Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Burrowing under the Manod

I fought with my conscience over this mine...whether or not to write about it. It was small, insignificant, perhaps completely uninteresting compared to the nearby thrills of Cwmorthin or Rhosydd.  Yet it was a rather uneasy explore, because of the extreme fragility of the adit and the amount of water coming in. I don't want to be responsible for folk putting themselves in peril, but it's a shame not to share the photos and experiences. (Hopefully so that you don't have to!)  I'll just let you make your own minds up about how foolish we were .
I blame Harold Morris, the venerable local mine explorer for drawing my attention to it. Harold has explored just about every excavation in the Blaenau Ffestiniog area and is a walking treasure trove of knowledge.  He paid me a visit one Sunday and we roamed far and wide in discussions about lost mines, particularly on the Manod, which is practically our back yard. I mentioned a favourite of mine, Chwarel Llew Twrog...Harold countered with the suggestion that there were more open adits than I had realised, and he'd been in them. Afterwards, I mentioned this to Petra who opened Google Earth with unseemly haste. Sure enough, there was what looked to be a level beneath the cliffs known as Clogwyn y Garw, with what looked like a causeway, and a trial digging. The game was on! It couldn't be open, surely? And how had we missed this?

The fun begins, over yonder boulders...
Our day off dawned wet and dismal, but no matter; from the satellite view it looked like a modest yomp over the boulder field to the skirts of the Manod. We made it to an area below the causeway, which now, close up, looked like an impressive feature. The satellite view of course, tends to flatten things. Petra spotted the first adit, a modest trial that went in just a few yards. There were some jwmpr marked rocks outside and the ruins of some ramshackle structures. One looked like it could have been a wal; the other one, a circular relic, might have been a powder store, or equally, judging by the lichen growth, the remains of a prehistoric hut. There are many such remains in this area. There was also a larger ruin a little further down the hill towards the road, but I think that must be an old Hafod, or shepherd's hut.

The trial level
After taking photos and speculating, pretending that we knew what we were looking at, we made for the causeway. Trying not to damage anything (the stones were unsteady and would easily fall) we made it to the level, at which point I heard Petra shout out in delight. By the time I staggered up the side of the causeway, she was busy putting on wet socks and mining gear ready for an underground explore. So it was open! The Manod frowned at us from above as the cloud fretted over the cliffs...and a few hundred yards further up the cwm, we could see the tip and lone pine of the Llew Twrog level through the mist. There was an awful lot of rock above us...

The real adit, cleverly concealing the depth of water inside...
The adit looked inviting in a miney sort of way, but the water was deep and very cold. I gasped as it immediately reached the parts other mines rarely trouble. On with the lights. Deep mud on one side of the adit, but slate on the other. I became aware of a distant roaring like an aeroplane. It took a few seconds before I realised that it was coming from inside the mine.  Distracted, I tripped, grabbing the wall of the adit. A big chunk immediately came away in my hand. Somehow I managed to keep my precious camera dry, at the expense of soaking most of everything else. Oh well, wet now, nothing ventured etc.  The wall and roof looked a little sketchy, with slate de-laminating everywhere. I sternly reminded myself to be a bit more careful.

Walking further in, the water became shallower, as is the way with most mine adits. They are built to drain the mine, but inevitably get blocked near the mouth with debris, silt, dead sheep and general degradation, as had happened here. I could now see the sleepers on the floor, very fragile and almost rotted away. Deads were stacked up at the sides of the adit very tidily. Elsewhere, large coffin shaped slabs were leant against the walls, something I noticed at Llew Twrog as well. To my inexpert eye, these looked worth saving...I wonder why they were left?

