THE CARDIGANSHIRE LEAD-MINER. HOW HE LIVED AND WORKED.

 

INTRODUCTION.

The mines of old Cardiganshire were often located in the most remote places, high up in the mountains and far away from the existing centers of population along the coast and in the lowlands. At each period in the development of the industry, labour was imported from other mining areas, not only in Britain, but overseas as well. Completely new villages grew up to serve the needs of the mining folk, creating a pattern of settlement which strongly contrasted with the local agrarian society. The 'typical' lead miner may have been Cardiganshire born and a part-time farmer; he may equally well have been from distant Cornwall or Derbyshire, and a professional, full-time, mine worker. In this Factsheet we try and take a closer look at this hardy breed of men & women who pioneered metal mining in the Plynlimmon Mountains of Mid-Wales over the centuries.

 

THE IMMIGRANTS.

Cardiganshire (Ceredigion) is still one of the most remote of all the Welsh districts. Traditionally, few route ways traversed the barrier formed by the 'Cambrian Mountains' and the easiest line of communication lay seawards through the western oceans. The area is still one of the strongholds of the Welsh language, and in former times, most of the local inhabitants were only Welsh speakers. Against that background it can be seen that any immigration was bound to cause something of a social upheaval. Mining did just that and left a profound mark on the little communities. The first, and perhaps the most strange, influx of miners came in the 16th century, following the incorporation of the Elizabethan 'Society of the Mines Royal.' Queen Elizabeth brought in two German mining experts to help in the development of British mineral resources. Daniel Hochstetter and Christopher Schutz were instrumental in recruiting many more of their fellow countrymen for field operations. When the Cwmsymlog Mine was being worked by 'Customer' Thomas Smythe between 1586 and 1597, the majority of the workers were of German origin, confusingly referred to as 'Hollanders.'

 

CONVICT LABOUR.

In the I8th century, the 'Company of Mine Adventurers' tried an experiment by employing '27 condemned criminals' from prisons on the Norfolk Circuit. Life must have proved a great deal harder than being in gaol and at least two escaped. A plan to bring captured 'Pyrates' to the mines of Mid-Wales was scotched by a public outcry!

 

Derbyshire miners started to appear in Cardiganshire at this time, including John Paynter, John Roose and Sir Thomas Bonsall of Bakewell. Another, Job Sheldon, was Mayor of Aberystwyth on no less than 12 occasions between 1804 and 1833. The rich discoveries of lead at the Old Darren Mine in 1731 were made by a Cornish engineer called Edmund Moore. He and his small band of fellow Cornishmen had a brief 'skirmish' with Flintshire miners over the disputed ownership of the Cwm-Darren Level.

 

THE NAPOLEONIC WARS.

The Napoleonic Wars started in 1793. The effects on lead mining in Cardiganshire were disastrous, for not only did the traditional overseas markets disappear overnight, but the pool of skilled labour was called away to fight with Nelson & Wellington. After 1815, growing numbers of miners from the West Country moved in to fill the vacuum, although the industry was still in a depressed state.

Cornish management moved in too, not only in Mid-Wales, but also in Flint & Denbigh. In 1824, the Williams family of Scorrier House, near Gwennap in Cornwall, arrived complete with Cornish mine 'Captains' and most of their underground staff. They appear to have been accepted by the few Cardiganshire miners still left, unlike their counterparts in Flintshire who deeply resented the presence of the Cornishmen. Two years earlier, Sir George & Sir Thomas Alderson, arrived at the great Cwmystwyth Mines bringing with them a small army of Yorkshire lead miners. One of this group, James Raw from Swaledale, was to become one of the best-known of the Cwmystwyth mine 'Captains'. The Raw family still Farm in Cwmystwyth.

 

THE CORNISH.

1834 saw the arrival of the biggest ever influx of Cornish miners under the general direction of John Taylor and his engineer sons. Suddenly, everything became Cornish, the surnames, the entire 'language' of mining', even Cornish-made machinery was shipped in to Aberystwyth from such places as the Perran Foundry, and Sandys, Vivian & Company. The first official Census dates from 1851 and shows us that there were 343 Cornish & Devon born people then living in the mining district of Cardiganshire, together with 424 from Flintshire. By 1871, the ratio had changed in favour of the Cornish with 523, as compared with 245 from Flint and 173 from Yorkshire. The Cornish domination of the industry continued until the great slump of the I880's. Many Cornishmen returned home but there were also those who stayed, inter-marrying with local Welsh families. Alf Jenkins of Yspyty Cynfyn is one such Cardiganshire-Cornishman, whose family name was Trevethan in the I9th century.

From a Memorial Card loaned by Alf Jenkins of Yspyty Cynfyn;

 

IN AFFECTIONATE REMEMBRANCE OF JANE,

The beloved wife, of Captain Abel Paul, Frongoch Mine, Cardiganshire (formerly of Wheal Frances,

Perranzabulor, Cornwall,) who departed this life January 24th, 1891 AGED 56 YEARS.

