During the 1930s there were profound changes in the tinplate industry that in due course led to the closure of all four tinplate works on the Machynys peninsula. In the USA a new technique for making tinplate had been introduced, using wide strip mills to produce the thin steel plates. This system of manufacture was more efficient, its output was of higher quality, and it called for the operation of machinery rather than heavy labour. However, it required heavy financial investment both to construct the large factories it needed and to install the machinery.
The first British strip mill was planned and developed by Richard Thomas & Co., the company that owned all the tinplate works at Machynys. It was built at Ebbw Vale and started production in 1938. By 1941 there was less demand for the output of the traditional tinplate works, and in that year the Burry Works and the tinplate section of the South Wales Works ceased production.
During World War II there was an increasing trend towards national co-ordination of steel and tinplate production, a process that eventually led to the nationalisation of the industry in February 1951. It was decided that a second strip mill was needed, and it was clear that surplus capacity among existing tinplate manufacturers would have to be removed. Machynys was one of the places considered for the second strip mill, but in the end a location in Port Talbot was chosen and the Abbey Works opened in 1951.
1951 also saw the opening of a huge new tinplate factory at Trostre, on the eastern side of Llanelli about a mile and a half from Machynys. Steel sheets came from the Abbey Works, and new technology at Trostre included cold reduction mills and an electrolytic tinning process.
Over the next few years the two remaining tinplate plants at Machynys closed, the Richard Thomas Mills in 1954 and then the Burry Extension in 1961.
Some staff were transferred to Trostre, but many were made redundant. Llewellyn John was one of those who were transferred. Having grown up in Bay View Terrace, Machynys, he began work at the age of 14 at the Richard Thomas Mills, but within two years had moved to the Burry Extension. After being transferred to Trostre in 1960 he found working conditions there “better than Butlin’s”, but he missed the camaraderie that existed in the old hand mills.
More of Llewellyn John’s reminiscences can be found in a chapter in Tinopolis by Harry Davies, Chats with Llew and Johnny.
During the 1960s and early 1970s the steel and tinplate works of Machynys, and all the housing, were demolished. In February 1966 the Llanelli Borough Council bought 89 acres of land on the peninsula from Richard Thomas & Baldwin, land that included 90 houses. According to Eira McKibbin there was a “knock on the door” of each house, and the rent officer from RTB informed the occupants that they would no longer have to pay rent as the houses were about to be sold to the council.
I would like to know more about the intentions of the Llanelli Borough Council in 1966, but it appears that they expected that almost all the buildings on the peninsula would be removed and the area re-developed. Only the Machynys Foundry, opened as recently as 1952 and due to survive until 1985, would remain in existence. I have not seen any evidence that the LBC considered the option of retaining and upgrading the houses in Machynys and Bwlch-y-gwynt, and it is certainly the case that people who lived there recall that they were given no choice but to move away.
The process of departure occurred gradually in the six years between 1966 and 1972. Some people may have found alternative housing in the private sector, but most were re-housed by the council. As people moved out they were not replaced, with the result that those who stayed until the end found themselves living next to empty and decaying houses. Those who were allocated council housing moved to several different areas in Llanelli, though in a number of cases three or four families were moved together to the same street.