The sheet of corrugated iron on the floor was covered in mine shells
The further in to the mine we ventured, the louder the noise became. The passage did a turn to the left, past a shaky, delaminated roof section. Then, our torches picked out the water, blasting in from either side of a breach in the walls. We stopped to take photos, trying to keep calm in the now deafening, water laden atmosphere. My poor camera, I thought, as I adjusted the settings with wet, muddy fingers. Without thinking much about it, we moved on past the waterfalls into the next couple of hundred yards as the mine drove into the bowels of Manod Mawr. It looked like a side chamber had been filled with more deads...paradoxically, the mine seemed safer this side of the water incursion- precious comfort, as if the roof collapsed back at the waterfall, the way out was going to be blocked.  Finally, we came to the forehead, a rather sad blank wall where the decision must have been taken to down tools and go elsewhere. I could almost sense the gravitational forces as millions of tons of Manod Mawr pressed down on us- we both decided to carefully retrace our steps.
I still found time to marvel at the craftsmanship and accuracy of the adit and the lovely, untouched sleepers on the floor. Everything was tidy and workmanlike. We arrived back at the fall and I decided to take a couple more photos, as we certainly wouldn't be back this way again in a hurry.  It was then I noticed the roof above where the water was coming in. A few rails held in a mass of rubble and rock, just waiting for an ill-starred moment to collapse and entomb the mine forever. We have been in dodgy adits before, of course, especially in the old  Holland's  Cesail quarry at Oakeley. But there, the adits were quiet and you could hear when the rock spoke to you (it always says "get out!") but here, all you could sense was the water roaring, eroding your judgement. No warnings. We retreated, a sense of exhilaration gradually replaced by a feeling of foolishness.

Processing buildings, or an office...outside the adit entrance
Outside, it was almost dark. The mist had set in. I realised that it had seemed warmer back in the mine. I was glad we'd done it, of course, pleased that we were still alive and that my camera seemed OK. We smiled at each other foolishly. Job done.

The causeway
Further research doesn't pull up anything new about the mine. It appears on the Ordnance Survey XXIX of 1901 but not before. Rails are indicated emerging from the level. I think the causeway must be made from waste, perhaps due to some restriction on the sett, as the boundary wall is hard up against the causeway. Tipping above would have been impossible.  That must be why deads were stacked up inside as well.  This part of the cwm is pock-marked by trials, you begin to see them everywhere once you start looking, but this had been a special one, on a par with Llew Twrog just up the cwm. It was probably opened in conjunction with that mine, as the method of working is similar.
I don't know how they thought they were going to take product to market from here...perhaps they were waiting until things became productive as at Fridd a bit further up the hill, where a road was cut into Carreg y Fran. Whatever they found both here and at Llew twrog must have been moved over the boulder field by mule- and it is bad enough negotiating that on foot.
In conclusion, a very interesting, if rather perilous explore. Afterwards, I realised that not all the water was draining out of the adit. It was being channeled down a fissure in the floor by the fall, through yet more unstable rock...

The boulder field

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Little Locomotive Sheds of the Very Large Quarry...

Penrhydd Bach combined shed and caban- shed on the right. Last home of "Holy War" from 1961. Before that, "Wild Aster" from the mid forties.
Back in the day before the ubiquitous diesel truck, most quarries of any size boasted a couple of locomotives to shunt waggons around their internal tramways, taking rubbish to the tips, or rock to the mill. Of course, those locos needed somewhere out of the weather to shelter overnight, or be worked on. This was never more important than at Dinorwig, where the prospect of doing maintenance, out of doors, on a steam locomotive didn't seem like a very sensible idea. Most of the galleries are in exposed locations, and a good many of them are over the 1,000 foot contour line, right in the way of those snell Snowdonian winds.

Pen Garret shed- a tandem example with the usual pillars for block and tackle. Home of "Rough Pup" and "Bernstien", the latter for 30 years.
The locos didn't just shelter overnight either- they had major repairs done to them on the galleries. Because, the prospect of lowering a loco down the inclines to the works at Gilfach Ddu was not something to be taken lightly. Quite apart from the danger inherent with such an operation, the locos had to be stripped down and their motion removed to ride the inclines...reading some accounts, it seemed a risky business, one better to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. So it was that some locos stayed up in their lofty eyries for thirty years before going down to the works for overhaul. Perhaps a pretty major one, though- after 30 years of continuous use!

