September 12, 2008
Wales’ Golden Age
From Roman times gold was found in the Welsh hills but it was only in the late 19th century that commercial mining began.
A mini gold rush provided work for hundreds of hopeful men in about a dozen mines.
The early prospectors did strike it rich but most modern-day miners have given up digging for gold.
Welsh gold was generally found in two parts of the country.
In the north it could be found between Barmouth and Snowdonia, but in the south it was largely confined to a small area in the valley of the River Cothi at Dolaucothi where it was mined by the Romans.
Gold jewellery such as torcs (necklaces) were worn by the early Welsh princes.
However, it is debatable whether the gold used in them was Welsh since the country had a well developed trading relationship with Ireland, a major gold producer.
Dolaucothi, near Pumsaint in Carmarthenshire, was the earliest known Welsh gold mine.
It is thought mining began there in the Bronze Age (up to about 1,000BC) before it closed in 1938 and was donated to the National Trust in 1941. It now functions as a tourist attraction.
A hoard of gold objects was found near Pumsaint close to the mines in the 18th century. They are in the British Museum.
Dolaucothi is thought to have been most intensively mined during the Roman period, from about AD75 to AD300 at least.
Wales' last working gold mine Gwynfynydd in Dolgellau, Gwynedd, was discovered in 1860. It has produced 62kg of Welsh gold since 1884.
For a time the mine was open to the public and provided guided tours, which included the opportunity to pan for gold.
The mine closed due to problems finding a sufficiently rich lode or seam and because changing pollution control legislation would have made the owners liable for the quality of discharge into the River Mawddach.
Although the underground part of the mine closed in 1999, there is still thought to be plenty of gold left in the Welsh hills.
All it needs to make it profitable again is an investor prepared to take the risk as Clogau are on the point of doing at Bontddu.
The irony of the decline of the Welsh gold industry is that it is considered three times more valuable than the South African or Australian variety.
Its purity and history mean jewellery made from it is much sought after.
Added to that is the fact that for several generations, royal wedding rings have been made from the Welsh variety. The Queen, Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Prince of Wales, the late Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall Camilla Parker Bowles have all worn worn wedding rings fashioned from Welsh gold
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