Monday, March 05, 2007

Parys Mountain Today

Looking at the photograph, one might think that the hill beyond the small lake was full of heather. One would be quite wrong. I took this photo on Saturday 3rd March when it was sunny and bright. I had taken a short walk from the car park going towards what is called the Great Opencast. I was surprised at the varied colours you can see in the picture.
All the various colours belong to the different ores that form the many spoil heaps surrounding the huge Great Opencast where men once worked in the most inhospitable and dangerous conditions. It is difficult to imagine a more dangerous job other than that of the slate workers across the Menai Strait in the real mountains around Blaenau Ffestiniog. Many lives were lost working in such a dangerous place.
And yet, I was told by Allan Kelly the warden, they had to bid to get a job there! But of course, this was a time not unlike the gold rush in America where there was a surfeit of precious ore that could be sold all over the world and make people very rich. Alan told me about the first ships that entered what was then just a narrow creek at Amlwch. When they tied up they tied their ropes round gorse bushes as there was no quay at first. Later, the local landowner fixed iron rings in the creek side and charged the ships' masters for mooring there.
Over many years, as the other photo shows a great depression steadily grew on Parys Mountain. In and around it grew the many spoil heaps showing the various ores that had been extracted in the hunt for copper. There were many different ores in addition to copper and it is believed that, today, there remain many valuable ones which now may cause the area to be mined again. One mineral which is present there in small quantities is gold.
The copper that was shipped out from Amlwch in the late 18th and early 19th centuries led to an amazing discovery. At that time the mine in Parys Mountain was the largest source of copper in the world. Amlwch grew from a few scattered houses to a small but thriving town, certainly the biggest in Anglesey in its hey day. It is always a good plan to ensure that a ship never sails empty but carries a cargo in each direction. Wherever possible the ships arrived in Amlwch loaded with tobacco which was processed in the town and sold on to a great many outlets. However, when no cargo could be sourced the captains would acquire rocks to carry as ballast to keep their vessels stable at sea. One day some of the rock they carried was examined as it lay in a pile at the port. The knowledgeable individual who looked at it suddenly realised that there appeared to be copper ore among it. This was tested and found to be true. Suddenly Amlwch's fate was sealed. Prospectors travelled to South America whence it had come and discovered enough copper to eventually wipe out the two mines on Parys Mountain.
Today the copper still comes from that same source in South America. It is only the very high price of copper today that has made the latest drillings necessary. It is just possible that Amlwch copper could be mined once more. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see a new copper industry rise once more and putting us back on the industrial map?
The other picture is, of course, the Great Opencast, a legacy from the 18th and 19th centuries. All round the huge site of the mountain there are ruined buildings and processing beds that played their part in the extraction of copper. Today, I think the sight of the huge pit with all its colours in the light of an afternoon sun is breathtaking. If you could enlarge the picture you would just see the little village of Penysarn where I live. The people of Penysarn made a living from the manufacture of boots and workwear for the workers on the mountain.
The discovery of precious ores and metals can change an area forever. It grows in size and then fades away as the industry dies. Today the area has a need for more jobs and in a few years we shall lose a major employer with the closure of Wylfa Nuclear Power Station. The rise and fall of a local economy brings good and bad times alike. Over in Detroit there is great poverty and deprivation among people who used to work in the car industry. Cheap Japanese imports started the rot and eventually it was viable to construct cars in America and they no longer counted as imports. The American style of huge automobiles that consumed high quantities of petrol eventually lost out to the smaller and more economic Japanese cars and their industry just died on its feet. That's life.


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