MICHAEL FARADAY - TOUR IN WALES - 1819

 

THURSDAY JULY 29th

We were disturbed this morning about 7 o'clock by a sad noise in the inn and were induced to get up about half an hour earlier than we otherwise should have done to ascertain its cause. On entering our breakfast room we found an elderly gentleman , shaving himself by the side of the cups and saucers. He however shifted to the window seat on seeing our intention of taking a meal and in a few minutes we found out from his information that the Dublin Packet bound for Liverpool and which sailed yesterday had been so much retarded by contrary winds as to put into Amlwch and set some of her impatient passengers on shore. Five or six of them had taken the inn by storm and occasioned the noise which disturbed us. They had sent to Gwyndy, a town 10 miles off for Post Chaises, intending when they arrived to proceed to Bangor Ferry.

We were sorry to find the wind easterly for it had been our intention to leave Amlwch in one of the trading vessels and go over to Liverpool, but now that plan was abandoned and we made up our minds to walk as before. We had scarcely finished breakfast when Captain Leaman called for us to go to the Mountain and mines. We were ready in a moment and having settled accounts, shouldered our bundles we bade adieu to Amlwch.

The Mountain is about 2 miles from the town. Our path was along a very dusty, dirty road for when bad it is mended with slag and cinder and as there are always 12 or 14 carts moving backwards and forwards on it these materials are soon ground into black and disagreeable powder. There are no trams used on these roads or in the mines in consequence of the corrosive effects which the waters from the workings would have upon them and which would destroy them in a short time.

Captain Leaman took the utmost pains to explain everything to us and made the time pass so agreeably that we were at the mountain before we knew it. The first thing we came to was a small steam engine employed to drain one of the workings of the mine. It was good and preserved in very neat order within the house, the outdoor parts were of timber. The water here raised from the mine is suffered to run away not being rich enough in copper like some of the others to pay for the separation of the metal. The miners found themselves at first very much embarrassed in working this engine in consequence of the peculiar nature of the waters in this neighbourhood. For being a solution of sulphate of copper they acted on the cylinder and other iron parts of the engine rapidly corroding them and rendering the whole useless. Now they very carefully collect the waters from the higher part of the mountain where they are more free from sulphate of copper, and they neutralise what portion of that salt may be in them with the acid also that they contain by lime and they also preserve the condensed water and cooling it in reservoirs use it over and over again.

Close to the engine were several shafts and at one of them, a Whimsey, at which a horse was drawing and raising ore, the ore being placed in large wooden buckets hooped strongly with Iron in the usual manner. The men are all paid piece work receiving so much per ton for the ore they raised either more or less according to its quality. Captain Leaman, who is a cornish miner, astonished the natives by showing them that dirt would stick in he bottom of the bucket. The smaller parts of the ore had adhered to the bottom and gradually accumulated so much as to make the bucket about half a hundred weight heavier than it needed. Though they raised and lowered this over and over again and consequently work a good deal without being paid for it, they were quite astonished at the thoughts of cleaning it out now and then though for their own ease and stared prodigiously at seeing large lumps fall off on the sides being struck with a hammer.

Whilst Captain Leaman arranged his morning affairs and procured us clothes for the mine, we rambled about among the workmen. The ore is raised from the mine by the whimsey in large heavy masses and is then thrown over a stage onto the ground below where it comes into charge of the cobbers, principally women and boys. We came up to a large group of these, about 8 or 9 women were sitting on the ground in the midst of heaps of ore of the large and small, their mouths were covered with a cloth to keep the dust of the ore from entering with the breath. The fingers and thumb of the left hand were cased in strong iron tubes forming a sort of glove. A large hammer was handled in the right hand and a block of ore placed before them served as an anvil. Thus furnished they were employed in breaking lumps of ore into small pieces and selecting the good from the bad. The good gradually accumulated into a heap before them being the produce of their labour and the earthy and stony parts are carted away. The boys assisted them by fetching lumps and by selecting the broken portions. Altogether they formed an amusing but not an enticing group. These, and indeed all who work at the mines, are paid piece-work according to the quantity and quality of what they produce an assay master being employed to ascertain the latter and overseer the former.

As soon as the boys saw that strangers were there they began to select bits of ore and offer them to us cap in hand, and by the time we returned to the office there was a large parcel of them about us each with his specimens. We had them all into the office and took their whole stock and there being 12 of them we gave a shilling to one six and a shilling to another and left them to divide equally. Away they went crowding about the shilling holders and squabbling which set they should belong to and the monied boy uttered high tones in consequence of the important office he filled. We selected a few pieces from the ore they had brought in memory of the place. The specimens were and the ore sometimes is pure copper, at others mixed sulphuret of copper lead and iron and now and then specimens of blende or sulphuret of zinc are found. The sulphurets are frequently mixed with white quartz.

