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The Mine Workings at Dan - Y - Graig Quarry, Risca. Gwent. South. Wales,

Having seen the report on Roman Mine, Drathen, The Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd. approached the Club, asking if we were interested in having a look at some workings that had been recently uncovered at the Dan -y- Graig Quarry near Risca, S.Wales.

The archaeologists were hoping that these workings may have had some origin in Roman times.  Local evidence although sparse, points to some form of Roman mining activity in the Risca area.

Tile stamps from the Second Legion have been found near the church at Risca.  The Second Legion were involved in various prospecting and mining activities, kind of Roman version of the Royal Engineers.  They were also active in the Charterhouse lead mining area of Mendip.  Two place names in the area are direct corruptions of the Roman/Latin; Pontymister (Pone Magistri - Bridge of the Masters.) and, it follows also that as the Roman Mine site at Drathen, just a few miles away was discovered by Roman prospectors any mineral deposits at, Risca would most likely be found.  The Roman skill in finding minerals is well known.

A letter written in 1983 to the Archaeological Survey Officer, from a Mr Tony Edwards, gives an account of these workings when first uncovered in 1977.  The text of which is given below:-

"The workings were re-discovered when we were clearing stone and rubble away from a rockface.  I was given to understand that shafts existed in the field near the edge of the quarry, also close by was the wonderful remains of Craig -y- Neuadd.

We used to stay behind after work and using lamps, etc, would explore the extent of the workings.  They appeared to be at various levels, with two entrances near the top of the face. One was of little interest and the other, a tunnel approx, 4ft high ran for about 25 - 30yds.  The end was blocked with rubble but did not look like a roof fall.  Along this tunnel was an entrance off to the right, this then opened into a small chamber with a hole? in the floor, we climbed down into the hole/shaft which appeared to be workings, with signs of black flame burn marks here and there. Eventually this hole was blocked so we did not bother to uncover any more.

Now to what I thought was the best tunnel.  This entrance was lower than the other two, probably part of a chamber, upon entering; there were large slabs of rock running down from left to right. We slid down some of the small ones (the large ones formed the roof) and came to a ledge, using a ladder and some rope we were able to climb down to a floor level.

It was a lovely sight, a huge cavern; in the middle was a clear blue pond.  There were workings all round, with a number blocked with small boulders, again we did not try to unblock them.

In the middle of the cavern was the remains of a wooden tramway? running from an area not far from where we came in and up to the edge of the pool. The pool did not look very deep and we thought perhaps a small bridge (wooden) may have carried the tramway to the other side.

On the other side was a tunnel 6 – 7 feet tall and about 4 feet wide.  I think this one was another that ran for a number of yards and into a dead end chamber.  The other ran for quite a distance and ended in a chamber with a hole in the floor, flooded but with big timbers around the sides.  (The hole was not guarded we could see the timbers by shining the light down the shaft.)

Back to the side of the pond, another tunnel, quite long, with the sound of heavy water, we found it blocked.  Where was that water going?

Hoping this is some help to you.

Yours Tony Edwards.

We had hoped to meet Mr Edwards on our visit to the quarry, but unfortunately he was not present. Our visit took place on October 13th and the party consisting of Tim Large, Tony Jarratt, Dany Bradshaw, Jill and Norman Tuck, and myself, plus representatives from Islywn Borough Council, and the Glamorgan/ Gwent Arch’ Trust, assembled at the quarry.

A dark hole could be seen in the quarry wall this in fact turned out to be the only piece of mine passage accessible.  A mined tunnel approx 1m high and 10m wide led for some 10m to a crawl up through some fallen rock and mud into a small chamber some small traces of galena were found here.  The passage continued past a fallen boulder for some further 10m to a blockage of mud and boulders.  Just at the end a pit in the passage leads off to the right, through a descending squeeze into a small chamber, the end was blocked with fallen rock.  The initials 'T.E.' were seen here written in chalk.  A small low passage led off at floor leve1, but this proved to be too loose to push more than a few metres.

The chamber contained the marks where small veins of ore had been picked out, but quarry blasting had shaken the walls and ceiling about so that the exact extent of the ore could not be determined.  At the entrance to this chamber some shot holes were found, approx 20-25mm in diameter. Also a short piece of steel bar approx 150mm long and 20mm dia, was found.  This appears to be a broken borer or chisel, having the burred end consistent with being struck repeatedly.  Smoke marks were also seen in the same place on the roof, but no indication as to their age could be seen.

The tunnel described in para 2 of Mr Edwards letter does seem to be very similar to the one we explored. The quarry blasting has shattered the rock and the whole working is in a state of collapse.  We withdrew to the surface and made a search of the quarry for further accessible workings.  The lower level workings mentioned by Mr Edwards seem to have been obliterated by the work in the quarry.

Work in the quarry is soon to cease, it is hoped that the Council may uncover more workings during the tidying operations.  If this happens we hope to be able to conclude our explorations.

In conclusion.  The workings so far seen, although small, together with the description from Mr Edwards, point to a small mining venture around the 18th Century.  Any Roman workings are likely to have been obliterated during the development of these workings if indeed the Romans managed to find and exploit the mineral.

Our thanks to: -

Islwyn Borough Council, A. Monk & Co Plc for permission to carry out explorations.

Glamorgan/Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd.


Sketch Survey – Dany Y – Graig Quarry Mineworking

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