North Ceredigion and West Montgomeryshire was well-known in Victorian times for its metal mining. The main producing area was bounded by the villages Talybont, Dylife, Van, Cwmystwyth and Pontrhydfendigaid. The produce was ore in the form of galena (lead sulphide) and zinc blende (zinc sulphide). Silver was found in the lead ore. Copper ore – chalcopyrite (Copper iron sulphide) was also a product of some of the mines to a lesser degree. In all, there were 200 odd mines in the area. They varied in potency, from the very rich, to the abandoned failed workings or even fraudulent schemes.
Frongoch was one of the largest mines in the area. Opening possibly as early as 1759, it was worked continuously until 1903 and from then on there were various phases of reclaiming ore from the spoil heaps until 1930. In the latter days, the ore was then transported by aerial ropeway to Gwaith Goch mine, over 2.75km away for processing.
Frongoch was a silver/lead mine until 1881, when the main ore raised became zinc by bulk. the mine has always been sited in the more rural parts of Ceredigion, as has most of the mines in the region. A long way from the main roads and twelve miles from the port of Aberystwyth. Getting the ore to the smelters involved using the local population’s carts to take the material away. Given that metal ore is a heavy commodity, the ore was purified as much as possible before it was taken away – thus reducing both weight and volume. The smelters were away from the area, after a smelter on Pen Dinas failed and the ore was instead brought to ships on the Trefechan side of the harbour for shipping to Swansea and later, Antwerp
This process was known as dressing and the mill involved had different stages. First the ore was dumped on a revolving table and kids would pick the pure samples to move straight to the crusher. The rock passed on to the jigging tables, which by vibrations used gravity to separate the ore from the waste rock. The end product would be crushed to a fine sand and then fed into a conical set up where the ore was washed and from that point there were three by-products – tops, middles and tailings. The tailings was mostly waste and dumped or put in a slime pool for reclamation. the top was mostly ore and treated as finished. The middles was the half way house and reworked. In 1899, a large mill was built on the hillside with stepped levels – to use gravity again as a method of moving the ore along in the process
In Frongoch, the original dressing mill was worked by water – as was most of the machinery. thus the nearby lakes were all man-made construction to power the mill machinery and pumping wheels, used to extract water from the mine (as a lot of the workings were below sea level and certainly below the water table). the water was fed by channels called leats, which can still be seen banding the hills of the area. Coal was too expensive a commodity, as the nearest mine was sixty miles away. After the railway was built five miles from the mine , coal was used for the pumping engines based on the Cornish beam engines. Electricity was only used from 1899 onwards and then only for machinery, not underground. This was supplied using a hydro-electric power station and building two catchment lakes.
The next post, will go into further detail about the working practices of the miners themselves