Sunday, 6 October 2013

Nant Gadwen Manganese Mine

This fascinating mine lies in an isolated spot on the Llŷn Peninsula near Rhiw. The area is something of a manganese mining hotspot, being near to the famous Benallt Mine as well as other less illustrious concerns. Today, it takes the mine explorer's "eye of faith" to see the mines...but scratch the surface and with a little imagination, history comes quickly to life again.

It's on a popular path down to the attractive beaches of  Porth Ysgo and Porth Cadlan, as well as lying on the North Wales Coastal Path. As a result, there's a well beaten track down, which is welcome and makes a change from walking miles uphill through heather and bog! We found the adits easily, as well as a large openwork, filled with discarded car body parts and other dubious rubbish. This area didn't seem to be connected to the lower levels, although there are many marooned adits underground which might prove otherwise if it were possible to explore them.

The site reminded me a little of Porthgain in Pembrokeshire, or maybe it's just the idea of a mine next to the sea. It has a fascinating history and a special atmosphere. Despite only being an hour's drive from our home, it felt as if we had travelled a great distance to somewhere very different than the looming slate tips of sunny Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Down the rabbit hole! Adventure begins...
After mooching around in a couple of small, trial adits, we found the "Injan adit" and readied the cameras, torches, helmets and tripods, while garnering incredulous looks from walkers passing by. That was certainly one thing we didn't like about the mine; we don't like being "tutted" at for going underground. Not that the folk in their co-ordinated strolling gear would venture where we were going. It feels good, though-to have a hobby that is shared by only a couple of hundred other folk in Wales.

The adit opened quickly out into a large underground cavern, stoped up to a considerable height, with cut-off tunnels and chambers above. Descending again took us to a lower area with machine bases and rails going off to eventually emerge on the surface again. Flooded levels loomed, with a set of rails descending on an incline. The mine was dewatered in the forties, with hopes of revival; these came to nothing, but it would have been fascinating to have seen the lower chambers. The adits are flooded, one at least to above critical welly level, but it's not too far to walk back to the car with boots full of mine water, for once!

Weigh house at the top of the Jetty Incline
 Above ground, the remains are fascinating. There is a top level with a fine drumhouse and behind it, an engine shed with a pit and room for two locos. The views from the incline are very fine, looking out towards the Ynys Gwlans and Pen Cil on the Llŷn mainland. Looking at the old photos on the Rhiw site, it's not difficult to imagine the place as it was in the peak of production.
A big thank you goes to Ian Adams, for pointing us towards this mine.

Nant Gadwen Factoids and links

Nant Gadwen mine was opened in 1827...two years later, the mine's output was recorded at 226 tons. At first, the heavy ore was taken away on the backs of mules to any port where a ship could be persuaded to dock - the coast hereabouts has a reputation among mariners and the proximity of Hell's Mouth was not an attractive incentive. Later, an incline was built down to a jetty, constructed in 1902/3 at a cost of £182. 

In 1918, five ships a week were calling at the jetty.

The peak of production was in 1906, when 10,000 tons of ore were sent away to Brymbo and other iron and steel centres.

Nant Gadwen produced 45.644 tons of manganese in its lifespan.

 For some reason, there were several gauges of rail used here, the main one being two foot gauge, although three foot ruled on the inclines. It is possible that there was mixed-gauge track in the stockyard above the final incline to the jetty. At least one steam locomotive is known to have worked here, a purpose built 0-4-0 saddle tank by Bagnalls of Stafford, called "Rhiw".

Production declined in peacetime because the ore was not of the highest quality, and superior foreign ores could be sourced by the mine's customers.

The mine shut down for the last time on Monday 17th August 1925 and the jetty was demolished in 1933. Rusted remains of the winches and incline pulleys can still be found on the beach below.

The Steam Ship " Daisy" loaded 340 tons of manganese ore on Monday 11th July 1927. This could have been the last ship to load at the Porth Ysgo jetty. Presumably this was ore that had been stockpiled in the yard; there are still piles of it there today

The mine is located at SH 211 266

Excellent account of the mine by Alan Clogwyn at Mine-Explorer invaluable source of information about Rhiw and it's surrounding countryside.

Photos of the site at here.

An overall view over the old engine shed, looking towards an old Iron Pyrites mine that was incorporated into the workings.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting report. My favourite shot this time is Flooded+chamber+2+%2528800x600%2529.jpg - nice sense of mystery there with the tracks curving off into the unknown.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks Graham. The rock was very dark in colour, so photos were extra tricky to get right underground.

Save Rothley said...

Really interesting to see these pictures and read about the mines. We love this area and have often walked past these mines and looked in but not ventured any further. It's great to know the history and what is visible underground. Do you know if there are any records/photos of the steam engine Rhiw that used to work here?

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, very glad that you enjoyed the post. I thought the loco was either an Andrew Barclay or a Bagnall...turns out the latter, as I found this- Industrial Railway Society records, as published in their North Wales Handbook (usually more reliable than J. I. C. Boyd), list this loco as 0-4-0T(WT?), so there is some doubt about whether it was actually a well tank. It was reputedly acquired from T.W.Ward in Liverpool, and the registered office of the mine owners - North Wales Iron & Manganese Co.Ltd. - was also in Liverpool. The Bagnall loco RHIW was ordered from the Liverpool office. So far I have not unearthed any photos!

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