The Dinas Silica Quarries are located a little over a mile due east of Pont Nedd Fechan in the Parish of Penderyn (roughly SN915081). They are the cause of many of the man-made features in the Schryd Gorge at Craig-y-Dinas. Being almost entirely subterranean workings (mines in modern parlance) they are sometimes used by members of the Club as wet weather beginners' trips when other, more attractive, natural caves are not enterable.
Silica mining in the area is reputed to date from at least 1807 and continued until 1965, with the workings being finally closed and sealed two years later.
One of the most notable early owners was William Young (or, as he later called himself, William Weston Young) author of the Guide to the Beauties of Glyn Neath (1835) and the man who first recorded the popular names of the waterfalls in the Afon Mellte. He first came to Neath as a young man in 1798 after being involved in a series of ventures, including surveying coal mines and ceramic and porcelain manufacturing, and seems to have come to the Glyn Neath area by about the 1820's. At about this time he invented a method of making improved fire-bricks, known as Dinas Bricks, from the silica rock found in the area. These were high quality refractory bricks of exceptional value; so much so that an international market developed for them in both Europe and America. In essence the manufacturing process involved little more than grinding, moulding and kilning the raw material:
silica rock. Although some of the bricks so produced were used to build fireplaces in dwelling houses, by far the most important use was for lining furnaces in iron and, later, steel works.
One of the sites for fire-brick manufacture was owned by Messrs Sheppard and Young (probably Wm W Young) and was located near to the entrance to the gunpowder works in the parish of Ystradfellte (nearer Pont Nedd Fechan than the quarries themselves). From here an incline was used to carry the finished bricks away to a siding connected to the Vale of Neath Railway (later the Great Western Railway). This is believed to have been one of the first manufacturing sites to operate and it closed over 100 years ago. Another manufacturing site was known as Pontwalby Brick Works in Glyn Neath. This was connected to the quarries by a 4'2" gauge tram line over two miles long over which horse drawn trains were drawn. The Pontwalby works continued in operation until about 1920. Also in G].yn Neath were the Abernant Brick Works, although these took their supplies of silica from quarries at Lluest and Cwmcorrin (Cwm Gored?) on the banks of the Little Neath River a mile or so north of Pont Nedd Fechan, Once again horse drawn trains provided transport from the quarries to the works for the raw material but the gauge of the line was only 2'ó". The Abernant Brick Works closed in 1902.
The Dinas Quarry traffic originally crossed the river and then ran through a tunnel (which can still be traversed) to the head of a chute near a waterfall. It then recrossed the river by a bridge (the piers and abutments of which can still be seen) to pass Black Rock en route for Pontwalby. Most of the haulage was by horses but for that part of the route from the quarries to the crest of the hill above the chute a winch on the hill top provided the tractive effort.
The quarries appear to have closed for a period during the earlier part of this century. When they re-opened in about 1930 a new tram line was put in down to the waterfall. Originally it had been intended to run the line right through along a ledge cut in the cliff but in the event the chute next to the waterfall was re-opened. Below the chute lorries provided short haul transport, above it horses were used initially but they were quickly replaced by a winch and cable again. During the war two locomotives were obtained for use on the tramroad. Surprisingly, when one considers that only one horse at a time seems to have been used to haul a tub of rock, these locos apparently always worked in a pair. A further refinement in the transport system was the introduction of an aerial ropeway. this replaced the chute and lorry system, taking the quarried stone over the intervening high ground in one very long span. The foundations of this aerial ropeway can still be seen. At some stage during this more recent history the quarries became the property of Richard, Thomas and Baldwins the steel making firm.
Apart from a few items in the mines themselves, few artifacts now remain on the surface. The ropeway, quarry machinery, locomotives and tramway were all removed by Eastmans of Swansea in the 1970's. A wood and metal ramp remained in place up the middle of the Sychryd Gorge until a couple of years ago. This provided easy access for cavern to Will's Hole (and, despite its "Dangerous Structure" notices, probably safer access too) but all that is left now are crudely cut-off footings in the river bed. However eleven steel tubs of the last type used can still be seen. These now provide bank protection where the river is undercutting the north bank of the Gorge.
In addition to these artifacts, many examples of the civil engineering works associated with this type of industry can still be seen as described above. Although many can be clearly is identified, in others the situation is more complicated. For example the spot where the aerial ropeway off-loaded is also the site of lime kilns which derived their source rock from the Black Rock quarry. Also it has been reported that the silica quarries made use of a natural cave (probably Bwa Mein) as a magazine. However there are no existing signs of this.
Recently there have been rumours that these quarries are to openned as a tourist attraction.
Neath and District - A Symposium
The History of the Vale of Neath
Neath Aniquarian Society
The River Scenery at the Head of the Vale of Neath
F .J .North
Personal reminiscences from
Mr. R. Evans
31 Aberdare Road, Glyn Neath
Mr. T. Pritchard
Rose Cottage, Pont Nedd Fechan