Eye witness accounts of working and social conditions at the mine in the 18th century
The following are extracts from articles written by people who had visited the mine. They show the working conditions of the miners.
Parish Register 1780
“Miners housing were simple buildings, ugly with only one floor and no more than two rooms. they were about 15 feet long and 12 feet wide and built by the miners themselves. Without day light or fresh air. They are built close to each other and without amenities and so put the health of the occupants in danger”
Thomas Pennant 1784
… vestiges of ancient operations appear in several parts, carried on by trenching, and by heating the rock intensely, then suddenly pouring water ,so as to crack or scale.
… the mines presently support no fewer than 8000 people of whom 1500 were employed directly by the two companies. The full extent of the ore has not been determined although it’s depth had, by driving a level under it, been found to be no less than twenty-four yards. A hollow is now formed in the solid ore open to the day and extends about 100 yards in length and forty yards in breadth and twenty-four yards deep…the ends of the excavations are presently undermined but supported by vast pillars and magnificent arches. all metallic and these caverns meander far underground. These caverns would soon disappear and thousands of tons of ore be gotten from both the columns and the roof.
…Having ascended to the top I stood upon a verge of a vast and tremendous chasm. I stepped upon one of the stages suspended over the edge of the steep and the prospect was dreadful.
The number of caverns at different heights along the sides, the broken irregular masses of rock, which everywhere presented themselves; the multitudes of men at work in different parts and apparently in the most perilous situations, the motion of the windlass, and the raising and lowering of buckets, to draw out the ore and the rubbish, the noise of picking the ore from the rock, and off hammering the wadding, when it was about to be blasted, with at intervals, the roar of the blast in different parts of the mine, altogether excited the most sublime ideas, intermixed with sensations of terror.
The shagged arches and overhanging rocks, which seem to threat annihilation to any one daring enough to approach them, when superadded to the sulphureous smell arising from the kilns in which the ore is roasted, made it seem to me like the vestibule to tartarus…
To look up from this situation and observe the people upon the stages 150 feet above one’s head to see the immense number of ropes and buckeys ,most of them in motion; and to reflect, that a single stone casually thrown from above or falling from a bucket, might in a moment destroy a fellow creature man must have a strong mind not to feel impressed with the unpleasant situation.
… The sides of this dreadful hollow are almost perpendicular. Along it’s edges are the stages and the whimseys by which the buckets are lowered; and from where the men descend to their situations on the side. Here suspended the workman picks with an iron instrument a place for a footing, whence he cuts out the ore and tumbles it to the bottom, where it rests in a thundering crash. After working the place into the cavern he removes to a new situation.
…. The ore is not got in the common manner of mining, but is cut out of a bed in the same manner as stone is out of a quarry. A hollow is now formed in the solid ore open to the day, and extends about a hundred yards in length about forty yards in breadth and twenty-four yards in depth. the ends are at present undermined, but supported by vast pillars and magnificent arches, all metallic; and these caverns meander far underground. These will soon disappear and thousands of tons of ore be gotten from both the columns and roofs. the sides of this vast hollow are mostly perpendicular and access to the bottom is only to be had by small steps cut in the ore; and the curious visitor must trust to them and a rope, till he reaches some ladders, which will conduct him the rest of the descent. on the edges of the chasm are wooden platforms, which project far out, on them are windlasses, by which the workmen are lowered to transact their business on the face of the precipice. there suspended, they work in mid-air, pick a small space for a footing, cut out the ore in vast masses and tumble it to the bottom with great noise. In such situations they form caverns and there appear safely lodged, till the rope is lowered to convey then up again. much of the ore is blasted with gunpowder, eight tons of which I am informed, is annually used for the purpose …
Mr Price Mine Agent 1798
From the boundary of the two mines in the east end of the principle workings in the Mona mine is a length of vein five hundred yards in which extent are three large open cast excavations, out of which full four hundred and sixty-eight thousand cubic yards of natural ground have been taken.
Some of the subterraneous excavations in this part of the mine are very grand; one of them is fifty yards long, thirty yards wide and forty yards high from the bottom to the rugged crown of the arch, supported only by one pillar in that cavity.
In another part of the mine is an excavation forty yards in length, fifteen in width and forty yards high in one entire arch. The underground working are too numerous to particularise. The whole of them will amount to a vacuity of two hundred thousand yards cubical measurement besides shafts, levels etc. some idea may be formed of the vast bodies of ore this part of the mine contained, by the quantity of ore raised by two bargains in three months in the year 1787, in the first two thousand nine hundred thirty two tons of good copper ore and only ninety two tons of waste in the other four hundred eighty-eighty tons of copper ore and two hundred sixty seven tons of waste, beside the ore raised by sundry other smaller bargains.
There is upwards of four hundred sixty yards of ground in length in the east part of this mine, which has been only partially worked, and in that space there are in all probability several bodies of ore undiscovered, but this can only be ascertained by future trails.
The Reverend Skinner was a Somerset Parson who was touring Wales in 1802.
… having taken a slight repast at Amlwch we proceeded to the Parys mountain which of late years has enriched not only many individuals but the nation at large… the approach to it is dreary in the extreme for the sulphurous steams issuing from the copper kilns have destroyed every germ of vegetation in the neighbourhood. When we had gained the higher ground the uninteresting and gloomy prospect we had hitherto observed was at once converted into the liveliest and active scene.
