Driving south from Machynlleth on the A487, the amateur mine archaeologist becomes preoccupied -the practised eye picks out feint, telltale signs of mining in the lovely wooded slopes either side of the road. It's a dangerous business as the road is a busy one and the tankers of a certain milk contractor don't take prisoners. After Furnace (there's a clue there...) toward the old mining village of Taliesin, it becomes ever more difficult to keep eyes on the road- this was quite a place back in the day, with mines actually in the village and a tramway running through it.
The area is part of what is known (by geologists, at any rate) as the Glandyfi tract, a zone of mineralisation caused by faulting in sedimentary Ordovician rock systems and the resultant deposits of ores- firstly in liquid form, latterly as solid deposits of lead and copper ore, notably in "pipes" in the rock.
Sadly, the remains of these mines are ever more difficult to spot in the field due to "landscaping" and the filling of shafts for safety reasons. They are rather shy and retiring places at the best of times- sometimes our mine senses are telling us there are mines nearby, and it's not until we check the old maps that we realise that we were quite close to an interesting feature.
One of the most intact mines is Bryndyfi. It's in a beautiful situation, on private land where permission has to be sought to gain access. It has been a contraversial mine, as it was opened in a great fanfare of publicity in 1880, with much expenditure on a mill at surface, only to close a couple of years later. There are tales of skulduggery, with ore being brought in to dupe investors. Claims that adits had been driven through "a hundred fathoms of continuous ore" and "120 tons of dressed ore at surface"...yet the mine only sold 24 tons of lead in it's short life. The ground was good, there was little pumping needed, nor was transport a problem, with the Cambrian Railway only a couple of miles away...there was no excuse for the failure.
You would have thought that in the latter part of the C19, after so many deluded mining schemes, people would have become wise to the ways of speculators, but it seems that there were still many greedy folk keen to make some easy "folding". The scheme was mistakenly endorsed by the eminent mine engineer David Davies of Oswestry and, in fairness, it was not far from other mines in the Glandyfi tract such as the Alltycrib, or the Brynarian which did produce returns on investment. Sadly, the mine failed just as the machinery was being installed in the new crusher houses and mill. I guess it employed some local men for a while (over a hundred were engaged) and even now, the remains are impressive.
There's a fine crusher house, with a 45 foot wheelpit and some well-preserved buddles and flotation pits - and the remains of a 22 foot wheelpit beside them. The office and manager's house is a fine range, and the tramway is evident throughout most of it's length. We failed to locate the adits, although the mine adjoins some rough hillside and we were sidetracked by some features that we thought were mining related up there...they weren't! There are two reservoirs for the waterwheels which are a very attractive feature- the tramway runs through a stand of fine oaks, their tortuous branches lending a gothic air on wintry days.
The mine is located at SN684935
Another mine, with similar remains on the ground is not far away in the Artist's Valley near Furnace. Ystrad Einion was featured on my original blog here and here but we returned recently for a wander underground with better cameras and found it pretty much the way we originally encountered it in 2010.
It's just off the Furnace turning, about 3km up a narrow road with few passing places. On our way up, I joked to Petra that we might see Robert Plant, since he has a house at the end of the remote valley here. Almost as soon as I had said it, we encountered a very expensive car coming the other way, cautiously towards us. Seeing our very disreputable looking truck, and after the customary polite hesitation, the car gingerly started to reverse for fifty yards or so to a passing place. When we passed the car and exchanged smiles and waves, of course, we saw it was Robert Plant! I've never been keen on "Dad Rock" but I have to say that he's a very pleasant chap.
Ystrad Einion produced some lead, zinc and copper. It was first worked about 1700, and again in 1745 to maybe 1760. The next recorded working was in 1853 but this only lasted a year. In 1855 the mine was again taken up, and continued to work occasionally to 1901.
Recorded output is very incomplete, only recorded after 1845:
9 tons of lead ore
79 oz of silver ( from 4 tons of lead ore)
10 tons of zinc ore
45 tons of copper ore
Incidentally, the correct local pronunciation of the mine is not what you would at first imagine. It sounds like "Ustra-dayneon"
Grid Reference: SN707938
Sources and further information:
"The Old Metal Mines of Mid Wales" Part 3, North of Goginan- David Bick, Pound House Press 1976
British Mining No.93, "Mines, Trials and Lodes of the Glandyfi Tract" by David M. D. James. Page 74 onwards.
"A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Mid-Wales", Association for Industrial Archaeology: 1984. Link here
Rhos and Foel are two interesting quarries on the south eastern flanks of Moel Siabod. They are most easily reached from the public footpath which starts from Pont Cyfyng, on the A5 about a mile from Capel Curig. This is also one of the popular routes up to the summit, although we have never found it to be unduly busy.
