Posted by: David Green | February 22, 2010

Copper Mining

To see industrial dereliction on a grand scale, and appreciate the effect that mining can have on a landscape, take a trip 120 miles west of Manchester to Parys Mountain at the northwestern corner of the island of Anglesey. It was here, in 1768, that Roland Puw discovered a mountain of ore. In the next thirty years, with little more than hand tools, a kilometre-scale pit was excavated. The village of Almwch became the second largest settlement in Wales, fortunes were made, and Britain came to dominate the world market in copper. The mineral anglesite, a lead sulphate, was discovered and named by the French mineralogist Francois Beudant after the island of Anglesey in 1832.

A nineteenth century specimen of the lead sulphate mineral anglesite, which was discovered during early excavations at Parys Mountain on Anglesey (N03519).

Today Parys Mountain is a desolate place. Looking across the Great Opencast it is hard to believe you are in rural Wales. Tolkein’s fictional land of Mordor would be more credible! Toxic, metal-rich water leaches out of the ground and reacts to form colourful yellow and brown minerals, or collects in pools with the pH of battery acid. More than a century after serious mining ceased, the site retains a stark authenticity. It appears so alien that local legend suggests that episodes of Dr Who were filmed at Parys Mountain, although this is denied by the BBC.

Looking north across the Great Opencast at Parys Mountain, with a ruined windmill (for scale) on the horizon. Despite its blasted appearance, this is a site of special scientific interest for its geology and the rare lichens that grow on the metal-rich rocks.

It is likely that much of the metal that was mined at Perys Mountain is still in use today. The high value of copper and lead produces a strong incentive to recycle. Some of the copper was made into coinage, which was in short supply in Britain in the 1780s. In the numismatic collection there is a fine collection of Anglesey pennies. These were originally intended for use by the mine workers, but the number minted meant they spread quickly to all corners of  Britain.

Anglesey Penny in MM collection

Reverse of penny dated 1787

And Roland Puw, the miner who discovered the bonanza… he was rewarded with a bottle of brandy and a rent free cottage for life!

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