Hundreds of men, women and children, appeared busily occupied in the different branches of this vast concern and the bustle of metropolis prevailed amidst the dreary recesses of the Druids.
We were first conducted to some wooden stages erected on the edge of an immense excavation of an oval form about two hundred yards long, half as much in width and eighty in depth which has been hollowed out in course of twenty years. On looking down from hence to the chase beneath, we saw the rock rich with ore of a light gold colour which the miners were busily engaged in boring, blasting, breaking with sledge hammers , wheeling the fragments to appointed places beneath the stages filling the baskets which were hauled up by windlass.
There might be from twelve to fourteen stages erected for this purpose in different parts of the mine. As soon as the commodity is landed it is delivered to a number of woman and children to be broken into smaller pieces, the good ore is then separated from that of an inferior sort and carried to the kilns to be baked the sulphur forms in what is called flour brimstone… collected, melted in large cauldron and formed into round moulds for sale.
In the beginning one extracted the ore by sinking a great number of shafts just over one fathom square close to each other. One descended into these shafts as far as the mine water and the exceptionally wretched wooden support structures allowed. Then in the sump one took away as much ore round about as one could safely, left this shaft and started a new one. In this way several hundred shafts developed over several years from the centre of the mountain towards the west – as the mine captain Mr. Roose, who first discovered the vein, himself assured me. Finally, people grasped that things could not continue this way long-term and that one was leaving behind too much ore which could not be extracted. The mine officials, therefore, came to the expensive decision to expose the vein completely and to make a cut at the middle of the mountain at the footwell to the floor of the mine, which should be wide enough, to allow several horse drawn carts to pass close to each other, thereby cutting the cost of hauling the ore.
This plan was actually carried out and the ore was extracted as it would be in a stone quarry. However, this approach helped for only a while; For the vein sank deeper into the ground the further they advanced, and it became necessary to leave large columns of ore standing in order to support the overburden.
On the eastern half of the vein, which belonged to the Mona Mine Company, one could not use the approach of creating a street leading to the ore because the lode lay much deeper under the ground, and the mine captain, who made his first experiment on Mr. Hughes part, had since gained more experience. So two main shafts were sunk here, but the construction was conducted so that from time to time one left large columns of ore standing in the excavated caverns.
There was just as little concern for control of the water or the movement of the ore as for regulated stopping and shoring. The water, which is, luckily, not so frequent here, is taken out in barrels which are moved by a horse whim, and the ore is brought to the surface partly with a windlass, partly with a horse whim. For neither of these is there a proper pumping shaft furnished, rather the windlass stands on two long, strong oak trees, which one has laid so far over the hanging wall and footwell that the bucket, for the pails are no larger, can run without touching the sides. However, if there is a slope as the bucket drops further below ground, one copes with this by having a boy pull a piece of cord through the handle of the bucket and pulling it firmly to try to keep bucket suspended, allowing himself be pulled up to the place where the bucket no longer needs this assistance. Because there is no flywheel on the windlass, this method of moving ore is very troublesome for the miners. The horse whims are no better set up because they do not have a counterweight as we do, to enhance the power of the horse through its swing, and the rope winds itself directly around the barrel of the windlass.
The extraction of the ore itself is achieved through drilling and discharges for which one uses the pitching borer. The work is generally hired out. Several miners, under the leadership of one of their colleagues, are sent to a specific location where a certain price is paid for each ton of ore brought to the surface. The price naturally varies and depends on the solidity of the mountain and the ease with which it can be brought to the surface.
Because the ores here in general are very rich in Sulphur, as in Rammelsberg, their extraction is rather expensive because the drills wear out so quickly; however, it cannot be carried out any other way because the use of wood for fuel and fire would be even far more expensive.
These few things I have described will hopefully give you an adequate idea of mining in Anglesey. You will understand, without my explaining to you any more extensively, that it could be much better and more advantageously set up, even if everything were not as in our German mines, but because of the extremely high price of building materials cannot be carried out.
… The Mountain is about 2 miles from the town. Our path was along a very dusty, dirty road for when bad it is mended with slag and cinder and as there are always 12 or 14 carts moving backwards and forwards on it these materials are soon ground into black and disagreeable powder. There are no trams used on these roads or in the mines in consequence of the corrosive effects which the waters from the workings would have upon them and which would destroy them in a short time.
Captain Leaman took the utmost pains to explain everything to us and made the time pass so agreeably that we were at the mountain before we knew it. The first thing we came to was a small steam engine employed to drain one of the workings of the mine. It was good and preserved in very neat order within the house, the outdoor parts were of timber. The water here raised from the mine is suffered to run away not being rich enough in copper like some of the others to pay for the separation of the metal.
The miners found themselves at first very much embarrassed in working this engine in consequence of the peculiar nature of the waters in this neighbourhood. For being a solution of sulphate of copper they acted on the cylinder and other iron parts of the engine rapidly corroding them and rendering the whole useless. Now they very carefully collect the waters from the higher part of the mountain where they are more free from sulphate of copper, and they neutralise what portion of that salt may be in them with the acid also that they contain by lime and they also preserve the condensed water and cooling it in reservoirs use it over and over again.
