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Holywell Common and Halkyn Mountain Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

Holywell Common and Halkyn Mountain

Industrial landscapes

Halkyn Mountain was once one of the most important lead and zinc orefield in Wales. It includes an area of almost continuous mineral workings which runs for about 9km from Gorsedd on the north-west to Rhosesmor on the south-east, via Brynford, Pentre Halkyn, Rhes-y-cae and Halkyn. It is principally known for its lead mines but numerous small limestone, chert, clay and sand quarries are scattered throughout the landscape, together with the large modern stone limestone and chert quarries at Bryn Mawr, Pen yr Henblas and Pant-y-pwll-dwr.

The principal metal ore is galena (lead sulphide), together with sphalerite (zinc sulphide) and minor quantities of chalcopyrite (copper, iron sulphide), the principal product being lead, with silver as a valuable by-product. The ores were mostly confined to thin veins, having precipitated in pre-existing faults within the Carboniferous Limestone, the veins in historical times having names such as Long Rake, Old Rake, Chwarel Las, Pant-y-pydew, Pant-y-pwll-dwr veins and the Pant-y-ffrith and Caleb Bell cross-courses,

Despite the lack of certain evidence, it seems likely that the mining of metal ores in the area began in the Bronze Age, the earliest workings probably being relatively shallow surface workings, or bell-pits or open-cuts along the line of a vein of ore. Direct evidence of mining is again lacking for the Iron Age periods, though copper vessels possibly of this date are said to have been found in the mid-18th century in sinking a shaft on Long Rake, Halkyn, an ore vein that runs east to west across the common, cutting through Rhes-y-cae. There is more certain evidence of mining for lead and silver following the Roman conquest, although evidence for the location of mining sites is again lacking. A Roman 'pig' or ingot of lead was found in 1950 during the construction of Carmel School inscribed with the letters C NIPI ASCANI, standing for the name of a private lead producer, C. Nipius Ascanius, the lead undoubtedly having been mined and smelted on Halkyn Mountain. Similar pigs have been found near the Roman legionary fortress at Chester, two of which are inscribed with the letters DECEANGL, the name of the tribe which inhabited north-east Wales. Excavations in the Pentre Oakenholt area of Flint have provided evidence of lead smelting, presumably from ores brought down from Halkyn Mountain. The remains of Roman domestic buildings and a bathhouse at Pentre Farm, Flint were probably the house of a Roman official responsible for supervising this industry, which exported lead along the Dee estuary to Chester and beyond.

Mining was still being carried out on a significant scale during the middle ages, perhaps peaking in the later 13th century when lead was in demand for roofing the newly constructed Edwardian castles at Flint and Rhuddlan as well as those further afield, in Caernarvonshire, Anglesey, and in mid Wales. Records survive from the 1350s of the codes of law and privileges of the free miners of Englefield, which encompassed the Holywell-Halkyn area. Miners were given a plot of land sufficient for a house and garden, and enough wood to repair their house or fences and to make props for their pits. They were free men, who could pasture their stock on common land, sell their ore on the free market, providing they paid their dues to the lord, who owned the mineral rights. Much of the field evidence for medieval and earlier workings has probably been destroyed or obscured by the more intensive workings which began in the 17th century, mines of all periods being largely restricted to the narrow ore veins marked by lines of shafts, bell-pits and trial pits, generally no more than about 4-5m in diameter.

In the 1630s the crown granted the rights to mine lead in the parish of Holywell, in the hundreds of Coleshill and Rhuddlan, to the Grosvenor estate, retaining for itself the rights in Halkyn and Northop. At this early date leases were let as annual bargains, measured in terms of a meer of 30 yards. The lack of investment that this engendered early on was one of the causes of the lines of relatively shallow pits that are such a characteristic feature of the landscape of Holywell Common and Halkyn Mountain.

The London Lead Company, or the Quaker Company as it is more commonly known, was actively mining in Flintshire from about 1695. In 1698, the company was already involved in disputes with the Grosvenor estate over mining on Old Rake, Halkyn, one of the richest veins on the mountain. Rich ore was being wound up in baskets at Old Rake and Long Rake, where by 1701 the company had a building which included a smithy, count-house, storeroom for ore, lodgings for its agent and a chimney for the convenience of the miners in winter. The Quaker Company were clearly responsible for the introduction of a more methodical approach to mining on the mountain; ore dressing was being undertaken at the mine, the processed ore being transported by cart to its new smelting-house 2-3km away, at the foot of the mountain at Gadlys, near Bagillt, which was in production by 1704.