Australia shed, 1600 feet up a mountain! Here it was that "Alice" lay for many years. She was in company with "Irish Mail" for a while, and before that, between 1930 and 1945, "Maid Marian".
On a gallery in the Braich district like Pen Garret, the rubbish runs were nearly a mile long and then there was rock to be removed in "Car Cryn" (slab wagons) to the top of the incline and rubbish to be marshalled in "Wagan Dipio". Plus sorting, shunting and...derailing. This latter was not an unusual occurrence; wagons would fall off the indifferent trackwork, at which point the loco crew would have to get off their steed and reform the errant vehicle with crowbar and some basic Welsh invocations. Usually other quarrymen would pitch in and help, especially if it was the loco that had lost her feet- after all, a delay in sending slate to the mill or rubbish to the tip affected everyone's pockets. The loco drivers always reckoned that they were the fittest men in the quarry with all the running about, heaving couplings and chains, pulling point levers and, of course, re-railing.

I haven't uncovered all the sheds yet, and this doesn't purport to be an exhaustive account, rather some of the highlights which give a flavour. Unlike in other quarries, there are some first-hand records from the drivers and other quarrymen concerning the working and stabling of the locos, and these can be discovered in the books listed at the end of the post.

Lernion shed, on Braich district. This was the highest shed in the British Isles, at over 1800 feet above sea level. Draughty... definitely a case of the thermals in winter! "Michael was resident here from 1931 until1945, then "Red Damsel" and finally "Holy War" until 1960 when moved to Penrhydd Bach.
I've not spoken much about the locomotives, thinking that most folk are familiar with them...Hunslet, mostly... small, pesky but rather cute...the Jack Russells of the loco world. If this doesn't ring a bell, then you are most fortunate and have a wonderful journey of discovery ahead...I have provided references at the end. The other wonderful thing is that many of the latter-day locomotives are still with us, working on preserved railways up and down the country. Indeed, most have been in preservation for longer than they were working, but I really don't want to go into that! I tend to think of them as old friends, as I have been reading about them and looking for them since my teens (not yesterday) -I always have a few misty moments when encountering them in their new habitats, where I am sure they are less taxed!

A view of Snowdon from Lernion shed.
Most of the sheds in the quarry were self-contained and followed a pattern- there would be two slate pillars outside the front doors with a strong girder between them, which would act as a support for pulley blocks to lift the loco off it's wheels, or remove the boiler. Inside, there would be a pit, essential for inspecting and working on the motion, for valve setting and generally oiling and checking things. Some of the sheds had a store attached for essential spares like firebars etc and to keep coal dry. Others had a caban, as at Penrhydd Bach. Or sometimes there was a tandem shed, as at Pen Garret. All were made of slate.

Inside Pen Garret Shed
There were other sheds around the quarry for locomotives to shelter in during blasting operations, as damage to a loco could be expensive in materials and man-hours, let alone the dire consequences of having to explain the damage to management. These sheds are in the form of simple open-ended shelters, like a very over-engineered car port.

There's a photo of this structure in J.I.C. Boyd's book on the quarry, which he captions: "In such shelters as these, locomotives might lurk during blasting operations..."  Pen Garret level, Dinorwig.
Boyd's photo is from the other side, looking towards Garret and is an interesting study, if you have the book.
Of the locomotives themselves, most galleries had one or two, and they were crewed by the same folk for years on end. An older man would be the driver, with a young lad, or teenager as the "fireman"/shunter/tea brewer/general gopher. Many young lads had the opportunity to join family members in a "bargen" with a team of rockmen, or work in the mill, but a surprising number wanted to crew the little locos. It wasn't really a popular choice with the other lads, as it was seen as a sinecure and rather unskilled. Mickey-taking could ensue. The wages were a little lower to begin with, and there was always the matter of waiting for dead men's shoes. The little Hunslets certainly are easy to drive- I have spent a couple of very enjoyable days abusing slate trucks with "Lilla" and can vouch for that- but factor in all the things you would have to know about the sometimes labyrinthine working practices and the unexpected events on the galleries and I don't think it was such a pushover. Plus, the locos had to be lit up an hour and a half before work started, which meant climbing the endless steps up the Foxes' Path, for instance to Australia level,  well before even the quarrymen had flung a leg out of bed.