Close to the engine were several shafts and at one of them, a Whimsy, at which a horse was drawing and raising ore, the ore being placed in large wooden buckets hooped strongly with Iron in the usual manner.
The men are all paid piece work receiving so much per ton for the ore they raised either more or less according to its quality. Captain Leaman, who is a Cornish miner, astonished the natives by showing them that dirt would stick in he bottoms of the bucket. The smaller parts of the ore had adhered to the bottom and gradually accumulated so much as to make the bucket about half a hundred weight heavier than it needed. Though they raised and lowered this over and over again and consequently work a good deal without being paid for it, they were quite astonished at the thoughts of cleaning it out now and then though for their own ease and stared prodigiously at seeing large lumps fall off on the sides being struck with a hammer.
The ore is raised from the mine by the whimsy in large heavy masses and is then thrown over a stage onto the ground below where it comes into charge of the cobbers, principally women and boys…
…We now dressed. I stripped off everything but my stockings and boots and took possession of a miner’s trousers, shirt and coat all of thick flannel. Then putting on a thick woollen cap, hanging a candle to my breast button and taking another lighted and garnished with clay in my hand I was now ready to descend.
Magrath was similarly equipped and we laughed heartily at each other as a sort of prologue to our adventure. We followed Captain Leaman to a small shaft and a little distance from the office and in such true miner’s style that I verily believe the men themselves did not know us for other than miners. The place we prepared to descend was a small aperture in the earth about 4 ft. by 3 ft. wide and a ladder appeared at its mouth which descended into the darkness below. Captain Leaman chose this shaft because it was the most comfortable. There were two others but the pump rods worked up and down in one and in the other we could only ascend and descend in the buckets like lumps of ore. Having taken a lesson how to hold our candles we got on to the ladder. It was not long but on reaching its termination we had to swing around it by a little stage on to a second and from that on to a third and so on until I lost count of their number.
We soon left daylight and were not long before we were well used to the place and could trust so securely to our hands as scarcely to notice a false step though a fall would have led us down 200 or 300 ft. without any ceremony or hesitation. At last we began to enter the vein and had to shuffle on in a more irregular manner. A rope ladder occurred here and there in places where the chasm was too crooked to admit a straight one of wood and they felt very curious dangling in the middle of the air and darkness.
The vein is not of uniform thickness throughout but differs very much indeed in different parts, sometimes it is not more than half an inch thick and other times it becomes 20 to 30 feet wide. The upper edge is of course at the earth surface only covered perhaps a foot or two by soil and the lower edge frequently descends to unworkable depths laterally. The vein spreads out through the country, but when traced to its termination is irregular and ragged. Veins have been traced above – feet and sometimes they extend for miles across the country. The Veins are very rarely perpendicular in the earth. The one we were in extended on the surface east and west and in descending in the earth it approached towards the north which is technically expressed by saying it dips from South to North. In working the vein, the only object is to remove the ore from its place with safety and to this end every contrivance is adapted.
Shafts are dry wells dug down to the workings by which man and materials and ore pass. Galleries and workings are excavations made in the mass of the rock below to give access to the ore. The waters deposited by the surrounding earth are removed by pumps and thus precautions and contrivances are adopted as occasion requires.
Well our progress in the vein was at first through very confined passages but on a sudden we entered a place like a large chamber so large that our light would not reach across it. Here the vein had swelled out into a bunch in the way I just now mentioned and had afforded a very rich mass of ore. Here again it became very narrow and we had in one corner to lay down on our backs and wriggle in through rough slanting opening not more than 12 or 14 inches wide. The whole mountain being above us and threatening to crush us to pieces. You will understand my Dear Girl we were now in those parts of the veins which had been cleared of ore by the workmen.
All, however, above and below to the right and the left was not void for if the ore had simply been removed and the place left to itself working would soon have been stopped. You will remember we were now in the centre of the mountain and its whole weight resting over us and this weight would long ago have crushed the two sides of the empty veins together if precautions had not been taken to keep the place open and support the mountain.
This is done thus. When the miners have excavated the vein so as to leave a free space above them of perhaps 20 feet in height timber as the trunks of trees are let down to them which they place across the cavity a little distance above their heads so as to form a rough, strong floor and then on this is placed all the gangue and useless rubbish loosened with the ore, until the place is half full of such parts of the vein been left open as are useful for the conveyance and the workings. In this way a number of what may be called apartments or galleries are formed in the empty part of the vein at the end of which men frequently go on working in a horizontal direction on the edge of the vein, whilst others far below them are extending it in depth.
Proceeding along one of these galleries we came at last to a chasm at the bottom of which we could just see men with lights. Whilst admiring the curious scene the large bucket came rushing past us from above and descended down into the depths. This indeed was the shaft at which we had seen horses and men raising ore above ground for the cobbers.
