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Vale of Llangollen
Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Making of the Vale of Llangollen and Eglwyseg Historic Landscape


Early industry associated with the harnessing of water power and the processing of local agricultural produce — corn milling and woollen mills poor road network; improvements in transport and developments elsewhere gave rise to demands in raw materials and saw development of slate, lime, ceramic, the latter based upon imported coal, and brewing based upon imported grain, and tanning. A number of other extractive and processing industries had a lesser impact upon the landscape, not described in detail here, such as the widespread occurrence of small stone quarries for house and wall building, perhaps mostly dating to the 16th to 18th centuries. Other local industries in the 19th and 20th centuries were undertaken at tanneries, sawmills, gasworks, printing works, smithies and breweries, some of which are still represented by surviving buildings or structures, notably within Llangollen, such as the former tannery in Hall Street and on Church Street, the former Sun Brewery on Queen Street and former Tanquery’s Brewery on Berwyn Street.

Early use of water power for corn milling and textile production

Many of the early industries harnessed the use of water power, most notably in the Vivod, Llangollen, Pant-y-groes and Dol-isaf historic landscape character areas. Mills were principally sited on the river Dee as well as on the river Eglwyseg and the Cyflymen stream to the south of Llangollen and elsewhere. Water corn mills appear to have been in existence since the 13th century, including those belonging to Valle Crucis abbey which are thought to have existed at Pentrefelin and Llangollen. Water corn mills and mills for animal feeds were still in operation in the 18th, 19th and in some instance in the earlier 20th century at Llangollen, Trevor Mill on the river Dee and by the later Bache and Pengwern mill complexes on the Cyflymen stream just to the south of Llangollen. The textile industry in the area had equally early origins, several early sites being indicated by the Welsh place-name element pandy, referring to fulling mills in the case of Pandy, just to the north of Valle Crucis Abbey, and at Hen-bandy on the river Eglwyseg.

The Dee valley, particularly the town of Llangollen, became an important textile manufacturing district during the 19th century, where large mills were erected, resembling those of Yorkshire and Lancashire. In the 1830s there were three large mills — the Mile End Factory, the Upper Dee Mills and the Lower Dee Mills. Power mills were known at Llangollen earlier than anywhere in Wales, being introduced into a cotton mill by a firm from Manchester as early as 1805, some factories producing 15,000 yards of material a week in the 1820s and though undergoing a recession in the 1830s and 1840s was to continue into the earlier 20th century.

The large mills of Llangollen were different in character to those in the remainder of Denbighshire, not being a natural development from the earlier pandai or weaving shops, but requiring considerable investment by incoming capitalists, though until the 1860s most of the mills were engaged carding and spinning wool that produced yarn for a large number of domestic weavers in the surrounding districts. George Borrow in the mid 19th century, for example, describes in his Wild Wales how John James, his guide at Llangollen, showed him the path across the mountain along which he used to carry the flannel he wove at home to the mill-owner that employed him.

The three Llangollen mills operated until the 1940s and the last, the Lower Dee Mill finally closed in 1960, being mainly concerned with blanket and tweed manufacture with Australian, New Zealand and Shetland wools. The decline of textile manufacture during the inter-war and post-war periods released a number of former mills for various alternative uses.

Metal mining

A landscape with extensive traces of mining for lead, silver and zinc ores is to be found on the northern side of Ruabon Mountain character area where the workings of Pool Park mine lie on the undulating, heather-covered moorland which includes natural sink-holes in the limestone.

The main period of mining activity was in the 1860s and 1870s and though earlier, undated workings appear to be represented by a number of the smaller shafts dotted along the veins, these are perhaps of 18th- or early 19th-century date, there being no explicit evidence of medieval mining in this particular area. The more intensive mining remains here cover an area of over 10 hectares, forming part of a more extensive though dispersed mining landscape extending to three or four kilometres southwards across the mountain to Pool Park, Cefn y Gist and Eglwyseg and northwards beyond the limits of the study area to Minera. Pool Park mine lay in the angle between the steep-sided valley of the Aber Sychnant stream to the west and the equally steep-sided valley of one of its tributaries to the north, dissecting the Carboniferous limestone plateau, at a height of about 400 metres above sea level. The waste heaps resulting from the sinking of shafts and ore processing still bare of vegetation and standing out starkly from the surrounding moorland.

