An Explosive Combination: Coal Mining in North Wales
Coal has shaped the history of north-east Wales.
Coal is a valuable resource. As early as the fourteenth century, the Burgesses of Holt jealously guarded their right to dig for coal in the 'wastes' of Brymbo and Coedpoeth. In 1536 John Leland, the travel writer, records the existence of coalmining around Mold and at a place called 'The Mines', modern-day Minera.
During the 17th century, demand for coal grew as more houses had chimneys. In Flintshire, Piers Mostyn and Sir Thomas Mostyn went to court to decide who had the rights to the colliery at Y Morfa. In Denbighshire, Sir Thomas Myddelton employed a man 'that is goode to find coales' on his estate at Chirk. By 1690 the coal mine at Black Park on the Chirk estate was producing 3,500 wagons of coal a year.
Coal mining expanded in the 18th century. Established industries such as Bersham ironworks started to use coal. In Flintshire, lead smelters were established along the coast, near the coal mines, as it was easier to take the lead ore downhill than haul the coal uphill to the lead mines.
Coal also opened up new opportunities. In both counties, the fireclay found alongside the coal was put to profitable use: pottery in Buckley and bricks, tiles and terracotta in Ruabon and Acrefair.
In the 19th century, the railways heralded coal's golden age: coal to make the iron rails, and to power the steam locomotives. However, the profits came at a high price.
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