It was intersected in this place by the gallery along which we were proceeding and stopped our progress. The shaft here was not perpendicular but followed the inclination of the vein and the bucket slid up and down against one side which was covered with smooth planks. In a few minutes we saw a bucket come up and to us strangers it had a very curious appearance. The rope moving on for a long time without visible means, the empty bucket banging, slipping and tumbling down and the full one suddenly emerging from the darkness beneath into the candlelight and immediately disappearing above are so peculiar in their effect as to irresistibly create some degree of surprise.
We crossed this place on a plank and a rope loosely put over it and advancing onwards soon after descended again creeping and sliding, tumbling and slipping as before Captain Leaman giving us the utmost attention in explaining everything. Now at times we began to hear explosions which reverberated throughout the mine in grand style and we soon came up to two men who were preparing a blast.
A hole is cut first by chisels in the rock in the direction thought most proper and from 12 to 24 inches deep according to circumstances. This being cleaned out by proper tools a portion of gunpowder is placed in the bottom of it and then a long thin iron rod called a needle being put down into the gunpowder, pounded stone is introduced and rammed hard with an iron tool on to the gunpowder. More stone is introduced until the hole is full and then the needle being withdrawn, a straw filled with powder or sometimes quills so filled are put down the hole and make a communication with the charge below. A bit of touch paper is then attached to the external gunpowder and being lighted the men retire a few yards off round some projection or corner whilst the explosion happens. When it has taken place the ore or stone thrown off is removed and the process again repeated. It is astonishing how careless the men become of the peculiar dangers to which they are liable from the frequency with which they meet them. They go on hammering without the least care at the hole charged with powder and now then explode it by the attrition they cause before they are out of the way and then men get killed. They put their candles anyhow and anywhere and their powder is treated in the same manner.
Here the men were at work on the rock cutting a level to another part of the vein and they are paid so much per foot or yard, but returning a little way and then moving on again we soon came to some who were working out ore. They blast it just as in the former case and it is then carried to the edge of the shaft I before spoke of and drawn up by the buckets.
These men also work piece work but differently to the others. Captain Leaman comes and views the place and then he submits terms to the men thus I will let you have that place a month at so much per ton of ore raised’ varying the price per ton according to the supposed facility of obtaining and working the ore. After the bargain is made the men take all risks of the place being good or bad, sometimes when it appears very unpromising and they have obtained a high price for working it out in consequence of the greater expenditure of powder and labour supposed to be necessary it will expand into a bunch of ore. Then the men earn much money during their month or period of time for they raise an immense quantity of ore rapidly and without much trouble and now and then save a hundred pounds very quickly. On other occasions things are against them and when their time is expired they have raised so little ore as not to have earned sufficient to pay off their powder bill. Generally, however, things are so managed so as to leave them well though not extravagantly paid.
None of these men work more than 8 hours a day in the mine. The rest of their time is spent above ground at home, there being sets of workmen who replace each other.
We had now reached the well of the mine situated at its lowest point nearby. Here all the waters that run from the earth into the excavation are collected together to be pumped up. There was a large quantity in a sort of tank boarded over and containing much copper in solution. The waters it appears had risen a little and they were very particular about them just now because close at hand they were deepening the mine and working at a level below that of the well. We were here in the busy part and the black heads and faces that popped into sight every now and then with a candle before them looked very droll. Some miners were stuck up in a corner over our heads making a roof and they seemed to cling to the rock like bats so that I wondered how they got and remained there but in a few moments I found we had to go up there too and indeed we managed very well. Difficulties and dangers are in almost every case magnified by distance and diminished by approximation, and I do not think that one place in the world can be better suited to illustrate this than a mine.
Following the example of our Captain and peeping into a small chasm through which a man might by contrivance pass, we found it to be the entrance into a large cavity from 30 to 40 feet wide every way. This had been a fine bunch of ore and there were 6 or 7 men with their candles working in it. We did not go down but putting our lights aside laid our heads to the aperture and viewed this admirable Cimmerian scene for some time with great pleasure, the continual explosion on all sides increasing the effect. This was the lowest part of those workings and was about 370 feet below the surface of the earth.
After a little further progress, we came to the pump shaft, an aperture cut down from the surface to this spot. It was 360 ft. deep and we could see no daylight up it. Below it was a small well connected with the large one before mentioned and into this were inserted pumps. The first was a lifting pump and raised the water a few feet. Then a forcing pump took it and made it ascend up pipes far away out of sight. The pumps were worked by the steam engine we had seen above being connected with it by beams of wood descending in the shaft and continually rattling up and down in it. In the small part of the shaft left vacant by the pistons pipes and beams were fixed ladders which ascending from stage to stage conducting to the top and up. There we had to go bathed in the shower of water which was shaken off from all parts of the pump works. After long climbing we came to a part of the shaft where the first forcing pump delivered its water into a little cistern and then another pump of the same construction threw it up to the surface. Still proceeding we at last got a glimpse of daylight above and were soon able to see the pump rods by it. Now the danger of the ascent appeared far greater than before for the more extensive light showing in the well above and something of the depth below made us conscious of our real situation whereas before we only thought of the small spot illuminated by our candles. The agitation of the pump rods was more visible too and appeared greater from being seen over a larger space and their rattling and thumping was quite in accordance with appearances. But in spite of all things we gained the surface in high glee and came up into the world above at the engine after a residence of about two hours in the queer place below…
…We then walked on to the Parys mine. This is an immense excavation open to today on the other side of the same mountain. An extraordinary accumulation of ore was found in this place which, when worked, proved of immense value and brought in enormous incomes to the proprietor. It appears that 3 or 4 veins of copper here converge together and caused a single disposition of ore which has made the place so deservedly famous. At present the ore is not so abundant and the mine is worked by underground shafts and galleries like the others though still a little is done above.