The area has generally been unaffected by later activity, although with the notable exception of the destruction of the engine house, so that the earthworks which survive represent a largely fossilized mining landscape. Two runs of shafts follow the main veins, although the main area of activity is concentrated around a large shaft with extensive spoil tips, close to which are the remains of the engine house and a substantial embankment for a tramway linking the site to a second area of workings.

The remains of several smaller structures survive, along with evidence for possible hushing. As well as the main workings, the major landscape features include the two leat systems which drew water from the Aber Sychnant stream to supply Minera Mines, one also supplying Pool Park and Lower Park. Field evidence shows that some of the larger shafts were originally worked by means of horse whims, later replaced by a steam-driven engines supplied by water from artificial ponds and leats which also supplied power for crushing and processing the ore. The engines were housed in stone-built engine houses, which were mostly destroyed by the army in the 1960s after falling into disrepair. Two major leat systems are apparent. A more substantial one, sluiced from the Aber Sychnant some way upstream, bypassed the western side of the Pool Park mine and supplied the Minera mines, 2 kilometres to the north-east. A second leat, also sluiced from the Aber Sychnant upstream, was culverted under the tramway from Boundary Shaft to feed a large reservoir lying in the angle between the tramways to the south-east of the engine house. The reservoir evidently provided the main water supply for Pool Park and probably fed both the boilers of the engine house and the small waterwheel on the northern side of a dressing floor where the ores were processed. It then continued northwards across the mountain in the direction of Park Mine.

Slate quarrying and processing

The exploitation of the Silurian slates which outcrop in the western and southern parts of the area and resulted in the creation of a number of distinctive industrial landscapes. The Llangollen district formed a distinct region of the slate industry in north-east Wales and though small by contrast with the scale of the industry in north-west Wales was significant locally. Quarrying began in the 17th century, though the most intensive period of working came in the 19th and the earlier 20th centuries, following in the wake firstly of the canal and secondly the railway which transformed a predominantly local industry into one exporting outside the region to the Wrexham area and the English Midlands.

A number of groupings of quarries can be distinguished. One group of large quarries lay around the fringes of Llantysilio Mountain and the Horseshoe Pass in the Maesyrychen and Llantysilio Mountain historic landscape character areas at Oernant, Moel-y-faen, Clogau (Berwyn), Craig y Glan, Cymmo and Rhiw Goch, The original workings at Oernant lie in the conifer plantation below the Horseshoe Pass where early hillside working, mainly for the production of slate slabs but including some roofing slate is said to have been produced in the 17th century. From 1852 the transport of slate from the large Oernant, Moel y Faen, Berwyn quarries was facilitated by the opening of a tramway which skirted the eastern fringes of Llantysilio Mountain to feed the incline at Maesyrychain, within sight of Valle Crucis Abbey. The slate was transferred by this means to a lower tramway which ran to the Pentre Felin Slab and Slate Works sited on the canal just to the north-west of Llangollen.

The extensive open, hilltop workings with some underground workings at Moel-y-faen were mainly developed following connection to canal by an extension of the Oernant tramway in 1857, though by the end of its working life in the 1940s slate was being carted away from the quarry by lorry. Traces of buildings are still visible including dressing sheds and traces of steam winding house or sawing mill, and smithy. Also visible are the line of tramway with some slate sleepers still clearly visible. A complex of workers’ cottages at Tai-newyddion, to the north of the study area, are still occupied. The shallow, open hilltop workings at Clogau (Berwyn) cover an extensive area. Originally finished products, mainly slab were dispatched by incline down to the road, but later the Oernant tramroad served it. The production of specialist slate products still continues to the present day on a reduced scale. The hillside workings at Craig y Glan on the northern edge of Llantysilo Mountain operated in 1870–80s, being closed in 1940s, then depending exclusively on road transport. The small hillside quarry at Rhiw Goch near Cymmo, to the west of Rhewl included some underground workings and remained in operation from the 1840s up until the Second World War.

