South Wales Institute of Engineers Educational Trust

William Menelaus

William Menelaus
Founder of SWIE

The Dowlais Ironworks at Merthyr Tydfil was one of the first to move into steelmaking era by the Bessemer process and William Menelaus was instrumental in this change. Born on 10 March 1818 at East Lothian in Scotland, he was apprenticed with a firm of engineers and millwrights in the Edinburgh area and in 1844 he superintended work at Hensol Castle in Glamorgan. This led to a post at the Abernant ironworks and in 1851 he joined the Dowlais Iron Company as engineer-manager of the mills and forges department. Here he carried out numerous improvements in wrought iron making technology, inventing mechanical handling devices, puddling processes and the two-directional ‘Goat Mill’ at Dowlais for iron rolling, the most powerful mill of its day.Following the death of Sir John Guest in 1852 and a period of management under Lady Charlotte Guest, the resident trustee George Thomas Clark (1809-98) assumed control. Clark had worked under Brunel and he made Menelaus works general manager in 1856. Soon after the experiments with steelmaking began and working with Henry Bessemer, assisted by E P Martin, the problems were eventually overcome with steel rails rolled in 1865. The Siemens process of steelmaking was also instigated, with a Siemens-Martin open-hearth furnace producing steel on a large scale by 1871.

Building on the wealth of professional expertise in south Wales Menelaus moved to establish a south Wales engineering institute. Following a meeting at the Castle Hotel in Merthyr Tydfil on 29 September 1857 it was decided to set up the South Wales Institute of Engineers (SWIE), the third such body to be formed in the country. Menelaus was elected as its first president a month later. Menelaus was also involved with the founding of the Iron and Steel Institute and was president from 1875 to 1877. This merged in 1974 with the Institute of Metals to form the Metals Society, now part of IOM3. He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He died at Tenby in 1882 and was buried in St Cynog’s Churchyard, Penderyn, a window on the south side of the church is dedicated to his memory.

After 150 years, SWIE is now the South Wales Institute of Engineers Educational Trust (SWIEET2007), encouraging engineering and related works to a wider society particularly the young and providing support to those in engineering education and training. It continues, with the Learned Society of Wales, the annual William Menelaus Lecture along with the Menelaus Medal – for excellence in any field of engineering and technology.

Stephen K. Jones

Menelaus Grave at Penderyn