Owen Griffith worked in the mines on Parys Mountain in the middle of the 19th century. He was thus able to give his readers a first-hand impression of conditions underground in the mines.
“We start from the eastern edge of the Open Cast through a part of the mine known as the Bad Hole. First we descend in daylight by a zig-zag path. ‘lf it is calm we light our candle and secure it in a lump of damp clay, this is the miner’s candlestick; then, with the candle in one hand, and using the other to cling to a rickety ladder, the descent commences.
At the foot of the ladder we enter a low tunnel through which we make our way for about twenty or thirty yards in an eastward direction; then the road turns northwards for some further fifteen yards till we reach the old workings – a dark and gloomy place known as Gwaith yr HwntwMawr (lit.’The big South-Walian’s workings’).
A brief look round and we descend a short ladder and a second even shorter ladder at the foot of which it becomes necessary to move forward crouched on hands and knees through a narrow opening till another ladder is reached and a further descent is made through a layer of blue and yellow clay.
Downwards again along a short, steep path; a half turn brings one to another gallery, from which a short ladder takes one to Level 30. This is the first open space we come to after leaving Gwaith yr Hwntw, and we pause for a moment for a much needed rest. Its vast expanse is enormous, difficult to comprehend.
We move on till we find another ladder; we slither and slide downwards through the mud and water till we reach a further ladder which brings us to a truly remarkable gallery, a testimony to the skill and competence of those who surveyed it. We proceed along it, down another ladder to Level 44.
Walking along this gallery for some forty to fifty yards in the direction of the Garnedd Shaft, but before reaching it we descend again down rough steps to an old working at the foot of which is a chimney with a ladder, going down this ladder we find ourselves in Level 55.
Having thus walked, crawled and dragged ourselves for almost half an hour we at last caught sight of the shaft which we had been aiming for from the start. We now proceed along this level to the Sydney to inspect the lode before returning to the Garnedd Shaft to see the smithy with its 255-foot chimney.
Then we descend yet again to a deep and narrow working below which are ladders which lead us to yet a lower level. With considerable effort and clinging like goats to the steep ladder we came to Level 70.
After gazing with amazement at the vastness of these old working, we descend yet further by swinging on a chain ladder through the great open space to reach Level 80.
Here miners are at work sinking a new shaft, they are lowered by means of a bucket on a rope to reach the bottom. The miners had just finished firing charges to bring down more rock. All had gone well, the rock had shattered cleanly, and where we now stood none had ever stood there before. We paused to rest a while and to catch our breath, but for some time that was far from easy – smoke, so thick that we could barely see anything, filled the place; water poured on us, helping to remove the mud with which our clothes were caked, but which at the same time left us soaked to the skin from top to toe. Nevertheless, there we stayed until the smoke began to clear.
Owen Griffiths also spoke about the system of allocating work at the mine
“Between the sampling house and the offices stood a large pulpit with a top to it, resembling for all the world an old-fashioned wainscot bed …. It was placed by the office window in the upper part of the Mona Yard, and this pulpit, too like the one at Parys Mine has a strange tale to tell. Once a month (or in earlier times, once every two or three months) the company manager and its chief clerk would mount upon this pulpit; in front of them were two massive volumes and a small wooden box some eight inches square containing a fistful or two of small pebbles. When 1 recall some of the incidents associated with the sheeting of the ‘bargains’, 1 am amazed that a company of life guards was not required to stand at door of the pulpit. Of the two volumes on the pulpit, one was for those who wished to bargain to mine copper at so much a ton, the other recorded the names of those ready to dig out the levels or tunnels at so much a fathom. The pebbles in the wooden box were flipped over the heads to the assembled workers to signify that the two parties, the ‘tributers’ and the ‘tutworkmen’ were agreed on the bargain for the following month.
I saw bargains at three pound a ton of mined ore, and I also saw the folly of miners bidding against each other so that bringing the price down till it fell to no more than a halfpenny a ton to be shared between ten or twelve partners – hardly enough to buy for one of them tobacco for the month they had agreed to work. Many bargains were struck for ridiculously low sums, but none were recalled more bitterly than the so-called ‘Halfpenny Bargain.’
The administrative hub of the two mining companies were the two yards. There was nothing much to distinguish one from the other, although the Mona Mine yard was somewhat larger than that at the Parys Mine. Today they are both in ruins, but at one time they were both the centres of great activity.
An area in land, about an acre in size, and enclosed walls some nine to ten feet in height, situated on the south-eastern side of the mountain housed the extensive offices of the Mona Mine Company. Within the walls was an assortment of buildings The smithy, a lime-house, the bier house, a bell tower, wagon shed, an oil store and an amazing accumulation of rope of various kinds and other equipment: steel, iron, copper wire, together with stores of grease, pitch, tar and paint etc.
