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,
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.
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
On 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
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
Workers 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
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.
Warehouses 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
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
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 Parys 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