In the early days, the drivers were encouraged to take a pride in the locos by a system of bonuses and a sort of league table. Those that failed in this endeavour were generally ill-regarded and could be turfed off the job if they didn't mend their ways and buy some Brasso. Even in the fifties, photographs of the locos show them to be well cared for and clean in most examples.

Pen Garret
Later in the story, there is the poignant moment in the lives of the sheds when they were abandoned by their tenants, who were never to return. Some, like Alice on Australia level, stayed for a long time after closure. In the sixties, early on in the preservation movement, most thought it was too big a project to rescue her and send her down the now sketchy inclines, although other engines, like "Michael" did take the plunge.  It was left to members of the West Lancashire Light Railway group to perform the rescue operation in 1972, where the RAF and their Chinook Helicopter had failed before them. The full story can be read in Cliff Thomas's excellent book...suffice to say that she is now restored and has even had some trips abroad! Douglas Carrington's book also has some wonderful accounts and photos of other loco rescue operations at Dinorwig.

It's nice to happen upon previously unfamiliar photographs of the locos in their sheds at the quarry, and scrutinise them before realising where the location is, whereupon a warm glow of recognition permeates the sentimental mechanisms of this old ferroequinologist. I have particularly enjoyed finding the locations in Boyd's photographs. Finding little bits of graffiti from the thirties and forties is also very rewarding, even if it is sometimes scrawled over by the ill-educated churls who wander the galleries in search of things to throw.

Finally, I noted something special at the last shed I visited, at Pen Garret on the Braich tip runs. The shed was approached by a cinder path, something that will chime with railway enthusiasts of a certain age who remember bunking BR loco sheds. That the cinders were without doubt from steam locomotive fireboxes was almost too nostalgic to contemplate, especially as soon afterward I made the discovery of some old firebars, lying in a pile where they had been discarded probably sixty years ago.  In conclusion, if you have a sympathy for small, impudent steam locomotives and a love of quarries, visit Dinorwig . Go quietly and please don't throw or displace anything. Just stand and feel the little iron ghosts around you as they chuff fussily about the galleries.

Penrhydd Bach, with the later 1960's haul road a little too close for comfort.
A loco shelter on Egypt, with fairly typical quarry pointwork. Actually, I don't have any record of steam locomotives on this level...perhaps it was another kind of shed, but it does look suspiciously like a loco shed...
Diffwys loco blast shelter
A different type of loco blast shelter in one of the "A" inclines...subsidence has moved the walls nearer together over the years...Petra is quite slim!

Some further reading:

"Quarry Hunslets of North Wales - The Great `Little` Survivors"
1st Edition - August 2001
by Cliff Thomas
ISBN 0853615756
Book Hardback 256 Pages 200 B&W Photographs
Publisher: Oakwood Press

 "Delving in Dinorwig" by Douglas Carrington,
 ISBN: 9780863812859 (0863812856)
 Publication Date January 2004
Publisher: Llygad Gwalch Cyf, Llanrwst

Format: Paperback,  92 pages

"Dinorwic: The Llanberis Slate Quarry, 1780-1969"
Reg Chambers Jones
ISBN: 978-1-844940-33-2
Bridge Books

"Slates to Velinheli"
The Railways of Tramways of Dinorwic Slate Quarries Llanberis

Published by Maid Marian Locomotive Fund

Written by D. C. Carrington and T. F. Rushworth

Maid Marian, on the Bala Lake Railway in 2016.

