One of the earliest mines in Europe has been identified at Gopa Hill at Cwmystwyth in the Cambrian Mountains, in an area which later became synonymous with silver lead mining. The Cambrian Mountains have been mined by monks and kings and have drawn prospectors in search of riches from as far afield as ancient Rome and 18th century Italy.
Gold, Silver and Lead
The Romans mined for gold- visit their mine at Dolaucothi, in the southern foothills of the Cambrian Mountains, to the east of Lampeter.
The 17th century Royal Mint of Charles I at Aberystwyth Castle used silver from the mines of the Cambrian Mountains for its coins and Lewis Morris, surveyor and lead mine speculator called Cwmsymlog mine ‘the richest in Lead and Silver of any of his Majesty’s Dominions’ as the industry reached its height in the 1800s. In the 17th century Sir Hugh Middleton had the lease on several mines in the area, earning him £18,000 a year.
By 1870 there were 10,000 workers associated with the industry in the Cambrian Mountains and workers were attracted from other mining areas such as Cornwall and even as far afield as Italy and Germany. Lewis Morris' account states that there were so many languages being spoken at the Esgair Mwyn mine in 1755 that he dubbed it 'Babel'.
From 1750 onwards, lead mining activity increased significantly until it peaked in the mid 19th Century. The physical remains of the old crusher houses and spoil tips; smithies; old miners’ cottages; chapels and graveyards can be seen across northern Ceredigion.
Visit the Silver Mountain Experience Llywernog and follow the Spirit of the Miners walking routes in the Cambrian Mountains to discover Cwmsymlog, Cwm Ystwyth and other sites associated with the industry. Visit churches and chapels, from those of the gentry such as Hafod Church, to the nonconformist chapels of the mineworkers and their families such as Cwmystwyth and Cwmsymlog. Also see the magnificent waterwheels from this period at Dyfi Furnace, Llywernog, and Pontrhydygroes.
Please note: Mine sites can be very dangerous and must be treated with caution. Never enter any tunnels or shafts and do not stray from designated rights of way near mine sites. Most mine sites in Ceredigion are sites of special scientific interest (SSSI’s) and Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAM’s) which are protected by law. Do not disturb tips, growing vegetation, walls and other building remains.
To get the most out of a visit to the mining sites of Ceredigion, take a guided tour, visit an interpreted site (see links above) or join a working party.