The Western Mail
8th August, 1933
HOME OF A FORMER WELSH OIL INDUSTRY
Oaks Were Brought to Brechfa Works
By GARETH JONES
hardly credit the charming village of Brechfa, in Carmarthenshire, with once
having been the Texas of Wales. I
do not mean to say that wild cowboys cracking revolvers dashed along after
Indians in the Cothi Valley, or that Carmarthenshire millionaires, puffing
great cigars, drew vast fortunes from that district to spend them at Barry,
the Coney Island of Wales, or in the speakeasies of Cardiff. I mean
that Brechfa was once the home of the oil industry, and what Llandarcy, with
its refineries near Swansea, is today, Brechfa was yesterday.
will not see the series of high derricks of Texas nor the stirring sight of
high gushers when oil is ejected into the air. In fact, you will see nothing except a collection of some of the
tallest finest trees in Wales, a profusion of red and yellow plants and weeds,
shrubberies of alders, the remains of a few kilns overgrown by brushwood, some
heaps of lime and some traces of charcoal. That is all that is left of the once flourishing oil works of
How to Got There
reach the spot you go from the church to the bridge, and when you have crossed
the bridge turn across the field to the left and past some cottages. But the best way is to take Mr. David Thomas, whom you may find working
in the churchyard, and he will explain all.
searched in vain for signs of oil in the ground and was puzzled until Mr.
David Thomas told me that the oil was obtained from the hosts of small oaks
which flourish in that district.
men and women had brought down the oaks the wood was put into ovens (retorts)
in two lengths of one yard each. After
twelve hours it came out in the form of charcoal.
the oven the vapours were led in pipes passing through a pond which acted as a
water condenser. These vapours were condensed into tar, water-and oil, which
were collected into “sumps” (or receivers or tar-wells), as used in a
modern gas-works. The tar went
into one receiver and the oil into another. The watery oil was then pumped into vats and mixed with lime.
mixture of oil and lime was then churned in the old-fashioned way, as if it
were cream. When it was churned
until there was a froth on top it was allowed to settle down, and was then put
into a big boiler, where it was boiled.
then became vapour again and was carried out in vaporous form through a pipe
into a. cask in the naphtha room. Alter
various other processes the residue was left in different barrels until the
final light oil was produced.
Products of the
the products of the works were solvent naphtha, which, having a higher
flash-point than paraffin, is used in a blow lamp to singe horses and to burn
old paint off doors; and pitch, which was run out as tar and cooled.
or four sorts of charcoal were manufactured. Black powder for sooting was
made from birch, alder, fine ash, and hazel. Lime salt (calcium acetate), which is used to make vinegar and in
pickling, was produced. Another
product was spirit of naphtha.
oil works were in action up to and during the war when it was valuable to the
War Office in the production of munitions.
will be recalled that alder wood is used for making gunpowder charcoal.
Relic of the Past
the war twelve to fifteen men were employed at works alone, and were receiving
about 2s. 6d. per day. Women were
occupied to take the bark off the alders, for if they burnt the bark the
charcoal was spoilt.
power used in the works was water power and the big wheel still stands, one of
the few relics of the past. It is
probable that the stream had been providing the power for these works for
about two centuries. To-day the
oil works of the past have an interest for the botanist, for shrubs and weeds
and flowers have sprung up at a very rapid rate in the soil, which has been
influenced by the products of the works.
when you say good-bye to Brechfa and your America or Persian or Rumanian or
Russian petrol makes you speed along, just think of the contrast between the
world oil industry of to-day and that humble but ingenious Welsh industry of