Rhiwbach Slate Quarry and its tramway

Rhiwbach Slate Quarry

Further views of Rhiwbach Quarry can be seen on the Photo Gallery pages and on my Flickr photo site.

The engine house at Rhiwbach, with its substantial chimney, is an impressive feature.  

Rhiwbach Slate Quarry, along with Blaen y Cwm, differed from all other quarries in the slate industry in one important aspect. The exit incline from the quarry for the finished product led up and not down.  The classic balanced incline, by which the outward loaded slate wagons brought up the empty wagons by gravity, was not possible.  The answer for the quarry was to build a substantial engine house to power the incline from the bottom, with the haulage wire passing around a sheave at the top.  This engine house also powered the quarry machinery and the underground inclines.  The remains of the engine house are a notable feature of the quarry with the tall chimney still an imposing sight.

The quarry was started at the beginning of the 19th century on a site to the South of the later main workings.  This area developed into a deep pit working which has now flooded.  This part of the quarry was worked out by the 1880's and work transferred to the present site.  The pit working here, started in the 1860's, was later developed extensively underground to encompass eight levels.  Drainage of the underground workings was through a tunnel which began 350 feet below the surface and emerged onto the side of Cwm Penmachno.  The entrance to this drainage tunnel may still be seen today.  When the quarry first opened, the slate was taken down on horseback into Cwm Penmachno and eventually to the quay at Trefriw on the Conwy.  Later the finished product was taken out in the opposite direction, around the shoulder of Manod Mawr and down to the Afon Dwyryd below Maentwrog.

The Rhiwbach Tramway opened in 1863 and revolutionised the transport arrangements for the quarry.  A wharf was opened in Porthmadog and from then on all slate went out along the tramway and down the Ffestiniog Railway.  In 1908 the quarry started to use the exchange sidings at Minffordd to transfer their product to the national rail network.

This quarry was one of the most remote in the industry and it was frequently cut off for long periods in bad weather.  Because of this, the living quarters almost reached village status.  The quite extensive remains of which includes family accommodation, a shop and a school house as well as the barracks for the single men.

Although the quarry occupies a large area, the annual output rarely exceeded 6000 tons and it was closed down several times for quite long periods.  Electricity was introduced to the site in 1934 which somewhat relieved the hardships of life at this remote location.  The last workers at the quarry still barracked on site and this is believed to be the last quarry where this practice took place.  The quarry finally closed in 1951 and all the machinery was removed.  Nowadays, although much of the site is ruinous, there is still much to see.  The impressive engine house, the entrance to the underground workings - now barred by steel girders, the extensive remains of the "village" area and the flooded pit workings.

This website is only a brief look at Rhiwbach and its history, the full story may be read in the excellent book:  Rhiwbach Slate Quarry by Griff R Jones, ISBN 0-9533692-2-6.

This is the stunning view of the quarry from the top of the exit incline.  Beyond the trees is Cwm Penmachno and in the distance are the Denbigh moors.

Entrance to the underground workings

This is a view of the entrance to the underground workings and known as Cwm End quarry.  This modest looking excavation led underground to a total of eight different levels.  To drain the underground workings a tunnel was cut and emerged on the slopes of Cwm Penmachno which is the valley below.  Water from this drainage tunnel may be seen today although the entrance portal is sealed off.   The underground workings have now been securely fenced off due to their dangerous instability.

The quarry village

The remains of the living quarters at Rhiwbach are quite extensive.  As well as the normal complement of single men who barracked at the quarry during the week, it was also home to a number of families.  At one time the quarry also had a school and a shop.  Several children were born in this village.

Dereliction is now invading the village.

Some of the fine detail in the village buildings.

Rhiwbach Quarry Photo gallery Page 1

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