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Elan Valley
Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Elan Valley


METAL MINING IN THE LATE 18th AND 19th CENTURIES

The historic landscape includes a number of distinct mining landscapes of the late 18th and early 19th century which, though peripheral to and on a smaller scale than the more extensive workings in the upper Ystwyth valley in north Ceredigion, just to the west, are important in terms of landscape history of the historic landscape area. Most of the mines within the Elan valley are fairly well hidden from view, though occasionally the heaps of mineral waste and leats for harnessing water power for processing ores had a somewhat broader impact upon the landscape.

Despite a short-lived attempt to smelt the ores in Aberystwyth in the late 1780s and early 1790s, most of the processed ores from these small Radnorshire mines, like those from Cwmystwyth, were initially transported across the mountains to the coast, to be taken by sea to Deeside or to Neath or Swansea for smelting, though from 1864 onwards rail transport for ores was available from Rhayader.

There is no evidence of prehistoric or medieval workings at any of the mines in the Elan Valley historic landscape area though it is likely that early mining in Cwmystwyth will have had a visible and environmental impact upon the western side of Elenydd by the later 16th century when John Leland records that mining Ďhath destroid the Woddes that sometime grew plentifull thereaboutí.

The mine known as the Cwm Elan mine produced lead and zinc ores, appears to belong to a single phase of operation, and provides what is perhaps the best example of late 19th-century mining technology and planning in Powys, with the structures still remarkably well preserved. It lies on the western slopes of the Nant Methan stream in an upland valley on the edge of the moorland area to the west of the Garreg-ddu reservoir and originated from the discovery of lead ore during the digging of a drainage ditch in 1796, no doubt as part of the agricultural improvements being introduced on the estate of Thomas Grove. The early workings, which may have included a series of shallow open-cuts along the banks a stream flowing into the Nant Methan, were initially worked Grove who subsequently leased out the operations. The main phase of working, responsible for the majority of surviving structures, began in 1871 with the formation of the Cwm Elan Mining Company and by the following year included shallow and deep adits and shafts. A processing mill began operations in 1873 with equipment supplied by William Thomas of Llanidloes Foundry, powered by three waterwheels, the largest of which was thirty-six feet in diameter. The waterwheels were powered by a 16-kilometre leat running on a carefully surveyed course across Elenydd moorland from Llyn Cerrigllwydion Isaf, 170 metres higher up and just 7 kilometres away as the crow flies, which took three months to complete. Drought and lack of funds forced the company into liquidation in 1874. Visible surviving remains include partially collapsed shafts, ore-bins for the storage of ore, platforms for stone houses and jiggers and a buddle for processing ore and settling pits. Surviving ruined stone buildings survive which were associated with the mine, including an explosivesí magazine, a smithy and a mine managerís house and office, probably all built from stone obtained from the adjacent small stone quarry. There is also the remains of a red brick house built in the 1890s by the Birmingham Corporation Waterworks after they had acquired the Elan Estate to construct the existing reservoirs.

A second mining complex which produced copper and lead ores is to be seen in the valley of the Rhiwnant and Nant y Carw, to the south of the Claerwen valley, comprising a number of different small mines. Dalrhiw lay on gently sloping ground on the south side of the Rhiwnant. The earliest workings are marked by of an adit driven south from the banks of the stream in 1850, but a greater impact upon the landscape resulted from the subsequent sinking of a shaft and the development of on-site processing driven by waterwheels drawing power by water from leats taken off the Rhiwnant. Visible remains of the mining operations include a shaft from which ore was raised by means of a horse whim, ore bins, and a small crusher house powered by waterwheel, a wheel pit to house a fifty-two foot wheel for pumping, and a another wheel pit which probably powered jiggers. As at Cwm Elan there are the ruins of a number of stone buildings including the mine office or managerís house, a possible smithy, and a small walled enclosure, possibly a garden. A low earthwork enclosure just south of the mine buildings may have been used as a pound for horses employed at the whim or for the transporting the processed ore away from the mine. The workings here continued until 1881.

CPAT PHOTO 03-c-0665

Aerial view of the Dalrhiw and Nant y Car South lead mining sites, south of the Claerwen. Photo: CPAT 03-c-0665.
The third mine sett known as Nant y Car South, on the north bank of the Rhiwnant stream opposite Dalrhiw mine, produced copper, lead and zinc ores. As at Dalrhiw, the earliest workings appear to have been a series of adits driven into the hillside close to the stream. The main development of the mine took place during the 1860s and 1870s and involved the sinking of a shaft and the construction of an impressive crusher and wheelpit, along with other related structures which form the main features of the site. The spoil tips of development and processing waste create a distinctive landscape feature with the characteristic Ďfingersí of spoil radiating below the shaft and ore-bins. The Nant y Car mine originally operated at a site on the south side of the Claerwen valley, to the north, where trials had been worked before the middle of the 19th century. From 1844 working developed on a much larger scale and by the 1850s a rich vein of copper ore was being exploited, although by 1854 this had proved disappointing. Prospecting elsewhere in the sett in 1855 revealed a promising lead lode in an adit on the north side of the Rhiwnant stream, at the mine to become known as Nant y Car South. The following year additional machinery was brought in to deepen the workings, although the lode ultimately proved disappointing and the company was wound-up in 1859. Visible remains at Nant y Car South consist of a series of adits driven in from the banks of the stream, an engine shaft with the adjacent foundations of a winding house, a tramway and ore-bins, waste tips, and platforms for a crusher and jiggers, and two circular buddles for ore processing, powered by a waterwheel.

A new and richer load was discovered in about 1883 further up the valley at the Nantygarw mine, leading to the abandonment of Nant y Car South. The mine occupies the only available ground on a natural terrace at the mouth of a hanging valley high above the Rhiwnant. Below the site the main valley sides are precipitous and rocky, while above more gently sloping ground rises to the moorland plateau to the north. The view eastwards from the site is spectacular, looking down the Rhiwnant Valley to Dalrhiw, Nant y Car South and beyond. The surviving remains which have transformed this remote upland location are the result of more than one period of tenure, although they are dominated by the latest phase of activity which saw the installation of a processing mill for which the site is perhaps best known. Other substantial structural remains survive, including the shaft, wheelpit, and smithy. Extensive spoil tips of processing waste spread outwards from the processing mill, while at the bottom end of the site spoil tumbles down the steep valley sides to the Rhiwnant below. Visible structures include a substantial crushing mill, still standing to a height of over 4 metres, powered by a leat constructed in 1893 carrying water fron Llyn Carw, about 100 metres higher up and 2 kilometres away to the west, jigging platforms, and a small circular buddle, reservoir and settling pits. Building remains include possible barracks for housing workers during the week, a smithy, a mine office and possible managerís house and explosivesí magazine which survives intact but without a roof, to a height of over three metres.

The Nantygarw mine, the latest and most remote of the Elan valley mines was wound up in 1893, and although little is known of the workings, 50 men were employed, suggesting a reasonably sizable enterprise. Despite large returns the company went into liquidation in 1897 and although some activity continued until 1899, all further mining was discontinued due to the risk of contaminating the Elan valley water supplies.

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