Victorian ventures after a fortune in Dolaucothi

1930s miners under head gear in mineyard © Keith Morris

1930s miners under head gear in mineyard

Once the vestiges of Roman occupation disappeared from Dolaucothi, the knowledge and usage of the gold mine apparently disappeared with them.

The most active period of mining at Dolaucothi in the Victorian/Edwardian Age occurred around the turn of the 20th century, at the same time as the opening of the first South African gold mines and the famous Klondike Gold Rush.

The Victorian South Wales Gold Mining Company

Perhaps inspired by the South African discovery, a lead miner called Edward Jones formed the South Wales Gold Mining Company to sublet the mines from the Johnes family (who owned the estate) from 1888 to 1894, hoping to make his fortune. Unfortunately for Jones, the ore being mined contained only a very small proportion of gold, making the operation too expensive to be worthwhile.

Though Jones and his venture were unsuccessful, one man who enjoyed some measure of success at Dolaucothi was a Cornish mining engineer, James Mitchell, who had experienced the South African gold rush first hand.

Dolaucothi in the Edwardian era

Mitchell was employed to reopen the mines at Dolaucothi in 1905 by the Johnes family. He would remain, in several capacities, until 1912.

Making a profit in his first year convinced Mitchell to found his own company called Ogofau Proprietary Gold Mining Company. The company claimed initial success, making profits while continuing to extract gold in small quantities, but a lack of further discoveries and dwindling capital forced Mitchell’s venture to cease in 1909.

Third time lucky?

Nevertheless the lure of gold and potential riches remained captivating, as Cothy Mines immediately took up the lease, re-employing James Mitchell as mine manager in the hope that he would strike lucky a second time.

This time Mitchell began by sinking the first major shaft on site, which would ultimately reach a depth of 100ft (30.5m). The shaft was topped with a large wooden structure known as a 'headframe' that lowered miners into the depths in barrels. Ore would then be lifted out the same way.

Once again though, Dolaucothi would stifle all efforts to make a fortune, as Mitchell’s shaft struck the remains of Roman workings that had been flooded centuries earlier. The cost of pumping out the water proved too great and

Cothy Mines shut down operations in 1912.

To hear more of James Mitchell’s story in the adits that he excavated, and to hear more about what life was like working in a gold mine at this time, then why not try our Victorian Tour?