We now dressed. I stripped off everything but my stockings and boots and took possession of a miners trousers, shirt and coat all of thick flannel. Then putting on a thick woollen cap, hanging a candle to my breast button and taking another lighted and garnished with clay in my hand I was now ready to descend. Magrath was similarly equipped and we laughed heartily at each other as a sort of prologue to our adventure. We followed Captain Leaman to a small shaft and a little distance from the office and in such true miners style that I verily believe the men themselves did not know us for other than miners. The place we prepared to descend was a small aperture in the earth about 4 ft. by 3 ft. wide and a ladder appeared at its mouth which descended into the darkness below. Captain Leaman chose this shaft because it was the most comfortable. There were two others but the pump rods worked up and down in one and in the other we could only ascend and descend in the buckets like lumps of ore. Having taken a lesson how to hold our candles we got on to the ladder. It was not long but on reaching its termination we had to swing around it by a little stage on to a second and from that on to a third and so on until I lost count of their number. We soon left daylight and were not long before we were well used to the place and could trust so securely to our hands as scarcely to notice a false step though a fall would have led us down 200 or 300 ft. without any ceremony or hesitation. At last we began to enter the vein and had to shuffle on in a more irregular manner. A rope ladder occurred here and there in places where the chasm was too crooked to admit a straight one of wood and they felt very curious dangling in the middle of the air and darkness.

I ought here dear Margaret endeavour to give you an idea of a metallic vein and then you will comprehend our progress better. Imagine then a large lump of clay with a sheet of Iron thrust obliquely through it and the clay will represent the earth (in our case the Parys Mountain) and the sheet the vein only you must modify this idea according to the following circumstances. The vein is not of uniform thickness throughout but differs very much indeed in different parts, sometimes it is not more than half an inch thick and other times it becomes 20 to 30 feet wide. The edges on the veins or sheet of ore are not so regular as the edges of the metal plate I have mentioned. The upper edge is of course at the earth surface only covered perhaps a foot or two by soil and the lower edge frequently descends to unworkable depths laterally. The vein spreads out through the country, but when traced to its termination is irregular and ragged. Veins have been traced above - feet and sometimes they extend for miles across the country. The Veins are very rarely perpendicular in the earth. The one we were in extended on the surface east and west and in descending in the earth it approached towards the north which is technically expressed by saying it dips from South to North. In working the vein the only object is to remove the ore from its place with safety and to this end every contrivance is adapted. Shafts are dry wells dug down to the workings by which man and materials and ore pass. Galleries and workings are excavations made in the mass of the rock below to give access to the ore. The waters deposited by the surrounding earth are removed by pumps and thus precautions and contrivances are adopted as occasion requires.

Well our progress in the vein was at first through very confined passages but on a sudden we entered a place like a large chamber so large that our light would not reach across it. Here the vein had swelled out into a bunch in the way I just now mentioned and had afforded a very rich mass of ore. Here again it became very narrow and we had in one corner to lay down on our backs and wriggle in through rough slanting opening not more than 12 or 14 inches wide. The whole mountain being above us and threatening to crush us to pieces. You will understand my Dear Girl we were now in those parts of the veins which had been cleared of ore by the workmen. All, however, above and below to the right and the left was not void for if the ore had simply been removed and the place left to itself working would soon have been stopped. You will remember we were now in the centre of the mountain and its whole weight resting over us and this weight would long ago have crushed the two sides of the empty veins together if precautions had not been taken to keep the place open and support the mountain. This is done thus. When the miners have excavated the vein so as to leave a free space above them of perhaps 20 feet in height timber as the trunks of trees are let down to them which they place across the cavity a little distance above their heads so as to form a rough, strong floor and then on this is placed all the gangue and useless rubbish loosened with the ore, until the place is half full of such parts of the vein been left open as are useful for the conveyance and the workings. In this way a number of what may be called apartments or galleries are formed in the empty part of the vein at the end of which men frequently go on working in a horizontal direction on the edge of the vein, whilst others far below them are extending it in depth.

Proceeding along one of these galleries we came at last to a chasm at the bottom of which we could just see men with lights. Whilst admiring the curious scene the large bucket came rushing past us from above and descended down into the depths. This indeed was the shaft at which we had seen horses and men raising ore above ground for the cobbers. It was intersected in this place by the gallery along which we were proceeding and stopped our progress. The shaft here was not perpendicular but followed the inclination of the vein and the bucket slid up and down against one side which was covered with smooth planks. In a few minutes we saw a bucket come up and to us strangers it had a very curious appearance. The rope moving on for a long time without visible means, the empty bucket banging, slipping and tumbling down and the full one suddenly emerging from the darkness beneath into the candlelight and immediately disappearing above are so peculiar in their effect as to irresistibly create some degree of surprise.

