Mining, processing and transport

Ownership and licensing

Mines were variously owned by individuals, partnerships of individuals or limited companies.

In general a mine would be leased from the mineral rights holder (usually the land owner or The Crown) by the mine owner(s). Initially a takenote (a licence to explore and search for minerals with an undertaking to grant a lease if minerals were found) would be granted to the would-be mine owner. Subsequently a lease would be let for a certain period, usually for a fixed sum for each year of the lease (the consideration) plus a royalty of so much per ton of mineral extracted (e.g. in 1919 it was reported that the royalty on manganese from Crown Lands was 9d to 1s a ton [North Wales Chronicle 21/11/1919 p. 8]) or some fraction of the value of mineral extracted. The lease might also contain conditions with regard to how the mine was to be developed, the minimum number of men to be employed (as, for example, in a draft lease for Llanenddwyn) and the removal of machinery and restoration of the land at the end of the lease.

The mine would be managed for the owner by an agent. In many cases in the Merioneth manganese mines the owner was local and acted as the agent. In some cases it would appear that there were unusually frequent changes of owner, operator or agent. However, it is possible that some of these may have been the result of inaccuracies or inconsistencies in reporting of operations rather than any actual change of ownership. In some cases the same person served as agent for a number of mines – a practice commented on (and deplored) by The HM Inspector of Metalliferous Mines in 1874. [Evans 1874]


In Merioneth, the earliest workings were for the oxidised outcrop of the bed of ore which was typically .3–.45 m thick. Because the oxidation did not penetrate far into the bed, workings were more or less exclusively opencast and extensive, in some cases approaching 1 km along the outcrop worked as a single mine. When in the 1880s the unoxidised ore began to be worked, access was gained by adits driven in from the opencast cliff faces, along the bed, running more or less horizontally.

graphic: planThe general arrangement was as shown in the plan. Cwm Mynach appears to have been worked up-dip from levels driven on the strike, the roof being supported by pack walls and props. Elsewhere (e.g. Cilcychwyn) and the bed was stoped out both up- and down-dip from the adit (as shown). Good examples of parallel cuttings away from the opencast working face can be seen at Llyn Eiddew Mawr and, on a smaller scale, Llyn Dywarchen.

There is a lack of contemporary information on mining methods. Plans of Harlech mine in 1886–1887 appear to show the ore being worked up-dip in blocks, as well as in single stalls about 8 yards (7.3 m) wide, with pillars of similar dimensions. Adits were driven in the bluestone overlying the ore, so that a 1.8 m high adit would be 1.5 m in waste and .3 m in ore. Workings were kept as low as possible, and occasionally wooden props were set [Halse 1887: 108]. These were generally rare, however, and usually roof support was by carefully built packs, constructed of waste bluestone. Many of the mines still have these packs in good condition and there are few traces of roof collapse except at the entrances to adits. Cilcychwyn has good examples of these features. In some cases wooden props have been used to support stacked waste in inclined stopes.

In a number of cases the bed has been worked in from the surface over some distance and then the outer side of the working has been walled up with waste with an access passage left to create an underground working. Moelfre has a good example of this type of working.

The precise thickness of the workable ore varied greatly and whilst there are occasional reports of 1.2 m, .3–.45 m was more typical. Of itself this thinness was no great disadvantage (Russian ore beds were only .3 m thick) but problems arose because of the low grade of the ore and the hardness of the bluestone overlying it. The working method seems to have been that the waste was removed for, say, 1 m ahead, after which the exposed ore is lifted up [Down 1980: 26]. Where the ore bed dipped steeply, as at Hafotty, or occurred in near-vertical veins as in the Arenig mines, conventional vein mining methods were used, with the ore being regularly stoped from levels and, in the Arenig area, shafts, such as at Mynydd Nodol.

Down [1980 p. 14] states that in the majority of mines the workings were driven and ore broken by hand and that there are only rare traces of drills and explosives having been used. This may well have been the case in the early part of the nineteenth century but from the latter part of that century it is likely that significant use was made of explosives for drivage. There are signs that explosives were used (e.g. at Cilcychwyn), explosives chests for sale at auction [Cambrian News 13/4/1888 p. 1], explosives licences granted [Cambrian News 7/12/1906 p. 3] and accidents involving explosives reported [Llangollen Advertiser 9/11/1917 p. 5]. In later workings such as the World War I reworking of Rhinog, compressed air drills were installed. There is also an intriguing 1906 advertisement seeking manganese miners “with steam drilling qualification” for the Bala district [Cambrian News 28/9/1906 p. 1]. Some idea of the equipment to be found at the larger mines can be gained from the advertisements for auctions at Cwm Mynach mine by the Merionethshire Mining Co in 1888 [Cambrian News 13/4/1888 p. 1] and at Hafotty mine in 1894 [Cambrian News 17/8/1894 p. 1]. (It is possible that the items for sale had been gathered from several sources specially for the auction and do not represent the exact inventory of the particular mine concerned.)

