Ore preparation and the Copper ladies
Once the raw ore bearing rock had been recovered from underground it had to be sorted and prepared ready for further processing. This was the job of the celebrated Copper Ladies of Mynydd Parys.
These characters and their work has been described by a number of written accounts from the time.
In 1819 Faraday visited the mine and described the copper ladies.
… 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 came up to a large group of these, about 8 or 9 women were sitting on the ground in the midst of heaps of ore of the large and small, their mouths were covered with a cloth to keep the dust of the ore from entering with the breath. The fingers and thumb of the left hand were cased in strong iron tubes forming a sort of glove. A large hammer was handled in the right hand and a block of ore placed before them served as an anvil. Thus furnished they were employed in breaking lumps of ore into small pieces and selecting the good from the bad.
The good gradually accumulated into a heap before them being the produce of their labour and the earthy and stony parts are carted away. The boys assisted them by fetching lumps and by selecting the broken portions. Altogether they formed an amusing but not an enticing group. These, and indeed all who work at the mines, are paid piece-work according to the quantity and quality of what they produce an assay master being employed to ascertain the latter and overseer the former.
A few years later in 1897 the were again described by Griffith Owen in his book called Mynydd Parys:
…There was one good thing about conditions of work on Parys Mountain, no women or children were allowed to be employed underground. Unlike other mines, women were employed solely as surface workers; their job was to break up the ore – these were the ‘Copper Ladies’.
The contribution these women made in preparing the copper ore for smelting was an essential one. Until about 1870-72 the ‘copper ladies’, as they were known, were a peculiar element in the neighbourhood of Amlwch. Between the two mines, dozens, if not hundreds of women were employed to break up the ore.
They worked in long timber sheds close to where the ore was brought to the surface. Seated in long ranks, with a block of iron weighing about a hundred-weight called a ‘knockstone’ beside each one of them, the women wore a gauntlet with the fingers protected by a series of iron bands on the left hand. Holding a lump of ore in this left hand, the women struck it with a hammer to remove the waste and to break the ore into a manageable size. This was their daily task throughout the year, for which they were paid twelve pence for the twelve-hour day. The women invariably wore a ‘Jim Crow’ hat under which they had a spotted scarf covering the head, neck and most of the face.