Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Keeping your powder dry

The Manod Powder Store with the tips of the modern quarry behind.
Of all the ancillary structures associated with mines and quarries, gunpowder magazines are, for me at least, among the most fascinating and most rewarding to locate.  They are usually sited a good distance away from the mine for safety reasons, and are often of a distinctive design.
Sometimes the magazine is an obvious feature, but more often than not, it has to be searched for among undergrowth and there is always a feeling of achievement when it has been identified!

The ruined powder house at Hafod y Porth, near Beddgelert.

The classic round powder store,  here at Hendre Ddu, Cwm Pennant
There seem to be a few designs that are repeated, probably due to their inherent fitness of purpose, but that still leaves room for a number of non-typical relics to be found. Probably most numerous, especially here in North Wales, is the round variety. These can be found everywhere mining took place.
The square or rectangular variety is also common, and is identified usually by it's lack of windows and flimsy roof.  (Usually completely rotted away by now). The walls were invariably lined with wood, presumably to guard against damp. The powder magazine at Manod (Bwlch Slaters) is a good example, the wood lining surviving despite the hellish weather conditions experienced in this cwm during winter. It was intended that, should there be an explosion, the blast would be directed upwards and would blow the roof off rather than reduce the walls to so much shrapnel!

The "new" magazine at Cwt-y-Bugail. This replaced an older one which was set in a defile next to the level A-B drumhouse.
The original magazine at Cwt-y-Bugail, which probably served the upper quarry before the mills at level B were built.
 Then there are the non-standard examples...most folk know about the "Beau Geste" fort powder store at Cwmorthin, now sadly lost (demolished by the quarry in the eighties), but there is an almost equally fascinating example at Penmaenmawr, with wing walls guarding it on the top of a promontory overlooking the sea.
Repurposed powder house at the New Pandora Mine, Gwydir

The very interesting structure at Penmaenmawr with outer protecting blast walls.
 There are a couple of "Keyhole" examples, most notably at Graig Ddu but also to be found elsewhere. With these types, there is an entrance porch usually cut into the ground, which leads to a small chamber where the explosives were kept. Imagine a heavy duty "igloo" shape made out of stone.

Moel y Gwartheg
The Cwm Teigl store...Chwarel Llew Twrog is just out of shot at top right.
Then there is the mysterious shelter in Cwm Teigl which experts attest is a hut with a vaulted roof...I think it is a powder store. It owes much to the keyhole pattern and has a roof vaulted with massive chunks of slate. It would only ever be big enough to crawl into, and is handy (as far as powder stores go) for Llew Twrog, Alaw Manod and Clogwyn y Garw mines.  Then there is the keyhole store at Moel y Gwartheg, although this may have been a shelter as there appear to be alcoves built into the walls.

The store at Nant Gefail y Meinars, sited well above the mine and buttressed against collapse (!)
Partly buried magazine at Brynglas, again well above the workings.
The collection of my photographs gathered here is by no means exhaustive coverage of the subject, nor is it the entire number of magazine shots I have in my files, but hopefully these will inspire others to go hunting for the elusive powder magazine!
Classic opportunistic design- a magazine with a freestone boulder as one of the walls! At Cwm Dwyfor copper mine.

Classic square magazine at Cefn Coch.
Square example at Cwm Cipwrth, with porch. This probably also served the nearby Gilfach copper mine.
Buried deep in the undergrowth - Gallt y Fedw, Dorothea.
Lastly, a rather primitive magazine partly buried at Bwlch y Ddeufaen West quarry.


Anonymous said...

It is astonishing to see how remote these places are now, more so when I imagine how they must have been bustling with industry at one time.

"Classic opportunistic design- a magazine with a freestone boulder as one of the walls..."

I wonder if this was because the manager saw the rock and figured he could save a days wages, or if the workers realised they could keep quiet and get the day off, or at least have an easy time of it that week...

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Andy- yes, I am still amazed that in this modern age when everything unsightly and "ugly" is tidied away, these lovely things still remain untouched except by the elements - as you say, their remoteness helps. I guess with the Cwm Dwyfor example, time was of the essence either way, and nothing better than a 20 ton boulder for deflecting blast!! :-)

Anonymous said...

Nice selection!

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham :-)

Paul B. said...

Another great post Iain. And more superb photography!

I'm always pleased to see such relics surviving, when in the hills we need reminding that the landscape we tramp across for leisure was a pretty harsh working environment for a lot of people. Still is if you're a sheep farmer!

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you Paul, I am really glad you enjoyed it :-) Yes, to be up in some of these cwms at this time of year soon makes you glad you don't have to work outside! They were hardy souls, the old miners.

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