Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Will o' the Wisp Adit

Looking outbye from the crosscut.
 In October 1859, the managers of Catherine and Jane Consols mine had one last try at finding ore- Copper, Lead or Iron, it didn't matter; the mine was barely covering it's costs and something had to be done, fast. Except that fast, in mining terms, while not quite as slow as geological time, is pretty slow. A shaft was driven from the new engine house, on the supposed lode of ore, which sloped at an angle of 60 degrees. Lower down, one man, a boy and a donkey drove an adit into the hill, aiming to make a crosscut onto the lode.
The rock here is not particularly hard, although it is very sulphurous and rich in iron. Just not rich enough to turn a profit. The two miners made good headway and started to cut across and up. Sadly, it all came to nothing and to quote David Bick:*
 "At a special shareholder's meeting in March 1862, a Mr Timothy, a shareholder, observed that there was ore neither in the shaft, stopes, winzes or ends and concluded that the mine was a 'Will o' the Wisp.' "

As with many of these ventures, I can only wonder at the financial embarrassment suffered by the hapless backers, not to mention the hardship for the miners and their families upon the financial collapse of the mine. It would probably be scant consolation to them to know that their quixotic enterprises offer us mine explorers a great deal of pleasure.

Poppa Smurf, about to set up another photo...
 Now that she has her flash new camera, Petra has had a new lease of photographic enthusiasm; given that the aforementioned gizmo has a whole 60 seconds exposure, putting my titchy Samsung to shame. So, she's been wanting to revisit old mines, while our work customers are recovering over the holiday period. This adit has always been a favourite and she had not been satisfied with her photos taken on our first visit. Now, while we are at best timid mine explorers, we have amassed a good deal of experience and feel more comfortable doing some things that would have freaked us a couple of years ago. So we went a little farther into the reaches of the adit, trying to find the junction with the shaft, known as Ross' shaft. A fair bit of crawling and muttered expletives ensued, as the crosscuts and the drive are stacked with deads. We realise that added to wet socks, ridiculously powerful lamps, overalls, hard hats and good cameras, we now need knee and elbow pads.

Looks like another trip to the miner's emporium will have to be made.

*"The Old Copper Mines of Snowdonia", David Bick - Out of print, but copies turn up on Ebay, especially as it was reprinted by Bargain Books a couple of years ago. Now what was the thinking behind that? (Not that I'm complaining, perhaps they could think about reprinting "The Mines of Gwydir" now?)

Petra's photos are here.

In the crosscut, leading to the stope.

Becoming a bit of a squeeze now...

Looking out to Moonlight

Looking towards Bwlch-y-Plwm in the moonlight.

Why the long face? A mineral flow in one of the passages.


Anonymous said...

Your thoughts about the financial troubles for the miners made me think. For the backers a bad mine simply meant losing some money, perhaps tightening the belt a bit, maybe even firing the broker and finding a better one, whereas for the miners it could mean homelessness, searching for another job before they starved and then more backbreaking work so someone else could get the profits.

I'd like to say things have moved on, but I'm not convinced: the mines are just in different countries.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Andy. There's a lot of nostalgia for the victorian era, and I'm guilty of wallowing in mellow thoughts about the age of steam, but as you so succinctly point out, it was a time of ruthless capitalism.

The mines were often (though with some exceptions)barely profitable and the workers treated abysmally. There is a story of a local man who was killed working in a slate mine in the 1860's; his body was brought to his house in a sack and dumped at the door.

Such is the true face of victorian capitalism.

I like your last point - very true.

Anonymous said...

Another interesting report, Iain!

Please also tell Petra her photos are marvellous - I can't leave a comment on her site.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham! Petra says "thanks very much!"

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