Thursday, 27 October 2016


Anyone who has looked at Snowdon on Google earth will be aware of Glanrafon; it shows up as a surreal cookie cutter hole, punched in the landscape. Well, Snowdonia is peppered with all manner of mines, most fenced and gated off to deter the curious- so it's no surprise this little corner has it's share of slate and mineral mines. Unlike some places, at Glanrafon there isn't much to see immediately, and the pit is a way off the footpath- only keen students of holes would make the extra walk to see it. There's also a curious trick of the terrain that the pit isn't particularly visible from the valley, although it's a different matter from higher up!

We started from the path which leaves the A4085 at Rhydd Ddu, heading for the Snowdon Ranger track. This was in the very early spring, and there was a bitter wind, but even so, we encountered a good few walkers. The allure of Snowdon seems eternal.  One of the advantages of this approach to Snowdon is the proximity of the Welsh Highland Railway, and we saw a couple of trains. I was hoping to photograph them from the Glanrafon tips, but we just couldn't get away from our work early enough that day. The track meanders over boggy ground, past ruined sheep fanks and on through the tips. At this point we left it to go and look at that hole.

It's not that deep compared to some of the sincs in Dinorwig or Dorothea, but makes an impressive spectacle nonetheless. There are several galleries and the inevitable buttress made of igneous gangue rock that was no use to the rockmen. There is a tunnel to a subsidiary pit and various closed off levels accessed from run-in lower tunnels. This is the thing about Glanrafon, though...while we know that it opened in October 1875 and closed in 1915 (yes, only forty years to make that pit!) it was picked over for another fifty-odd years by a number of syndicates and lone foragers who systematically removed anything resembling workable slate. Similarly anything metal suffered a similar fate. So most of the mills and structures were dismantled rock by rock and split into marketable slates.

The remains of the barracks, which have survived because they were built with igneous rock, not slate!
 It is possible to make out the site of the mills and the barracks, plus the formation of the inclines. Of the engine houses that drove the Nantlle-style chain inclines there is no trace- and there are other features which were mystifying at the time, but crystallised in the light of further knowledge. There is no sign of the five loco sheds, pump houses or evidence of the deep tunnels to the pit that the ordnance survey 1889 sheet shows...but I didn't quarter the site entirely and would be delighted to be proved wrong on that score.

The Mills area
But I'm racing ahead here. One of the crucial factors in the viability of the quarry was the proximity of the Welsh Highland Railway, or as it was known then, the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway. Trouble was, that had stalled at Snowdon Ranger. The insurmountable obstacle was the Afon Treweunydd, ironically, carrying run off water from Glanrafon's own water wheels. The railway had run out of funds and of ideas. The quarry decided to act and loaned one of it's own engineers. According to Bill Rear, noted railway historian, the girders for the 90 foot span were bolted together end-to-end and slid over the gorge.  When the first girder was in place and secure, the second was unbolted from it (it had acted as a counterbalance until the first girder had been fixed in place) and then slid over the top and gently rolled into position alongside. The railway was still on it's beam ends, however, and the quarry partners had to contribute funds in the form of 80 6% shares in the railway so that construction could proceed again. They also financed the signalling on the final section, but stipulating a guarantee that quarrymens trains would be run in return for the favour.
It paid off, as the first years of the quarry were remarkable. Rents were exceeded in five years and the royalty rate was £225 to the estate by 1884.

Waterwheel pit, with Mynydd Mawr in the background
 The landlord was Ashetton-Smith, who held the land from the Crown. A less than glorious figure, not unfamiliar to students of slate quarries, he was to obstruct the profitability of the quarry throughout it's life. In fairness to him, he would be thinking about his own quarries (notably Dinorwig), and didn't want this upstart operation to take away his own source of wealth. In one of the many lease revision documents over the years of the quarry, it stipulated that Glanrafon was not to recruit men from the catchment area of Dinorwig (although since Dinorwig recruited men from Anglesey, that would seem rather unreasonable).