In working, the ground was set by the yard, at around £1 15s (£1.91/m), although the actual amount varied greatly. There are also advertisements for miners to take bargins to raise ore “by the ton” for the Foel Wen Manganese Co. [North Wales Chronicle 23/5/1891 p. 4; Cambrian News 25/6/1891 p. 1].


On-site processing was minimal. In the 1890s the only preparation was hand picking of any obvious waste, and sifting out the fine (less than half-inch) fraction. In 1919, ore was broken into 2 inch (50 mm) lumps for sale to the St. Helen’s glassworks.

There is no evidence at any of the mines for any form of mechanical processing such as stamps, jigs or buddles as used in some Devon manganese mines in the mid-nineteenth century.


The records of output are almost certainly inaccurate and incomplete. Consequently, productivity estimates based on them are somewhat speculative. However, the mean output calculated from the records is 54 tons per man per year, i.e. a little over 1 ton per man per week, which does not seem unreasonable. Individual mines varied from as much as 155 tons per man per year (Llyn Dywarchen) down to 2 tons per man per year (Crafnant) or even less, however, it is difficult to determine whether these figures are realistic or if they are artefacts of the available records. It should be kept in mind that these figures do not reflect the total amount of work performed by the miners as they do not include the work of developing the mines and removing waste rock to obtain access to the manganese ore.

Overall mine productivity could be affected by external factors. For instance, it was reported by the son of the mine foreman at Barmouth that there was a letter from the “owner in Birmingham” (presumably John Abraham) to the mine foreman complaining of falling output, to which the foreman replied that it was the result of an influenza epidemic in Barmouth [Giffin 2002]. Winter weather at the more exposed mines could also affect output [GAS CAO: XD/35/424 p. 160]. During World War I conscription affected the availability of labour [Cambrian News 24/3/1916 p. 5, 14/4/1916 p. 2;].

Surface facilities

At a number of mines are level stone floors, typically a couple of metres square, which may have been where ore was broken up and/or stacked awaiting transport.

Buildings, where present, were most commonly a smithy for sharpening tools, in some cases an office and perhaps a small shelter. There are occasionally other buildings that may have been used as stables. In some cases farm cow sheds or cart houses were used for stabling. [Smith 1997: 26] Rhinog was unusual in that it appears to have had barracks, probably provided for the World War I reworking. There were also barracks at Cwm yr Afon [Smith 1997: 25] and possibly at Diphwys.

In the majority of cases where there was no living accommodation provided at the mines and it seems that miners found lodgings at local farms. [Smith 1997: 26], [Thomas 2004]


Because of the remote location of many of the mines and the low value of the product the cost of transport was significant. Where long outcrops were worked it was first necessary to gather the ore at some central point, and in a number of cases this was done by tramway, often of 24 inch gauge ‘Jubilee’ type. Hafotty used at least one incline for this task. From here, it was necessary to build a road (no more than a cart track) or else, in the case of Diphwys, Foel Wen and Hafotty mines, lay a tramway to the nearest serviceable cart track. These were lightly engineered railways with near-horizontal sections connected by inclines. The tramways terminated at stone loading docks where ore was transferred to road carts. There is no suggestion of locomotives being used in any of these undertakings. Short temporary tramways appear to have been used at a number of mines to take waste to tips.

At least one mine, Egryn, used an aerial ropeway rather than surface tramway. A ropeway could well have been cheaper to build than a railway, particularly across steep, very broken or boggy ground. In 1886 H S Lancaster, the manager of Hafotty mine, planned a ropeway to Barmouth at a cost of £130/mile [Halse 1887: 110]. Shorter ropeways were also used at Diphwys and Rhinog mines.

The use of tramways and ropeways should not be over-emphasised. Probably most of the movement of ore within the mines was done by barrow or sledge (man- or horse-hauled) and transport from the mine by horse and wagon or sledge. Sledges and wagons were made, and repaired, locally. The daybooks of John Thomas and William Parry, joiners of Llanbedr, contain an entry for 27 May 1886 for “mak[ing] sledge for Thomas Lloyd to carry manganese” and there are many other entries concerning the manufacture or repair of wagons and sledges. Another maker of sledges (although not necessarily for manganese) was Robert Williams, farmer and joiner, of Caermeddyg [Bebb 2001: 373]. Compared to wheeled transport, sledges were more controllable on steep ground and cheaper to make.

At Cwm yr Afon the ore was brought down from the mine to the farm in small carts and then transferred to larger carts for the road journey [Smith 1997: 25]. Similar arrangements may have applied at other mines where the ore had to be transported across rough terrain before reaching a cart road. In some (possibly most) cases the mines did not own carts but hired them, in some cases from local farms (presumably at times of the year when they were not needed for agricultural purposes). The farm carts were robust and hiring them would have provided extra income for the farm. (Whitehead [2004] reporting a conversation with an elderly local inhabitant.) In 1890 the The Cilcychwyn Mining Co. advertised for carters with carts and horses to carry manganese, the carts to have wheel tyres of not less than 4½ inches wide [Cambrian News 9/1/1890 p. 1].

