Cwmystwyth Mines probably constitute the most important mining site in central Wales, and just like many other sites have something of a chequered history making fortunes for some while bankrupting others.
With an absence of recorded history much of what we know is due to the excellent work of Simon Timberlake and the Early Mines Research Group.
Earliest mining is on on Copa Hill where the Comet Lode is exposed in an Opencast. Here mining has been carbon dated to around 2100 cal BC, although it may be even earlier. The period of mining ranges from then to around 1600 cal BC, all of this within the Early Bronze Age. Mining then ceases as the oxidised copper ores near outcrop become exhausted, but also, more importantly, as the workings become flooded, despite attempts (with use of wooden launders etc) to drain them. It must be emphasised that early mining activities were attracted by the ease of extraction rather than the abundance of reserves. An artefact has been discovered at the foot of Copa Hill (probably from a grave) that provides a possible link with Beaker prospectors, and perhaps even the very start of mining at the end of the 3rd millennium BC.
E.M.R.G. palaeoenvironmental investigations of the blanket peat on Copa Hill suggests that there is also Roman mining for lead (probably during 1st-2nd century AD). Although no Roman workings have been found in that location, a Roman lead bole (i.e. a lead smelting hearth) was uncovered at the foot of Copa Hill.
We next have evidence for Early Medieval mining, as suggested by the ancient leat for hushing on Copa Hill, plus some evidence for a Medieval prospecting shaft within the Comet Lode opencast, and several lead smelting hearths at Banc Tynddol, at the foot of Copa Hill. However, there is no concrete evidence yet for early mining on the Graig Fawr, although John Leland (16th century) and later on Lewis Morris thought that this was where the Cistercians (i.e. Strata Florida Abbey) had their interests.
There is a charter of 1184 giving to the church many thousands of acres of lands which specifically mentions "possessions under the land" and "the fatness of the possessions below"
As can be seen from above the later phase of early mining was controlled by the Abbot of Strata Florida Abbey, which would have continued up until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry the Eighth in 1536. Following this little was probably done until Elizabeth 1st took the throne and formed of the Society of Mines Royal which was the start of the first intensive mining. Under the society there were several lease holders including the ubiquitous Sir Hugh Myddleton and Thomas Bushell.
In 1693 the Mines Royal Act ended the monopoly of the society and laid the way open to the Company of mine Adventurers under Mackworth and Waller.
In 1759 the mines passed into the hands of Chauncey Townsend who engaged the services of Thomas Bonsall from Derdyshire to manage the mines. Bonsall stayed on after the death of Townsend in 1770 working the mines for Townsends son who inherited the lease, later in 1785 he took on the lease himself.
Bonsall did quite well out of the job regularly earning £2000 a year out of Cwmystwyth, Castell, and Rhiwrugos mines which he also owned.
A lot of the well known works are attributable to Bonsall, and towards the end of the 18th century his earnings had reached £2000 to £3000 a year from Kingside and Pughes mines alone. He was also responsible for Bonsalls level and Level Fawr.
Bonsall died in 1807 and the lease passed to his son, and then was taken over by the Alderson Brothers from Swaledale and James Raw who has local descendants.
Unfortunately the price of lead plunged in the 1830s and the Aldersons were declared bankrupt. The lease was then taken by Lewis Pugh of Aberystwyth who had the luck of the devil as metal prices started to soar immediately and he made a fortune from stocks of ore in hand when he took over the lease.
In 1848 John Taylor of Norwich took over the mines, another for his collection. The mine was being worked on the cost book system and in 1885 after a period of poor output the mines passed to a new company ‘The Cwmystwyth Company’. Almost immediately the mine was split between two concerns ‘The New Cwmystwyth Company’ and ‘The Kingside Mining Company’ who worked the mines until 1892 and 1893 respectively.
In 1900 the mines were taken over by The Cwmystwyth Mining Company Ltd under Henry Gammon who poured a fortune into development work and investment n new plant and machinery; however the new company struggled badly to make it pay. In 1905 the company was reformed as Kingside Zinc Blende Ltd but still struggled to turn a profit. By 1909 Gammon had blown all his money in the place but managed to attract Brunner Mond to invest in his existing company.
In 1912 the mine was again split into two sections, with part being taken over by The May Mining Company formed by one of the old mine captains John Howell Evans in partnership with a Charles Stocks. This company is notable in one of the few metal mining concerns that used Kell Drills developed by Moses Kellow of the Kelldrill Works at Croesor Slate Mine near Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Kellow was another Cornishman in Wales being born at Delabole in 1862. Besides being the owner of the Kelldrill Company he was manager of the quarry. These drills worked on hydraulic pressure using water, and are arguably the most powerful rock drills ever produced. High pressure water acted on a Pelton turbine, later a reaction turbine, which drove the shaft of the drill by elliptic gears. The drill developed 55h.p. and was twice as efficient as a modern rock drill. Unfortunately they were very difficult to control an never caught on.
History was to repeat itself however and these two companies went to the wall in 1915 and 1916 respectively.
In 1916 two gentlemen named Thomas and Stocks managed to form a new company Cwm Ystwyth Mines Ltd which struggled on until 1923 when the mines passed into the hands of the British Metal Corporation.
In 1925 the mines were being worked by a partnership of a Craig and Herbert and finally The Gallois Lead and Zinc Mines Ltd until 1950 when the mines were finally abandoned.
Eventually the ownership of the land and mines passed into the hands of the Crown Estate who in 2012 spent a great deal of money consolidating the remaining buildings, and then in 2013 the whole site was acquired by Cambrian Mines Trust the present owners.