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.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Penrhyn Gwyn

An explore made in poor weather during March 2016.

Dolgellau is one of my favourite has the most wonderful vernacular architecture and many of the fine structures would make great subjects for models. I wonder if the look of the town is due to prosperity associated with the many gold mines locally, back in the mid C19?  
Sitting in one of Dolgellau's coffee shops, Petra was idly scanning the OS landranger and muttered that she had found a mine. I spluttered on my cappucino and grabbed the map. Enough of this loitering, I had forgotten that we were explorers!  I seemed to remember reading about the place, that the adit was gated, but it looked like it might be worth an afternoon mooch.  It was a bit of a dreich day, but why not, it was only a couple of miles away to the south, along a minor road.

 As it turned out, the mine is at the foot of a route to Cadair Idris. The path up to the farm is a delight, lined by beautiful trees and Tumblr-esque views ..I say this because a nice couple were coming down the track and taking a selfie to Instagram, or snapchat...whatever it was. At this point, we were incognito, posing as rubbernecks of the Cadair Idris variety, despite being festooned with torches, tripods, hard hats and wellies. They might have seen through our disguise.
Shortly after a ford, where the track to the peak turns right, we slinked off towards the mine and our natural environment. I remember thinking that re-acquainting myself with old Idris' chair would be wonderful, but we had more pressing business today.

It wasn't long before the ruins of the mill came into view. It's a hotch-potch of a structure and looks as if it has been built over several periods, then partly fallen down. There's very little in the way of waste, unless the farmer has taken this away for farm use. The incline ramps up four levels from here and it is quite an impressive feature. It's possible to reach all the quarry from this.

We explored a tramway formation through some lovely woodland, where the line is revetted against a steep river valley. We passed a ruined and very picturesque weigh house before coming to the adit, which had been piped and gated. As I thought, but damned infuriating. Apparently, access is owned by a local authority in the midlands who use it for school trips.  However, the tramway continued on, becoming sketchier by the minute. In places, the formation had fallen away, but belay points had been installed, presumably by said local authority, for the use of students. We came to a lovely dell, where the infant river wound around a spur amid magical sylvan splendour. Petra carried on over/through the stream and then pointed at something out of sight...her delighted expression told me that here was an adit, at least.

It didn't go very far, but it was interesting. A trial, perhaps...and no sign of slate. There were a few nice spiders, although not as many as in the adit at Ty'n y Bryn. I tried to take a photo, but they kept scurrying away. There is a rise at the end of the adit, but at the time I thought it was impassable. Only later did I find out from a friend that it can be squeezed up and leads to the pit. I can't see how this could be a viable entry into the pit for the quarry, as it debouches out into the river and is a bit too low down- perhaps they were waiting for the level of the pit to meet them? Darn, now we will have to go back.

After exploring the adit, and feeling that honour was satisfied to some extent, we explored the rest of the quarry. The next level up has a collapsed adit, the chambers of which may connect underground with the gated opening on the lower level. There was also the remains of a fine forge structure.

Up one more level and there are some large spoil tips and a run of ruinous structures which could be workshops or offices, as there are fireplaces in evidence. Not walliau, anyway. The remains of the main haulage incline are here.

 There's also what appears to be an incline down into the pit, which is choked with large trees and impossible to photograph meaningfully in the fading light. Judging by the remains of a leat, the incline might have been water powered, or there might have been other machinery on site.

 The highest level seems to be the oldest working, nothing much to see except for the fine views to Cadair Idris, feeling close enough to touch at the top level. I would have liked more time to explore the pit, as I had a feeling that an adit or a tunnel would have opened out in there and connected with the underground workings, but it looked like a rope job and as usual we had not come prepared.
Despite not gaining access to the underground workings (yet...) the site is a very interesting one and considering it's age, closing around the late 1880's, there's still a lot to see and muse over. Those who possess the miner's eye of faith will find much to observe and note. Richards notes that the output of the quarry was never very high, despite the large amount of waste. Nearer the farm he mentions a waterwheel pit and office, which somehow we missed! Another trip will hopefully be made to solve these niggling questions...permissions also need to be sought from the access folk as well.  It always seems thus, that we return from a sortie with more questions than answers, but that's how it should be.  And yes, we did take a selfie. Petra looked lovely as always... but I look like an old "fortyniner"- so the photo is out of the question!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

A Close Shave

I know what you're thinking. It's about Dinorwig, so he'll have almost fallen over one of those vertiginous drops in the Garret sinc, or rolled down the C incline like a fleecy log in a flume. Ah, sorry to disappoint you, I'm still alive and typing - although there's time, it might happen yet.