A second group of smaller quarries lay near Pentredwr at Craig Wynnstay, Ffynnon y Gog, and Foel in the Pant-y-groes historic landscape character area. These quarries were again mainly in production in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries. The workings at Ffynnon y Gog and Foel are now largely hidden by later conifer plantation though some traces of quarry buildings and other structures still survive. A further small group of quarries lay in the Dinbren character area at Aber-gwern, Eglwyseg and Pant Glas. Aber-gwern was a small hillside quarry with a small dressing shed and other buildings which appear to have all closed by the 1920s, though some traces of buildings and structures are still visible in addition to the quarry sites themselves. Finally, a small, possibly mid 19th-century slate quarry lay on the hills to the south of Llangollen at Craig y Dduallt in the Craig-y-dduallt historic landscape character area.

The Pentrefelin slate works, dating from the 1840s, lay on the canal wharf and were later provided with a railway loading point. The mill was powered by a waterwheel driven by the canal itself and handled material brought from the Horseshoe Pass quarries by the Oernant tramway. It continued in operation until the 1920s despite tipping problems and complaints about river pollution. The former slate works were acquired by the White Sand and Silica Company in the 1940s, providing ground quartz from sandstone quarried on the Black Mountain near Nerquis and transported to Pentrefelin. It supplied the vitreous enamelling market, steel foundries and fine cement trade during the Second World War and thereafter up until the 1960s, the buildings subsequently becoming taken over by the Llangollen Motor Museum.

Limestone quarrying and lime manufacture

The coming of the canal at the end of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century led to an expansion of the lime production industry in the eastern part of the area in the Trevor Uchaf and Cysyllte historic landscape character areas, making use of coal imported from the Ruabon coalfield. Canal-side limekilns were in operation at on the south side of the valley at Froncysyllte from the later 18th century onwards, producing lime for both agricultural and industrial purposes, transported as far as Cheshire, Staffordshire and the Midlands. The kilns were supplied by stone quarried from the isolated outcrop of limestone at the Pen y Graig quarries on the hillside above Froncysyllte, transported downhill by a series of tramroads and inclines, and gave rise to the small nucleated settlement at Froncysyllte. The limekilns on the opposite side of the valley at Tref-y-nant were in operation from the 1830s. These were based upon limestone brought down from Trevor Rocks where there are also many surviving remains of the limestone industry including both larger and smaller quarries, former tramlines which carried for transporting the quarried rock, several banks of limekilns and a number of more dispersed single limekilns. Several inclines were constructed which transported quarried material to the canal and railway and the dispersed settlement of miners’ cottages at Trevor Uchaf. The local lime industry underwent a decline at about the end of the 19th century, though quarrying for limestone was to continue at the Pen y Graig quarries up to the 1950s.

Brick and tile manufacture

A flourishing brick and tile industry emerged in the Cysyllte character area during the second half of the 19th century based upon the good quality clay from the marl beds and coal deposits available locally in the Ruabon Coalfield. The industry also benefiting from the proximity to the canal and railway and was ideally sited to meet the demands of the expanding industrial settlements of the Wrexham area and the growing centre of tourism at Llangollen. The former brickworks at Garth were in operation near the Australia Arms public house in 1862, operating at first with a single kiln near the road, which produced ‘large quantities of good, sound and serviceable cherry red bricks, which are well adapted for all ordinary building purposes’. B y the First World War the works was producing silica bricks for the steel industry and ganister, a plastic cement used for iron founding. Production eventually came to an end in 1979 as a consequence of the recession in the steel industry. The works are now demolished though there are some ruins at the back of the site and part of former offices still survive on the roadside. The earliest record of brickworks at Tref-y-nant is in 1852 and by the 1860s it was operating six kilns. The Tref-y-nant brickworks produced firebricks, chimney pots and ornamental terracotta goods, being one of four local works James Coster Edwards which became the most successful brickmaking companies in north-east Wales. The works specialised in the production of glazed sanitary pipes, for which there was a great demand following the new sanitary regulations which came into force after the passing of the Public Health Acts of 1848 and 1858. Clay was quarried from opencast holes and by pit mines, the opencast exposing strata of coal not extracted commercially, the clay quarried at Tref-y-nant produced wares of a pale buff colour which were ideal for sanitary stoneware pipes. The Tref-y-nant works had closed by 1958 having for several years produced red floor tiles. Purchased by Monsanto Chemical Works, the old brickworks having been mostly demolished and left to become overgrown, the only remnants of the former works surviving intact being the two brick piers of the office gates.

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