The Dolaucothi site in West Wales's represents one of the few worked gold mines in Britain and, to our knowledge, is the only one open to the public today. Evidence suggests that the Roman's first worked the Dolaucothi Gold Mines on a large scale, although it is not impossible to assume that some activity occurred here even earlier. This being the case, it would undoubtedly have been on a much smaller scale and those workings would have disappeared in the massive Roman operation.
Normally to obtain gold from deep-mined ore requires the removal of various waste products, like arsenic, before the gold can be released. As the Romans' almost certainly didn't have the technology to treat ore in this manner, they concentrated on open-cast mining of so-called 'free' gold. This operation depended on nature's natural weathering processes to remove the waste products for them. Only high-grade material would be selected from the surface, crushed with a mortar and pestle, and finally ground down by rotating quern stones, similar to those used in flour milling. After some sieving, the fine gold particles would be collected from large terraced washing table's, cut either into the natural contours of the bedrock or constructed from timber. Water was obviously very important in this process and evidence of large water tanks and water channels can be found above most of the open cast pits. This process of gold abstraction was generally very inefficient and was probably only profitable because of the abundant use of slave labour.
After the Roman withdrawal, the history of the Dolaucothi Gold Mines becomes very sketchy, and it is uncertain whether mining activities continued in Saxon or medieval times. Again, had they been worked during this time, it would probably have been on a relatively small scale, and any evidence would have blended naturally into the former Roman works. What is known, however, is that considerable interest was shown in other West Wales mines during the 16th and 17th centuries, and it seems reasonable to surmise that the Dolaucothi Gold Mines would have attracted the attentions of these same prospectors.
Certainly, during the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century, numerous workings continued at this site. In 1844 the eminent geologist Sir Warrington Smyth rediscovered gold here, and in 1853 three Australians set up a water- driven stamp mill for crushing ore from the open cast pits. This operation was short lived, but some small-scale workings were recorded to have commenced again by 1871. These increased in magnitude, and concentrated on underground mining of the ore rather than the open cast method previously adopted. Many different companies successively ran the operation at Dolaucothi until Cothy Mines Ltd. ceased workings in 1912.
Abandonment of the gold standard in 1931 created renewed business interest, and a new company, Roman Deep Ltd. was formed in 1933 to assess the feasibility of continued mining at the Dolaucothi site. Having proved viable, mining continued here until 1940 when the mine buildings were finally dismantled, and 500lbs of weeping explosives detonated.
In 1981 the National Trust (owners the estate) embarked on a trial with the University of Wales to provide guided tours of the site. Realising the educational benefits, coupled with the potential as a major tourist attraction during the summer months, the site has steadily been developed. With the closure of the Olwyn Goch lead-zinc mine in 1988, all the surface buildings and equipment there were moved to Dolaucothi and re-erected. Now able to provide the visitor with a more realistic experience, the Dolaucothi Gold Mine makes a great family outing. Adults and children alike get a thrill from 'sieving for gold', or donning a miners' helmet and lamp to take a guided tour of the underground workings. As an added bonus, the scenery is fantastic with spectacular views across the estate and beautiful woods, heady with the smell of Bluebells, in the spring. Plenty of information is available in the visitor centre, and there is also a shop and a cafe on site.