Great Darren Mine, 5¾ miles east of Aberystwyth, is held to be of considerable antiquity. The Main Vein runs across Darren Hill from south-west to north-east, and has been worked in Silurian and Ordovician grits, shales and mudstones for over 1.1 miles to near Gwaith yr Afan Mine. As well as silver rich lead, the vein carried significant amounts of copper ore.
Like other mines in the area, Darren was leased by the Society of Mines Royal from 1583, but left unworked until 1617 when it and the nearby Cwmsymlog mine were leased to Sir Hugh Myddleton. His agent and successor, Thomas Bushell, drove an adit at Darren which significantly reduced pumping costs, but the Civil War forced Bushell to flee.
In the first half of the eighteenth century George’s Shaft found rich ore below Bushell’s Level and worked it to a moderate depth before it was flooded. Around 1747 a Mr Moore began sinking the Great Whimsey Shaft to the south-west of George’s in an attempt to get at the ore and drain the works. He had some success, but a section from 1747 suggests it did not reach the deepest workings. Much of the century appears to have been consumed with arguments about the ownership of various small setts, which made systematic working impossible.
John Taylor leased both Darren and Cwmsymlog in 1838 and found that, despite the heavy inflows of water, the ‘old men’ had done far more work there than realised. By 1844 Taylor was convinced the mine warranted no further investment, so he let a company managed by his son-in-law work it until 1848.
Two mining agents, Matthew and Absalom Francis, then persuaded Phillip Oliver to buy the Darren lease, and they proceeded to develop the vein on the northern side of Darren Hill. They also reworked old spoil and recovered copper, as well as lead ore. They lacked cash, however, and in 1853 sold out to George Batters & Co. which, for the first time, consolidated the setts of Darren Cwmdarren and Cwmsebon. The Francises apparently acted as consultants, and Francis’s Shaft soon found an orebody which was followed to 25 fms below Oliver’s Adit.
Batters fared no better than others had done, however, and gave up in 1858. He was followed by companies floated by Thomas Spargo and which led to claims of reckless and fraudulent practices. The mine was never worked seriously again after 1868.
Cwmsymlog or East Darren Mine
This mine is one-and-a-half miles east-north-east of Darren and worked a vein running east to west through similar strata. Owing to the richness of silver in the lead ore, the Society of Mines Royal leased it from 1583. They were not the first, however, and the workings were “so winding and ruinous that workmen are not able to continue at their work for three hours each day”. Water also gave them trouble, but within four years the mine had been redeveloped and the numbers employed had increased greatly.
When Sir Hugh Myddleton leased Cwmsymlog and Darren mines, from the Society in 1617, the miners were struggling to keep it drained. His agent and successor, Thomas Bushell, began an adit which was to be over 700 yard long. It was unfinished when Myddleton died in 1631, and Bushell fled before doing it. William Waller, of the Company of Mines Adventurers of England (1698 to 1708), completed it, but the ‘old man’ had been there first and only 35¼ tons of ore were raised. By 1710 the mine had one-and-a-half miles of levels, about 45 shafts, four adits, a smithy, stamp mill, workers’ housing and a chapel. The company gave up many of its mines after 1710, but kept Cwmsymlog working until 1722, when it too was sold.
The vein ran through the following three estates. At the west end the Evans estate had the freehold, Pryse’s Gogerddan Estate owned the central part, and at its eastern end, the Crown owned Blaencymsymlog mine. William Corbett was the first to lease the whole mine in 1748. Most of the ore came from the Crown’s section at first, but by 1760 it was coming from Pryse’s section.
Chauncey Townsend, who had Cwmystwyth, worked the mine from 1751 with Thomas Bonsall, of Bakewell, as manager. As he did elsewhere, Bonsall worked only richer ore and left no pillars to support the vein walls. This was profitable, but it left the ground unstable and liable to major collapses. When Townsend died in 1770, his son, James, sold Cwmystwyth to Bonsall, and allowed him to work Cwmsymlog in return for a 1/7th royalty. Little was done, however. Bonsall had wrecked the various mines, and the Crown’s Blaencymsymlog was said to be worked out. This and low metal prices kept the mine closed until 1810, when Job Sheldon took it.
The Williams Brothers, of Scorrier in Cornwall, leased Cwmsymlog from the Gogerddan Estate in 1828 and stoped a block of ground between the 20 and 32 fathom levels. This coincided with a time of low lead prices, however, but it appears that the premium paid for the ore’s silver content was sufficient to keep the mine working. By 1838 Cwmsymlog was in the hands of John Taylor.
Taylor did not fare well at first and is thought to have lost £10,000 by 1847. He sank Reid’s and Taylor’s Shafts to develop a deep orebody at the centre and western end of the mine. This involved draining the old workings in order to make it safe to work up from lower levels. An old shaft (Pryse’s) was cleaned out and sunk to 44 fathoms, where a level was driven to Taylor’s and Reid’s Shafts. Pumps, worked by rods from a waterwheel, were fitted at Taylor’s, Reid’s, Pryse’s and Skinners, although Pryse’s also had a steam engine for wet periods. By 1861 Taylor’s Shaft was down to 104 fathoms below adit, which was near the bottom of the oreshoot. Nevertheless, for the rest of the 1860s East Darren was one of the few Welsh mines which gave its shareholders good returns. Its last dividend was in 1876, when many other mines had failed.
At the eastern end of the mine, Skinners Shaft was cleared and sunk through old workings to prove if the orebody extended that far. It reached 130 fathoms below adit, but most of it was through unproductive ground. Nevertheless, it gave access and drainage for the stopes east of Taylor’s.
During the 1880s the mine cut its costs by working old pillars and retreating spoil. It went into receivership in 1884, but produced ore until it was wound up in 1889. A number of short-lived ventures followed, but the inevitable closure came in 1901/2.
- Hughes, S.J.S. The Darren Mines (British Mining No.40, 1990)