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Amlwch Copper Kingdom: Parys Mountain

© Hawlfraint y Goron (2012) Croeso Cymru / Crown copyright (2012) Visit Wales

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The Copper Kingdom attractions are split into two areas: the trail around Parys Mountain mine and the visitor attractions in Amlwch Port. Amlwch town can be reached by the no. 62 bus from Bangor.

Parys Mountain is not an enclosed area, and as such is open all the time. It's found approximately one and a half miles outside the town on the B5111 road towards Rhosybol. The no 31, 32, and 63 buses have some services that take the route past the mountain, but they are all infrequent.

The Copper Kingdom Visitor Centre and Sail Loft cafe at Amlwch Port are currently closed for the winter. They are due to re-open on March 26th 2013, from 11am to 5 pm. Amlwch Port is about half a mile outside Amlwch town. The only bus connecting Amlwch to the Port is the no 31, which goes about two or three times a day.

Colourful remains of a colourful history

The rocks of Parys Mountain have a stark beauty, swept by the wind and rain, baked by the sun. Exposed minerals and vegetation reveal a palette of vivid colours - purple, ochre, umber, orange, acid green.

Welcome to the 'Copper Kingdom', where miners were already at work in the Bronze Age, perhaps 4,000 years ago. After the 1760s this small corner of Wales would become a crucible of the Industrial Revolution. For a time Parys Mountain produced more copper than any other mine in the world. Its copper sheathed the hulls of the Royal Navy's warships at Trafalgar in 1805.Anglesey penny;© National Library of Wales

No kingdom is complete without its coinage. Between 1787 and 1793 the Parys Mine Company issued perhaps 10 million copper tokens known as 'Anglesey pennies'. On one side was a druid's face in a wreath of oak leaves: on the other, the letters PMCo.

Start your visit at Parys Mountain

Any visit should start at Parys Mountain. A maze of paths winds through great chasms, mounds of rubble and pools once used for copper precipitation. On the heights are a nineteenth century beam-engine house and a windmill once used for pumping out the workings.

Thomas Williams; © National Library of WalesOn 2nd March 1768 there was a lucky strike. The shouts that went up that day from prospectors and miners heralded a great copper boom. After legal wrangles between Sir Nicholas Bayly of Plas Newydd and the Lewis family of Llys Dulas, mining operations fell under the control of local lawyer Thomas Williams. He became the 'Copper King,' using his great wealth to found an industrial empire. Williams was admired locally as Twm Chwarae Teg  ('Tom Fair Play'), but he was not always as popular with his industrial rivals.

Over the ages, perhaps 3.5 million tonnes of rock were dug or blasted from the shafts or the great opencast pit.

For the men, mining was perilous work. Ropes with baskets dangled over the abyss, gunpowder blasted out the rockfaces. Women known as Copar Ladis  (Copper Ladies) broke the rock with hammers and sorted the ore, singing as they worked their exhausting 12-hour shift.  

 The Factory Age

Copper Ladies; © Isle of Anglesey County CouncilWorkers smelted ore on the mountainside or transported it down a trackway to the town and port of Amlwch. Copper mining and precipitation in pools had all sorts of profitable by-products such as pigments, chemicals and fertilisers.  Labourers extracted sulphur from the ore in the kilns, which created an acrid smog that blighted local farms.

In the early days of this inferno, Amlwch was quite a wild town, known for its brewery and its many public houses. Although the mines provided a better income than farm labouring, people were poor and disease was rife. By 1800 incoming workers had raised the population to 5,000 - more than today's Amlwch.

The Victorian age gradually brought respectability, better housing, schools, chapels - and, from 1866  to 1993, a railway line.

Flats, schooners and sailors

Flats (sailing barges) were shipping ore from Porth Amlwch from about 1780. In the 1800s the port became a centre of shipping under the direction of a Cornish mining family named Treweek.

Amlwch port in the 18th century; © Isle of Anglesey County CouncilWarehouses and hoppers for holding the copper ore now surrounded the quays. Engineers improved and enlarged the harbour in 1793, 1816 and 1853.

However the port was still very small and in its heyday was overcrowded and bustling with activity and noise. Over the years, imports generated new businesses, such as the processing of tobacco and snuff.

Cargoes also included coal and local agricultural produce such as grain. The island's largest windmill, Melin y Borth, produced flour to the west of the harbour from 1816. 

The Treweeks moved into shipbuilding and this business thrived even as output from the mines was plunging into decline. There were successful yards on either side of the harbour, as well as a dry dock.  From 1825 to 1908 Amlwch was famous for its home-built schooners and brigantines. Tall masts towered above the little port.

Seafarers from the Amlwch area sailed around Britain and the world in the 1800s. Many masters learned their skills in a school of navigation set up by Captain William Francis of Amlwch shipbuilding; © Isle of Anglesey County CouncilParys Lodge Square, Amlwch. Tombstones in northwest Anglesey bear witness to ships, voyages, shipwrecks and storms.

A new industrial age

After the First World War Amlwch faced hard times and unemployment, but eventually other industries moved in. From 1953 to 2004 the Associated Octel Company (later Great Lakes Chemicals) extracted bromine from salt water, and from 1962 to 1980 pressure gauges were manufactured at the Budenberg works. Shell UK operated an oil pipeline terminal offshore for 15 years from 1973, with a land base at Rhosgoch. From 1974 the Rehau plastics company has been a major local employer.

What of the old mountain? Since 2003 the old workings have been drained to prevent threat to the town below and heavy metal pollution of the Irish Sea. Ever since the 1950s there has been renewed interest in those parts of Parys Mountain that still have reserves of copper, lead, zinc, gold and silver. The current developers are the Anglesey Mining Company, and the mines may yet have a future if the economic conditions are right.

Today industrial history enthusiasts from all over Wales and the world come to visit Parys Mountain and Porth Amlwch. The old sail loft, above the eastern quays of the harbour, has been developed as a fascinating heritage centre, telling the story of the Copper Kingdom, its miners, shipbuilders and sailors. Come and find out more!

 


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