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Report - Cwmorthin Slate Mine - Blaenau Ffestiniog - Wales - April 2015

Discussion in 'Underground Sites' started by Paradox, Apr 8, 2015.

  1. Paradox

    Paradox 28DL Regular User
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    Visited with Bigjobs, Stonemonkey and three others.

    So after spending a fair while deciding what to do over the Bank Holiday we finally decided to take a trip over to Wales with some friends, no big plans just a few days away from it all.However it would be rude of us not to at least go for a nice little bimble in the mines whilst we were there so grabbing a few bits of kit we headed off to Cwmorthin.

    I like it down there, I'd not been before and I love coming across bits of equipment left over from when they were working mines. We couldn't get to the bottom of the mine shaft to walk up as both Jobs and myself had not brought wellies, so after some epic balancing acts across some pipe work and realising the water was deeper if we carried on we decided the best option was to go up the vertical slate wall to get out.

    Was a good little wander and I proper enjoyed myself, I wasn't going to take any photos as the tripod decided to fail on me but it seemed such a shame to not take any. (Sorry, Im back to flash happy hand helds for this one).

    History from Wikipedia and there is quite a lot so feel free to skip it.

    Cwmorthin Quarry is a slate quarry west of the village of Tanygrisiau, north Wales. Quarrying on the site started in 1810 by the Casson family. According to "The Book of North Wales" Cwmorthin Tramway was constructed to connect the quarry with the nearby Ffestiniog Railway at Tanygrisiau in 1850 and the Ffestiniog Railway accounts recorded the first passage of loaded slate wagons down the line in that year. An existing siding at Tanygrisiau, which had served horse-drawn wagons from the quarry, was removed shortly afterwards.

    The quarry gained a reputation for poor working conditions and was known locally as "The Slaughterhouse". Between 1875 and 1893 there were 21 deaths in Cwmorthin out of a workforce of around 550.Following the passing of the Metalliferous Mines Act 1872, all mines were required to keep records of their operations, and to report fatal injuries, some details of the men and boys employed, and the output of the mine. Like many slate mines, Cwmorthin argued that it was a quarry, and that the law did not apply to them. Following a fatal accident in 1875, a test case was brought against them, and the enterprise was deemed to be a mine under the terms of the Act. The company went into liquidation shortly afterwards.

    A new Cwmorthin Company formed in 1876. To the north of the quarry, on the other side of the Allt-fawr ridge, the Welsh Slate Company, the Rhiwbryfdir Slate Company and Holland's Slate Company were all working the same veins. They were on land owned by the Oakeley family, and worked under leases, which placed restrictions on how they could be worked and the royalties they had to pay. Cwmorthin was not restricted in this way,because they owned the freehold.

    Relationships deteriorated later in 1884, when most of the Cwmorthin workings in the Back Vein collapsed. The ground above the workings was fractured, right up to the top of Allt-fawr, where Llyn Bach, which supplied water to Holland's workings, was drained as a result. The fall had disastrous consequences for Cwmorthin, with production falling from 11,600 tons in 1884 to 6,900 tons in 1886. About half of the mine became inaccessible. In order to develop the quarry further, they had to open new chambers below the level of Llyn Cwmorthin. This was costly, as development work produced little productive slate.

    On the other side of Allt Fawr, the Welsh Slate Company workings were in a poor state in 1884, and a major fall, called the Great Fall, occurred, when some 6.25 million tons of rock collapsed into the workings. A legal battle followed, to establish whether compensation was due to the Oakeley Estate or to the Oakeley Slate Quarries Company. Ultimately, the Welsh Slate Company lost the case, but rather than pay the compensation, they surrendered their lease, retaining their profits and quite a bit of their capital. When the Cwmorthin Company failed, they formed the New Welsh Slate Company in 1889 and bought the Cwmorthin freehold for £83,000.

    The quarry was extended downwards, with five floors below the lake level. They finished building the inclines to serve them and used steam engines to power them and the pumps needs to keep the workings dry. However, the new company was soon in trouble. The long exit tramway pushed up the price of their finished slate. 77,367 tons of slates were produced under New Welsh Slate Company ownership, but debts gradually rose, and in 1900 the quarry was put up for auction, with a reserve price of £12,000. The peak demand for slate had passed and with the industry descending into recession, it did not reach its reserve. The company went into voluntary liquidation, and was wound up in 1902.

    The Oakeley Company had been concerned about the condition of the western end of their mine since 1889, as many of the pillars left between the chambers by the Cwmorthin workings were thinner than normal practice, and they feared another collapse, with the additional risk that the water from Llyn Cwmorthin might enter the workings, causing widespread flooding.

    In order to safeguard themselves, they bought the Cwmorthin operation for £10,000, with little intention of working it.The Lake Mill was demolished, and the others were shut up. In 1902 Oakeley stripped Cwmorthin of its machinery and allowed the workings to flood, despite the advice of its own consulting engineer. A connecting link was made between the two quarries on floor C in the South Vein. Water then drained into Oakeley's Middle Quarry. The workings in the North Vein flooded up to Lake level, and could no longer be inspected.


    After the First World War, Oakeley explored re-opening Cwmorthin. While the mine had been officially closed for over 20 years, local men had continued to remove slate from the upper workings, and an inspection in the 1920s revealed that that much of this part of the mine had been wrecked by rock falls and was completely unsafe. The next plan was to remove the overburden covering the South Vein, so that the pillars could be quarried. In 1925 they renewed the tramway connecting the Ffestiniog Railway to the mill, and restored the surface inclines and the lower mills. A new magazine was built, but as the rock was removed, it became evident that there was little usable slate left. The un-flooded underground levels were then investigated, and productive rock was found. Part of the South Vein incline and its connecting tramways was restored, and
    a previously unworked section of the North Vein was accessed by driving a new level to it.