We crossed this place on a plank and a rope loosely put over it and advancing onwards soon after descended again creeping and sliding, tumbling and slipping as before Captain Leaman giving us the utmost attention in explaining everything. Now at times we began to hear explosions which reverberated throughout the mine in grand style and we soon came up to two men who were preparing a blast. A hole is cut first by chisels in the rock in the direction thought most proper and from 12 to 24 inches deep according to circumstances. This being cleaned out by proper tools a portion of gunpowder is placed in the bottom of it and then a long thin iron rod called a needle being put down into the gunpowder, pounded stone is introduced and rammed hard with an iron tool on to the gunpowder. More stone is introduced until the hole is full and then the needle being withdrawn, a straw filled with powder or sometimes quills so filled are put down the hole and make a communication with the charge below. A bit of touch paper is then attached to the external gunpowder and being lighted the men retire a few yards off round some projection or corner whilst the explosion happens. When it has taken place the ore or stone thrown off is removed and the process again repeated. It is astonishing how careless the men become of the peculiar dangers to which they are liable from the frequency with which they meet them.. They go on hammering without the least care at the hole charged with powder and now then explode it by the attrition they cause before they are out of the way and then men get killed. They put their candles anyhow and anywhere and their powder is treated in the same manner. Magrath, to rest himself whilst the Captain gave directions, sat down on a tub and stuck his candle against its side. We found out afterwards it was what they kept the powder in and it certainly would not have been wonderful if we had all made a grand blast together.

Here the men were at work on the rock cutting a level to another part of the vein and they are paid so much per foot or yard, but returning a little way and then moving on again we soon came to some who were working out ore. They blast it just as in the former case and it is then carried to the edge of the shaft I before spoke of and drawn up by the buckets. These men also work piece work but differently to the others. Captain Leaman comes and views the place and then he submits terms to the men thus I will let you have that place a month at so much per ton of ore raised' varying the price per ton according to the supposed facility of obtaining and working the ore. After the bargain is made the men take all risks of the place being good or bad, sometimes when it appears very unpromising and they have obtained a high price for working it out in consequence of the greater expenditure of powder and labour supposed to he necessary it will expand into a bunch of ore. Then the men earn much money during their month or period of time for they raise an immense quantity of ore rapidly and without much trouble and now and then save a hundred pounds very quickly. On other occasions things are against them and when their time is expired they have raised so little ore as not to have earned sufficient to pay off their powder bill. Generally, however, things are so managed so as to leave them well though not extravagantly paid. None of these men work more than 8 hours a day in the mine. The rest of their time is spent above ground at home, there being sets of workmen who replace each other.

We had now reached the well of the mine situated at its lowest point nearby. Here all the waters that run from the earth into the excavation are collected together to be pumped up. There was a large quantity in a sort of tank boarded over and containing much copper in solution. The waters it appears had risen a little and they were very particular about them just now because close at hand they were deepening the mine and working at a level below that of the well. We were here in the busy part and the black heads and faces that popped into sight every now and then with a candle before them looked very droll. Some miners were stuck up in a corner over our heads making a roof and they seemed to cling to the rock like bats so that I wondered how they got and remained there but in a few moments I found we had to go up there too and indeed we managed very well. Difficulties and dangers are in almost every case magnified by distance and diminished by approximation, and I do not think that one place in the world can be better suited to illustrate this than a mine.

Following the example of our Captain and peeping into a small chasm through which a man might by contrivance pass, we found it to be the entrance into a large cavity from 30 to 40 feet wide every way. This had been a fine bunch of ore and there were 6 or 7 men with their candles working in it. We did not go down but putting our lights aside laid our heads to the aperture and viewed this admirable Cimmerian scene for some time with great pleasure, the continual explosion on all sides increasing the effect. This was the lowest part of those workings and was about 370 feet below the surface of the earth.

After a little further progress we came to the pump shaft, an aperture cut down from the surface to this spot. It was 360 ft. deep and we could see no daylight up it. Below it was a small well connected with the large one before mentioned and into this were inserted pumps. The first was a lifting pump and raised the water a few feet. Then a forcing pump took it and made it ascend up pipes far away out of sight. The pumps were worked by the steam engine we had seen above being connected with it by beams of wood descending in the shaft and continually rattling up and down in it. In the small part of the shaft left vacant by the pistons pipes and beams were fixed ladders which ascending from stage to stage conducting to the top and up. There we had to go bathed in the shower of water which was shaken off from all parts of the pump works. After long climbing we came to a part of the shaft where the first forcing pump delivered its water into a little cistern and then another pump of the same construction threw it up to the surface. Still proceeding we at last got a glimpse of daylight above and were soon able to see the pump rods by it. Now the danger of the ascent appeared far greater than before for the more extensive light showing in the well above and something of the depth below made us conscious of our real situation whereas before we only thought of the small spot illuminated by our candles. The agitation of the pump rods was more visible too and appeared greater from being seen over a larger space and their rattling and thumping was quite in accordance with appearances. But in spite of all things we gained the surface in high glee and came up into the world above at the engine after a residence of about two hours in the queer place below.

We were again amused with each others appearance which though comical before was now much heightened by the dirt and water of the mine. At the office we found Mr. Irewick waiting for us and soap and hot water ready for use. We stripped, washed and dressed and were soon in complete order again.

All the miners work in flannel clothes and from our own feelings we had reason to commend the custom. We did not feel at all incommoded by heat during our stay below though when we came up and began to change we found ourselves in the very highest state of perspiration. The advantage of flannel arises from the little influence moisture has over it and its non-adhesion to the skin even though damp or moist.

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