And was interred in Perranzabulor Churchyard, Cornwall, on Friday, January 30th, 1891.

 

 

THE 'LANGUAGE' OF MINING.

In the I8th C., most of the technical terms used in the mines of Mid-Wales were based on those used in the ancient 'High Peak' lead mining district of Derbyshire. For example, Bunnings were timber stagings on which broken material, or Bouse, was allowed to accumulate in the stopes; cranches were unworked pillars of vein; the forefield was the furthermost part of the workings on the vein; a Liberty was the district in which the mineral lord could grant the right to work minerals; a sough was a drainage tunnel; a stemple was a support timber; a stowe was a small hand windlass, and a waygate was a main haulage way. In addition a mine was always operated under the direction of agents or managers, and the unit of underground measurement was the yard.

Now see what happened after the Cornish 'invasion' of the Mid-Wales mines in the I820's. A mine was managed by a Captain, and the account ledgers (kept in the Count House or office) were looked after by the Purser in a Cost-Book Company. Ore was hoisted in an iron bucket, or kibble, the forefield became the fore breast, the sough became an Adit, the stemple became a stull and depths and horizontal distances were measured in fathoms. The nautical flavour of the Cornish mining 'language' was the result of the intermingling of the sea and work in the bal (mine). Nowhere in Cornwall was the sea very far away and in places like St Just and St Agnes, miners were often part-time pilchard fishermen too. The standardisation of terms made good common sense.

 

THE MINING COMMUNITIES.

The following villages in Cardiganshire traditionally had a high proportion of lead mining families living within them. From north to south these were:- Tre'r-ddol, Tre Taliesin, Talybont, Elerch (Bontgoch), Penrhyncoch, Penbontrhydybeddau, Cwmsymlog, Cwmerfin, Darren, Salem, Goginan, Cwm-brwyno, Llywernog, Ponterwyd, Ystumtuen, Devil's Bridge (Pontarfynach), Aberffrwd, Trisant, Cwmystwyth, Pontrhydygroes, Yspytty Ystwyth, Llanafan, and Pontrhydfendigaid. Certainly in the early years, the Cornish communities kept apart from the local inhabitants. Big concerns, such as the Lisburne Mines Company, actually built acc-ommodation for their own 'key workers' from Cornwall. New Row, between Trisant and Pontrhydygroes, is an example and a gravestone in Goginan village tells of a long forgotten terrace known as 'Cornish Row.' Not only did the Cornish live apart from the Welshmen, but they upheld their own peculiar brand of religion; Wesleyan Methodism. The very first Wesleyan chapel to be built in the Cardiganshire circuit was provided by the Lisburne Mines Company, close to New Row and the giant Fron-goch Mine complex. Later, chapels were also built for the mining communities at Goginan, Cwmystwyth, Pontrhydygroes, Tre'r-ddol, Cwmsymlog and Ystumtuen.

 

THE MINE 'CAPTAINS.'

These men were the elite of the mining industry. In the village communities, as in the dark depths of the mine workings, they commanded the utmost respect. Many were Cornish, or of Cornish extraction, but as the industry expanded in the 1850's, their ranks were joined by local men such as John Hughes of Talybont. In an age of illiteracy, the Captains kept the mine ledgers, surveyed the workings and paid the men. Some, such as Absalom Francis & Sampson Trevethan, found time to write numerous letters in the columns of the 'Mining Journal', usually describing the hectic activity in the ore-field and imploring investors to 'venture' a little more capital in the Welsh hills! The captains acted as consultants, inspected mining properties and reported on their merits, and inevitably said the right thing as far as the shareholders were concerned. Apart from this tenancy toward the 'overstatement', they were nevertheless good fundamental engineers who understood the pumps & winding gear, knew perhaps a little less about geology and ore-dressing, and were the absolute 'king-pins' of the entire industry. The names of some of these men have been preserved within the faded pages of the 'Mining Journal' and in other lists of mines & Inspectors Reports. These were some of the better-known mine 'captains' of Cardiganshire:-

Absalom & Mathew Francis (from Perranuthnoe, Cornwall), Henry Tyack, Michael Barbery, George Pearce, Sampson & John Trevethan (from Chacewater, Cornwall), Arthur Waters, Thomas Pascoe, James Sanders, John Trewin, Robert & Richard Northey, James & Henry Boundy, James Lester, Andrew Williams, John Davis, Charles & Richard Williams, James Raw, Richard Harvey, James & John Paull, Richard Clocker, William Michell, Thomas Ball, John Williams, John Hughes, James Corbett, John Kitto, Thomas Kemp, Thomas Hodge, John Tregonning, John Glint, John, James, Peter & Thomas Garland, Richard Rowse, John Owen, Nicholas Bray, John H. Croucher, Jonathan Pell, Joseph B. Rowse, Robert Uren, William Brammell, John Ridge, Thomas & Lyle Glanville, Edward Evans, Richard Claridge, & Robert R. Nancarrow.

