John James Hughes was the son of the head engineer at the Cyfartha iron works. Born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1814, he began working at the ironworks where he started his career. He then joined the Uskside Foundry in Newport, Monmouthshire in the 1840s. It was at the foundry where he patented a number of inventions in armour plating and armaments. He made his fortune at the age of 28 and acquired a shipyard. By the age of 36, he owned a foundry in Newport. He married Elizabeth Lewis and they had eight children. Two girls and six boys.
Hughes moved to London in the 1850’s where he became the manager of C.J Mare’s rolling mills, which was then taken over by the Millwall Iron Works & Shipbuilding Company, part of the Millwall Iron Works, Shipbuilding and Graving Docks Company. Hughes was promoted as the director of the company. The company produced iron cladding for wooden warships for the British admiralty. Hughes designed cannon carriages which were used by the Royal Navy. Due to Hughes’s reputation and expertise, the company received an order from the Russian government to supply materials to a naval base on the Baltic Sea.
In 1870, he formed the New Russia Company. He sailed to Russia with eight ships carrying equipment and a hundred skilled miners and metal workers from South Wales to establish an iron works foundry, at the request of the Russian government. The settlement around the iron works grew into a town called Hughesovka (Yuzovka). Hughes provided a hospital, schools, bath houses, tea rooms, a fire brigade, and an Anglican church for the town. Later, the towns population had exceeded one million.
During the 1870s, collieries and iron ore mines and brickworks and other facilities were established to make the works a self-sufficient industrial complex. He then built a railway line-producing factory. All of Hughes’s companies were held under the ‘Novorussian society for coal, iron and rails production.
Hughesovka was established around metalworking – this is a photo from the 1890s obtained from the Glamorgan archives.
Hughes’ works was the largest in the Russian Empire, producing 74% of all Russian iron by 1913. The company thrived during World War I. By 1914, there were 4 metallurgical plants and 10 coal-pits in the town. Many of the men who sailed to Russia with John Hughes settled in Hughesovka and brought their wives and families. The Russian workforce were trained by the company and skilled workers from the United Kingdom, mainly from Wales continued to be employed.
British (and especially Welsh) emigrants filled the technical, engineering, and managerial positions. Ex pat families remained in Hughesovka for many years.
The Bolshevik revolution in 1917 saw the demise of the Hughes company and many British employees were forced to return to Britain. Some families remained in the area. Their descendants still live in the area known today as The Donetsk Peoples Republic. Hughes works survived and the area on the Russia /Ukraine border remains a major industrial region. Today, there are more than 40 coal-pits.
Sadly, Hughes died in St Petersburg in 1889.
His Legacy lives on in Donetsk and a statue was erected in his honour in 2001, at the campus of Donetsk Technical University.