Until the invention of the steam engine the raising of ore had been by simple methods such as rope and bucket, windlasses and later by horse whims. Consequently, shafts remained fairly shallow, generally in the form of bell-pits not exceeding 10m in depth. The Quaker Company were responsible for introducing several technological innovations such as a windmill for pumping out water and winding ore at Pant-y-pwll-dwr Rake, followed by a later installation of an engine house for a Newcomen steam engine by 1729, one of the first of seven to be installed by the company on Halkyn. The Quaker interests on Halkyn included Maeslygan, Old Rake, Long Rake, Silver Rake and Moel-y-crio and shafts up to about 60 yards in depth were sunk by 1720s. Another innovation introduced by the company was the use of adits which served as drainage and access levels. Previously, a majority of mines would have been under water and unworkable during the winter months. These improvements enabled mining to take place all year round as well as the exploitation of deeper, richer veins. By the end of the 18th century most of the richest veins on Halkyn Mountain were already being worked, and further expansion necessitated deeper workings along these lodes.

Other factors which gave rise the increased scale of mining during the early 18th century and beyond were the abundance of coal in Flintshire and the development of its use as a replacement for charcoal in smelting lead and as fuel for the steam engines. The proximity of the Dee estuary also made the task of shipping ore to manufacturing centres and smelteries elsewhere along the coast much easier. One of the drawbacks was the shortage of water power which had been such a boon in other mining areas and because of this a great dependence was placed on coal-fired steam-engines as a source of power for most mines in the area during the 19th century.

The gradual expansion of the industry and the need for higher levels of capital investment led to the replacement of small mining ventures by large-scale mining companies during the course of the 19th century. By the late 19th century Flintshire as a whole became the most productive mining area in Wales, and second only in importance to the Pennines in Britain. Earlier workings had exhausted the more easily worked sources of ore. Deeper mining required more capital investment, particularly for drainage which became increasingly essential as workings sank further below the water-table. A number of smaller drainage adits were dug by individual companies, but two major drainage tunnels were cut through the mountain as part of a co-operative venture. The Halkyn Deep Level Tunnel was driven initially by the Grosvenor Estate in 1818, and taken over by the Halkyn District Mines Drainage Company in 1875. It drained the mines on the south-east side of the mountain, such as New North Halkyn and Mount Halkyn, before continuing south towards Hendre and Llyn-y-pandy. In 1897 a group of companies formed the Holywell-Halkyn Mining and Tunnel Company and began to drive the Milwr Tunnel from the Dee Estuary at Bagillt. It cut across the centre of the orefield from north to south, and was eventually extended to the Mold Mines in 1957. By these means, all the earlier mines which worked the mineral veins along the course of the tunnel could to be re-worked to greater and greater depths, and up to 800ft deep in the case of the Halkyn mines. Other improvements in mining technique during the 19th century included the invention of the rock drill, the use of compressed air underground, and the use of dynamite.

Documentary evidence is often slight, and it is only in rare instances that detailed records and plans of the mining sites survive. Often, the only documentary reference of the almost 100 mines in the historic landscape area, with name such as Dog Pit, Prince Patrick, Queen of the Mountain, or True Blue, is a note in the Mining Journal relating to production figures, changes in ownership, and occasionally the installation of new equipment, and returns for the production of lead recorded by the Mining Record Office from 1845. In some instances there are reports by the agents which can give a valuable insight into the workings at a particular date. Although company records survive for many of the mines, they are frequently incomplete and are difficult to relate to what is still visible on the ground. Mine plans and sections of the workings have sometimes survived, but they often only relate to underground workings, and contain little or no indication of what lay above ground. For many sites the earliest surviving surface plans are provided by the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey, generally of the 1880s. The surface workings and structures were occasionally recorded in contemporary photographs, although sadly such records are very scarce. Despite the relatively recent date of many mines, the interpretation of the surviving field evidence is of critical importance to our understanding of the mining and processing techniques that were employed at different periods.

There were peaks in production around 1850 and 1895. The end of the 19th century saw a decline in the mining industry due to competition from abroad. During the First World War, the Ministry of Munitions provided loans to stimulate the industry. In 1913, the Holywell-Halkyn Mining and Tunnel Company began to extend the Sea Level Tunnel. Drainage and Mining interests were amalgamated in 1928, when the Halkyn District United Mines extended the Sea Level Tunnel southwards and opened up new veins. The tunnel served an underground railway system using battery locomotives for the carriage of ore and personnel. The 20th century surface operations were powered by electricity. Mining was suspended during the Second World War, but subsequently recommenced with a number of concerns which combined the mining of lead ore with the quarrying of limestone for agricultural purposes. The large-scale operations of the Halkyn District United Mines (the amalgamation of nine former mining companies) were centred around the Pen-y-bryn Shaft on Halkyn Mountain. Small-scale mining operations continued until the 1970s, the head frame at Pen-y-bryn being finally dismantled in 1987.

