Deep within the recesses of the Denbighshire Archives is an unassuming little map, only 20cm square, which is nevertheless in its own way a fairly remarkable document. It is, in fact, the oldest surviving enclosure map in Wales, having been drawn up in 1768 with respect to a 5 acre fragment of land in Minera going by the odd name of “The Beg”. This was part of a larger common then called Waen John ap Hugh Kenrick, “waen” being the local form, via a lost definite article, of a word sometimes written elsewhere as “gwaun”, and translating as something like “unenclosed mountain pasture”; a good description of what the area would have looked like at the time. The name is quite interesting in itself, as a person called John ap Hugh Kenrick, gent, appears on local records a century and more earlier, where he seems to have occupied the farm now known as Cae Adar sitting on the border of Minera and Brymbo.

It may therefore be significant that the man carrying out the 1768 enclosure on John ap Hugh Kenrick’s old pasture was also, at some point, an occupier of Cae Adar. His name was Thomas Smith, and though he has been barely mentioned alongside such better-known local industrial magnates as Robert Burton and John Wilkinson, it appears as if he was once an influential figure in mining in the district.

A hint of this can be seen in the memorial inscription to him which Palmer recorded in the churchyard at Wrexham parish church:

Thomas Smith, of Hafod Wen, gentleman, who died January, 1786, at the age of 75, and whose abilities as a practical miner must be long remembered and revered in this country

Palmer is adamant, incidentally, that whether or not Smith rented Hafod Wen (in Esclusham), he spent most of his time at Cae Adar. This tallies with the documents I have seen which describe him as “of Minera”, so he can be convincingly claimed as a local.

The mining speculators of the mid 18th century (bridging as they do the gap between the old landowners leasing the occasional pit and the later generation of substantial businessmen like Wilkinson and Richard Kirk) are an interesting bunch, if poorly recorded. Though time seems to have erased local memories of Smith’s “abilities as a practical miner“, it is still possible to trace some of his life through the leases and other documents that survive. Some of the earliest documents on which Smith is mentioned are those of the Nant y Ffrith lead mine which operated in the 1750s: he acted as the mine manager, as well as a part-owner of the business. A copy of his account books was seen by Palmer, then lost for a century or so, before being rediscovered and secured for Wrexham museum a few years back. The Nant y Ffrith levels lay on the south side of the river, in the commonland of Brymbo township. That this area had previously been mined is suggested by a line quoted by Palmer from Smith’s accounts, which mentions work carried out “in ye old man“, i.e. in old workings, possibly driven under Arthur Owen’s lease in the 1730s. The location of the Nant y Ffrith mines would explain Smith’s living at Cae Adar, which would for him have been a short stroll or ride downhill – a perhaps unlikely figure, to modern eyes, in knee-breeches, bob wig and round hat – across the gorse and grasses of the common.

Richard Richardson, a wealthy silversmith and alderman of Chester, purchased much of the ore mined by Smith at Nant y Ffrith. It is probably not coincidental that Richardson, alongside two other prominent Chester businessmen, applied for a lease on the City Lands at Minera in around 1757, and that Smith became involved with their project. Chester people had in fact had a long association with Minera, including by marriage into some of the area’s old freeholding families, in addition to the well-known association between the City Lands and Chester’s guild charity. Lead was found there in the 1740s, the lease being taken by a miner called Thomas Rogers (someone of the same name was also employed by Smith at Nant y Ffrith). But from the late 1750s onwards the partnership of Richardson and his associates, assisted by the expertise of men like Smith, expanded production and won substantial amounts of ore from the City Lands, generating a huge financial windfall for the Chester guilds. Before the lead boom, the charity had been yielding about £20 annually for poor guild members, but I will let the Victoria County History take up the story at this point:

“Between 1761 and 1779 the mines produced almost £13,000 in royalties […] The royalties were invested, principally by advancing a capital sum of £10,640 to the corporation on a 4 per cent mortgage, thus providing an annual income for the charity of £425 12s. The mayor and sheriffs as trustees delegated their powers to the aldermen and stewards of the guilds, who by the 1780s were dividing the proceeds indiscriminately among their members, whether poor or rich, as each guild came round in rotation. Admission to the guilds was closely regulated, some choosing to admit new members at inflated premiums, others to exclude new guildsmen as their own turn for the bonanza approached. In 1785 the mayor and sheriffs resumed control and began to require from beneficiaries both a sworn statement of their poverty and a receipt. In 1803, when no poor members of the Grocers’ company could be found, the guild sued the mayor for the money anyway”.

Smith and the English speculators were to leave their mark both on Minera’s landscape, as the old springs of Ffynnon Wen at the foot of Minera Mountain dried up, and demography, as skilled miners arrived from Flintshire, Derbyshire, Scotland, and Ireland. There were even, as I’ve noted previously, requests that English-language services were provided in Minera chapel to accommodate the miners; this at a time when the surrounding townships were still almost exclusively Welsh. Smith himself did not restrict his activities to the area of Brymbo and Minera, however, and he was clearly a busy man. Another of his partnerships, a joint venture with William Lloyd of Plas Power and others, concerned a lead mine at Eryrys near Llanarmon. He took out a lease at Cilcain in Flintshire in the lead mining heartland of north Wales, although then in slow decline after the first boom of the early 1700s. As early as 1756 he was applying for a lease of a common called “Megnant” in Merioneth – the boggy, desolate upland known as the Migneint: the NLW still possesses a handful of letters, dated 1765, from Smith to the Earl of Powys discussing the possibilities of trials there, talking of the ‘farm’ for copper ores, and of mining carried out at Llangynog.

Smith’s will shows that he had sons called Thomas and William. These were presumably the William and Thomas Smith Jr. who were noted as partners in the mine at Nant y Ffrith. Smith seems to have survived them, being long-lived by the standards of the time (and particularly so for someone exposed to the toxic atmosphere of the lead workings). His will also notes his wife, Anne; his sons’ children; a daughter called Jane; her son Edward Davies, mercer; another daughter, Elizabeth Davies; and a third daughter, Mary, the wife of Ambrose Lloyd of Ruthin. Yet another daughter, Sarah, appears to have stayed locally and married Edward Griffith of Lloftwen, so whatever his origins, Smith’s family became well-embedded in the area’s social fabric.

Even in his seventies, Smith was still picking away, figuratively speaking, at the lodes he had spent his career exploiting. In 1783 he entered into a partnership to work the mines at Snailbeach in Shropshire, and started to develop interests further afield: his will notes his mining interests in “England Wales and Scotland” which he hopes, optimistically, “may upon the whole produce considerable profits”. Closer to home, by the 1780s the mines beneath the City Land were finally slowing in output, drowning in the water that would frustrate attempts to make a profit from them for much of the next century. An undeterred Smith was still pushing on, however; a precis of a letter from Hugh Meredith at Minera to Chester, dated 1785 and still held in the city archives, states that: “Mr. Thomas Smith has been urging the driving of the deep level“. Smith seems to have had faith in the capacity of a new pumping engine to dewater the mines under the City Land and the Marian, although Meredith warned: “draining to the deep level will take twenty years, night and day“. It would, in fact, take the best part of another decade, the attentions of John Wilkinson, and the application of the steam engine technology he stole from Boulton and Watt, to begin to push back the water of Ffynnon Wen.