Above these were extensive store rooms in which kept mats made from sea-sedge, bedrooms, all sorts and sizes of sieves; copper iron and lead pipes. smiths’ bellows, leather, India rubber, solder, sheet lead, copper and iron nails, metal polish, bath bricks, various coloured blankets and cloth for the miners, hard hats for the stewards, and a vast number of old books.
Yet another storehouse was used to store gunpowder, fuse caps, candles, and brown paper: there was a sawpit and carpenters’ shop, an assay office, stables and a turnery shed. In the corner of the yard lay a stack of timber for use in the mines.
An account of working in Parys mine during the 1950s.
In 1956 I began work as a sample supervisor with Anglesey Mining Exploration Company who were making a detailed geological survey with a view to reopening the mine. The Manager was Mr Bill Manning and there were altogether about 15 employees.
There were two underground teams, the sampling gang, to which I belonged and the clearing gang which had the task of obtaining access to and making safe fallen or flooded parts of the mine.
The clearing gang consisted of three men under the supervision of an Irishman called “Paddy”. There work was very difficult and dangerous and they fought a constant battle with Mr Manning over pay and conditions.
The leader of the sampling gang was Tommy Hughes (Lon Bach) with myself and two others. Our task was to cut yard long rock samples from the walls of the crosscuts. My role was to ensure that samples were taken from the required area of wall and not just collected from the floor.
A sample weighed 7 pounds and we were expected to cut 6 or 7 samples a day. The samples were taken to a cottage in Pentrefelin for copper analysis.
Our working day began at 8am when we entered the mine carrying lunch boxes, sample bags, hammers, chisels and acetylene lamps. We obtained access by ladders fixed to the side of the Golden Venture shaft or via the Mona or Parys Footways each a series of inclines, ladders and stone steps going ever deeper into the mine.
The geologist would have already marked out the sample area in whitewash. We hung or lamps by their hooks from a ledge and set to work.
When we were in soft rock the work was easy and we were able to linger over our breaks stretched luxuriously on a dry clay floor of a nearby stope. All the while keeping an eye on the flame from our lamps which, would flicker with an inrush of air and warn of people approaching.
In hard ground the story was very different. Every ounce of rock was won at a cost in blistered hands, frayed tempers and blunted tools.
We finished work in good time to reach the surface by 5pm. If we had access via a shaft we carried the bags of samples and tool to it and one of use remained behind while others climbed to the top. A rope was thrown down and the task of tying on and hauling up would begin. As a load disappeared the man below sheltered in a tunnel from the falling stones dislodged from the shaft side.
I always felt uneasy when left alone to make my way to the surface through the dark aisle of the mine and I frequently turned and shone my lamp behind me as though I felt the presence of someone watching from the darkness beyond the lamplight. As can be imagined, it would have been easy for a novice to become completely lost in the labyrinth of tunnels, and we were prohibited from going to unfamiliar parts of the tunnels alone.
I was told a story of one miner who damaged the burner of his lamp while going along to join his gang. He was forced to spend several hours sitting alone in complete darkness.
When his work mates finally came across him he was in a state of near hysteria and spoke of hearing strange voices and ghostly laughter echoing along the tunnels. I can well understand how those noise must have affected his tortured mind for I often heard then myself, the sounds of dripping and trickling water magnified and distorted by the peculiar acoustics of the mine.
We often came across relics of the old miners: stubs of tallow candle stuck to niches in the rock face with balls of clay which still held the impressions of the fingers which moulded it, shovels and drill irons eaten away by rust and pieces of the wooded barrows used for carting the ore. I once saw in the dried yellow clay of a stope the impressions of hundreds of clog irons still so clearly defined that one could distinguish the marks of individual nails in them.
Some of our discoveries were of a less pleasant nature. The acidic atmosphere was free of the bacteria which causes decay, and the bodies of animals which fell down the shafts or wandered into the mines changed into adipocere, a grey suety substance. We frequently came across small mounds of it, mute witness to the sad end of a careless dog or sheep.
On one occasion the mine engineer, Mr Massey and I were wading waist deep through a flooded adit near the Gwen shaft when out progress became impeded by the head and entrails of a number of cattle, perfectly preserved in the acidic water. The mystery was solved for me a few years later when I overheard a local butcher boasting that during the second world war he had been involved in black market meat trade, the mine shafts being used to dispose of the evidence.
The only strike which took place in the mines while I was there was a result of a long held grudge about a rule that the clearing gang had to pay for their own clay burners. The clay burners of the mining lamps were very fragile and were often broken against the walls of the tunnels and the manager decreed that the men should pay 4 pence for a new burner. The nature of the clearing gang’s work meant that they suffered particularly because of this ruling and its injustice had festered for some time.
One morning they declared that they would not go underground until burners were provided free of charge, and they sat on the wall outside the office for several hours until Mr Manning, in an uncharacteristic change of heart, agree to their demand. I suspect he already knew that within a month we were to be issued with new rechargeable battery helmet lamps!
I often accompanied Mr Manning into new areas of the mine. He believed that the insuperable problem of keeping water at bay was the main reason for the final eclipse of the industry. He was convinced that the old miners had only taken the top off the egg and that rich deposits extended for thousands of feet below the surface.