No, this is a shave of a different kind.

So...Dinorwig.  I was confident that Petra and I would be impressed by the vast Australia Mill, the Compressor House, or the Caban with it's old coats and boots. How could we not be, after the anticipation engendered by all those wonderful photographs on the web. They didn't disappoint- and seeing them in the raw slate was so much more vivid and intriguing.
And yet...I found myself becoming attached to a couple of places that seemed to have a definite atmosphere about them; something hard to quantify, but that chimed with me. Places that were overlooked and little documented by the folk who love the place.

One such is the little drumhouse a couple of levels above Australia; I think we are talking about the Panws to Lernion incline, a straightforward Drum installation, although as always, I am open to advice on this from wiser heads than mine.

The point of this ramble is that the place is an isolated one, 1,800 feet above the valley. The ruined drumhouse is in the last throes of vertical life and will soon slowly sink to one side; gracefully, I imagine. It looks beautiful. Yes, I know, I have a strange idea of that concept since I like my landscapes punctuated by quarries and tips, but trust me, I trained as an artist you know.
And there we were, soaking up the atmosphere on an unusually sunny day hereabouts, not a soul to be seen anywhere. Petra was in the ruins, taking photographs. I was standing outside, gazing across the valley to Snowdon.

Then it happened. A curious sound, like the whoosh of an arrow. I felt something on my cheek and was very briefly aware of a shape; then it was gone and I saw a Sparrow Hawk come out of the crimp and soar upwards at fantastic speed. It took me a few moments to realise what had happened and, as the hawk flew off, a lovely little skylark emerged from the drum and quietly flitted away, seemingly unpeturbed by it's brush with death.

Grazed by the arrow of a hawk...they say that an accipiter's brain can percieve time more slowly, that it can plan it's incredible moves in detail, rather like a program to predict and compensate for the inherent instability of a fighter jet. It saw that lark, did a hawk-type risk assessment in split seconds and plotted a course through the steel spiders of the Drumhouse. It only made a tiny error, and caught me so gently as it flew down. One way or another- that was a close shave.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Dinorwig- Slates in the Mist

I can't say what had been stopping us from exploring Dinorwig before now. We'd always been aware of the place, but somehow felt it couldn't be as good as everyone said...and it had all been photographed and documented, there were no fresh angles, so heck, why bother?
Of course, we were so wrong. After three visits, I have a huge list of things I want to investigate, study and understand about the place; it may actually take quite a while.
Our first foray took us up to Marchlyn and over the hill, courtesy of the Hydro road. You come upon the quarry suddenly this way, after a tough walk uphill for a mile or so. I will never forget the view as the A7 incline Drumhouse appeared through the mist and all the galleries opened up below us. So this was it!

The A7 Drumhouse

Did I mention the weather? This place has it in abundance. What I thought would be unpromising conditions for photography turned out to be the perfect set-up, if you don't mind waiting for the sun to break through occasionally...and if you appreciate very cloudy skies. I don't go along with that old saying about there being no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing- that would be tempting fate at Dinorwig, but I got the feeling that the rare clear blue sky days are not appropriate for recording the place.

We mooched around on Lernion level for a long while, taking in the views and trying to imagine how the mountain looked before all the extraction happened, trying to see the negative space. There were all sorts of things going on down there, little shelters,  inclines, round huts, rusty took a while, looking closely at the photos afterwards to begin to appreciate everything. It was a Bank Holiday weekend, the first time we visited; not the best way to see the place. There were folk on some of the galleries, bellowing and shouting meaninglessly  as some people do when confronted by  bigger things than themselves. Some young adults were chucking things off another level while climbers enjoyed the slate walls as a set of problems to be overcome-thankfully not being strafed by occasional missiles. Yes, this is why we hadn't visited, we thought. All the people.

Upper Penrhydd loco shed and caban
 We left it a couple of days and decided that we had to go back. But on a weekday, the place was almost deserted and took on a completely different feel, one of brooding and of silence, punctuated by the cawing of Ravens rather than the yells of morons. We became aware of another aspect of the place and it's character, including an increasing  consciousness of the poor souls who worked here in all weathers, for very little reward.
Our weather was again just the same. This time we explored level Swallow and it's tunnel onto a gallery, went down another level to Tophet and Abysinnia and had a good look at the compressor house. Everything has been relentlessly explored, picked over, grafitti'd, examined and photographed, but it didn't spoil the sense of wonder we felt.

