King Copper

Posted on 10 February 2012

King Copper by Ronald Rees, Published by the University of Wales Press

King Copper, a new book by Ronald Rees published by the University of Wales Press, is the first full treatment of the impact of the copper industry on South Wales.

For the whole of the eighteenth century, and much of the nineteenth, a belt of coastal smelters using local coals and ores from Cornwall, Cuba and Chile produced virtually all of Britain’s copper, and much of the world’s.

It was a remarkable industrial concentration that brought wealth to Swansea and its neighbouring towns.

But there was a price for prosperity.

Copper ores are notoriously impure and the many meltings required to purify and separate the metal from the ore produced mountains of slag, furnace ash and billowing clouds of toxic smoke.

Laced with sulphur and arsenic, the smoke killed all but the hardiest of plants, ruining crops and sometimes killing and disabling grazing livestock.

The growing friction of countryside farmers against townsmen resulted in Welsh-speaking people turning against their Anglo-Welsh cousins in the towns.

This conflict culminated in a series of so-called ‘smoke trials’ in which farmers and landowners sued the copper companies for damage to crops, grazing and stock.

Seldom has the rural dichotomy been so exposed.

The smoke disputes centred on damage to property but they also raised questions about public health and the loss of attractive and loved landscapes.

Ronald Rees is a retired Professor of Geography at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada.


Book Review Excerpts:

“This is a most impressive book that provides a concise and lucid general account of the copper industry in south Wales . . . King Copper is a stimulating study grounded in careful scholarship and written in a lively, confident style. It throws much new light on a vital dimension of South Wales's industrial history and for this reason the book deserves to be widely read." -Welsh History Review

“. . . the story of King Copper is well documented in a new book of that name by Ronald Rees. The story he tells has remarkable parallels with the modern tale of the British nuclear industry: first a military motive, then official lies, followed by a cry that criticism jeopardises jobs and wealth.” –BBC History Magazine

(Paperback) ISBN-13: 978-0708324912 King Copper by Ronald Rees, Published by the University of Wales Press (£18.99)

For more information on the University of Wales Press visit or to place an order:  

For press and media information, please contact Tom Barrett, Communications Officer, University of Wales: 02920 376991


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