Cwm Ciprwth - A North Wales Copper Mine

A brief history and interpretation of the site

The mountains in the background are, from left to right: Moel Lefn 638m, Moel yr Ogof 655M and Moel Hebog 758M.

Snowdonia, in North West Wales, has a long history of mining for copper going right back to the Bronze Age.  With the coming of the Industrial Revolution demand increased and many mines were opened.  These were mainly small sites, often offered to unwary investors with glowing prospects of instant wealth.  Few fortunes were made and many were lost.  With the discovery of huge deposits overseas, in countries like the U.S.A. and Peru, the tiny Welsh industry collapsed - never to recover.  The remains of these enterprises can be found throughout the area and, of these, Cwm Ciprwth has probably the most to offer the interested visitor.

The site is on a plateau above Cwm Pennant on the shoulders of Garnedd Goch (700m) - one of the mountains forming the Nantlle Ridge.  Records of mining exist from a prospectus issued in 1850 but the enterprise was in liquidation by 1894 after which no further work was done.  Fortunately the scrapman must have considered the Cwm Ciprwth site too remote to bother with, which could account for the survival of the waterwheel and other artifacts.  The site was extensively restored some years ago by the Welsh Development Agency and Snowdonia National Park.  Since then time has taken it's toll and the two long flat rods, which had snapped, have (August 2013) been replaced.

Looking along the line of flat rods to the pump.

It seems likely that the mine operated in conjunction with Gilfach, passed on the way up to Cwm Ciprwth, and that all ore, etc passed out through the Gilfach adits.  The evidence of mining on the site consists of 2 flooded vertical shafts and a horizontal, also flooded, adit.  There is an almost complete lack of mining waste or scree which seems to mean that Cwm Ciprwth was no more than a pumping and access site for Gilfach.

The most notable feature at Cwm Ciprwth is the water wheel.  This is complete except for the metal buckets and leat.  The leat can be traced on the hillside behind but the final section, consisting of presumably a wooden launder, is absent.  The water wheel was made by Dingey and Son of Truro, whose name appears several times on the metalwork.  Diameter is about 25 feet and it would date from the mid 19th century.  Presumably the wheel arrived at Cwm Ciprwth as a kit of parts as access by anything larger than a horse would seem impossible.

The water wheel, no doubt in kit form, would probably have been brought from Cornwall to Porthmadog by sea and then hauled up Cwm Pennant by a team of horses.

The water wheel drove a pump and a winding drum.  The wheel drove the pump by means of three flat rods.  These are long pieces of straight timber raised above the ground.  It should be borne in mind that because the flat rods are not under tension they have bowed somewhat with age.  The supports where the flat rods joined each other are hinged at ground level.  As the water wheel turned the whole length of the flat rods would move backwards then forwards.  This movement was transferred to the pump, which is also hinged at the bottom.  The water in the drainage shaft was sucked up by the pump and fed into a channel and then into the stream which flows through the site.   At the other end of the pumping mechanism is a counterweight - a box filled with rubble.  The winding mechanism on the water wheel consists of a drum operated by a large gear wheel.  To engage the drum there is a clutch, although the handle to operate this has been broken off.  Presumably the winding mechanism would have been used to access the two flooded vertical shafts, in which case a simple form of pit head gear would have been present.

There are two stone buildings on the site, one consisting of three rooms.  This may have been a smithy, storeroom or miners barracks.  The other is a simple square structure next to the stream, possibly an explosives store.

To read more about the history of Cwm Ciprwth and other copper mines in the area I would recommend:
"The old copper mines of Snowdonia" by David Bick, ISBN 1-84306-075-2.

Photo gallery page 1 - The water wheel

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