Mining in Ceredigion
the words 'mining in Wales' to most people and they will immediately
think of the South Wales Coalfields and almost certainly not of
Cardiganshire - now known as Ceredigion. Yet in the nineteenth century
Cardiganshire was a very important source of lead and silver and a
major employer in Mid / West Wales while today, the mines are almost
all derelict, the buildings destroyed and most of the shafts filled
400 and 500 million years ago, the present location of Wales was deep
below the sea in what has been called the 'Welsh Basin'. Here, marine
sediments - mudstones, siltstones and sandstones formed and were then
buried beneath several kilometres of more recent sediment - much of
which has now been eroded away by the processes of nature.
older rocks have been subjected to enormous pressure, and earth
movements have caused the layers or strata of rocks to fold. In places,
the rocks have split and into these 'faults' has flowed hot mineral
rich groundwater which, over millions of years has deposited seams or
'lodes' of minerals rich in lead, silver and zinc. These lodes are near
vertical seams of rock, typically one or two metres in thickness,
although sometimes much thicker.
has been carried out in this part of Wales for thousands of years, some
of the earliest mines being from the Bronze age - about 2,000 BC at
Cwmystwyth. Cwmystwyth has been important throughout history for its
mining, and in medieval times, the land there was owned by the
Cistercian monks of Strata Florida. The first written records of mining
in Ceredigion are in the form of a mining lease from Strata Florida
Abbot Richard Talley dated 1535. At this time, the mine workings at
Cwmystwyth were described by John Leyland, King Henry VIII's antiquary:
"About the middle of this Ystwith Valley
that I ride in, being as I guess three miles in length, I saw on the
right hand side of the hill side Cloth Moyne, where hath been great
digging for Leade, the smelting whereof hath destroid the woodes that
sometimes grew plentifully thereabout."
Leyland also wrote in his Itinerary in Wales in 1536-1539 "There
hath been in times paste a greate mine digging for leade in Comeustwith
a vi. miles from Stratflur, wher is a graunge longging to Stratflure.
But summe menne suppose that it sesid, bycawse the wood is sore wastith.
Cwmystwyth - formerly
thickly wooded, the trees were
cleared for burning in the smelters by medieval times,
and sheep grazing has since maintained the bare valley
sides now dominated by spoil heaps from the mines.
Map of Cardiganshire mines 1698 - Aberystwyth is at
bottom left, and the Aberdovey estuary is at top left.
The large hill is Plynlimon (Plymhimmon on the map).
of the oldest mines in the are is at Cwmsymlog. This mine has been
worked for hundreds of years if not thousands. It was particularly
productive during the 1600's, during the reign of Elizabeth I, when it
was known as Blaen Cwmsymlog when £24,000 was yielded annually from
silver alone. The ore contained up to 100 ounces of silver per ton. The
mine was developed by Sir Hugh Myddleton who built a chapel for the
miners and their families. Later many shafts were sunk here with little
success, but in 1749 a rich lode was discovered producing 70 ounces to
the ton of Lead.
1840, John Taylor and sons installed a 20 inch Cornish steam engine at
Cwmsymlog that had been intended for Glogfach. The distinctive chimney,
which has recently been renovated stood beside this engine. The mine
closed down soon after due to poor results, but was opened again in
1850 by Taylor with an improved supply of water via a high level leat
from Lletty Evanhen and was now called the East Darren mine. Taylor had
great success for a few years, but by 1880, the price of lead had
dropped so low that little or no profit was to be had. A letter to
their agent dated 1880 said 'at this moment the price of lead is so
very low, that it has destroyed all chance of profit from the best of
our mines, and one has no heart to adventure further.' The company
dissolved in 1882, and although a few others tried to keep it going,
the mine closed for good in 1901
since 1845, the Cwmsymlog area has yielded 24460 tons of lead, and
415,850 ounces of silver worth over £6,000,000 (estimated at 1976
prices), although values of ore far in excess of this total had
probably been recovered previously.
The renovated Cwmsymlog chimney
The rare Forked Spleenwort Fern thrives on the
mineral rich rocks at Cwmsymlog.
most important period in Cardiganshire mining was from the eighteenth
century right through the nineteenth with the peak being from 1830 to
1880. The greatest output was in 1856 when 8,560 tons of lead ore
yielded 38,751 ounces of silver. The development of mining abroad - in
particular the USA and Australia, led to a rapid decline in mining in
The mines have had a
considerable impact upon the landscape. As well as the numerous spoil
heaps and ruined mine buildings. There are a number of lakes created to
provide a head of water for the water wheels used to power the mine
machinery. Below is a photo of the lake, Llyn Frongoch, that
provided water for the large Frongoch mine. Today, the Frongoch mine
(below) is the site of a wood yard producing fenceposts.
Metal Mining Strategy for Wales, page 76 states the following about the
Frongoch mine: 'The north-western section of the mine site,
adjoining the road and containing two of the engine houses along with
the crusher house, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.'