Although many of the sites remain relatively well preserved in the unimproved core areas of this landscape, some sites have been lost to more recent limestone quarrying and landscaping for agricultural and residential use, particularly around the periphery. Mine sites immediately north of Brynford have been landscaped for use by Holywell Golf Course, and the construction of the A55 trunk road cut through many of the mine sites further north, particularly in the area of Smithy Gate. In the area around Pen-y-ball Top only part of the early mining remains have survived as a result of reclamation for agricultural use. In places only the larger shafts and surrounding spoil tips remain, together with the earthwork remains of tramways belonging to The Grange and Coetia Butler Quarries. Numerous shafts were capped in concrete for reasons of safety as part of a programme undertaken by Clwyd County Council in the 1970s. Derelict land reclamation schemes involving shaft capping, infilling and disposal of large-scale waste, have levelled much of the late 20th century workings, particularly in the area to the south-west of Halkyn village, which included workings of Halkyn District United Mines on the Pant-y-go vein. Further schemes resulted in the loss of the Prince Patrick Mine to the Pant-y-pwll-dwr Quarry and some of the workings on the Pant-y-pydew vein to the Pen yr Henblas Chert Quarry.

The most plentiful surviving surface evidence of mining are the ubiquitous mine shafts and trial pits which appear in clusters and chains along the mineral veins, of which about 4,700 are recorded along Halkyn Mountain, with a fewer number of deeper shafts scattered across the hill. Though some of the shallower shafts and trials are still open, many have collapsed and are simply represented by depressions. The original depth of the shafts is indicated by the amount of spoil which appear as chains of smaller heaps, ring-like mounds around the mouth of the shaft, or as large consolidated mounds. Most of the later deeper shafts, dug for access, drainage or ventilation, are now mostly capped in stone or concrete.

Few mine buildings or other above-ground structures have survived, as a result of natural decay as well as a deliberate policy of clearing away derelict buildings. Parts of one or two original stone engine houses survive, as at Glan Nant, near Holway, last used as a pigsty, and possibly at Halkyn, together with a former chimney base. Traces of a possible stone-faced winding wheelpit also survive at Holway. Former mine offices or manager's houses now converted to dwellings survive at Parry's Mine, west of Pentre Halkyn, and Clwt Militia Mine, north of Calcoed. Several original smithies survive, as at the former Glan Nant, Carmel, Ty Newydd and Mona mines, now converted to other uses. Other surface structures shown on earlier maps of which there is now no visible trace include winding gear, powder magazines, and sawpits, though a small number of horse whim sites are still identifiable, including one at Rhes-y-cae, visible as a circle about 13.5m in diameter. Numerous reservoirs, leats, and tramways are also shown on earlier maps, some of which can still be clearly identified in amongst the mine shafts. Limestone boundary stones up to about 1m high have survived here and there, which marked out different mining concessions, the positioning of boundary markers having been frequent subject of dispute between the Grosvenor Estate and the crown agents in the second half of the 19th century. Much of the ore processing appears to have been carried out away from the mountain, but areas of dressing floor waste and sunken areas probably representing buddles survive at Holway. Early smelting sites on the mountain are unknown, but are indicated by the place-name element ‘ball', as in Coitia Ball and Pen-y-ball Top, derived from the word bole.

Other significant industrial activity within the historic landscape area have included quarring for chert, ‘marble', hydraulic lime, limestone for building and agricultural lime, each of which have also left an indelible marks on the landscape, often in close proximity to each other and to the remains of lead mining. Chert for grinding and for the production of stoneware and porcelain for the Minton and Wedgwood factories in the Potteries was being quarried between the 1770s and the early 20th century at Pant-y-pwll-dwr, Pen yr Henblas, Pen-yr-garreg, Pen-yr-hwylfa, Bryn Mawr and on the north side of Moel y Gaer. Halkyn Marble was quarried at Pant-y-pwll-dwr from the 1830s and exported to the surrounding region. Hydraulic lime that would set below water was also produced at The Grange, Holway and at Pant-y-pydew between the 1830s and 1890s, being in demand for the construction of the new docks being built in Liverpool, Birkenhead and Belfast. Limestone for building, gravestones and gateposts and lime-burning was quarried at a number of centres, notably again at Pany-y-pwll-dwr and between Halkyn and Rhes-y-cae. Many former limekilns are known from early maps of plans though some of these, as at Pen-y-parc, Bryn Rodyn, and Billins no longer survive. Other limekilns survive only as foundations or low mounds, though well-preserved kilns are known at Carmel and Chwarel-wen, with a block of five kilns at Pant-y-pydew.

Deposits of glacial clay and sand were also being quarried, particularly towards the southern end of the area. Clay suitable for the production of porcelain was being dug from quarries at Foelddu, between Halkyn and Rhes-y-cae, between the 1820s and 1890s. Clay pits and a brick kiln were set up at Waen-y-trochwaed, west of Rhes-y-cae, in the late 19th century. A glacial esker was extensively quarried for sand at Moel-y-crio in the first few decades of the 20th century.

Stone quarrying continues to the present day, with several of the larger quarries, now several hundred feet deep, and impacting upon the surrounding landscape.

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