Roller Taylor, Trwnc Incline
Most features have a name at Dinorwig. Sometimes two names, as the climbers have taken many parts of the place and made it their own, giving evocative names to features. There's "Mordor", for instance, and "Lost World" to name but two. Fitting the proper names to features can be very difficult and is a study in itself, which is perhaps why the climbers have extemporised. I like that the place is many things to many people. Most who arrive here fall in love with it, for whatever reason. Even the folk the climbers call the "Tutters", who walk past on the narrow, fenced confines of the footpath, admire the place. Petra and I love it for the sculptural qualities of the galleries, for the dystopian perspectives of its ruined incline houses, and for the way that  generations of ordinary (albeit highly skilled) men have carved out a hole in the mountain, achieving  grandeur and stature far beyond that of their rapacious and unprincipled employers*.

The quarry will still be here for generations yet, a memorial to the men who worked in all weathers, outside on the rock. 

Sinc Braich, or "The Lost World" pays your money and you takes your choice :-)

A note about the pay of the workers
The working rock face in the galleries ranged between 53 and 86 feet in height. It was divided into 'bargains' i.e. working areas up to 18 feet wide each quarried by one half of each bargain gang of 6 or 8 men. The other half processed the quarried rock into finished slate. These working areas were termed 'bargeinion' (bargains) because a price had to be negotiated monthly with the 'stiward gosod' - the bargain setter. If the team made a good bonus the previous month, then the setter reduced the poundage the following month. In the hey day of the industry, the quality of the bargain allocated to a gang often depended on its religious and political affiliations. The members were paid a basic weekly salary which was topped up by the monthly bonus paid according to the number of slates produced based on the poundage agreed at the beginning of the month. However, each team had to pay for the powder and tools used, e.g. holes drilled by the foot (6d a foot in 1940), use of dressing machine (2s 2d), pay for ropes, pay the blacksmith for sharpening tools, labourers for moving waste, hospital money etc. All these ate into the bonus.
It was not unknown for men to have slaved for a month and come home not only without a bonus but actually owing money to the company. This was in an age when the Hon. W.W. Vivian, the then, general manager was left a cool £70,000 in his employers' will.
I am indebted to Eric Jones for the above information, his Geograph photographs of Dinorwig are a fund of knowledge.

Further Reading

Jones, R. Merfyn. 1981. The North Wales quarrymen, 1874-1922 Studies in Welsh history 4. University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-0776-0

Carrington D.C. and Rushworth T.F. (1972). Slates to Velinheli: The Railways and Tramways of Dinorwic Slate Quarries, Maid Marian Locomotive Fund.

Douglas C. Carrington  Delving in Dinorwig  Llygad Gwalch Cyf, Llanrwst
ISBN: 9780863812859

Reg Chambers Jones  Dinorwic: The Llanberis Slate Quarry, 1780-1969  Bridge Books  ISBN-10: 1844940330

James I. C. Boyd  Narrow Gauge Railways in North Caernarvonshire: The Dinorwic Quarries, Great Orme Tramway and Other Rail Systems v. 3 Oakwood Press   ISBN-10: 0853613281

Dave Sallery's feature on Dinorwig within his excellent Welsh Slate industry site here

The Compressor House, Australia level.

