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Tanat Valley Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Tanat Valley


Extractive industries
The mining and quarrying industries have had a long and significant history in the Tanat Valley, lead ores, barytes, phosphates, gravel, slate and roadstone having been extracted at one time or another, and in some instances mining for metal ores and quarrying for stone were carried out successively on the same site. There is some evidence that the mining for metal ores first began during the prehistoric or Romano-British periods, but the main period of exploitation of lead ore was during the 18th and 19th centuries, and the main periods of slate and roadstone quarrying during the 19th and earlier 20th centuries, none of which survive to the present day.

The principal mines and quarries were all in the immediate neighbourhood of Llangynog, most of which are reasonably well known, but there is a wider distribution of smaller workings or trials for metal ores, slate stone generally throughout the western part of the Tanat Valley, many of which are poorly documented. A number of important and distinctive mining and quarrying landscapes can be defined within the Tanat Valley, taking into account the visible extraction and processing areas and associated landscape features including ancillary buildings, trackways, boundaries, reservoirs and leats - most notably at Llangynog, Craig-y-mwyn and Cwm Orog.

Lead mining
Lead mining at Llangynog has an early and distinguished history. Probable evidence of early mining activity of prehistoric, Roman or medieval date is represented by early workings (opencuts and stopes) on the south side of Craig Rhiwarth above Llangynog, in Cwm Orog on the north side of Craig Rhiwarth and Craig-y-mwyn. The earliest documentary evidence of working, however, is provided by a lease of 1656 covering the mining of lead ores in 'all the commons and waste grounds . . . within the several townships of Kanen Cloach [Cefn-cŰch] and Rhiwarth in the Manor of Mochnant' - which encompassed the areas of the what were to become important mines at Craig-y-mwyn, Cwm Orog.

Post-medieval mining in the Llangynog district witnessed a rapid rise early in the 18th century, followed by a long decline to the end of the 19th century. Production reached its peak during the first half of the 18th century, however, unlike other famous mines of mid Wales such as Van and Dylife which flourished during the 19th century, and at one time ranked as the most productive lead mines in mid Wales. Accounts of the discovery of one of the major rich vein of lead ore at Llangynog have a certain romantic air to them, reputedly having being found in 1692 'by a shepherd running after his flock, and treading upon the slippery surface of a flake or ore, the moss giving way under his wooden shoe, the glossy ore appeared'. Other accounts attribute the discovery to a shepherdess.

The earliest mining in the South Llangynog, Cwm Orog and Craig-y-mwyn mines was undertaken with local capital, having begun by about 1705 by the Herberts of Powis Castle estate, continued on some scale for about 50 years, production at South Llangynog reaching a peak in 1737, and when Llangynog briefly became one of the largest lead producing operations in Europe. An adjacent section of the South Llangynog and other mines in the area were worked during this period by the Myddletons of Chirk Castle estate.

The influx of English-speaking mine workers in the early decades of the 18th century, gave rise to a number of social problems, and the church in Llangynog had difficulty in providing services other than in Welsh. The whole community became absorbed in the work for period: miners' wives were engaged as ore washers and local tenant farmers, often against their wishes, were forced to transport ore by road to smelteries at Pool Quay and elsewhere or face eviction.

The Powis section of Llangynog mines had made a total profit of £121,000 over the period 1724-44, much of which went to paying off their debts, the Marquess of Powis calculating that a total of over £171,000 had been spent in discharging his daughters debts resulting from her disastrous speculation on the Paris stock exchange and in unprofitable investments in the Spanish mines at Rio Tinto. In 1740, £4,500 was owed in wages to workers in 1740 , in 1741 the Marquess's manager, James Baker, wrote that Llangynog was 'like a dying man', yet the demands upon the mine and its workforce increased.