The first time I saw Foel quarry was from the summit of Moel Siabod, one chilly February afternoon in 1984. We'd walked up from the Pen y Gwryd hotel, on the western side- I was fascinated, but there wasn't much info available then- seven years before Alun Richard's Slate Quarry Gazetteer masterwork -and at a time when the internet wasn't the pan-global information superhighway that it is now.
Many years later, we managed to get to the two quarries. Rhos is the lower one, a delightful place, although technically out of bounds, due partly to dirt bikers making a nuisance of themselves. There are "No Trespassing" notices; although we have been a few times and have been quiet, unobtrusive -and un-noticed. The way up goes past some old miners cottages and beside a series of inclines to the left. At first, you climb up a steep tree lined road, beautiful in summer and autumn, then on to the open moor, where wonderful views are on offer, if the day is clear.
You walk up past a steep detour to avoid a farm and then past a holiday cottage. Through the gate and you are on to the moor proper, following a rough road- you can see the Foel incline and drumhouse ruins to your left. After a few hundred yards, there will be a gate to the left where a rough trackway goes due south (SH 73011 56573). The temptation now is to keep going, as the view of Moel Siabod is enticing. But for the keen quarry enthusiast, the ruined barracks of Rhos is already exerting a strong pull. In situations like these, my head is whirring with f numbers and ASA settings, thinking about the best photographic approach. Then, after all that, I usually end up forgetting to change some setting and find I have been shooting all day on f3!
We've been here a few times, in varied weather conditions, as you might see from the photos. Walking along to the row of cottages, we were aware of the outline of the Carneddau mountains to the north west, with the peak of Pen Llithrig y Wrach (slippery hill of the witch) looking very impressive, then the massif of the Glyders to the west. There were feint clouds draped lazily over the summits, clearing and then returning depending on the wind.
There's much to see and to fossick over, bemusedly, here. A large pit and an equally large roofless mill, now lying in some disarray, but with roof timbers and some ironwork still strewn about. The tips from this level are impressive and are currently sporting some fine specimens of birch trees, the first colonists of a slate quarry.
Rhos was a very productive concern and didn't close until the early 1950s, which explains why the structures are still in reasonable condition, compared to other disused quarries anyway. The pit is a deep one, but like many pits, difficult to photograph meaningfully- that's my excuse! Water power was used extensively. There were reservoirs above the quarry, two of which are now dry- (the dam can be seen at SH 72744 56180) while a larger one can be seen beside the path up to Foel.
Beside the mill there are a couple of structures, one an office with curious arched windows. An opencut goes to the lip of the pit where what looks like some kind of Chain Incline arrangement was sited to bring product up from the pit to the mill. Huge concrete blocks lie as if from some giant child's lego set, discarded because the tea-time call went up. I guess they must have been machine bases.
Venturing lower down the hill, another water wheel pit can be found, and a flooded adit into the base of the pit. It was very overgrown and not too enticing.
It wasn't a great idea to site the mill at the top level- it was as if the management thought that the quarry wouldn't go any deeper. Another waterwheel was built in the 1930s to work a ropeway to pull rock out of the pit, this one was sited near the lower adit and can be seen sitting in glorious isolation in a field. Other waterwheels were built near the mill to work the chain incline- a water balance incline had been put in earlier, but that was built on good slate and was quarried away.
Some Rhos factoids
Rhos was that curious thing, a very successful slate quarry. It was opened in the 1850s by John Evans and Ellis Williams, who sold out to a partnership of a Lancashire industrialist and a Trefriw man, who invested in much modern equipment. It was sold again to a Manchester company who had the benefit of the previous spending and reached peak production by the 1870s, with a top output of 1285 tons in 1882. There was a slight decline, but business picked up again in the 1920s with totals around the 1500 tons mark. The demand for slate had then peaked in the industry, but the quarry carried on until 1952, making it the longest working of any of the Gwydir quarries. Latterly it was run by J. J. Riley, a key figure in the later years of the slate industry both here and in Dyffryn Nantlle.
The tips were extensive enough to require steam and latterly internal combustion haulage, although there are no details of locomotives used. A link with the Foel inclines was made in 1874 and all produce went to Pont Cyfyng by rail, and then by lorry to the railway station at Betws.
Now it's time to walk on up the hill for half a mile to Foel. It's a spectacular site, but it wasn't by any means a successful quarry; the rock was not good and the site required extensive inclines and the construction of a mill at Pont Cyfyng, all expenses that just didn't pay off.
It was worked in a sporadic way until 1858, when it was taken over by the paper baron, J.C. Fourdrinier, later joined by Joseph Jennings.
