The Slate Industry of North and Mid Wales

Some remains and relics

Collapsed aerial ropeway tower in Nantlle.

No two quarries are alike and each requires a degree of study to interpret what went on in the past.  In many cases, as the quarry developed, newer workings overlaid older ones, inclines were removed, shortened or lengthened, dressing sheds were replaced by larger ones, steam replaced water.  The whole process of development over possibly 200 years was a complex business.  After the quarry closed it was common for the working area to be robbed of any easily available slate.  This included the walls of buildings which were simply pushed over.  The visit of the scrapman meant that any usable ferrous items were recovered and examples of quarries with their slate dressing machines still in situ are rare.  Rails were stripped from the tramways and inclines, sometimes for reuse, and boilers were carried away down hazardous mountain tracks to the furnaces.

A Cornish boiler at Pant Mawr quarry.  Made by Carmichael & Sons of Rochdale in the 19th Century.

A lot of items weren't worth the trouble of removing and a lot of quarries which had inclines still possess the haulage ropes on site.  In the case of dams built to supply water power, the level of the water in the reservoir was reduced but the old dam will still remain together, in some cases, with its leat.  Likewise the foundations and sometimes bearings of water wheels are extant although the wheel itself will have been long removed.  In quarries which have continued working virtually all traces of the old ways have now gone.  Penrhyn Quarry in Bethesda, for example, abandoned narrow gauge rail transport in 1964 and subsequent working has removed virtually all traces.  It has also tipped over a lot of the old gallery working areas which were the most impressive in the industry.

Roofless buildings are an all too common sight.

Abandoned slate planing machine.

De Winton & Co.

The firm of De Winton, based in Caernarfon, supplied many items to the slate industry.  Their product range covered everything from iron girders to complete locomotives.

This example of their craft is a water valve.  It was formerly used to regulate the flow of water to a quarry waterwheel.

This girder supplied by De Winton is still in use on a bridge over the trackbed of the Padarn Railway.

Fish belly rail

Fish belly rail, so called because of its shape, was one of the earliest types of tramway rail to be produced.  This example, probably dating from the 1830's, is still seeing service as a fence post.

This Little Tuggers tugging days are over.

Air compressor, Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Slate saw tables - Dinorwic quarry

Slate sawing tables were once found at most quarries.  These particular ones now lie abandoned high up in Dinorwic quarry.

The world's first integrated slate mill, Diffwys Casson.

All that remains of what is believed to be the world's first integrated slate mill, built in 1859, at Diffwys Casson Quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog. The raw blocks of slate were reduced to a manageable size on the right hand side and then transferred to the saw tables down the centre of the mill  The splitting and dressing took place along the left hand side of the building and the waste from this process was disposed of to rubbish wagons through the openings on the left.  The finished slate left the quarry via an incline which connected to the Ffestiniog Railway.

Stationary steam engine, Cwt y Bugail Quarry.

 Extensive use was made of stationary boilers for powering inclines, pumping and operating machinery in dressing sheds.  These are the remnants of one such boiler used for hauling wagons out of a deep pit working.  The large single cylinder can be seen on top of the boiler and the incline it powered is to the right.  Such engines were generally scrapped on site when the quarry closed, the copper tubes being the most desirable item.  This boiler had escaped the scrapman's torch but long exposure to the elements had taken its toll.  This most interesting relic was removed in 2003.

Henry Pooley weigh bridge

The weighing of slate and waste rock was a serious matter in the industry, not least because the quarrymens wages were based on the weight of rock extracted.  Henry Pooley & sons were the biggest producers of weighing machines and their products could be found in most quarries.

Dry stone arch, Rhosydd Quarry

The art of dry stone walling at its very finest at Rhosydd Quarry near Blaenau Ffestiniog.  Sadly, virtually all the other walls at this remote location have been removed to recover the workable slate.

Steam powered winder - Nantlle

The machine above was used to operate an aerial ropeway or blondin.  It has lain derelict since the quarry closed in the 1930's.

Bridge rail

A stack of abandoned bridge rail, so called because of its cross section.

Deeside Tramway rail, Glyndyfrdwy, Denbighshire

The Deeside Tramway ran from Glyndyfrdwy station to quarries in the Berwyn Mountains.  It was of 2' 6" gauge, horse worked and partly laid with wooden rails covered by an iron sheath.  The rails were kept to gauge by using tie bars and not conventional sleepers.  The tramway closed in the 1930's and the scrapman removed the iron sheathing from the rails.  In this view, part of the wooden rail is on the right with a tie bar leading to the left and one of the joiners for the wooden rails is above.  Very little of this unique track now remains.

The blacksmiths bellows

A blacksmiths shop would have been an essential part of any self respecting quarry.  This sad remnant of a bellows was made by Linley & Bingham of Sheffield, England.

A stationary steam engine

Remains of a steam engine at Blaen y Cwm quarry

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