'Despite the ruinous state of
this historic mine site a large number of features, dating from the
mid-19th century through to the early part of the 20th century, can
still be identified. These include the remains of three engine houses,
a crusher house, a stamps mill, a winding house, the ‘ old’ dressing
mill, the structures and earthworks associated with at least 10 working
shafts, a larger open-working, two powder magazines, the earthworks for
a series of watercourses and a substantial reservoir, structures and
earthworks associated with various ore preparation processes, sundry
offices and stores, and the earthworks of a tramway linking the mine
with a later dressing mill at Wemyss. The mine was at various times
worked in conjunction with the adjoining Wemyss site.
site was surveyed by the RCAHMW in 1984. The survey identified the
range of features listed above. Since 1984 the site has suffered from
inappropriate use as an off-road and motorcycle course, and the
northern section is used as a sawmill with material being dumped in the
northern open-working. If remedial work is to be carried out it should
be part of an overall programme to protect the site from further
deterioration. Remedial work on the spread of tailings across the
southern part of the site will inevitably impact on the surviving
features in that area. A full archaeological assessment is required
before work commences and a detailed plan should be formulated to
conserve not only those features identified but also those which might
be uncovered during the work.'
||Notable among the buildings associated with the
mining industry, is the row of cottages near Pontrhydygroes called 'New
Row' and the 'New Row Stores' built specifically to provide the mines
and the miners with everything they might require. The cottages are
still inhabited and the stores still stand, although the building is no
longer used as a shop.
New Row and the back of the New
Row Stores at Pontrhydygroes.
The mining industry also had
sociological implication in that many mining experts - and indeed mine
workers were brought in from outside of Wales. During the peak years of
mining, some of the work was done by Cornishmen, who with their
experience were often employed as 'Captains' or managers of the mines.
Near Pontrhydygroes the Lisburne Mining Company built a Wesleyan
Methodist chapel for them. This was the first such chapel built in the
county. Today it lies forgotten and in ruins set
back from the road among the ferns and the Oak trees. Italians were
also brought in to work the mines.
Saeson (the English Chapel)
remains of the chapel
are an important part of Ceredigion's heritage, with many sites being
of National importance. However, the only one that is presently open to
the public is the Llywernog lead and Silver mine near Ponterwyd where
visitors can experience a tour of the mine and see the mine museum with
its display of mining equipment and old documents relating to mining in
The Count House at Llywernog built in 1869 contained the
mine office, workshop and smithy - now the mine museum.
A few old photos remind us of the fifty foot water wheel
this drove the pumps in the main shaft and the ore crusher.
photos of Llywernog show the count house flanked on its left hand side
by an enormous fifty foot overshot iron water wheel. Sadly, the wheel
was removed before the mine buildings were renovated, although the
massive stone built wheel pit still remains.
entering the mine, visitors are given hard hats and mining
lights. The mine tour takes visitors in through the original mine
entrance and through a tunnel carved out of the rock to the first
The Blacksmith's shop or Smithy
takes the mine tour
The tour takes visitors into the
mountain through a horizontal shaft - the 'prospecting shaft' or
'adit', dug around 1790, and parts of which are about three feet wide
and five feet high. The group stops in a narrow vertical chamber, the
space left when the almost vertical seam or 'lode' of ore has been
removed. Above can be seen the timbers wedged into the narrow cleft
with boards placed over them for the miners to stand on as they dig
higher and higher towards ground level.
working the lode
group of miners
Objective 1 initiative seeks to promote the area as a place for
visitors to come and enjoy the stunning scenery while learning about
Ceredigion's industrial Heritage. The 'Spirit of the Miners', Project
Officer Meleri Richards summarises the initiative as : ' The legacy of
mining has many varied aspects with something to appeal to even the
most casual visitor. For some it is the technical systems involved in
the mining process, for others it is the environment, conservation,
tourism or the cultural and social side that has shaped the settlements
of the uplands into what they are today'.
projects in the area with similar aims are the Ceredigion Mines Forum,
set up to deal with issues relating to mining in Ceredigion and
promoting communication and the sharing of ideas. The Central Wales
RIGS group is concerned with the geology of the area and the
conservation of important sites relating to Geodiversity. The Welsh
Mines Preservation Trust was set up in 1992 to raise public awareness
through heritage weekends, talks and slideshows and to make the sites
accessible to the public and to ensure their long term
18 mile Borth to Devil's Bridge footpath has been recently improved
with new waymarkings. It takes walkers high over the Cambrian
Mountains, past the Lead and Silver mining area at Cwmsymlog, then from
Bontgoch the path takes walkers to Nant Yr Arian Visitor Centre and the
final section of the trail winds through Ystumtuen through the Rheidol
valley to Devil's Bridge. At Devil's bridge, with the walk completed,
the Rheidol Valley Steam Railway provides a scenic and relaxing journey
© Rod Attrill 2007
- the Spirit of the Miners website
- Welsh Mines Preservation Trust
- Llywernog Silver and Lead Mine - tour and
- Guided sight seeing tours of the uplands.
- The Rheidol Steam Railway