Mine drainage and the cost of transport of ores to smelteries outside the Tanat Valley were always important to the economic viability of the Llangynog mines. Following a decline in production later in the 18th century the earl of Powis began granting leases to outsiders, the industry from the second half of the 18th century onwards becoming increasingly dependent upon venture capital provided by outside speculators rather than by local landowners.

Mining continued on a low scale during the period between the later 18th and later 19th centuries, with short and intermittent bursts of activity at various mining sites by various different lessees often following fluctuations in the market price of lead. Some substantial investments were made during this period, including for example the construction of the Llyn y Mynydd reservoir with a substantial stone and earth dam constructed in about 1864 above Cwm LlÍch, joined by a system of leats to the South Llangynog mine, about 4km to the east. There were also various scandals such as those at Bwlch-greolan, south of Penygarnedd, and Craig-y-mwyn between the 1850s and 1880s when it was alleged that mine leases were sold at a huge profit on the basis of grossly misleading information. Most mining had ceased by about 1900, and although there was a brief revival in the Cwm Orog and Craig-y-mwyn mines following the opening of the Tanat Valley Light Railway in 1904, both of these enterprises had folded by 1912.

Most of the ores from the mined in the Llangynog district were smelted at either Pool Quay where a smelter was built by the earl of Powis in 1706, or Benthall, Coalbrookdale, and later to Minera, although a smelter was in operation on a smaller scale at Llangynog itself in the 1750s.

Slate and stone quarrying
The early history of local slate production is poorly documented, although there are suggestions that the quarries at Llangynog may have been in production by the, and local quarries were producing stone flags for flooring by at least the early 18th century, replacing earlier earthen floors. Slate quarrying in the Llangynog district was already thriving by the later 18th century, taking up the lull in the metal mining industry. In the 1770s slates were exported by road and then by river to Shrewsbury, but after 1797 material was also exported by means of the Montgomeryshire canal. By the 1860s slates were being produced in a number of quarries including Llangynog, Cwm Rhaeadr and Cwm Maengwynedd and were at that stage exported via the railhead at Porthywaen. The industry declined towards the end of the 19th century, again due to the high cost of transport and the lower market price of slates produced elsewhere. It revived following the opening the Tanat Valley Light Railway in 1904, but had ceased again by 1941.

The demand for building stone was increasing from the late 16th and particularly from the early 17th century onwards as vernacular building styles for perhaps first houses and then barns placed greater emphasis upon stone rather than timber construction, but was not to essentially remain a local industry supplying a local market.

A local demand for suitable roadstone increased with the construction of the turnpikes during the later 18th century, it having been noted elsewhere that a number of the smaller quarries along the roadsides belong to a period during which trustees of the turnpikes were empowered to take materials for constructing and repairing roads from waste ground and common land. Quarrying for roadstone on a more commercial scale began at a number of sites in the immediate neighbourhood of Llangynog in about 1910 and became the mainstay of the Tanat Valley Light Railway and employing German prisoners of war during the first World War. The industry declined during the 1930s and eventually ceased in the 1950s.

Phosphate and limestone quarrying
Black nodules containing 40-60% calcium phosphate were mined for a short period at Nant Calch to the west of Llangynog and at Penygarnedd between the 1870s and 1880s, material from Nant Calch being transported across the Berwyns to Llanderfel for processing into agricultural fertilizer. The industry eventually ceased to be profitable, however, due to high transport costs, the low value of the material and as a result of cheap imports from abroad. Limestone was quarried at Penygarnedd and processed two adjacent limekilns, worked before the 1870s.

Processing and craft industries
A number of distinct processing industries associated with agricultural production are represented in the Tanat Valley including individual structures such as corn mills, saw mills, fulling mills and their associated leats, millponds and reservoirs and limekilns, and smithies and forming small yet significant elements within the historic landscape. Earlier mills, fulling sites and smithies are in some instances also indicated by the scattered occurrence of place-name elements such as melin/felin (mill), pandy (fulling mill), deintur/deintir (the tenter racks used in fulling), efel/efail (smithy).

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