Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009
Working at Dylife's Martha Wheel

Overview of the site
The mine's history can be traced back to Roman times

A 10-year mission to restore a 400-year-old lead mine at Dylife started in 2007. Michael Brown's clearance of what was once the site of the largest waterwheel in mainland Britain goes on steadily. With the support of the Welsh Mines Preservation Trust much work has been done this year and now attention turns toward the old winding house.

The Welsh Mines Preservation Trust (WMPT) met at the Dylife mines to help me with further work at the site of the Martha Wheel on 26 September 2009. Since my last update

I have cleared a lot of rubbish from the pit that arose from the last WMPT working weekend.

With this rubbish out of the way, attention turned toward the drawing house, - the old building that would have housed the winding drums for the Llechwedd Du and Bradfords shafts.

...working alone meant that progress was slow because I had to climb out of the pit now every time I wanted to empty my bucket
Michael Brown

I did spend Saturday morning in the pit clearing around the last of the two cars we have to remove, whilst I managed to rip the doors off these cars with my pick up and wire rope, some of the bodywork and chassis is so well buried I will have to return with a disc cutter and cut them off level with our finished floor level in the pit.

Although the turn out was small on this occasion, those volunteers who arrived more than made up for those who could not make it, with some people coming as far away as Sussex as well as local people.


Work was centred on clearing the collapsed material from around the perimeter of the building, once this had been achieved our attention turned to the inside of the building.

Clearing the fallen debris had to be done very carefully so as not to damage anything that may lie beneath.

This was done largely with brush and trowel. Two large holding down bolts were uncovered in the south western corner of the building.

Work at Dylife mine
The first job was to find the outer walls of the drawing house

I suspect there may be another two in the north western corner, possibly they held down the boiler or the 20 inch engine that assisted the wheel in times of frost or drought.

On the eastern side of the room wooden floor boards were uncovered and a large concentration of bolts and brass fixing items, these probably originated from when the boiler was dismantled at the time of the mine's closure.

Unknown depth

Near the south eastern corner of the building a large sandstone slab sits in the wall at floor level, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the stones that supported the boilers at the boundary shaft.

Close by to this stone a number of pieces of coal were found on the Sunday. In the afternoon on the northern side of the room I started to uncover a pit, 12ft long and of unknown depth.

Andy Davies uncovers the eastern wall
Andy Davies uncovers a wall of the drawing house

When we finished for the day we had excavated the pit to at least 5ft deep at its western end.

The pit had been filled with rubble held together with lime mortar so we were looking at a modification here at some point in the buildings history rather than just collapsed wall material.

I returned a couple of weeks later on 10 October. We moved the bucking stone from the field by Blaen Twymyn down to the Martha site.

Live toad

I then spent the morning further excavating the pit discovered within the walls of the drawing house.

The pit lines up perfectly centred on where the waterwheel axle would have entered the building and may be a gear wheel pit.

I excavated to a depth of nearly 6ft and became slightly hampered in the bottom by a large amount of oil and some water.

A shaft kibble and a quartz bucking stone
At its peak the mine is thought to have employed about 1,000 workers

There were also a number of items that came out with the rubble which included a live toad, a rusty scythe and a few bolts.

There were four recesses on each side of the pit at a depth of about 3ft which marked the position of the bottom of the holding down bolts for the axle bearing beams for the gear wheel.

The oil and water in the bottom of the pit meant that I had to abandon work for the day so I returned on 24 October with wellies and a bucket and managed to clear a little more but working alone meant that progress was slow because I had to climb out of the pit now every time I wanted to empty my bucket.


I turned my activities to the western end of the wheel pit. The stone there that makes up the pit wall is broken and badly weathered so I pulled it down to a place where the wall was solid and started to rebuild it.

The northern end of the drawing house uncovered
The project aims to preserve the memory of the mining community

Not an easy task as there is a serious shortage of good stone to rebuild with; most of the stone at the mine here is broken and falls to bits very easily.

I did have a few barrow loads of good stone from Esgairgaled.

After keying into the existing wall and adding a couple of courses the weather was closing in quickly and although I was partially sheltered down in the pit, I soon got wet so headed for home.

Over the course of this winter I hope to finish the wall I have started and excavate a little more of the drawing house.

There are also the remains of an old car in the western end of the pit, half-buried I aim to disc cut it free over the coming months.

Next year I hope to source some stone to touch up other parts of the site.

I am hoping to get this from nearer to Machynlleth, something a bit slatey but more durable would be ideal.

The new Dylife book goes on well and is all but finished; half way through the design stage I am on course to get it in the local shops for Easter 2010.

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