Richard Crawshay

 

  • Richest of the Rich position: 131
  • Birth/Death: 1739-1810
  • Origin of wealth: Industry
  • Wealth: £1.5m
  • Net National Income: £300m
  • Net National Income Percent: 0.5%
  • In Today’s Money: £5.517 billion

Richard Crawshay, the great South Wales ironmaster, was born the son of a prosperous yeoman farmer in Yorkshire. The family name was then Crashaw. At 15, the young Crashaw had a violent argument with his father and left home for London with a horse. After about twenty days he arrived, exhausted, penniless and friendless. But he managed to find work as an odd-job boy in a warehouse belonging to the owner of a cast iron business in Upper Thames Street. He proved a willing worker and at 24, having changed his surname to Crawshay, he took over ownership of the business when his employer retired.

In the mid 1770s, while arranging a sale of cannon made at Cyfarthfa Ironworks, Merthyr Tydfil, Crawshay first met the works proprietor, Anthony Bacon. The two became partners and expanded the business for cannon both at home and in the export market. Bacon died in 1786, and Crawshay saw the Merthyr works for the first time. While Bacon had left his inheritance to his son, Crawshay leased properties on the site. He invested heavily in new technology – particularly the new ‘puddling’ method of ironmaking – which expanded his business enormously.

Within eight years of arriving in Merthyr, Crawshay was sole owner of the whole flourishing ironworks, making his family the wealthiest and most powerful in Wales. The Napoleonic Wars proved to be particularly profitable for leading cannon makers. The guns of Nelson’s flagship, Victory, had been cast at Cyfarthfa. Crawshay did not live to see the end of the war. He died in 1810, and his elaborate funeral procession stretched 24 miles from Merthyr to Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff.

He left £1.5m in his will, representing about 0.5% of the £300m net national income of the day. In today’s terms that would be £5.5bn.

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