They invested in sand saws around 1861-3...a small one at the quarry, and a large one at the mill at Pont Cyfyng. This was a spectacular failure. In an equally foolish move, they constructed the inclines, replacing the steep road down to the bridge at road level on the A5. As if the pitches of the inclines weren't steep enough, the "level" stretches between them included spells at 1 in 9!! It couldn't last, and Fourdrinier pulled out, having lost money speculating on similar ventures elsewhere, leaving Jennings with his finger metaphorically in the dam. Work continued, pianissimo, until a massive rock fall in the pit spelt the end for the quarry.
Another triumph of optimism over practicality, and in some ways, similar to the story of the Gorseddau concern in Cwmystradlyn.
The weather at Foel was a big concern to the workers. They couldn't just build walliau like at other quarries- because of the situation, they constructed massive shelters with baulks of slate cantilevered together for roofs, all in a vain effort to shelter from the elements. I expect that on a fine spring day, the view from these shelters might have seemed idyllic, but then, there would be the memory of that east wind, laden with snow and ice, that had blown through a few months earlier...
The waterwheel that powered the mill had to be shielded from the weather as in winter, the wind blew the water clean off the wheel. Petra is standing above the wheel pit here on a typically dreich day...
The site is difficult to interpret...there are several barracks, some internal inclines, tunnels to the pit (blocked off) and some intriguing mill ruins- plus a stables and another barracks lower down. There's also supposed to be the base for a horse whim, but we couldn't spot that. The barracks were a very over-optimistic provision, seeing as the quarry only ever employed ten men at best.
The quarry lived on after closure, renting it's inclines to Rhos and suppying water from blocked up tunnels in the pit. The site would repay a closer examination than we have been able to do on our couple of visits. But it's worth the walk just for the view on a fine day, to sit and wonder about the poor souls, men and animals, who had to work through the merciless winters here.
Foel was first opened by a local man, John Hughes in 1836. This might have been the heyday for the quarry, as he employed up to 48 men, but abandoned the place shortly after in 1840. It was never to employ more than 10 men afterwards, despite having six working floors and two short access adits. Annual tonnage rarely exceeded 500 tons.
What is a "Sand Saw?"
"Evidence for the type of saws used in a particular quarry was sought in the sawn-end offcuts on tips, and in rubble used for building quarry structures. In most cases the saw used was a standard circular pattern, probably the Greaves patent, which involved a slotted table moving against the blade. Offcuts from sand-saws (horizontal saws, in which blades are tensioned in u carriage suspended from a frame and then moved backwards and forwards across the block), with their distinctive smooth lay and ridge where the cut was snapped, were observed at a number or quarries in Dyffryn Conwy and its tributary valleys, particularly Cwm Eigiau (20100) and Cedryn (20106), and it is known from archival sources that sand-saws, once general throughout the county, remained in use far longer here, because they could cope with large slabs and deal better with pyritic rock than circular saws. The Hafodlas mills include the bases for such machines, but no substantial sand-saw remains were observed in any of the sites visited. The Hafodlas mills also provide the best evidence for the use of the Hunter patent saw, with their distinctive machine bases."
extract from "Gwynedd Slate Quarries - An Archaeological Survey 1994-95. Report No.154" (G.A.T.)
Some assorted photos of Foel...
Tan y Graig means "under the rock"- a good description of this quarry. It is a place we have often glimpsed as we passed by on the A499, after visiting Trefor or one of the other granite quarries on this part of the Llŷn Peninsula.
Last week, we decided to take a closer look. It turned out to be a very enjoyable walk, not too taxing after a winter when we haven't been able to get out too much. But no amount of determined pedalling on the exercise bike prepares you for the real thing, slugging up a steep hill track, sun in your eyes and the freezing air biting your lungs- bliss...right?
We started at the beginning of the cycle track off the A499 at SH3838046491. It's a short step along the track to a gate and a footpath marker leading to the accurately named "Rock Cottage", a sweet property that looks as if it might have been a quarry manager's house. There was an amusing decoration on the gate post which caught Petra's eye...
The path, on the route of the Llŷn Peninsula Coastal Path, starts to climb up past a set of abutments from the quarry incline, which can be seen coming down from high on the hill above. Our way seemed to be determinedly heading away from the coast, but never mind...
The incline seems to have passed over the trackway here. According to the old maps, there were extensive tramways converging on the shore and a loading quay. sadly, most traces of the tramway have been absorbed by the landscape and the quay is only visible as a set of stumps below the waterline. It's confusing, as the old map marks at least three inclines, and all are visible in some form or another. I guess they were developed at different times. We passed an unusual structure which I feel may have been the powder store just before the track does a jink uphill to the right and starts to become steep.