    Although there were supplies of good rock, work in the Cwmorthin Quarry was hampered by the costs of transporting the finished slates, and by the lack of power. The Oakeley Quarries were powered by electricity and compressed air, and a plan to drain the flooded North Vein workings was drawn up in 1932, which would allow power supplies to be brought through from the Oakeley side. The Oakeley workings were by then underneath the lower Cwmorthin chambers, and so Cwmorthin could be drained in a controlled fashion. Surface work at Cwmorthin, which had stopped in 1932, resumed. The North Sink incline was electrified, and air compressors were installed. A new incline was constructed, descending below Cwmorthin's floor E, and
    one of the Oakeley inclines was extended to assist the extraction of quarried rock.

    During the Second World War the quarry was mothballed, with only the pumps kept running to prevent flooding. Afterwards, there was another attempt to remove the overburden from the upper workings, using earth moving machinery, but this was again unsuccessful. During the 1960s the machinery, where it was still accessible, was removed. In 1970 the main Oakeley Quarries closed, and Cwmorthin was sold off separately. Some local men worked it on a small scale, initially clearing the tunnels and getting rock from some of the falls. They installed a saw in one of the chambers, and used a Land Rover for transport. Some outside capital enabled a mill to be rebuilt in the 1980s, but the scheme failed. A local company reopened
    the mine in 1995, but all work ceased in 1997.


    And a few pics to go with...

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    Thanks for looking.
     
    Nick0, The Kwan, Coolboyslim and 2 others like this.

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  2. Telf

    Telf 28DL Regular User
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    Crackin report :thumb any sign of jobs' 9mm red rope in that carpark? Lol
     
  3. Paradox

    Paradox 28DL Regular User
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    Ha ha ha no unfortunately not :(
     
  4. wellingtonian

    wellingtonian Subterráneo
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    Really nice H. Must get up to see this one :thumb
     
  5. Wevsky

    Wevsky A Predisposed Tourist
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    Main thing is mate you took your tripod with you with intent to use it :thumb.
     
  6. Lenston

    Lenston Bajo Tierra
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    It's a great place this and some good images there :)
     
    #6 Lenston, Apr 8, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2015
  7. stonemonkey

    stonemonkey 28DL Regular User
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    Wow great pics, mine.... (excuse the pun) are nowhere near that quality. i got quite a few but only on my phone camera.
    I really really enjoyed this mine, only had a little snoop in a coppermine previously so this underground stuff is all new to me, the last section to get out AVOIDING 3+foot of water which involved climbing a very steep and very loose scree slope followed by ascending 2 very steep slate slabs on one rope put the icing on the cake for that little trip, we knew this wasnt the route we intended but.... well.. it looked good and we needed to go upwards to find the entrance so we just went up and up and up till we crawled though an opening at the top back into one of the tunnels.
    Fantastic place and i cant wait to go back, so much more to explore,and hopefully with the bunch we went with as great laughs all round.
     
  8. stonemonkey

    stonemonkey 28DL Regular User
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    Wow paradox great pics, mine.... (excuse the pun) are nowhere near that quality. i got quite a few but only on my phone camera.
    I really really enjoyed this mine, only had a little snoop in a coppermine previously so this underground stuff is all new to me, the last section to get out AVOIDING 3+foot of water which involved climbing a very steep and very loose scree slope followed by ascending 2 very steep slate slabs on one rope put the icing on the cake for that little trip, we knew this wasnt the route we intended but.... well.. it looked good and we needed to go upwards to find the entrance so we just went up and up and up till we crawled though an opening at the top back into one of the tunnels.
    Fantastic place and i cant wait to go back, so much more to explore,and hopefully with the bunch we went with as great laughs all round.
     
  9. KM_Punk

    KM_Punk Muppet
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    Cracking stuff :thumb Looks epic
     
  10. Miss Mayhem

    Miss Mayhem 28DL Regular User
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    Brilliant report, looks great :thumb
     
  11. Oort

    Oort The spice expands consciousness.
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    Great report and pics! I am feeling the pull of North Wales, this summer I will mainly be learning rope techniques.
     
  12. drhowser

    drhowser Bespectacled & irrelevant
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    Nice! Did you do the zip wire?
     
  13. Coolboyslim

    Coolboyslim Mr Reality Hacker
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    Lovely place and awesome pics. Maybe I should go stay on friends farm up at windy hill and do a look round l. I know he has loads of places having lived all his life up there.
     
  14. The Kwan

    The Kwan funksoul Brother
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    Superb photies Hils and it sounds like you all had a great time, I had mentioned to Stuart that there was a scaffold walkway between chamber 1E and the back vein incline so wellies would have been okay, also I dont know if you crossed over the back vein incline to see the mega slate staircase but it is worth making a visit all on its own for....I was expecting a CRTT report :)
    this bad boy, but it is a cow to light.
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    Just a quick comparison of the barracks from your picture and one I took in 2012, see how much of the building has now gone inside a few years :(

    your shot
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    my shot 2012
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    #14 The Kwan, Apr 9, 2015
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2015
    The Wombat, Miss Mayhem and Wevsky like this.
  15. Trancentral

    Trancentral 28DL Regular User
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    Fantastic pics mate ! Love this place....
     
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