Idris Roberts was considered a mechanical genius by many who knew him. For many years he was the manager of the Central Repair Workshop at The Steel Company of Wales, later known as British Steel.
Following early retirement with a reorganisatin of the works repairs services, Idris purchased several machines from the repair shop and set a specialist repair service with his son in the grounds of his home in Margam. Highly technical work was done for the North Sea oil fields, including under water stainless steel automatic romote controlled valves.
Read the story below about this remarkable man who will be sadly missed for his mechanical know-how.
HUGE STEELWORKS SHIP
SET TO SAIL AWAY
Rescued by Idris Roberts, now 10-foot model will be
auctioned in Rogers Jones Co sale
For decades it impressed visitors walking up the main staircase of the Port Talbot General Offices of Abbey Works at what was the Steel Company of Wales.
The huge, 10-foot long glass-cased model of a cargo ship had been presented to the works by Harland & Wolff shipyard, Belfast, in recognition of the steelworks’ efforts and quality of production during the war years. Now it is for sale.
Ben Rodgers Jones with the model ship
Idris Roberts had always admired it. As an ambitious son of a local blacksmith, the 14-year-old, had served his apprenticeship at the steelworks under the previous owners, Richard Thomas & Baldwins.
Much of Abbey Works, once Europe’s largest steelworks, was demolished in 1963, but when what later became British Steel was privatised in 1988, the General Offices were destined to become the local magistrates’ court.
The future of the ship model looked uncertain, but Idris offered to purchase it and since then it dominated his study at his home in Margam.
Now, following Idris’s death at the age of 87 earlier this year, his family have decided it is time for the model to find a new home. It will be sold in Cardiff by Wales’s premier auctioneers of fine art and antique Rogers Jones Co
Idris Roberts was an inveterate collector and the model, which is expected to sell for around £1,000, is just one piece among a fascinating group of maritime, scientific and photographic collectables from his home.
A good early 20th century brass and teak ship’s compass binnacle with port and starboard indicators is estimated at £600-800, while a pair of heavy leather deep-sea diver’s boots with lead soles and copper-covered toecaps is estimated at £200-300. The maritime element of the collection also includes a gimballed compass; ship’s sextant; lanterns; nautical chronometer and mahogany-cased ship’s clocks; telescope and barograph.
After retiring from his engineering job at the steelworks, Idris became well known locally for his design and repair work and, as a keen photographer, his ability to repair the most complex cameras. His collection includes several high-quality cameras including Leicas, notably an example with Elmar lens and 10 associated Leica-made accessories, all in a fitted leather case, which is estimated at £400-800.
Anything mechanical was clearly of interest to Idris. A Swiss rosewood and marquetry inlaid Swiss music box with four bells and drum-in-sight playing 10 airs is estimated at £800-1,200, while a good French ebonised liqueur casket with serpentine front and brass and mother-of-peal inlay underlines his appreciation of fine quality antiques. Fitted with the original four cut-glass decanters and 16 matching glasses, the casket is estimated at £600-800.
Idris Roberts was born in Cardiff but grew up in Port Talbot. He hated school and tried to leave aged 12. According to his wife, Rae (75) he failed to tell his mother about the exam and so did not sit his 11-plus, intending to become a turner and fitter at the soonest opportunity.
Among his many accomplishments was designing and making the huge monumental red-painted dragons which could once be seen when passing the steelworks by train.
Mrs Roberts is well known in the area for having opened Gateway Bookshop in Bethany Square, Port Talbot, a registered charity now, following her retirement, run by Port Talbot Coastal Project.
The huge model ship and the rest of Mr Roberts’ collection will be on free public view at Rogers Jones Co’s saleroom in Penarth Road, Cardiff, on Wednesday November 20 (5-7pm) Thursday November 21 (12 noon-7pm) and on the morning of the sale, which starts at 11am. For further information, please contact the auctioneer Ben Rogers Jones, telephone 02920 708125