The Dolgellau Gold Belt

Members and visitors assembled at Peniel Chapel on Thursday 21st November 2019 to hear Dr Ron Callender (FRPS) share his extensive expertise on the subject of gold mining in North Wales. His talk focussed on the “Dolgellau Gold Belt”

Dr Callender spent much of his working life as a Unilever scientist, but in 1983 when he transferred to Port Sunlight research laboratory, he visited North Wales to pan for gold in the hills. On retirement, he studied for a degree in 19th century history and subsequently spent 5 years directing archaeological research on the Scottish Gold Rush of 1869. Simultaneously he turned his attention to the gold mines of North Wales and has published extensively on the subject.

The talk began by Dr Callender showing a map. The mines of the Dolgellau Gold Belt begin at Barmouth and follow the north bank of the river Mawddach to Llanelltyd. Further gold mines are found on Garn Mountain, near Ganllwyd, and by the Mawddach in the Coed y Brenin forest, with two outliers on the road to Bala.

Mining for copper and lead has a long history in North Wales, dating back to Roman times. The first gold was discovered at East Cwmheisian in 1853 and many of the mines which produced copper and lead were eventually found to contain gold. Our speaker gave us fascinating insights into many of these mines, including the well-known Clogau and Trawsfynydd gold mines which are still producing gold. The latter half of the 19th century saw the peak of production for the North Wales gold mines and the talk featured many illustrations of mine interiors as well as machinery such as crushing plants and smelters. Our speaker is a talented photographer and some of the photos of the mine interiors were breath-taking.

We heard about techniques for locating and recovering gold with cyanide and mercury, along with details of the oil flotation process which was developed at the Glasdir Mine as a safe way of recovering gold from gold-bearing gravel. This method is still in use today in the USA. We were introduced to two characters from the recent history of local gold mining, namely Hugh Pugh and Jack Williams.

Dr Callender finished his talk by showing us memoirs he has produced on Voel Mines, Cefn Coch and Berth Lwyd mines, and Cwmheisian mines. He then answered questions including whether it is possible to identify which area gold comes from: Surprisingly the answer was “yes”- gold from a specific area has its own unique “fingerprint” so it is possible to identify gold from North Wales.

Dr Ron Callender

An interesting, informative talk and the audience were appreciative to have such an expert, distinguished speaker

Diane Williams

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