 

THE SYSTEM OF 'CORNISH MINING.'

Wherever the Cornish miners went, they carried with them a whole system of mining practice which had evolved in the tin and copper districts of the West Country. This 'standardization' not only involved terminology, but also such things as pumping plant, the 10-fathom interval in-between levels and the method of employment of the labour force. Not all the employees on a mine were miners. There were tributers, tutmen, labourers and ore-dressers, besides specialists such as stone masons, carpenters & blacksmiths, all under the direction of one or more Agents or Captains. The following account, written in 1868, gives a clear description of the differences between the groups of workers:-

'There are three classes of miners - those who work on the surface, dressing ore etc., who are paid a weekly wage; those who work on "tribute", and those who work on "tut-work." Of the first we say nothing, except that they consist chiefly of bal-maidens and children, - the former receiving about I8s. a month, and the latter from 8s. to 20s., according to age and capacity. In regard to "tributers" and "tut-workers", we may remark that the work of both is identical in one respect - namely, that of hewing, picking, boring, and blasting the hard rock. In this matter they share equal toils and dangers, but they are not subjected to the same remunerative vicissitudes.

 

TRIBUTERS & TUT-WORKERS.

When a man works on "tribute" he receives so many shillings for every twenty shillings' worth of ore that he raises during the month.... If his "pitch" turns out to be rich in ore, his earnings are proportionally high; if it be poor, he remains poor also. Sometimes a part of the mineral lode becomes so poor that it will not pay for working, and has to be abandoned. So as little as a shilling may be the result of a "tributers" work for a month at one time, while at another time he may get a good pitch, and make £100 or £200 in the same period.

 

The "tut-man" (or piece work man), on the other hand, cuts out the rock at so much per fathom, and obtains wages at the rate of from £2-IOs. to £3 a month. He can never hope to make a fortune, but so long as health and strength last, he may count on steady work and wage. Of course there is a great deal of the work in a mine which is not directly remunerative, such as "sinking" shafts, opening up and "driving" (or lengthening) levels, and sinking "winzes." On such work tutmen are employed. The man who works on tribute is a speculator. He who chooses tut-work is a steady labourer ........'

 

 

HOME LIFE.

The Cardiganshire miner, when not crawling around in the damp and dark of a mine level, was often-as-not a small-scale farmer, earning a supplementary living from a patch of marginal land. All around Llywernog, Ponterwyd & Ystumtuen you can see the ruins of these tiny small-holdings which once provided a rudimentary home for the miners and their families. This fact was an advantage to mine owners for it enabled them to keep wages low, but it could also cause high absenteeism during times of potato planting and at harvest time. There was also a great tradition of peat harvesting from the numerous 'turbaries' throughout the mountains; peat providing the main source of heat for the home and for cooking. The most prolonged stoppages in the mines occurred in September when a whole succession of harvests of one sort or another might keep the men occupied for eight weeks or more. The 'Mining Journal' of 1877 stated that in Cardiganshire it was still the general custom for men to combine a 40-hour week at the mines with small-scale farming, and that employment, therefore, tended to pass from father to son. To many of the local men, mining was merely a means of earning enough to pay the rent for the small-holding. This was in complete contrast to the Cornishman, who was a professional 'career' miner and prepared to stake everything on the gambling element of the 'tribute' system.

 

BARRACK LIFE.

Many of the Cardiganshire lead mines were located high up in the mountains and far away from the village communities. Barrack accommodation was often provided for the miners, who spent the whole working week away from home. The 'barracks' became a traditional part of the working life of the lead miner, a tradition that survived right up till the early part of the 20th century at Bryn-yr-Afr, Cwmystwyth & Bwlch-glas Mines. The men left home before dawn on Monday morning and walked up the little footpaths that led from the villages into the hills, taking with them all their food supplies for the week. At the barracks they slept two or more to a bed, bedclothes were rarely washed and there were few, if any, sanitary arrangements. Where a 3-shift system was being operated, the beds were never empty. It is hardly surprising that tuberculosis was one of the most common complaints amongst lead miners.

 

EPILOGUE.

After the great slump of the 1880's, migration away from the mining area of Cardiganshire gathered pace. Gradually, the old mining villages became depopulated. Chapels & schools closed down and decaying small-holdings dotted the landscape. As a breed, the Cardiganshire miner is no more, but his memory will continue to haunt the green hills of Mid-Wales for many generations to come.

  • 1981. SPLH.

  • Written by Peter Lloyd Harvey, at Llywernog Mine.