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Insole Court is an interesting Victorian pile set in picturesque grounds in Llandaff on the outskirts of Cardiff, Wales. Large-scale restoration work is currently in progress. Originally known as Ely Court, it was built in 1856 by coal owner and shipper James Harvey Insole on the proceeds of the South Wales coal mining business founded by his father George Insole (1790-1851).
George Insole has long been recognised as a pioneer of the Welsh coal mining industry, especially in terms of the national and international steam coal export trade.
George was a carpenter and cabinet-maker in Worcester, England, in the early to mid-1820s. He moved to Cardiff in about 1828-9 with his wife Mary (née Finch, 1791-1866) and their surviving children Helen (1820-1895), James Harvey (1821-1901) and Emma (1823-1906) where they had two more children, Julia Ann (1830-1904) and George Frederick (1836-1837).
Modern research has shown that George entered into partnership with Cardiff trader Richard Biddle (1799-1896) in about October 1829 as a timber, coal and brick merchant. George benefited from Biddle's existing coal supplier and customer base. In particular, it was Biddle who in February 1829 had sourced and taken delivery of the earliest known shipment sent down the Glamorganshire Canal of the famous "smokeless" steam coal from the Waun Wyllt colliery of Robert and Lucy Thomas. George's promotion of this coal to the London markets formed the basis not only of his own early success, but to some extent that of the South Wales coal industry. (Biddle's role in this success has only recently been recognised.)
After the partners were bankrupted in 1831, George received a large inheritance and became a coal
owner in his own right. In 1842 he entered into partnership with his son James to form George
Insole & Son, a company that would see four generations of the Insoles and last until 1940.
However, success was accompanied by tragedy. In 1856 an underground explosion at an Insole mine in the Rhondda Valley resulted in the deaths of 144 men and boys (thirty-four under the age of sixteen and fifteen under the age of twelve). It was described as the "most fearful and destructive explosion, resulting in a sacrifice of human life unparalleled in the history of coal mining in Britain at that time."
This family tree provides information on the Insoles of Insole Court and their wider family.
For further information see "Hereford Cider, Worcester Leather, Birmingham Iron, Rhondda Coal:
Foundations of a Welsh Coal Mining Dynasty" (Richard L. Ollerton, Morgannwg, LVI, 2012,
62-83) and the links below.