74. David Davies (Llandinam)
Groundbreakers (81 votes)
1818 – 1880
Industrialist and entrepreneur who helped to shape modern Wales
As a group, the coal owners and iron masters of the industrial revolution are not the best-loved figures in Welsh history. Quick to raise prices, quicker still to slash wages, they are collectively remembered as exemplifying the worst aspects of unfettered capitalism.
Amid this generally unloved band, some figures stand out. Individuals who built successful industrial empires while inspiring the loyalty of friends and workers and returning lasting benefits to the communities from which they drew their prosperity.
Hussey Vivian the first Lord Swansea is one such figure, along with W.T. Lewis who became Lord Merthyr. But undoubtedly the greatest of them all was David Davies or “Davies the Ocean.”
Born at Llandinam in Montgomeryshire he started out as a sawyer but soon began making money from organising labour gangs on the new railway lines that were being built across Wales.
He played a major part if the construction of the Newtown to Aberystwyth railway before turning his attention to the rapidly expanding coal industry.
He sank all his money into developing mines on land leased from the Crawshay family in the Rhondda. Gradually the cash ran out and Davies had still not found a profitable seam of coal.
Eventually there was no money for the miner’s wages. Yet in a remarkable display of loyalty and faith in Davies, the men kept going. Finally, when he was staring personal ruin full in the face, word came of a massive breakthrough at the Cwmparc mine in Treorchy. The Ocean Coal Company and David Davies were made.
Perhaps his greatest triumph came in facing down the powerful Bute family who controlled Cardiff docks. Faced with higher charges and narrowing profit margins for exporting coal through Cardiff, Davies chose to build his own docks down the road in Barry. It took years of persuasion and an Act of Parliament but by 1914 Barry was the bigger port.
As a benefactor he played a major role in the establishment of the University College at Aberystwyth, while another great legacy comes from the wise use of the family fortune by his granddaughters, Gwendolyn and Margaret.
Their now priceless collection of major artworks is a major attraction at the National Museum of Wales.