on the site in 1990. When Webb’s closed, the joinery shop relocated a little further along the embankment, below the old abutments for the former Cardiff Railway (before eventually being closed due to a fire, and apparently the heat from the fire could be felt across the river). The rugby club had also moved across the river to new premises as this point.
On 29th October, 1993, the Secretary of State for Wales noted that the Taff Ely borough council (under which the site fell at the time) had made development of the site conditional upon a full examination of possible contamination. No development would be permitted until decontamination measures were taken.
The site was partially cleared a few years later by the local council with a view to building student accommodation there, but work was halted amid controversy about the ongoing presence (and cost of removal) of anthrax. A portion of the site is still in use today as a commercial scrapyard.
The surviving buildings at the Treforest Tin Works comprise the most complete group of buildings in the industrial style developed in the iron industries of South Wales from the early 19th century. The remains of the rolling mill is now grade 2 listed as one of the earliest surviving buildings related to the South Wales tinplate industry, and retains evidence of its use of water power.
The site is now sectioned off by large amounts of fencing. To this day, the crumbling buildings remain a haven for brave graffiti artists, urban explorers and, unfortunately, local drug users. The fencing is frequently breached, and the perimeter of the site is often a target for fly tipping. All in all, a pretty sad ending for such a good bit of Welsh industrial heritage.