THE rich history on which Wrexham and its surrounding communities was built is being brought to life at Minera Mines.
A new exhibition, Miners' Lives, explores the lead mining industry at Minera.
Lead was a valuable resource for hundreds of years and has been mined at Minera since medieval times. It is possible that Romans mined it, too.
'Lead was a precious commodity for a long time,' said museum spokesman and tour guide John Gammond.
'It was used in roofing, the Church used it for its windows - it had many uses. And those who mined it made a fortune.
'As time went on mining changed. Miners in medieval times did all the work, from mining to sifting the ore to smelting the lead, and they paid the landowners a fee.
'They would work the crops and tend to the animals on their smallholdings and during the summer, while they waited for harvest time, they would mine to earn extra money.
'As time went on through the Industrial Revolution, entrepreneurs bought mines and negotiated contracts with teams of local workers who would find a seam of lead, estimate how long it would take them to excavate it and smelt it, and present the mine owner with a price for the job.'
The story of the mines is told at the refurbished Meadowshaft mine, which was reopened as a museum site in 1992.
'In the beginning mining was a learning process and trial and error played a big part,' said John.
'But as time went on miners became ever more ingenious as they bled every bit of lead they could out of the seam.'
Though mining lead could be very lucrative, it did not offer the job security of coal mining during the 18th and 19th Centuries.
'Coal miners were employees and lead miners were freelance,' said John. 'But lead miners enjoyed safer working environments because mine owners could not afford to run out of miners. For example, near the end of the mine's life, between 1873 and 1914, there were 27 accidents. Many companies these days aim for a figure like that for a 12-month job.
'It wasn't safe work, though. Their helmets were made of stiff fabric and they worked with candles strapped to their heads that lasted exactly an hour so they could keep track of how long they had been under-ground.
'At Minera they would work about 400 metres underground and a huge engine would lift crates of ore to the surface.
'The risks to miners came from bad air so far underground, and flooding. To combat flooding a huge coal-powered engine was built to pump water out of the system.
'Competition was such, with so many mines and mills in the area, that often mines would pump their water into the competition's mines and flood them to stop them working.
'The jobs were popular, too. People would travel from miles around to work the mines.
'They wouldn't work long days, just seven hours like we work today, but it was hard physical work six days a week and it was difficult to breathe.
'They got no holidays, really, although we do have records of one mine owner taking his miners on a staff outing for a day.'
Archaeologists excavating the site have learned just how thorough the miners were in their quest.
'The processes they used left no trace of lead on the surface,' said John.
'The mined ore would be brought to the surface and floated down channels called buddles.
'Once there, workers would sift the water to keep it moving. The lighter rock would float and move away while the lead, which was heavy, would sink to the bottom.
'Lead was also sieved out and sifted in another huge buddle further down.
'All the waste rock was kept in a large holding area and every few months it was panned to find even the tiniest piece of lead.
'It was then smelted and sold. Other metals were also mined, including silver, zinc and cadmium and these were sold, too.'
However after almost 800 years of mining, the bottom fell out of the lead market and at the turn of the century many workers turned to the coal mines for job security.
'It is sad but that is the nature of the business,' said John. 'What did happen, however, is that after everything which could be sold was sold from Meadowshaft, a smelting plant a little further up the hill began dumping its waste product on the mine.
'All the nasty metals it was processing, coupled with the ones mined at Meadow-shaft, left the area like a lunar landscape, barren of all plantlife.
'However, when we dug the site out we discovered that the smelting waste had preserved the site and we could see the mine's component parts.
'From that and old photographs we were able to rebuild the structures that used to be here accurately and following deeper re-search we can now tell the story of miners' lives from when activity started in the 1200's to when it effectively ended at the end of the 19th Century.
'All activity in the 20th Century was stripping out the mine for sale and the site then lay dormant for 78 years.'