Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Trials of Catherine and Jane

The Catherine and Jane Consols mine is an intriguing and mysterious site. It's a little way above the Ffestiniog Railway as the line snakes through the Cae Fali woods before Tan-y-Bwlch. It takes it's name from two lady lessors, the Richards sisters, who held the lease from 1855, although it looks as if the place actually reached it's peak production a while before that.

Remains are scattered around the forestry commission woods, some obvious, some not so. The tragedy of the site is that little remains of the very imposing Cornish Engine House which stood here for almost for a century until being destroyed by the forestry commission in 1965. Looking at David Bick's drawing of the building, you can only conclude that the sixties were truly unenlightened times for industrial archaeology. What a magnificent feature it would be now in the landscape.

Possibly the carpenter's shop
The earliest records of the site are from 1825, where it was said that the mine yielded “many hundreds of tons of lead ore”. From the 1860's, however, several lessors chased ever-dwindling ore reserves and the mine seems to have been something of a “Will o' the Wisp” according to one shareholder in 1862. With the lead exhausted, extraction turned to iron, of which there is certainly a great deal of evidence. But the ore proved very sulphurous and not particularly suitable- although 115 tons were shipped to the Blaina Ironworks in October 1856. The mine changed hands many times, it's last flickering of activity being with the Felix Mining Company in 1877. The shareholders were “four gentlemen, two accountants and an inkmaker”...not, perhaps, very auspicious. You get the feeling they were sold the 1870's equivalent of an endowment mortage.

All that remains of the Cornish Engine House
One of the waterwheel pits
It takes several visits to begin to understand the site. We live a couple of miles away and have studied it for a few years now, but we're still finding new things to look at. At the top of the site, best viewed in winter, when the foliage is low, there are some workings- a curving drive into the hill, some ruined buildings and a run-in adit. Further down there are shafts and two parallel adits. There is also a shallow adit, driven in 1859 by an old man and a boy. It's deeply submerged in vegetation. The buildings here were consolidated by the Welsh Mines Society a few years ago, although rapacious herbage in the form of gorse and fern is taking back very throroughly. The old smithy and stables can still be recognised, along with what remains of the engine house and perhaps a carpenter's shop. Further down towards the Ffestiniog Railway, there are the remains of a dressing floor and three wheelpits, one of which housed a 35 foot wheel. There's an adit in the woods here which some consider to be the deep adit referred to in plans and lease documents, hard to confirm since it is choked almost to the roof with acid mine outflow and is very unhealthy.

If you find the site intriguing, I recommend David Bick's “The Old Copper Mines of Snowdonia”. It goes almost without saying that the adits are extremely dangerous, with false wooden floors that have been ready to give way since 1877. I wouldn't recommend entering unless you have proper safety equipment, helmets, lamps and SRT gear. On a summer's evening, however, with the birds singing, the woods here are delightful and the ruins have a suitably romantic charm, added to by the sound of steam whistles from the FR a little way off below in the valley.
By popular request, here is an underground photo of the mine.
Note the sulphur and Iron decoration on the adit walls. Calcite deposits nearest the camera.

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