Ancient Monuments

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Copa Hill/Cwmystwyth Lead, Copper and Zinc Mines

A Scheduled Monument in Pontarfynach, Ceredigion

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Latitude: 52.3604 / 52°21'37"N

Longitude: -3.7542 / 3°45'15"W

OS Eastings: 280642

OS Northings: 275037

OS Grid: SN806750

Mapcode National: GBR 96.SGB0

Mapcode Global: VH5C5.WX5X

Entry Name: Copa Hill/Cwmystwyth Lead, Copper and Zinc Mines

Scheduled Date: 5 June 1985

Source: Cadw

Source ID: 752

Cadw Legacy ID: CD145

Schedule Class: Industrial

Category: Lead mine

Period: Post Medieval/Modern

County: Ceredigion

Community: Pontarfynach

Traditional County: Cardiganshire


The monument comprises the remains of a lead mining complex, which also produced copper and zinc. Work at the Cwmystwyth Mines can be dated back as far as the Bronze Age (c.2300 BC - c.800 BC), and continued intermittently over many centuries until all activity finally ceased in around 1939. The visible features within the scheduled area include numerous shaft and adit entrances, areas of opencast working, water-management and transport systems, extraction and dressing processes with their power systems, as well as remains of office and residential buildings, garden plots and even an early 20th-century tennis court. The mines consist of four distinct areas which were sometimes worked as separate undertakings and sometimes combined. Working from west to east these are Pugh’s Mine (Item A), the Kingside Mine (Item B), Penguelan Mine (Item C), and Copa Hill, which can be subdivided into the prehistoric opencast on the Comet Lode together with the tips to the west of it (Item E), and the remainder (Item D).

The earliest working on the site dates back to the Bronze Age, confirmed by the C14 dating, to 2205-1950 CalBC, of timbers found in excavations. Roman working at the site has been claimed but never positively attested. Historical sources for the mine, which are numerous, take the story back to the medieval period (roughly, in this case, the 13th to 15th centuries), when the mine came under the auspices of the Cistercian abbey at Strata Florida. Work in this period is however likely to have remained relatively small-scale, though as time went on, rights were increasingly sub-let to tenants. Around the time of the dissolution of the abbey in 1536, interest from private entrepreneurs increased and Leland’s account of the mine at this time suggests that there was already a substantial enterprise with pollution from smelting affecting the woodland for some way around. Despite much of the site coming under the aegis of the Society of Mines Royal from the mid-16th century until 1693, disputes continued between lessees and potential lessees, which make it clear that work was underway during the 16th century on ‘Craig y Mwyn’, probably the area around the Nant y Gwaith, and in the 17th century in the area beside the Nant yr Onnen at the north end of Copa Hill. In 1698, the Company of the Mine Adventurers was formed, and under their supervision, and in particular that of William Waller, activity in the early 18th century was much more extensive across the scheduled area. This episode ended in a fraud scandal, and the extent of the Company’s further involvement is not altogether clear. Other lessees took over, and activity in most parts of the complex continued during the century, with, in particular, the construction of a very impressive array of hushing reservoirs and gullies which would have been used for the removal of overburden using water pressure. By the end of the century the mines were being worked very successfully by Thomas Bonsall. This was however their high point, and though the 19th century saw technology of increasing complexity put to work in the mines by a variety of lessees, which included John Taylor and Sons, whose interests were widespread in Ceredigion, the most easily available deposits were by this time largely mined out, and deeper, more difficult and poorer ores were being worked, with consequent greater expense and diminishing returns. The long history of earlier mining added to the problems, with unsurveyed earlier workings providing constant difficulties for the various enterprises when encountered unexpectedly, and even known workings necessitating extra expense when planning new developments. Bad weather and drought, which meant water-wheels could not work, added to the woes of the various enterprises, as did falling prices due to the development of more economical mineral sources overseas. Nonetheless, production continued with varying success for most of the century. In 1900 a substantial investment was made by yet another newly established company under Henry Gamman, including the construction of the large processing mill at the heart of the complex which remains a major feature today, albeit at ground level only, and of new housing for the workforce. The mines themselves were developed considerably in the following years but were never altogether successful and by 1916 Gamman’s means were exhausted and he faded from the scene. Very limited production limped on between the wars, largely involving the re-exploitation of older dumps, but in 1939-40 wartime bureaucracy put a stop even to this, and the mine never re-opened.

The monument is of national importance for its potential to enhance and illustrate our knowledge and understanding of mining technology from a variety of periods. Lead mines may be part of a larger cluster of industrial monuments and their importance can further enhanced by their group value.

The scheduled area comprises the remains described and areas around them within which related evidence may be expected to survive.

Source: Cadw

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