Unidentified structures near to the pit.
 Sadly, after gradual development which saw control pass entirely to John Owen, a Caernarfon ship owner and timber merchant, the rock began to decline. The quarry had never produced much in the way of first quality slate, but  had made very profitable quantities of other grades. However, the desperate hunt for new rock was now on. In 1901, John Owen  died, and his son lost no time in offloading the whole operation. Shares in the quarry had passed to him on the death of his father, while on the sale of the concern, he gave his two daughters over 3,000 shares each. Incredibly for such a lame duck enterprise, Owen secured £25,000 for the quarry, a sum that must have seemed astronomical at the time.

Evidence of latter-day overburden stripping
 It was sold to a Scottish concern, headed by Robert Alexander Murray, acting for a syndicate of Scots businessmen. The new owners set to with a will, but this was to be a short Indian Summer for the quarry. Even with an experienced and wise manager in the form of the redoubtable J.R. Lindsay, ex-manager of Aberfolyle in charge, things quickly turned sour. In the meantime, Owen's daughters had been quietly offloading their shares in the company to anyone daft enough to buy them. (Including some to the quarry's own directors!) The Scottish company spent a lot of time and money testing the ground on either side of the quarry, but to no avail...the slate deposits here must have been a one-off, as Gwynfor Pierce Jones put it, "het silk a throwsus melfared", a silk hat with fustian trousers! So it was, that after a brief death agony, the quarry was wound up in 1916, although it had actually ceased operation in 1915.  Ironically, one of the directors was an ironfounder who was later charged with "realising" the company's assets in a creative way...

The cutting made by Owen and Iorwerth Thomas
But this was not to be the end of the story. Now begins the era of the "hoggia'r domen" , the tip boys. Their lease was for making slate from the tips, but not from the buildings or from the pit. (Although, the buildings did eventually succumb, as we have seen.) This period lasted until 1925, when the name Cadwalladr Humphries turns up. Readers of this blog might remember that he was one of the people who made a killing with the Lyn y Gadair quarry land. He now tried his hand at working the tips and set up some aerial cable runs. He seemed to do fairly well until the fifties, when two brothers, Owen and Iorwerth Thomas of Dyffryn Nantlle, took over.

Their incumbency is marked by scenes reminiscent of the Chuckle Brothers; at first things were little more than hand-to-mouth...slates were sent down the half-mile incline to the railway track bed without the benefit of telegraphic communication to the lower banksman, and in misty weather it was impossible to see the foot of the incline. Many a wagon went hurtling away, a harbinger of the RAF jets who would later fly low through the valley!

The brothers decided to procure a pony and cart from an associate in Nantlle, but unfortunately, this ancient animal died before it could do any work- the journey over the pass from Dyffryn Nantlle proved too much for the poor beast. Attempts were made to use caterpillar dozers and dumpers on the tips, but this was impractical and too expensive for a shoe string operation. The boys went back to carting slates in wheelbarrows and using  an ex-army Jeep for transport to and from the quarry. Eventually, they settled on ex-army Morris four wheel drive vehicles to move product to the road below.

Remains of the half-mile long lower incline to the Welsh Highland Railway
In time, the Thomases became bold enough to start burrowing into the tips where good rock slabs could be found, and made a rock cutting which, when I first visited the site, I could find no explanation for. Apparently, this was dug out by hand, using pick axes and shovels! Finally, the temptation proved too much for the boys and they started on a good chimney of rock; although the lease forbade this, it was excellent slate- one wonders why Lindsay didn't spot this? Aware of what Pierce Jones calls the "timetable of officialdom", the caper went on undetected, with the result that their slate merchants in Manchester wanted to put money in and provide machinery! It began to seem too good to be true...and it was. An unexploded mortar was found on site while an inspector was making a visit, and officialdom shut the operation down for good. At least what little was left of the archaeology was safe now, and the site slumbers on, decaying gently in the harsh Snowdonian winters.

