Mining in Wales has taken place from the Bronze Age right up to
the present day and it would take many books just to cover the known facts.
This is therefore only a general summary and the reader can find out much
more detail by referring to the many publications available.
a) Prehistoric to Roman
Recent research has found that mining for copper took place during the Bronze Age around the Great Orme and Cwm Ystwyth, possibly also at Llanymynech. Originally these would have been surface excavations but they soon had to follow the deposits underground as the ore became exhausted. Tools were very primitive and consisted of stone hammers and bone/antler picks. It was metals that attracted the Romans to Britain and it has been found that they mined for lead at Dolaucothi and copper at Llanymynech. It is probable that they used other sites as well but subsequent re-working has destroyed most traces of their excavations. Wales must have been an important mining area for them since they erected a lead smelter at Flint. They were also interested in the silver which occurs in galena (up to 50 ounces per ton) and they had the skill to remove this. Iron tools were introduced by the Romans, who used local slaves to work the mines. A technique much used was fire setting, whereby a fire was lit against the rock face and later quenched with water. The heat caused the rock to expand and the water contracted it quickly, thus causing it to split and allowing it to be removed by wedges or picks.
Mining continued in a small way during the medieval period, mostly by means of bell pits. These were shallow shafts with short chambers off at the bottom. Lacking the necessary technology, miners found it easier to sink another adjacent shaft rather than extend the workings. Such old workings can be identified by lines of infilled shafts and spoil heaps. Coal was first worked in this way in Clwyd, in what was to develop into the North Wales Coalfield. Mining tools and techniques were still primitive at this time, with little advance since the Romans.
c) 15th to 16th Centuries
Queen Elizabeth 1st was very interested in the potential mineral wealth of her realm. She had two great needs, the need for munitions of war and, a chronic need of money to replenish the Royal coffers. There was a shortage of silver to reorganize the countries coinage system. The production of guns was difficult because of the shortage of both Copper and Zinc
( to make Bronze). Queen Elizabeth 1st. employed miners from Saxony in Germany for their expertise in mining.
On the 28th of May 1568 the Society of Mines Royal was established.
A Mine Royal was a mine (Owned by the Crown) that had deposits containing Gold or Silver in quantities that could be extracted. Many of the Mines in Wales at this time whilst extracting lead ore were primarily being worked for the Silver content of the ore. Large amounts of Silver were sent to London at the end of the 16th Century largely from the great vein at Cwmsymlog Mine.
This society was to have a great impact on Welsh mining for a considerable time.
d) 17th to 18th Centuries
In 1617 many of the mid Wales mines were taken over by Hugh Middleton. Middleton was a goldsmith and banker in London and a close friend of Walter Raleigh.
The local landowners greatly objected to the Crown appropriating the mines.
In the 1620`s King James allowed Middleton to mark all coins minted from Welsh silver with the Prince of Wales feathers.
The Mines Royal continued to hold a monopoly on Mines containing Silver (this included most of the working Welsh Mines) until 1693. In 1683 Sir Carbery Pryse challenged the Crown over the ownership of Esgair-hir mine.
Parliament passed a bill, and, on the 8th Feb. 1693 Royal assent was granted to an Act which removed the Crown ownership of mines containing Silver or Gold.
Delighted with the victory Sir Carbery Pryse is said to have ridden from London to Esgair-hir near Aberystwyth in forty-eight hours.
This Act allowed local landowners to develop or lease mines on there own initiative.
The late 17th century saw the introduction of gunpowder and this revolutionized the industry. By hand drilling shot holes in the rock and filling them with gunpowder, a great deal more rock could be removed in a shift. It allowed workings to go deeper but this meant pumping out water. Early pumps were very primitive, mainly the rag and chain pump. One event from this century concerned the mining of silver from galena. It had previously been jealously regarded as the property of the Crown and strict conditions were attached to its extraction. During the 1620s, £50,000 worth of silver bullion was sent to London from Welsh mines and it is said that the army of Charles I was equipped from Welsh silver. However, following pressure from local landowners, the Crown monopoly was removed by an Act of Parliament in 1693.
The 18th century saw improved technology, especially in the field of pumping. In 1714, the first steam engine in Wales was erected at Hawarden for pumping and others soon followed to allow workings to go deeper than ever before. Up to then, shaft haulage had been by hand windlass or horse whim but deeper shafts made this impractical. As a result, larger mines used steam engines for winding and this allowed a greater amount of ore to be removed. In 1768, large deposits of copper were found at Parys Mountain on Anglesey and this was mined in a huge open pit as well as underground. For many years, this site was the largest producer of copper in the world, much of it being smelted at Swansea.
