Anglesey as "Gwlad y Medra" -- "The Can-Do
On the 2nd March 1768 a miner called Roland Puw struck an
especially rich seam of copper ore at Parys Mountain. A shout went
up that echoed around this rocky, windswept hill in the northeast
corner of Anglesey. For the island, and indeed for all of Wales,
the Industrial Revolution had begun.
It was the sheer scale of the workings at Parys Mountain that
heralded this new age. During the copper boom at the end of
the eighteenth century, Parys Mountain became for a time the
world's most productive copper mine, shifting about 44,000 tonnes
of ore a year.
Amlwch leads the world
Back then working conditions were perilous, and
miners daily risked their lives. Local women, known as Copar
Ladis (Copper Ladies) worked to break and sort the ore.
Copper from Parys Mountain sheathed the hulls of the Royal Navy's
warships. High quality copper was also produced in precipitation
pools around Parys Mountain.
The man who made it happen was The Copper King, a lawyer named
Thomas Williams (1737-1802). Locally he was respected
as Twm Chwarae Teg (Tom Fair Play), but as his
industrial empire spread across England and South Wales, his
business rivals were sometimes less
complimentary! Thomas Williams made a vast fortune.
The neighbouring town of Amlwch grew rapidly. It became an
industrial enclave in rural Anglesey, notorious in its early years
for its hard drinking and lawlessness and for the sulphurous
pollution that hung in its air. The town's factories later produced
chemicals, pigments and fertilisers.
Local men set sail across the world
Mine agents also established a shipbuilding industry around
Amlwch's port in the nineteenth century. There were two shipyards
at Porth Amlwch, and the tall masts of schooners and barquentines
towered above the little harbour. As Britain's industrial power
increased, local men became seafarers, taking 'flats' (sailing
barges) or schooners around Irish Sea coasts, or sailing from
Liverpool to brave the wild storms off Cape Horn, in South America.
Trade was already becoming global.
Anglesey could also offer resources other than
copper, including china clay and coal. A small coalfield at Pentre
Berw, on the Cefni estuary, provided fuel for local homes and
industries, but poor-quality seams and flooding proved too
During the Victorian era many small village houses were built
for quarrymen. Limestone quarries lined the coast from Penmon round
to Llanddona, along the cliffs of Red Wharf Bay and Traeth Bychan.
From the late 19th century many Anglesey workers also rode
the ferry from Moel y Don to Felinheli (Port Dinorwic), in order to
work all week in the slate quarries of Snowdonia, which were the
largest in the world.
Two "world's first" bridges transform
Penmon limestone cladded the world's first big iron suspension
bridge, the nearby Menai Bridge, which opened in 1826. Enginering
genius Thomas Telford's elegant masterpiece carried the new A5, a
trunk road from London. The bridge was built high, to allow
tall ships to navigate the racing tides far below as they sailed
from the quays of Porthaethwy.
Improved transport continually
enhanced Anglesey life in the 19th century. In 1850, the
Menai Bridge was joined by Stephenson and Fairbairn's Britannia
Railway Bridge, another world's first, reknown for its daring use
of twin wrought-iron tubes. (A road deck was added in 1980.) Both
bridges led to Holyhead, now the chief port for Ireland.
Workers erected that town's 3km-long breakwater (the longest in
Britain) from 1845 to 1873. All tolled, these new links -
transforming local road, rail and shipping - ended Anglesey's long
New age, new challenges
The 20th century welcomed new industries to the island.
Saunders-Roe fitted out flying boats at Llanfaes during the Second
World War. Aluminium was smelted at Holyhead from 1971, the year in
which a huge nuclear power station opened at Wylfa Head. In 1973 an
oil pipeline terminal was constructed offshore near Amlwch.
Anglesey's rolling green fields and rocky shores do not just
tell a story of farming and fishing, but often reveal relics of
lime kilns, brick works, quarries and quays. An old Welsh nickname
for Anglesey is Gwlad y Medra - "can-do
country". It was said that Anglesey men seeking work at
mainland slate quarries used to push themselves to the front,
saying 'Medra!' - 'I can do that!'. They could
indeed - and the island's rich industrial heritage still shows that
-- by Philip Steele