In 1887 the manganese traffic in the Harlech to Barmouth area seems to have caused significant damage to local roads. In March of that year the Harlech District Highway Board sought to recover from Henry Stringfellow Lancaster, as agent for the Merionethshire Mining Company, the sum of 43 as compensation for damages alleged to have been done to roads in the district of Llanfair, Llanbedr, and Llandanwg. In October the Dolgelley Highway Board brought a case against Joshua Lancaster, as agent of the Dyffryn Mining Company, to recover damages of 18 3s for damage to the highway leading from Llanaber Church to the boundary of the district of the Barmonth Local Board caused by extra traffic. In 1888 legal action was again threatened by the Dolgelley Highway Board in respect of damage being caused to a road at Llanaber by the use of sledges. The papers of the time report the Highway Board meetings and court hearings in some detail [Cambrian News 7/1/1887 p. 7, 7/10/1887 p. 7; Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald 4/11/1887 p. 8, 25/5/1888 p. 6, 17/8/1888 p. 6, 31/1/1890 p. 6; North Wales Chronicle 19/4/1887 p. 6 29/10/1887 p. 8].

There was at least one further instance of concern about damage to roads – in November 1906 the clerk to Dolgelley Rural District Council wrote to the Manager of the Cwmucha [sic.] Manganese Mines to the effect that a charge of 3d per load would be made to cover the expenditure incurred in repairing of the road [Cambrian News 16/11/1906 p. 8]

Before the advent of the Cambrian Coast railway line serving the west side of the Harlech Dome area in 1867, manganese was probably transported to its users by sea. There was a harbour at Pensarn (between Llanfair and Llanbedr) capable of taking 300-ton vessels (used for bringing coal to the area) and Samuel Hennis claimed (in the context of his china-clay enterprise) that return cargos could be sent to Runcorn for “only a few shillings per ton” [MJ 1867 p. 254]. Some sea transport appears to have continued beyond the coming of the railway as there is mention in 1890 of a ‘steamer’ taking a cargo of manganese from Barmouth harbour once or twice a year. [Cambrian News 20/6/1890 p. 7]

The ore itself ranged from 10 to 15 cubic feet/ton (3.6 to 2.4 tonne/m3), and the cost of transport to the nearest railway station was usually high. Some examples, not necessarily representative, are:

Llanenddwyn1824–18261.14includes harbour dues, weighing etc.

In the twentieth century traction engines [Cambrian News 14/4/1916 p. 2] and motor vehicles were used to carry ore to the railway stations from some mines.

With regard to transport on the standard-gauge railway network, manganese ore was classed as ‘B’ [Browne & Theobald 1911: 970], which, in 1911, was charged at 1.25d per ton per mile for the first 20 miles, 1d per ton per mile for the next 30 miles, .8d per mile for the next 50 miles and .5d per ton per mile thereafter, together with station costs of 6d per ton at each end of the journey [Browne & Theobald 1911: 962]. Thus rail transport from say Barmouth to Mostyn (~ 92 miles) would have cost around 7s 4p (0.37) per ton.

The miners

It has been suggested that manganese mining was low status and poorly paid work, only done as a last resort (Craik [2004], reporting a conversation with an elderly inhabitant of Harlech), however, there is a reported instance of a choir from one of the mines (Craig Ddwrg) so there may have been more cohesion in the workforce than this comment might imply. Certainly, there are instances of advertisements seeking skilled miners. In March 1891 there was an advertisement for several “practical miners for a mine in north Wales. Must understand their work. Preference given to those who have worked in Manganese Mines” [Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser 7/3/1891 p. 4] and in June the same year Foel Wen Manganese Co. advertised for miners to contract for raising manganese ore [Cambrian News 5/6/1891 p. 1 and three subsequent editions]. Such advertisements suggest that at least some of the workforce were experienced miners.

There seem to be few reports of accidents – HM Mine Inspectors’ reports include mentions of accidents at Diphwys mine [1886 p. 146], Cwm Mawr mine [1889 p. 11] and Hafotty mine [1892 p. 9]. In addition there are newspaper reports of an accident at Cwm Mawr mine in 1907 [North Wales Express 11/10/1907 p. 6] and a fatal accident at Hendre mine in 1917 [Llangollen Advertiser 9th November 1917 p. 5]. However, it is probable that there were many minor or even moderately serious accidents that were never officially recorded.

Ill health may have been a significant issue with the miners. As mentioned above an influenza epidemic affected output at Barmouth mine and there is a newspaper report [Cambrian News 22/2/1907 p. 4] of the death of Evan Morgan from pneumonia in 1907. Morgan was employed at Cwm Mynach mine and the report is noteworthy as it mentions that he was the fourth of the workforce to die during the past few months and that two other workmen had been seriously ill. Manganese in excess is toxic and a form of Parkinson’s Disease-type neurodegeneration known as ‘manganism’ has been linked to manganese exposure since the early nineteenth century. However, it is not known whether any of the Merioneth miners ever suffered from this condition.

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