Much resort has been made here to the late Prof. Gwynfor Pierce Jones and Alun John Richards' "Cwm Gwyrfai" , a seminal work and recommended to the student of slate quarries of any hue.  I am most grateful for the information contained therein. ISBN: 0-86381-897-8 2004.

The books by James I. C. Boyd, notably" Narrow Gauge Railways of South Caernarfonshire Vol 2, The Welsh Highland Railway". (Oakwood Press 1989) ISBN; 085361-383-4

"Gazeteer of Slate Quarrying in Wales" Alun John Richards, Llygad Gwalch 2007, ISBN: 1-84524-074-X  This is the Vade Mecum, and has details on every site of significance in Wales.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Klondyke Mill

I spotted the Klondyke mill recently, while climbing  to Clogwyn y Fuwch, showing a visiting explorer around. Despite this being my third time up there, I hadn't noticed the mill before- now it seemed pretty obvious, you could see the ruined structures, the buddle pits and the working area from high up on the crags. I quickly stuck a bright yellow mental post-it note onto the inside of my cranium. "Check out the Klondyke Mill" where it quickly became covered with other notes, such as "need more coffee" and "check my Flickr notifications"....

Looking down from Clogwyn-y-Fuwch...the processing floor is the area without vegetation while the mill is slightly to the right.
So it was, that Petra and I were bumbling along in our ancient truck, on the tiny unmarked road beside Llyn Geirionydd towards Llanrhychwyn. It's an area not unblessed with industrial remains, including the aforementioned Clogwyn y Fuwch mine high on Mynydd Deulyn. At this point, the post-it note inexplicably revealed itself. Agreement was quickly reached and we abandoned the truck at a very rakish angle on the verge. A proper waymarked trail goes from the shore of the lake towards the Mill, pretty much along the tramway formation. This was a bit of a let-down, but it saved the usual bushwhacking and disagreements about the way we should be going. I always propose the arrow-straightest route, whereas I have a suspicion Petra actually quite likes a path, even if that turns out to be a sheep track and a half-mile detour sometimes...

We passed the intriguing remains of the Bryn Cenhadon mine, with quite a lot of spoil tipped. What we explored went on as a glorified opencut for a few hundred feet, the vein disappearing underground via an inaccessible adit. A nice site, worthy of further exploration by SRT. The spoil seemed to sparkle, perhaps from mica or quartz, I don't know. I can confirm though, that it is not a Manganese mine (the OS first edition is marked thus) and looks pretty much like a lead operation. The vein must have been almost at surface.

The path/tramway then starts to run above the gorge until the mill comes into sight. Those Trefriw Trails people would rather you didn't visit the mill, but we made our way off the path down the slippery steep side of the hill. Best to do this in fine weather, by the way! It's possible to make out some vestigial remains of the aerial cableway supports and other sketchy, stone supports as you reach the level of the mill. By now I was sporting several muddy patches where I had fallen, but it didn't matter, we were at the mill. Or were we?

Petra crosses the plank...
A dodgy looking plank crossed the stream here, the only access from this side of the valley. Now, I am fine with heights such as the ladders and deadly drops at Dinorwig, but I didn't fancy this slippery plank one bit... until Petra shamed me by padding balletically across while I was dithering. I had to follow, although more like an agoraphobic Smurf than a ballet dancer...

There is access from the Llyn Crafnant road to the mill, but we haven't tried it- always seems to be choked with cars when we have been that way. So the plank of death is my recommended route, just don't sue me. The mill is a listed building and the site has various paper protections placed upon it, which in reality means that it is allowed to fall to bits with no maintenance or care except for the placing of warning signs hither and thither. There isn't the money or the enthusiasm to conserve the site, but I'm OK with that, I don't want some lead-mine theme park spoiling my abandonment vibe.
There's still enough here for the knowledgeable to interpret and the spoil heaps are impressive in themselves, as is the signature lead mining characteristic of no vegetation. Interesting this...when slate mines are landscaped, you can always tell because the grass grows a sickly yellow/green for decades afterwards. Unless you are the good burghers of Blaenau, who coated the newly-landscaped Glan-y-Don tip with tons of chicken poo for the royal visit in the seventies. Wun puckered wun's nose, I imagine.