I sometime hear that some mining group or other is, yet again doing exploratory work in the mines, seeking to discover if it really is an El Dorado, and I begin to wonder if the old ghosts which used to watch us from beyond the glimmer of our lights will be disturbed once again.
W.E Griffiths (Sample Supervisor)
Owen Griffith was born in 1851, the son of Robert and Sydney Griffith, of Lletroed, near the village of Penysarn. He gave up working in the copper mines and became a successful shopkeeper in the village. Gifted with a fine singing voice and endowed with excellent stage presence, he was a familiar figure in eisteddfodau and music festivals. He was elected an elder in Bosra Chapel, Penysarn, and also acted as preceptor. Active in local government, a member of the local School Board, the Board of Guardians, the Parish Council, the District Council, and was elected alderman on the Anglesey County Council. In a word, he was a fine example of that public-spirited liberal nonconformist servant of the people so typical of the late Victorian era. He died in 1897 and was buried in the churchyard at Llanwenllwyfo. His life coincided with the brief revival in the fortunes of the Parys Mountain copper mines that occurred in the second half of the century, and not to the earlier period when the mines were at the height of their production and Amlwch determined the price of copper in the markets of the world. This was the period (1770-1800) when Amlwch was a ‘boom town’ ‘ The Parish Registers reveal that it was not uncommon to find twenty-seven baptisms being recorded in the space of one month. The birth rate was high and so, too, were the deaths, especially among infants and children – over 40%. Yet Amlwch was really no worse than any other similar town at this time.
The main cause of the high mortality rate was the appalling social conditions that prevailed in the town: the worker’s houses were mean and dirty with earth floors, little better than hovels, 15 feet by 12 feet, with no more than two rooms. Furniture was minimal: typically, a settle, two stools; the earth floor was covered with rush mats, and an earthenware pot to hold water and a wall cupboard to store food completed the meagre furnishings.
By 1800 thatched roofs were beginning to give way to roofs of slate. In such hovels, lacking any form of sanitation beyond an earth closet, it was not surprising that outbreaks of cholera broke out in the town from time to time as in other parts of the country. When Amlwch suffered a cholera epidemic in 1831-32 the authorities arranged for the streets to be swept and the houses to be whitewashed. The Parys Mountain mine was an unhealthy and dangerous place for those who worked there. Many were injured in rock falls and others when the black powder used for blasting exploded prematurely.
Prior to 1831 it was the custom for the miners to choose their own doctor to act for the company, two pence a week being deducted from each miner’s wages to pay for his services. From 1831, however, each miner could visit a doctor of his own choice at the company’s expense.One of the main health risks the miners faced resulted from inhaling fumes from the vitriol works, and many suffered from rheumatism. Some miners preferred their own remedies to the medicine prescribed by the doctor was a pint of spiced ale containing an ounce of gunpowder was a favourite with many. Dr Thomas Hughes of the Parys Mine Company and Dr Richard Lewis Parry of the Mona Mine Company both testified to the Royal Commission on Mines in 1863; at that time the miners’ wage was from 13/6d to 141- a week. After blasting, miners had to wait two hours before the cordite fumes cleared and it was safe to enter the mine. Many of the miners suffered from tuberculosis and from silicosis through having to drill through quartz to reach the copper lodes. The miners would drink vast quantities of tea and coffee and suffered from dyspepsia. The two doctors reported to the Commission that the miners looked fifteen years older than their contemporaries who worked on the land.
Amlwch was a wild and violent town with much drunken behaviour. After 1830 there were sixty taverns in the town selling beer throughout the day. Children ran barefoot through the streets begging. Although a National School had been established in 182 1, it had done little to improve a lot of the children. In 1831 the coronation of William IV was celebrated in the town until the early hours of the following morning and ended in drunken brawling. Similar scenes were common whenever a new shaft was sunk, such as the opening of the ‘Coronation’ shaft which celebrated the coronation of George IV in 1821.On that occasion blasting took place from sunrise to eleven o’clock in the morning,
When the first miner sunk his pickaxe into the rock at the site of the new shaft. Everyone shouted wildly as more rocks were blasted. By mid-day over a thousand miners and their wives assembled on the mountain to dance and to carouse. The gentry feasted in a marquee above which the Union Jack flew proudly. Despite the fact two miners suffered gunpowder burns, the celebrations continued and were finally concluded with the singing of ‘Long Live King George IV’.
In 1825 William Lewis Hughes of Llys Dulas, whose fortune came from the mine, made one of his infrequent visits to the mine. Hundreds of rocks were blasted and four hundred miners, wearing blue ribbons in their hats, voiced their welcome beside the giant open cast; later, they marched behind a band to the town top enjoy a meal washed down with draughts of beer.
In this cultural desert, the Welsh Sunday School alone provided an oasis for the ordinary miner. In the 1820’s there was an attendance of over three hundred and fifty at the Sunday School held at Capel Mawr and organised in sixty classes. Through its influence some experienced a genuine conversion and their lives were completely changed
Religion played an important part in the life and work of the Parys Mountain miners for whom the prayer meeting held a special significance. Owen Griffith records the story of the Miners’ Smithy.
