Page last updated at 16:00 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010
Dreaming a City: John Hughes and Hughesovka
John Hughes - photo courtesy of the National Library of Wales
John Hughes founded a community inspired by his hometown of Dowlais

A new book tells the story of John Hughes, the ironmaster from Merthyr who founded a town in Tsarist Russia.

Hughesovka - now called Donetsk - grew up around the works he built in the 1870s to make plating for a naval base.

Colin Thomas's book Dreaming a City: From Wales to Ukraine is partly based on the 1991 TV documentary he made with the late historian Gwyn Alf Williams.

"I think in many ways it was the model of what Hughes saw in his hometown in Dowlais," said Thomas.

"He wanted to create a town in which he was the top man - I think that was part of his driving ambition."

Little is known about his early life, but John Hughes was born in 1815 in Merthyr Tydfil where his father was an engineer at Cyfarthfa ironworks.

He later worked in Ebbw Vale and Newport, where he built his reputation by patenting an number of inventions in armaments and armour plating.

Hughes was offered a seat on the board and later a directorship of the Millwall Engineering and Shipbuilding Company in London.

The company won worldwide acclaim for its iron cladding of wooden warships for the British Admiralty, and Hughes was given much of the credit.

The company received an order from Imperial Russia for the plating of a naval fortress being built at Kronstadt on the Baltic Sea.

New Russia Company pithead - photo courtesy of Rosemary Prior
Hughesovka was reminiscent of the industrial south Wales valleys

So in 1870 Hughes sailed to the Ukraine with eight shiploads of equipment and around a hundred specialist ironworkers and miners, mostly from south Wales, to build a metallurgical plant and rail producing factory.

The Hughes factory gave its name to the settlement which grew in its shadow, and the town of Hughesovka (Yuzovka) grew rapidly.

Hughes provided a hospital, schools, bath houses, tea rooms, a fire brigade and an Anglican church dedicated to the patron saints St George and St David.

In 1889, Hughes died during a business trip to St Petersburg, and the company was taken over by his four surviving sons.

They rapidly expanded the works in the 1890s, and again at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 to produce artillery shells.

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 led to the departure of almost all the company's foreign employees, but the works survived and prospered under Communist rule.

The town of Hughesovka, known since 1961 as the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, remains one of the largest metallurgical centres in the former Soviet Union.

Dreaming a City: From Wales to Ukraine by Colin Thomas is published by Y Lolfa - it includes a DVD of his 1991 documentary Hughesovka and the new Russia

Colin Thomas: the story of Hughesovka
28 Jan 10 |  History


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