A busy March
March Report of the Resolfen History Society
March proved a busy month for the History Society with its normal monthly meeting and the annual St.David’s Day dinner at the Farmers Arms. The dinner this year was very well attended and the members were treated to a marvellous four course meal by the staff at the Farmers. However, the members were still bewildered by the historical brain teaser ( despite the fact that they had already seen it two years previously) and the prize was shared by the winners which may have been due to the fact that they had given up chocolates for lent!!
Mr Viv Griffiths was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting and he took the “Metal Box” as his topic. A former employee of the Metal Box, Mr Griffiths gave a very detailed talk on the history of the plant and the various processes associated with the making of tin cans. He also used a variety of props to describe the various types of tins and how they were made. He and a group of local enthusiasts have a photographic project noting the now quickly evaporating manufacturing sector in the area. The meeting began with a short DVD produced by the group showing the Metal Box throughout its existence and narrated by Mr Griffiths.
The Box began life in the 1930s when Barlow & Son bought out the Eaglesbush tinplate works and built the East building of the plant on very boggy ground near the River Neath. In 1945 a West building was added and this was followed in 1951 by an apprentice school. The owners were obviously canny businessmen who operated what amounted to a cartel/trust eliminating foreign competition. This gave the plant a virtual monopoly in the production of “tops and bottoms” of tin cans for a large part of its existence. Mr Griffiths explained that it made little sense to make the body of the can in neath since it was more economical to manufacture that nearer the source of the produce e.g. in East Anglia. Later the plant specialised in the production of beer cans and Mr Griffiths explained that Felinfoel was the first brewery in the World to produce cans of beer. Such was the importance of Metal Box to neath that there was even an annual can week in the town. Mr Griffiths then went on to explain the intricacies of can production including why they are made in order to minimise expansion in the production process and how they are tapered to reduce raw material costs.
The decline of the Metal Box was gradual and amounted in the first instance that foreign competition was allowed following a court case in the 1960s. This was followed by some seriously misjudged ventures which weakened the company and led to over a thousand redundancies in the 1980s and the subsequent closure of part of the plant. In 1987, the factory was bought by a French company and then by an American concern “Crown Corp”. Its main business today is the production of cans for the animal food industry. Its very efficiency as a company means that it now only employs some three hundred men and women.
Mr Phylip Jones thanked Mr Griffiths for a very interesting evening.
Next month’s speaker will be Mr Martin Griffiths who will speak intriguingly on a “Night in the Graveyard”, on Monday April 8th