miércoles, 2 de mayo de 2012

History of the Royal Factories of San Juan de Alcaraz


The loss of historical references seems to be a fatal destiny which chases humanity. Sometimes we look at old ruins covered up by weeds and bushes and see nothing more than that, weeds and bushes, trying to recover what once upon a time was theirs.

But sometimes we feel we have to dig and unearth old documents, trying to explain what we see.

The Royal Factories of San Juan of Alcaraz, or Riópar, as they are known now, is a little rural village, where most of its inhabitants and near all the many visitors who come to visit us have lost the historical references that explain why this village is here and why it is like that.  For many, Riópar is a vague souvenir of factories that produced brass articles for domestic use and house decoration. But if we dig  deeper we can find many details of the great importance this industrial settlement had, the technological innovation that was developed here, the enormous change that this rural society went through and  the European vocation that took place in this village, lost nowhere among mountains.

Our task is to gather as many documents as we can and we will be very pleased if we can contribute in any way to a better knowledge of our dear village and its history.

I.- Background

The existence of the Royal Factories of San Juan de Alcaraz is due, as other Royal Factories disseminated throughout the Spanish geography, to a change of ideas and new philosophies which took place with the arrival of the Bourbons dynasty to the Spanish throne in the XVIII century: The Illustration.

In the previous century Spain was deeply sunk in itself and was isolated from intellectual, scientific and technological advances that were taken place in other parts of Europe: we were not able to produce porcelain, textiles, glass or cutlery sets, machinery, arms, etc., which had to be imported from other countries, with the consequent diminish of the royal treasury. Thus, it was necessary to send abroad able men to learn these trades, or to get some masters from abroad to come to Spain and teach the trades to other native craftsmen.

The Illustration came to Spain by the hand of the Bourbons and among other things, they took care to modernise the national industry. They favoured the coming of new techniques and crafts, and changed the old, obsolete factories for new models: The Royal Factories, following the French model.
Besides of a protectionist philosophy, the Bourbons were seeking the supply of much needed articles to fill their palaces, without spending too much money on royalties and taxes on imports. The Royal Factories of porcelain of El Buen Retiro, of glass in La Granja de San Idelfonso and of tapestry in Santa Barbara are a good example. But they also created other factories to satisfy the need for strategic products, as the Royal Factories of Liérganes and la Cavada (iron foundry) or the Royal Maestranzas de Sevilla, Barcelona or Ripoll, which supplied arms and gun powder. The Royal Factories of San Juan de Alcaraz obey to this philosophy, for here it was to be produced brass sheets, much used by the artisans and craftsmen in Spain and that it had to be imported from the foundries of Gösler (Germany), England, Netherlands or even Sweden.
Thus, The Royal factories of San Juan would become the first foundry in Spain able to produced brass in different formats, out of a calamine mine discovered on the right margin of The Mundo River. Cinz could be obtained out of calamine, which melted in the right proportions with cupper, a mineral also found nearby, would yield brass, a metal very much used at the time for making many household items, which were in great demand, as well as other items used in industries and even the army...

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© José Manuel Moreno Sánchez

[1] Distrito Minero de Murcia. Estudio Geológico Industrial de Yacimientos Minerales. Año 1.920. pp. 6
[2] Juan Helguera Quijada “ La Industria Metalúrgica Experimental en el siglo XVIII: Las Reales Fábricas de San Juan de Alcaraz, 1772-1800”, Págs. 260-262.

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