Soon, the path passes between shoulders of rock on either side- two of the inclines passed over the path at this point. Already, spectacular views were opening up below, notably the village of Trefor and it's small harbour, now bereft of the old stone loading quay which became unsafe a few years ago. We could make out the iron mine on the headland- and of course, the amazing structures on the hill belonging to the granite quarry. I've covered Trefor quarry in a couple of posts here.
It was now a short pull to the first level of the quarry, where we left the coastal path as it forged determinedly inland. That might well be another walk, as there are the remains of a couple of farms and a vestigial manganese working along the path, but I digress.
We'd seen some buildings as we climbed up, but the level looked even more interesting now we were there. There was a ruined structure slightly above and away from the main workings- it looked like a barracks, so we climbed up to photograph it first. We had a surprise, as it was a smithy, with two blacksmith's forges inside. It was built into the hill at the rear- I can't imagine there would be problems getting the fires to draw up here- the view from the door was amazing. We could see all the way back to Caernarfon and then along the west coast of Anglesey to Holy Island and Holyhead mountain. A ferry was coming out on it's journey to Dublin.
Back on the first quarry level we took stock of the buildings and found another pair of forges, attached to what looked like an office. Since the other, upper forges were in better condition, I surmised these lower ones were older. I wonder why they weren't upgraded instead of building a new structure? Further along the level revealed a ruined drumhouse for an incline nestled in against the rock face. I would guess that this was the earliest part of the quarry and that this was the original incline.
Further along the level and some quarrymen's shelters were placed behind another drumhouse. A short incline climbed up to another level and we set off up it to see what we might find. This level sat upon the 700 foot contour- yet for such a small elevation, the views were surprising. This looked to be where the proper quarrying was done- the rock was split and blasted away from the mountain and lay about in a haphazard manner. There were working shelters, ruins without roofs where men would chip away at the stone, fashioning cobbles and blocks with a hammer. Things were beginning to remind me of Penmaenmawr, especially the deep heather covering the floor of the quarry and the elevation.
Towards the north end of this level a newer range of structures beckoned. By 1913 Tan y Graig Quarry had turned it's production over to roadstone, crushing the stone on site and then sending it down to the quay -as at Penmaenmawr. But here, there was another quarry a couple of hundred yards to the north- a quarry that had a ropeway to the sea. This was Tyddyn Howell, an intriguing site, although one that is almost impossible to access today. As far as I can tell, a new incline built between 1914 and 1920 was below this position- the tramway from this incline went to the yard at SH3955047225. Theres a strange right-angle turn at SH3932447009,marked as a tramway on the 1914 revision of the OS...it must have been a brutal corner!
We could see from the drumhouse on this level, another structure below, a drumhouse with all the wire intact- again, very difficult to access due to land slips. On our upper level, there were more structures - yet another pair of forges and a compressor house, with concrete foundations and holding bolts for machinery. There were sections of pipe lying about which I assumed must have been for compressed air, for the later type of rock drills employed. The structures here were a mixture of cast concrete and granite, showing their relatively modern origins.
We set off back, fairly tired after the climb. Coming down, we could make out a square building near the old incline below...this was puzzling, given the location, at a crossing of the two inclines. We left the track to explore, climbing a bank of what looked like fairly new chippings and along to the junction at SH3906346604. After a major skirmish with brambles and a few cuts, we found some quarrymen's shelters and the square structure, which seemed to be a water tank, immediately in front of a set of concrete bases for a machine. Other bases were littered around. Jeremy Wilkinson lists this as part of the National sett quarry. At first I thought perhaps this was associated with what seemed to be a small pit to seaward here, but later I reasoned that it was probably a working area near the base of the inclines where stone could be worked and crushed.
It may well be worth coming back when the days are longer to check out the prehistoric cairns on the slopes of Gyrn Ddu and the ancient settlement. I will, of course, report it here if we do. We did make one last interesting find as we trudged back to the car, the remains of Tan y Graig farm, a building of some antiquity, now ruined at the base of the hill. It was awkwardly sited for photography and difficult to explore -as the farmer had a penchant for dumping dead sheep in it. Petra braved one rather recent corpse to get a shot of the fireplace. Not a pleasant place- although it could have been, as the ruins were fascinating- but the foul smell drove us off.
Some Brief facts-
Tan y Graig quarry was operated in one form or another from the mid 1800s until 1880, when it fell into disuse. In 1913 it was re-opened and worked until 1937 at the northern end, when it was working in conjunction with Tyddyn Howell.
Ordnance Survey, 1888, First edition 25inch
Ordnance Survey, 1900, Second edition 25inch
Ordnance Survey, 1919, Third edition 25inch
RCAHMW AP96-CS 0329-0330
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