d) 19th Century
The 19th century was the peak of the metal and slate mining industry, with improved technology such as compressed air rock drills and dressing techniques. One obstacle for many mines was the isolation of the sites and the transportation of the ore or finished slates to customers. This was overcome in many cases by building railways and the present narrow gauge railways such as Ffestiniog owe their existence to mining. Many other minerals were mined, including zinc, iron, manganese and sulphur. In 1843, gold was discovered in Gwynedd and this created a new mining industry. Towards the end of the century, however, large deposits of lead and copper were discovered in Spain, South America and Australia and it was cheaper to import these than buy the home produced product. By the end of the century, the metal mining industry in the whole of the UK was just about dead, with only small scale operations continuing. One unpleasant feature of this period was the floating of public companies. Relying on the richness of a few mines, unscrupulous speculators persuaded many people to invest in mining schemes which had no hope of success. The speculators milked the companies of money and then liquidated them, before going on to form yet another! At one time, Welsh mining speculations became a music hall joke.
e) 20th Century
The 20th century saw most metal mines closed by the start of the First World War. There were some exceptions, like the rich lead deposits under Halkyn Mountain but mining here has now ceased as well. There was a recent project for deep metalliferous mining on Anglesey but, despite the sinking of a deep shaft, this came to nothing. Slate mining had almost ceased by the 1960s but there has been a recent revival, although modern techniques tend to use open cast methods. Gold mining has been carried on intermittently throughout the century and some small scale mining still takes place. The North Wales Coalfield reached peak production in 1913 with 3.5 million tons but the last colliery at Point of Ayr closed in 1996.
ADIT - horizontal tunnel driven for access or drainage.
AIR DOOR - door fixed across a level to direct flow of air for ventilation.
ARCHING - roof supports in a level built of stone, wood, concrete or iron.
BACKFILL - waste rock packed into a disused passage or stope.
BARRACKS - building where miners lodged at the mine during the week.
BLOCK - roughly trimmed lump of slate.
BLONDIN - wire rope spanning a quarry on which a travelling pulley could lift and move loads.
BUDDLE - trough or circular pit where ore was separated from waste.
CABAN - recess cut into the rock underground for shelter.
CROSS CUT - access tunnel driven to cut the lode.
CRUSHER - machine with two revolving drums to crush ore.
DEADS - waste rock stacked in the roof or walls.
DRESSING - the process of separating ore from waste material or producing slates.
DRUMHOUSE - structure supporting the drum of a balanced incline.
ENGINE SHAFT - shaft fitted with pumping equipment.
FATHOM - 6ft unit of measurement.
FIRESETTING - method of breaking up rock by heating with fire and then quenching it with water.
FLAT RODS - iron or wooden rods transmitting motion from an engine to pumps.
FLOOR - working level of a slate quarry.
GANGUE - crystalline minerals found in a lode with ore.
GINGING - stone lining to a shaft.
HOPPER - wooden storage bin holding rock thrown down from a stope.
INCLINE - inclined underground level or surface track for access or haulage.
a) BALANCED INCLINE - two parallel tracks with pulley wheel at top, where weight of full wagon descending pulled up empty wagon.
b) CHAIN INCLINE - device running on chain or wire rope instead of rails.
c) MASS BALANCED INCLINE - single track with iron weight running between the rails to balance weight of downgoing load.
d) POWERED INCLINE - device where engine was used to haul loads upwards.
e) TABLE INCLINE - where wagons were carried on a moving table rather than on the rails themselves.
JUMPER - long iron rod, pointed at each end, which was used to drill
shot holes by repeatedly hitting it against the rock face.
KIBBLE - iron or wooden bucket for raising ore.
LAUNDER - wooden trough for conveying water.
LEAT - surface channel for conveying water.
LEVEL - see ADIT.
LODE - fissure containing a deposit of ore.
MILL - surface building where slate or ore was processed.
MOCHYN - the iron weighted balancing trolley of a mass balanced incline.
OLD MAN - the old miners or their workings.
ORE - material from which metal could be extracted by smelting.
PACK WALL - waste rock stacked as a wall along side of level.
PELTON WHEEL - small waterwheel with cups into which a jet of water was directed.
PILLAR - area of rock left undisturbed to support the roof.
POWDER HOUSE - explosive store.
QUARRY - place where stone or slate was excavated, either on surface or underground.
RISE - underground shaft driven upwards.
SETT - area of a mining lease.
SHAFT - vertical or slightly inclined entrance for access, haulage or pumping.
SHEAVE - grooved pulley wheel.
SHOTHOLE - small diameter hole drilled into rock for inserting gunpowder.
SLAB - piece of finished (or partly finished) slate, thicker and larger than a roofing slate.
SLIDEWAY - unrailed incline.
SPOIL - area of waste rock.
STEMPLE - wooden bar jammed between rock walls for climbing or supporting deads.
STOPE - cavity created by removal or ore.
SUMP - underground shaft driven downwards.
TRUNC - table of a table incline.
TWLL - Open slate pit.
VEIN - see LODE.
WHIM - winding engine powered by horse, steam or water.
WINCH - portable device for raising loads, either hand, steam or air powered.
WINZE - see SUMP.