Records of Aluminium Corporation Limited and Related Companies

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Records of the Aluminium Corporation Limited, based in Dolgarrog, North Wales and its related companies, particularly its subsidiary the International Aluminium Company.

Administrative / Biographical History

The first Aluminium Corporation Ltd (ACL) was formed in the April 1907. The directors of the company hoped that their site at Dolgarrog in the Conwy valley of North Wales would be a most suitable one for the dual purposes of producing hydro electric power and then using that power in order to produce and process aluminium. Work began at once with the construction of an incline railway to aid the building of a dam at Eigiau and a power station also began construction. The Bauxite Refining Company was formed by the ACL in partnership with the United Alkali Company of Hebburn. The initial part of the aluminium extraction process was carried out there.

In December 1908 all this activity was halted as the first ACL went into liquidation due to the falling price of aluminium. After new funding was received from one of its shareholders, a Scottish businessman, Kenneth McKenzie Clark, a second ACL came into existence in December 1909. A new General Manager, Henry Jack was also appointed at this time and was hugely influential in the development of the business.

Production of aluminium began in Dolgarrog in September 1910, the now completed power station using hydro electricity produced elsewhere in the area (the Eigiau dam was not finished until 1911). In 1916 a standard gauge rail link was opened from the works at Dolgarrog to a new station built in the village. Mainly used for freight, it was also provided a passenger service until 1932. A narrow gauge railway was built in the same year to link Dolgarrog to Llyn Cowlyd (this remained in occasional use until 1968). In 1917 a sheet rolling mill was built at the works, prior to this aluminium was only supplied to customers in block form.

In 1918 the ACL bought a controlling interest in the North Wales Power and Traction Company. During this period the remit of the ACL and its associated companies went far beyond the production and processing of aluminium. The company, under the management of Henry Jack also encompassed interests in electricity production and distribution, property, tourism and railways, including the Welsh Highland and Ffestiniog Railway and Snowdon Railway. A second dam, the Cowlyd dam was completed in 1921 and the Coedty dam in 1923.

Along with all of this industrial expansion, the village and community at Dolgarrog was also growing. The first homes for workers had been built in 1911 and further buildings such as shops, a school, a church and various leisure and social facilities were constructed over the following decade. In 1926 an estate of new houses was completed. Socially, Dolgarrog was unusual for bringing an English speaking workplace, and importing many English only speaking workers and their families, into a strongly Welsh speaking area. However as more local workers were recruited, the evidence seems to be that the percentage of bilingual Welsh/English speaking residents increased and the percentage of English only speakers declined.

On 2nd November 1925, the most famous and tragic event in Dolgarrog's history occurred. The dam at Llyn Eigiau was breached, the resulting flood waters overtopped and destroyed the dam at Coedty before sweeping down the valley, killing 16 people, 6 of them children, and destroying everything in its path. The loss of life would have been higher if a large part of the village had not been watching a cinema show at the Assembly Rooms. An inquest returned a verdict of accidental death on those killed by the disaster. The Eigiau dam was found to have inadequate foundations and poor quality concrete but no further proceedings were ever brought against any individuals or companies involved in the construction or maintenance of the dam. In 2004 a memorial trail was opened to commemorate the victims and explain the disaster to visitors to the area.

Aside from the human costs of the disaster, the disaster also had major financial implications for ACL. Henry Jack resigned as General Manager in May 1927 and from the Board in December 1927. It was forced to sell off its electricity and railway interests, as well as some of the properties it owned. From now on it consolidated its role as a producer and manufacturer of aluminium. The Bauxite Refining Company was reconstituted as a subsidiary company of the ACL, under the name of the International Aluminium Company.

The ACL ceased to be under independent ownership in 1931 when the Alliance Aluminium Compagnie of Brussels acquired a majority share. The company was sometimes known therafter as Alliance Aluminium Holdings. The Second World War brought much government control, particularly from the Ministry of Aircraft Production. In 1944 due to it being more expensive to import raw ores than aluminium, ACL ceased to produce aluminium and from then on carried out only aluminium rolling and finishing. The subsidiary International Aluminium Company was wound up in 1946 as a result of this change in role.

In 1949 majority shares in ACL were taken over by British Aluminium Company (BAO). In 1969 BAO became a subsidiary of the Tube Investments and Reynolds Metal Company and in 1982 BAO merged with Alcan Aluminium (U.K.) Ltd, thereafter ACL was wholly owned by Alcan of Canada, the world's largest aluminium company.

By this period Dolgarrog had moved away from being solely a "company village". In particular in 1972 the decision was taken to offer ACL's housing stock, previously rented to employees only, for sale to their tenants at a favourable price. Many took up the offer and houses inevitably later began to fall into the ownership of people without a connection to ACL.

In 1996 Alcan sold ACL to British Aluminium (later Luxfer Group) who in turn sold ACL on to Alcoa in 2000. Alcoa scheduled ACL for closure, however a new company Dolgarrog Aluminium Ltd was formed and Alcoa transferred the site and assets for a token sum to the new concern in 2002. A final fight for the survival of Dolgarrog Aluminium Ltd was lost in 2007 when the company closed, 100 years after the first ACL was formed.

Bibliography:

Dolgarrog: an industrial history by Eric Jones and David Gwyn (Gwynedd Archives and Museum Service, 1989), provides a very detailed history of the Dolgarrog works up until 1988.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research. Access to some documents may be restricted due to Data Protection legislation, Conwy Archives will advise where this is the case. For details and opening hours see http://www.conwy.gov.uk/en/Resident/Libraries-Museums-and-Archives/Archives/Archives.aspx.

Custodial History

An initial transfer of the minute books now in CD12/1/1/1 was made direct from the Dolgarrog works in November 2007. The bulk of the collection was transferred in June 2008. A later deposit was made in October 2010.

Related Material

A collection of photograph albums are in CP301. A further collection of photographs, press cuttings and other material is in CP338. A dvd of a short film made about the works in 1965 is in CPF11. A video from the 1997 open day at the Dolgarrog works is available in CPF16.