Plwm (Article also in Ceredigion Brochure 2010)

Wednesday, 27 January, 2010

The Welsh word for lead is "Plwm", derived from the Latin word plumbum. Lead - together with smaller amounts of silver and copper was being mined in Ceredigion long before the Romans arrived. .

lead artefact in Ceredigion Museum lead toy in Ceredigion Museum

 A gold "sun disc" (picture below) unearthed in the Cwm Ystwyth mining area in 2002 has been dated to around 2500 BC.  So what was lead used for?   Plumbing is one obvious answer - the pliable metal was in use by the Romans and remained in use for many centuries until the issue of lead poisoning was discovered, eventually putting a stop to making toys from lead and using lead-based chemicals in cosmetics.

By far the most deadly use of lead, however, involves bullets and it is by no means a coincidence that most of the last working lead mines in Ceredigion closed in the early 1920s, shortly after the end of the first World War when demans for munitions diminished.

Whole communities within upland Ceredigion, largely owe their existence to a centuries-old involvement with lead mining.  What's surprising is the remaining visible inhertance of that industry.  Apart from many ruins of long-abandoned mine workings in upland valleys, you'll encounter manmade lakes from where water was once drawn to power the great waterwheels at all the workings.  Still curiously etched as long straight lines traversing mountainsides are the leets that channelled water from the reservoirs to one mine after another.  At Pontrhydygroes - once an elderado of lead mining - you can still see a restored water wheel turn.

The narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway, linking Devil's Bridge with Aberystwyth, was originally developed in 1902 to serve the lead mines of the Ceredigion uplands.  The 11 3/4 mile journey enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year still passes many ruined mines - some now hidden in the dense foliage of the verdant Cwm Rheidol.

Aberystwyth's Ceredigion Museum has items associated with the history of mining and metal working in Ceredigion, including silver coins minted at Aberystwyth Castle after Charles I of England established a royal mint there in 1637.  However, the Llywernog Silver-Lead Museum near Pontwerwyd, is the destination of choice for a guide to the metal mining industry, with even an opportunity to visit the underground workings.

underground at Llywernog

Images: top left - cannonball made from lead, top right - old lead toy, both in Ceredigion Museum, pictured just above the public underground, on a tour of Llywernog Lead-Silver Mine Museum.