The ancient copper mines of Llandudno have been dated to the middle Bronze Age. The oldest date currently established being 1800 BC, some 3800 years ago. These ancient mine workings, which have been opened to the public by the Great Orme Mines Ltd, are still being investigated and opened up. Many of the Bronze Age galleries have survived undisturbed. The presently accessible tunnels extend 300 metres into the Great Orme and sink to a depth, in a complex network, of some 75 meters below the surface provide a total distance of about 8 km making it the most extensive bronze age workings surviving in Europe. Some of the shafts are so small that they could only have been worked by children. They probably took full advantage of the geology by mining the softer veins of malachite first, which could be removed by hand.
Many animal bone fragments have been found which were used as tools including boar, deer and mammoths. The bones have been preserved in the neutral to alkali environment resulting from the limestone. Over 900 stone mauls or hammers have been found, probably selected from the hard, rounded volcanic rocks found on the local beaches. Fragments of charcoal from firesetting are also widespread.
No ancient metallurgical workings have yet been found, suggesting that the copper mined was traded elsewhere, probably taken to Cornwall, where the only deposits of tin are found in Britain – copper and tin being the two constituent metals required for the making of bronze. The Great Orme deposits have been mined intermittently from the Bronze Age up to recent times. There are reports that Roman coins were found in the mines in the 19th century suggesting that the mines were in use during the Roman occupation (40-400 AD). However the most extensive period of mining activity started in the 17th century and is documented from the 1690’s and lasted to the very end of the 19th century.
The Great Orme is an isolated promontory of outcropping carboniferous limestone. It rises to a height of some 207 metres above sea level. It consists of over 300 metres of limestone of Lower Carboniferous age, deformed into a gentle syncline, and traversed from north to south by at least four near vertical faults. The principle ore, Chalcopyrite, occurred from the surface down to the depths of at least 180 metres. Alteration and secondary enrichment resulted in carbonate ores, mainly malachite and minor azurite. The early workings of the 17th century were on the Bishop of Bangor’s common land and became known as the “Old Mine”. Whilst the “New Mine”, first referred to in 1807, was mainly on the lands of the Mostyn family. There were occasional boundary disputes between the two. One of which ended in a legal victory to the then owner of the Old Mine. A celebratory dinner held at the King’s Head Pub, Llandudno was even described in the Mining Journal of 21st January 1843:
……after the usual toasts the health of Mr Jones and his family was drunk with much enthusiasm, and in the evening fire-works were discharged and the town splendidly illuminated.
The Ty Gwyn Mine (White House Mine) was a much later enterprise than the Old and New mines. Located to the north east of the Great Orme it was apparently discovered by accident when a grazer noticed that after his cow had removed a sod of earth it revealed amounts of copper ore. There are many remnants of mining from this modern time covering the Great Orme in the way of mine shafts, adits and the foundations of much of the mining and processing equipment. It is estimated that about 50,000 tons of copper ore was mined at the Llandudno mines during the 19th century.
Reference: British Mining No.52. Great Orme Mines, A Monograph of the Northern Mine Research Society, C.J. Williams 1995