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.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Iain. Some lovely autumnal colours there.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham!

Anonymous said...

A tale of intrigue and dishonesty!! Excellent stuff. Mind you I don't mind following up links on other sites.

On the subject of dodgy mine promoters I presume that you have on your bookshelves a copy of 'The Mines of Wales, Their Present Position and Prospects' by Thomas Spargo originally published in 1870 and reprinted by Simon Hughes in 1975.


Anonymous said...

What an interesting story, and with beautiful images as usual.

I'd love to know what those 'miners' thought of the whole thing. I susect there were a few comments in Welsh going around when the 'Investors' were walking about.

Being paid to do easy work and get one over some rich English mug. He'd probably have been inundated with volunteers...

Iain Robinson said...

Geoff, thanks for your comment. I didn't have that book, but I have just purchased it from Amazon, it promises to be a good read :-)Glad you enjoyed the post.

Iain Robinson said...

Hi Andy, thanks- yes it looks like it was the English folk that got the worst of it, being brought here by first class rail travel from Birmingham and the North West. Welsh folk had already experienced a taste of speculation and swindling with the Gorseddau and Prince Edward schemes, and in any case they seemed to be wiser investors. I guess you could say it was a kind of job creation scheme for the miners, a "Robin Hood" style operation :-)

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