“These meetings were started soon after the two companies, the Parys and the Mona, began exploiting the riches of Parys Mountain. They were held twice a day; the first meeting was at six o’clock in the morning, the second between nine and ten in the evening. The miners worked an eight-hour shift; those working on the night shift were able to attend two prayer meetings, one after starting down the mine at ten o’clock in the evening and one at the end of their first shift at six in the morning. Those working early shift attended a prayer meeting before starting work, similarly those on the afternoon shift could also attend the prayer meeting held at ten o’clock. The regular meeting-place was the miners’ smithy.
Though lacking both pulpit and pews it was a sacred place, and while its contents reflected its primary purpose, it was admirably suited to its acquired function. Two large bellows, two large anvils, and two chimney-corners stood at either end of the building, rough pigeon holes around the walls in which were stored the drills belonging to the various’ bargains’: and the floor similarly marked out by short iron bars representing the various bargains. Thus the floor, the shelves and walls were the repository of all manner of drills and tools. In the far corner, beside the great bellows, stood a small plain cupboard in which was kept the large Bible.
The miners had deep respect for religious observances, as the tale of what happened at the end of the eighteenth century and the early years of the following century to the old pulpit from Lletroed Chapel.
“….it appears that one of the chief stewards of the Parys Mine took it into his head to demolish the chapel at Rhos-y-Bol. He sensed that the miners were reluctant to carry out the work, which was not altogether surprising since many of them were faithful members of Lletroed Chapel. Nevertheless, the chapel was destroyed, but at a public auction there were no bidders for the contents of the chapel; the consequence was that the pews and the pulpit were removed to the yard of the Mona Mine.
The timber was left in the yard in the expectation that the miners would make use of it in the same way that they used so much timber every year. But despite the fact that there were many occasions when timber was required (in fact, during the course of a year some tons of timber was used), no-one in the mine ventured to make use of the timber taken from the old chapel and there it remained, lying in the yard until time and the elements finally consumed it. The pulpit itself was stored in a loft, but not even the most irreligious of the miners would venture to disturb it; and there it stood, covered with cobwebs, until it finally vanished completely under accumulations of dust.
There is hardly anyone today who is familiar with the life of Richard bones, the first minister to serve the chapels of Nebo and Bosra, ‘the finest man the neighbourhood produced in the last century’ according to Owen Griffith. Richard bones was born in 1840, the son of William and Ellen bones from Penysarn. In his youth he worked as a miner on Parys Mountain, but occasionally managed to find time to spend an afternoon at the British School in Rhos-y-Bol, where John Rhys (later to become Professor of Celtic at Oxford) was briefly headmaster there. It was in 1 86 5, the year Rhys left for Oxford, that Richard bones started to preach. Within two years the Anglesey Presbytery approved his application to study for the ministry. He spent a period between 1867 and 1872 at John Evans’ school at Menai Bridge, passed the required denominational examinations, and was ordained a minister at Bala in 1875. Though an outstanding leader in the secular affairs of the community, he was predominately a preacher of the gospel. The Rev. Richard Pritchard, in his volumes on the history of Methodism in Anglesey, record that
By about 1800, the Parish register for amlwch bear witness to the fact that a number of English immigrants were already settled in the parish, they bore names such as Paynter, Burry, Miller Randal, Miller, Robinson, Silkstone, Winterbotham, Orme and so forth. Ordinary miners were rapidly assimilated into the native population without much difficulty became Welsh in language and outlook. A Welshman, Thomas Williams (‘Twm Chwarae Teg’) controlled everything, but it was Englishmen, bearing names such as Cartwright, Ledgey, Elliot and Carey, who were responsible for middle management in the mines. Indeed, within a year of the discover of copper ore in Parys Mountain in 1 768, it became a custom to hold English services in St. Eleth’s Church, until the arrival of lames Treweek (1779-1851) and his family to live in Mona Lodge in 1811, few Cornish miners had settled in Amlwch. But Treweek’s arrival was followed by an influx of miners from Cornwall to the area.
For some twenty years the population of the parish continued to rise as more and more miners flocked to the area. By 1820 it was possible to discern three strands in the population: there were the monogiot Welsh, with their religious leaders like William Roberts (1784-1865) and Thomas bones, the translator (1777-1847); there were the ordinary miners, non-Welsh-speaking at first, but rapidly becoming Cymricised: finally, there were the Cornish managers and their English friends who formed a small and closed community. This last group were those who actually controlled the Mona Mine and indeed the secular life of Amlwch. Their leader lames Treweek, was an exceptionally able and single-minded man, but he had a tendency to promote his friends and relatives in the Company at the expense of equally able Welshmen. He was of the opinion that no Welshman could be trusted to exercise authority over a fellow Welshman. Owen Griffith refers to this practice in his narrative.
Yesterday, they came here with nothing; tomorrow their ships are everywhere, their warehouses overflowing with all manner of goods, their coal-yards well stocked. They have houses and land, own sumptuous coaches and fine horses; they buy one man’s stock another’s corn ricks, they purchase houses and shops for their own clubs; they exploit the unfortunate and needy, bribing them to sell their birthright so that they may secure their own advancement -these are the foreigners who accuse the poor and oppressed working miners of seeking plunder!