Discovering our industrial heritage

Nowadays Herbert's Quarry is a tranquil place, but in the past it would have been filled with the smells and clatter of industry and the voices of people.

Documentary records relating to the Black Mountain Quarries are scarce, but it is still possible to discover what working in the quarries was like from comparison with other areas.



Quarry workers at Trefil Limestone Quarries near Tredegar c.1900. Such images of quarry workers are uncommon. Note how many of the men are holding sledge hammers for breaking up the quarried limestone into manageable sizes. (Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales).

Daily life

The following is a reminiscence by Mr Tom Williams of Myddfai. It was recorded and passed to us by Meurig Jenkins. It describes work in the quarries in the late 19 th century.

Many local smallholders and cottagers would have full time employment at the quarries and this would entail walking to and from work each day. Some however who lived further away would have to walk for many miles to the quarry on a Sunday night in readiness for an early Monday morning start and return home the following Friday in the late afternoon. They would take enough food with them for the week and their provisions would include home reared ham and bacon, eggs, bread, tea and vegetables. To prepare their food at the quarry they would actually rake out hot coals and embers from the kiln on which to cook their food and also to boil the water. They would shelter and sleep in the stone huts dotted around the quarry. One worker recalls how they would sometimes boil enough meat and veg on a Sunday night and this broth or 'cawl' would have vegetables added to it each day and it would have to last them the week. Occasionally they would snare a rabbit or hare or poach a fish from the mountain streams. These were rare luxuries. They would work very long hours keeping the kilns burning so in fact life was very much work to bed and bed to work and the only relaxation would be the occasional game of draughts or cards by candlelight in their stone shed looking forward to the coming Friday to return to their families.

Llwynon Limestone Quarry, Penderyn, in 1903. Old photographs of quarries are rare. Herbert's Quarry probably appeared quite similar at this time. Note the complete absence of fixed plant. (Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales)

Several local farmers remember going up to the quarries to buy lime when they were young. They would make piles of five or six lumps of lime all over the field and leave it there until it rained. The lumps of lime would react with the rainwater, giving off heat, fizzing and steaming, expanding in size and breaking down into a powder. Once this reaction had finished, the lime could be ploughed in. Several tons of lime might be applied to the fields in this way.

Workers and traders from Somerset and Devon who worked the coastal limestone in South Wales developed a form of 'pidgin Welsh' known as "Cymraeg cerryg calch" (limestone Welsh) in order to converse with the locals. This became a general term in south Wales for people with a poor grasp of the Welsh language.

Census returns sometimes record a person's occupation as well as their name and where they lived. Here is a record of a farmer and lime burner.

This old plan shows the location of a limestone quarry and lime kiln leased to John Davies.

This memorial stone comemorates the death of David Davies from Glynclawdd Farm in Gwynfe. In 1884, at the age of 22, David Davies was killed when his horse bolted and he fell under the wheels of his lime cart.

Western Mail  (Cardiff, Wales), Tuesday, March 22, 1870;

FOUND DEAD ON A LIMEKILN -- A mason named John Daley, aged 31, was found quite dead on Saturday morning by Police Constable Molland on one of the limekilns on the east side of the river Usk. The deceased, although a good workman, had for some months past given himself up to laziness and drink, and on the previous day had been at work. It is presumed that the unfortunate man went to the kilns to sleep, and was suffocated. An inquest was held on Saturday evening, when a verdict of "suffocated on a limekiln" was returned.


Western Mail  (Cardiff, Wales), Tuesday, February 21, 1882;


On Monday morning at about seven o'clock two men, named Pask and Stidder, upon going to their work at a limekiln at Mounton, about two miles from Chepstow, discovered the body of a man frightfully burnt upon the top of the kiln. Although the features were very much disfigured and other portions of the body a great deal charred, it was ascertained that the body was that of a man named Samuel Lewis, a labourer, of Mounton who has for some time led a most irregular life. It is conjectured that he went to the limekiln to sleep for the sake of the warmth, and that while sleeping he was suffocated by the fumes, and as the stones on the top of the kiln became calcined and gave way deceased fell with them, as he was found in a reclining position on the stones. An inquest will be held.


Western Mail  (Cardiff, Wales), Tuesday, April 3, 1900;


An unknown but much tatoed man, presumably a collier of 30 years of age, was found suffocated in a limekiln on the malpas Road, Newport. He was 5ft 9in. in height, fair, clean shaven and on his right forearm he bore the tatoed representation of two clasped hands, horse-shoes, and a bust of a woman, while on the left forearm was a lady in the Welsh national costume and a star. He was dressed in a black ribbed jacket, moleskin vest, and tweed trousers, and also had a collier's safety-lamp.


The memorial to David Davies is a reminder that lime kilns and quarries were dangerous places to work.

Newspapers from the time tell of accidents at lime kilns and quarries. They provide a vivid picture of daily life ... and death!

The Black Mountain Quarry Lime Fraud

In 1959 there was a Fraud Squad investigation into alleged discrepancies in the distribution of lime products from the Black Mountain Quarries and the amount of subsidy granted to farmers. In the early 1960s a celebrated fraud trial began.

The trial lasted 30 days spread over 3 months, a record for a case in Carmarthenshire. Huge piles of documents were stacked high in the courtroom.

Although in 1954 the quarry was leased from the Cawdor Estate the leaseholders attempted to sell the quarries without estate consent to "Midas Quarries Ltd." Who had been led to believe that the quarry output

was twice what it actually was. It transpired that the owners had been exaggerating the amount of lime the quarry produced in order to claim a government subsidy on lime bought to improve agricultural productivity.

It is said that if all the lime that was claimed had actually been produced it could have covered the whole of Carmarthenshire with 6 inches of lime!

The condition of the quarry was described at the time as 'deplorable'. The only thing of value was probably the weighbridge. The quarry face was clean but was being worked in the wrong way. The crushing plant was a makeshift affair designed by a novice. There were two kilns. The first was an open hearth type 9ft.6in. in diameter at the top, 21ft. high with a cooling chamber of 12ft. Capacity when full 65-70 tons. Daily output maximum 10-12 tons. The second kiln 10ft. diameter at top and 25 ft. high. Maximum capacity 75-80 tons and daily output 12 tons. There was a third, smaller kiln below the quarry which had last been used 8-10 years before. It had a maximum capacity 40 tons producing 8 tons per day.