Now, the bit you have been waiting for, that tasty scandal. In an age when swindling folk was something of an art form, the Klondyke mine scam was fairly typical, but the perpetrator was caught by the amateur detective skills of Charles Holmes, proprietor of the nearby Parc mine, who claimed he unearthed the scam. Or he could have been sweeping a competitor out of the way. I can do no better than to paraphrase the Wikipedia article here, as it is repeated elsewhere on the web and comes from good sources. This is a sop to recent correspondents who claim bitterly that I am wrong to give links off the site for information, and that they find clicking those links to be onerous. 

Aspinall's Klondyke Scam

"In 1918 Joseph Aspinall, a man with mining credentials, but formerly an undischarged bankrupt (1912) who had served time in jail for failing to disclose this in 1917, formed the Crafnant and Devon Mining Syndicate Ltd, having purchased the lease from the Trefriw Mining Company. (This payment, incidentally, was not ever made!) In 1920 the Mining Journal of 6 May 1920 carried an article stating that this company had acquired the Trefriw silver-lead mines, where it had struck a rich lode – containing 70oz of silver per ton – in the former prospecting level. The mill machinery was described as being modern and in full working order, with a turbine easily capable of dressing 1500 tons a week. By 1920, however, Aspinall was in prison for running a scam.
In brief, Aspinall made absurd claims as to the potential and output of the mine, and employed many local men to carry it out. His scheme involved the use of the mill building and of the adjacent mine entrance, which in fact contained only a couple of prospecting tunnels of no great length, and where no minerals had been found. Aspinall would entertain prospective shareholders from London, paying for their first-class train fare and accommodation, and take them to see the mine and the mill. On approaching the mine, he would give a friendly hoot on his car horn, which was, in fact, a signal for his "workers" to act their roles. The entrance tunnel to the mine had previously been cleaned, and some 20 tons of lead concentrates (shipped from Devon) were glued to the walls, giving a sparkling appearance. Aspinall had also purchased locally galena concentrates for which he would pay 50% above the ordinary market price. This was he said, for use in a new secret process, but was in fact used to provide some evidence of mined ore. Men guarded the entrance to the tunnel, and others ran around, giving an impression of great activity. In Klondyke mill itself, much of the equipment (a stone breaker and a few jigs) was of virtually no use at all, but Aspinall installed a shaking table, then erected a launder from the stonebreaker to the head of the table. Together with a couple of other pieces of equipment, it all looked the part and made a convincing noise.
Holmes, whose suspicions were aroused by a number of factors, notified Scotland Yard, and Aspinall was eventually sentenced to 22 months in prison for having deceptively obtained some £166,000 from his victims. He subsequently moved to France, where he attempted a similar scam, but was sentenced to 5 years in jail. In 1927 he received another 4 years in jail for an oilfield scam."

The Factoids:

Originally known by the far less exotic-sounding name of the Geirionydd Mill, this complex was built in 1899 to process the lead from the New Pandora Lead Mine. The mine was variously known as the Willoughby Lead Mine (1889), Welsh Foxdale Lead Mine (1900), and New Pandora Lead Mine (1913). An impressive tramway was built the 2.8 kilometers from mine to mill, utilising an aerial ropeway to take ore down from the tramway to the mill which was at the valley floor (itself quite a bit higher than Trefriw, the nearest village.)
Sadly, like many similar ventures, the mill never turned a profit, legally or otherwise.

Further reading:

J Bennett & R.W.Vernon (1995). Mines of the Gwydyr Forest, part 6. Gwydyr Mines Publications.

Coflein  (off-site link)

Wikipedia article 

More photos:

The tramway towards the mill.

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