The deserted Mill at Australia

Sunday, 10 July 2016

A Blast from the Past: Dol-y-Clochydd

A little while ago, a friend mentioned to me about an ancient blast furnace near Ganllwyd. This gentleman is a very knowledgeable and precise fellow, not given to flights of fancy, so I felt that I had to go and look.  I couldn't imagine a blast furnace in such a beautiful spot; my mind would insist on conjuring up images of the old John Summers works in Shotton, or the furnaces at Port Talbot. What I found surprised me.
The story starts back in the first half of the C16, when it is known that a bloomery was sited at the Dol-y-Clochydd site. What is a bloomery?  It is the site of a small-scale iron furnace, where iron ore is heated and reduced to form iron-rich slag. This slag or "bloom" is heated  then reduced again by hammering the waste, or gangue, away repeatedly until finally a reasonably pure iron bar (wrought iron) is produced. There are still many impurities such as phosphorus, nickel and arsenic which are partly reduced to the iron, leading to some interesting alloys. One thing all this heating needs, though,  is a great deal of fuel. Charcoal.
Enter the first notable player in our story, Hugh Nanney, whose increasing status in 1586 as Sherrif of Meirioneth allowed him to acquire a great deal of land, including some of the lands belonging to Cymer Abbey. Dol-y-Clochydd was situated in one of these parcels and he wasted little time in leasing the furnace off to a couple of English fellows,  John Smith and William Dale . The deal was sweetened by including " all the trees on Penrhos Common, a low hill to the north, adjoining the said iron mill’ Here's a thing- you might be wondering why there was all this iron activity here, of all places- perhaps there were deposits of iron ore? After all, there were a number of other bloomeries operating at the same time in Coed y Brenin.  There were iron deposits on the slopes of Cadair Idris, and further up the mawddach valley, but, no...the crucial factor was the availability of timber in large stands of trees. Oak, that is, not the monotonous Sitka that pervades the area today. In a post-Elizabethan England where most handy timber had been used to build ships, resources were scattered in less convenient places, such as the upper Mawddach valley, although that still isn't quite all the story, as we shall see.
So, our Englishmen lost no time in cutting down a great deal of timber to make charcoal However, Hugh Nanney was either unscrupulous or careless, as it quickly came to the attention of the Crown that these woodlands were being decimated, and they sent a deputation to Nanney to serve a notice of theft on him- it turned out that the trees on Penrhos common belonged to them! The hapless Nanney was fined £1200 and sentenced to two years in the Fleet prison; it couldn't have been a comfortable billet. The fine was later reduced to £800 after the quality of the wood was was decided that Nanney's tenants had taken 10,000 oaks at a cost of 3 shillings each, but a carpenter, brought to give evidence by John Smith, claimed that many of the oaks were unsuitable, and that the wood was difficult to extract from the steep hillsides.
Nanney didn't seem to be ruined by his spell at her majesty's pleasure, because soon afterwards, he was back on the scene. In 1596, he is brokering a deal to convert the site at Dol-y-Clochydd into a blast furnace, bringing William Grosvenor on the scene as a financial backer. By this time, Smith and Dale had taken out a new 21 year lease on the site. Sadly the new furnace only had a short life and it is reported to have been blown out by 1604, although this may have been because of a scarcity of wood to use as fuel- certainly, nobody would be thinking of taking timber from Penrhos common....
Coming back again to the question of why these men had developed the furnace in such an out-of the way spot; granted, the wood was a factor. But Nanney was a something of an entrepreneur, and despite his new status as an ex-jailbird, had many influential friends at court.  For instance, he was patronised by Sir James Croft, formerly Lord Deputy of Ireland and Comptroller of the Royal Household under Elizabeth. The aforementioned William Grosvenor, one of the backers of the project, had forges and warehouses in Chester, for the supply of arms for use in Ireland- so perhaps Nanney was making use of what was available to him locally at the time and using his contacts to find a market for his iron. What happened to Nanney, Smith and Dale afterwards is probably an interesting story, but for now, let's take a look at the site as it is today.

The furnace lies near the bank of the Mawddach at the foot of a very steep slope, which has probably contributed to it's survival, as it is difficult to access the place with agricultural machinery. We stopped our truck at the side of the road while I squinted down to the river banks, not quite knowing what to look for. Then, I saw it. Nothing more than a low, squarish mound, but undoubtedly something worthy of investigation.  We scrambled and stumbled down, slipping and then sinking ankle deep in mud, but soon we were at close quarters with a furnace that was last blown in 1604. I was quite excited to finally see this, after reading about it beforehand. It was excavated by a team of archaeologists in the 1980's, firstly by a group from Plas Tan-y-Bwlch who found evidence of "glassy blast furnace slag in the riverbank" and latterly by Peter Crew who has made a definitive study of the subject, referenced at the end.

There are the feint remains of a loading bank, or charging platform. The wood posts at each corner are obviously relatively new, but mark the king posts which would have supported a wooden structure around the furnace. The blowing arch can just be made out, with its sandstone lintel, while the lining of the furnace shows signs of sandstone blocks, vitrified by the intense heat. It is certainly a lesson in industrial archaeology brought to life with the help of a little imagination. Grass has grown over all the excavations, but in the 80's, signs of a casting floor were found and evidence of a water powered bellows. Today there are remains at the top of the bank of a stone built ore hopper where iron ore and bloomery slag would be offloaded from the road and sent down a chute to the furnace. It's not hard to imagine the activity and smoke here back in the very early C17.

I would like to apologise for the poor quality of the photos, it was a very dull and drizzly early spring day when we visited and no amount of C21 technology can quite make up for the lack of sunlight!

By the way, Dol-y-Clochydd means "the Sexton's Meadow".

Dol-y-Clochydd blast furnace, grid reference SH 734 220

P. Crew and M. Williams. "Early iron production in north-west Wales". In Medieval Iron in Society II. Stockholm: Jernkontorets Forskning H39, 1985, 20-30

"Ironworking in Merioneth from  prehistory to the 18th century" 
by Peter Crew   Plas Tan-y-Bwlch

Coflein link 

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