Early opencast type working

There is evidence for copper mining at Parys mountain from both the Bronze and Roman periods of history. However, during the dark ages nothing is known with certainty about mining activity in the area.

 Mining for copper restarted around 1761 when AlexanderFramer moved into Courage Y bleddia farm and persuaded the landowner SirNicholas Bayly to start to look for copper on the mountain. The area in which the shafts were dug is still called  “Hen Waith” or “Old Works” on the modern OS map.

Little is known about these early shafts. However, it is know that many of the techniques for metal mining had been imported from Germany in the previous 150 years.  It is hence fair to assume that some of these techniques were used by Fraser and his men.

 A book of the Slovakian mining techniquescalled De Re Mettalica was written by Agricola around 1556 and copies of the work are still available. The book had a number of wood block carvings showing mining activity.

These early miners tended to follow outcrops of copper bearing ore down into the ground.  The aim was to try and follow the lode bearing vein until it run out.  If a particularly good vein was found a simple unlined shaft may be dug to gain better access.

The only tools available were simple hand tools.  The restricted access meant that gunpowder could not be used.

Typical processing from the early 18th century.

Most of these early shafts suffered from the problem ofwater ingress.  The only methods availableto the miners for water removal was by bucket and winch or the digging of an adit. It is hence not surprising that most of these shafts were abandoned.

Detail of digging an adit from early mining treatise by Agricola.

By 1764 Nicholas Bayly had agreed to lease the mine to Messrs Roe and Co who had experience at Alderly Edge copper mine in Derbyshire. The lease was to run for 21 years with Bayly receiving 1/8 th of the ore raised.

The initial shafts dug by Roe and Co also ran into difficulty with flooding. Some ore was raised and sent to Warrington for smelting. However, Roe and Co could not make a profit from the mine and were considering abandonment by 1767.

It was only due to the discovery of a great lode by miners under the leadership of Jonathan Roose, traditionally dated to 2nd March 1768 ,that the Roe and Co interest remained.

Some doubt remains about the validity of this “sudden” discovery.  The year previously Roe and Co built a copper smelter in Liverpool.  It is also known that Bayly was in negotiation with Roe and Co for an increased share of profits in February 1768.

The vein of ore discovered in 1768 was rich and said to be only a few feet under the surface.  It was quickly developed using shallow surface mining techniques.

However legal problems developed when the vein of ore crossed the ill-defined boundary to the Parys farm side of the mountain. Sir Nicholas Bayly started to mine on the Parys side in 1770 without first getting agreement from Rev Edward Hughes who was the joint owner of that side of the mountain.  This legal battle brought the lawyer Thomas Williams to the fore.

The legal battle continued for many years until in 1778 the Parys Mine company was formed to mine the ore on Edward Hughes’s Parys farmside of the mountain. Thomas Williams also manage to employ Jonathan Roose from Sir Nicholas Bayly’s side of the mountain to direct operations at the Parys mine. Sir Nicholas Bayly agreed a rent of £4000 per annum for a 21-year lease of Parys farm land.

It is known that around this time the Mona mine employed around 400 workers and produced around £24,000 per annum income.  It is also known that Parys mine employed 800 works at this time and its ore was nearer the surface.

Drawing showing works in 1790 with surface windmill used for pumping.

By 1785 both mines were under the direction of Thomas Williams but continued as separate companies.

During this period the mining techniques used in the great open cast were developed.  There are a number of period drawings and written accounts which illustrate the techniques.

One of these writers was a German called Dr Augustine Lentin. In 1800 he wrote what are now called the Lentin letters which gave a good account of mining activity at this time.

Lentin described that the mine owners soon discovered that the traditional simple shaft mining techniques that had been used by Frasier’s men on the Mona side of the mountain was leaving a lot of the ore behind. As the ore was near the surface it was decided to try and recovery more of the ore by drift mining techniques that had been used to recover lead from the Parys mine in earlier years. The entrances to the drift mine was large enough for a horse and cart to be driven into the mine to recover the ore. As the works became enlarged pillars and arches of rock were left to support the roof. Eventually the roof was removed and the open cast working begun.

In 1778 Thomas Pennant visited the mines and recorded, ” the ore is not got out in the common manner of mining but is cut out of the bed in the same manner as stone in a quarry”.  This method which we would now call open cast working continued in the Parys mine for many years.

In 1796 Akin noted that the ore was now being worked at a lower level in Parys but still in the open cast fashion. This ore was also said to be a better quality than that found on the surface.

In 1798 Bingley visited the mine and gave a very good description of how the ore was recovered. He describes how wooden platforms were built at the top of the open cast jutting out into mid-air.  From a hole inthe middle of these platforms a man would be lowered in a bucket, known locally as a kibble.  The bucket was attached by rope to a man operated windlass or whimsy on the platform.

Men working at Parys mine drawn in 1785 by Ibbetson

Once at the required depth into the mine the miner, suspended in mid-air , would dig away at the surface rock and try and make a foot hole.  This would be enlarged into a small working platform.  The miner would then get into this opening and fill the bucket with ore which was taken to the surface. If possible the miner would use gun powder to blast away rock to  get at the ore. At the end of the day the bucket and rope would again be used to lift the miner to the surface.

During the initial cutting most of the ore would fall to the bottom of the open cast.  Blasting would also bring down more rock. All this rock also had to be taken to the surface.  There are a number of reports in both the Parys and Mona mines of unexpected rock falls either due to blasting or rain fall. The Parys mine suffered a great fall in late 1790 when it was estimated that it would take nine months to clear the rubble. Clearing this material often meant that no ore could be mined and lead to losses for the mineowners.

The Mona mine had many shallow shafts. A map on 1786 shows 145 shafts mainly close together and running in a belt SW to NE across the mine.  The shafts were generally 30 yardsdeep and cut through the rock. The shafts were 6 or 7 feet square and were roughly timbered. Workings would continue until the walls became dangerous and then abandoned with another one started close by.  On occasions these shafts were linked by man or by rock fall to create small opencasts.

A fall in March 1792 made it unsafe to venture underground for a few weeks. It took many months to clear the mine.

Both the Mona and Parys mine suffered continual problems with water and drainage.  A number of adits were dug to enable the mountain to be drained.  As in Frazer’s time buckets and hand windlass were also used. The steam engine had been patented by James Watt and MathewBoulton in 1775 and was being used in the Cornish mines soon after.

In 1782 and 1783 Thomas Williams had petitioned parliament to reduce the duty on coal transport in coastal waters to enable him to operate the steam engines at Mynydd Parys. 

In around 1790 over 1200 people were employed at the mine.This had reduced to around 1000 by 1798 and was further reduced to around 200 men by 1806. This drop in production was attributed to a number of factors.  Thomas Williams was a great influence on the mine and its development. After the turn of the century his health began to fail he died in 1802.  Others took over the mine but did not have the same management experience. The demand and price and of copper in the world market was dropping.  This made it more and more uneconomical to recover the ores using the simple open cast techniques.  The mine was slowly moth balled awaiting an increase in demand and change of technique to that of deep mining.