Site Records

SiteName: Milwr Tunnel

Olwyn Goch Shaft
Rhydymwyn, Flintshire
OS Grid Ref: SJ201677

Sub Brit site visit August & November 1997

[Source: Cris Ebbs]

By 1936 the tunnel face was about a mile south of Rhydymwyn and with an average of 150 men underground at each shift, distributed in a number of different lodes over some six miles, a system of traffic control became necessary. Generally two small locos, one at lode 675 beneath Rhosesmor and the other at the main tunnel face, acted as feeders supplying loaded cars to a larger loco which then took a full train to Pen-y-Bryn Shaft for processing.

Photo:One of the Eimco shovels in the limestone workings
Photo by Nick Catford

Charging of the locos' batteries was done at the surface at Pen-y-Bryn until later years when a charging bay was installed underground at Olwyn Goch shaft beside the compressor chamber. Ultimately the number of diesels in use was increased to three together with a number of Eimco rocker shovels to cope with production from the limestone workings below Hendre from the 1940's. These machines used for rock loading were compressed-air operated wheeled shovels mounted on the rails and positioned between the broken rock and an empty car.

Prior to final closure the workforce of no more than 10 men based at Olwyn Goch was kept busy sealing off a number of lode and tunnel junctions, to prevent falls from the stopes above blocking the main tunnel. Many open surface shafts were capped for safety reasons and much of the underground machinery was brought to surface and sold for scrap. The last miners to see the bottom of Olwyn Goch Shaft were hauled out of the shaft on 10th December 1986.

The cage guide wires were cut at the shaft top on 13th February 1987 and the shaft was sealed with a large concrete plinth not long after.

The headframe and 1930's winding gear were dismantled and taken for re-erection to Dolicothau mining museum in Mid Wales. The mineral lease finally expired 4 years later in April 1991, mineral rights reverting back to their owner, the Grosvenor Estate.

Photo:The battery locomotive charging bay
Photo by Nick Catford

Today the condition of the main tunnel is generally good. The northern older section from the portal to Pen-y-Bryn Shaft contains a number of roof falls and consequently deep water in places. The section from Pen-y-Bryn to Cathole Lode has suffered little since closure except for a few slabs of shale fallen from the tunnel roof. The Rhosesmor branch tunnel has also suffered no serious collapse. Many of the lodes however have failed to escape the ravages of time. Waste rock was frequently stacked on timbers high in the stopes and where these have deteriorated and fallen away, unsupported boulder piles can be seen high above tunnel level. In lode 656, severe ground movement has occurred since it was mined, resulting in car-sized boulders perched precariously at varying heights throughout the main stope. Whilst these lodes are extremely unstable, many others could be regarded as negotiable by those with knowledge and experience of mine exploration. However, little remains in most of these stopes and it is difficult finding safe routes up into the more interesting 'old mans' workings, generally 200 - 300 ft above tunnel level. However, all access points into the mine have now been sealed off and a sturdy grille fitted across the portal.

Although it was general policy to remove all equipment from exhausted lodes, a surprising amount still remains scattered throughout the workings today. The railway track from Pen-y-Bryn to within half a mile of Cathole Lode and along the Rhosesmor Branch is completely intact totaling over 6 miles. At Olwyn Goch Shaft in the main tunnel lie two diesel locomotives, a loaded train of about a dozen cars, a double bogey rail transporter and a diesel supply truck for supplying the locos. The compressor chamber in this area was turned into a workshop in later years and although most equipment was removed, much in the way of spanners, jack-hammers, work-benches and fittings still remain, although dry-rot is rapidly taking effect. The charging bay beside the workshop is almost complete and exhibits a battery loco connected ready for charging

Photo:Bottom of the Olwyn Goch Shaft - the severed cage guide wires can be seen behind the gates
Photo by Nick Catford

At Pen-y-Bryn Shaft there are two man-riders and a covered truck used for the conveyance of one of the managers specially constructed for the purpose. The limestone workings west of Olwyn Goch also contain up to 40 mine cars together with several Eimco shovels. Many examples of timberwork exist in the form of ladderways and ore chutes throughout the workings and not to be overlooked are the several places used by the miners for discarding rubbish. At such places can be found old boots, cigarette packs, old tins, newspapers etc. dating back to the 1930's. Other items of interest include a compressed air cement mixer in the main tunnel north of lode 656 and the onsetters cabin at Olwyn Goch Shaft, looking much like it did prior to closure. Oilskins hang on a hook on the wall, an old magazine rests upon the desk and a Billy-can sits on the table possibly forgotten by the last men out.

Little remains on the surface as all headframes have now gone and all shafts connecting with the tunnel have been sealed off. At Olwyn Goch Shaft the office buildings remain, together with a few milling sheds but their contents were removed prior to closure.

In November 1992 the Milwr Tunnel was purchased by Welsh Water as a water source for local industry. As they required access to the tunnel for maintenance, the Olwyn Goch Shaft ladderway was made safe. Welsh Water have also allowed access to the tunnel and associated mine workings. This is administered by the Grosvenor Caving Club under strict conditions imposed by Welsh Water. Visiting parties must number no more than six people plus an authorized leader appointed by the GCC and other GCC helpers. All visitors must be covered by BCRA third party insurance which generally means members of caving and mine exploration clubs and societies affiliated to the National Association of Mining History Organisations (NAMHO) or the British Cave Research Association (BCRA). For further information about visits contact the Grosvenor Caving Club.

For further photographs of the Milwr tunnel click here
The Grosvenor Caving Club does not currently have a web site. Contact Subterranea Britannica for details of who to contact for access to the Milwr Tunnel
For further information on the Milwr Tunnel see Cris Ebbs' book The Milwr Tunnel - Bagillt to Loggerheads 1897 - 1987 ISBN 0 9522242 0 8

[Source: Cris Ebbs]

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Last updated: Tuesday, 04-Jan-2011 14:55:23 GMT
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