The ruins of disused quarries are still a common sight in parts of North Wales. This is Blaenau Ffestiniog in Merioneth.
The main production areas were around Blaenau Ffestiniog, Bethesda, Llanberis, Nantlle, Corris and Llangollen/Glyn Ceiriog. But, in the boom years, wherever there looked like being a remote chance of finding slate - even if miles from anywhere, then the prospectors would be out scratching at the barren hillsides. Many of these speculative sites never got beyond tiny workings whereas the giants of the industry employed over 3000 men in huge quarries. In between were scores of medium sized workings often with impressive buildings, inclines, machinery and production methods. (continued)
Cedryn is an example of a small quarry of a type once common in North Wales. The quarry, in Cwm Eigiau, was opened in 1827 and had closed by 1868. On the hillside can be seen where the slate was quarried, split and dressed. In the foreground are the remains of the mill where slab was produced. The two were connected by an incline and tramway which crossed the river by a, now vanished, bridge. The quarry was connected to Dolgarrog from the 1820's by a primitive narrow gauge railway which incorporated a further four inclines. This tramway originated at Cwm Eigiau quarry.
quarries themselves the processes of extracting, splitting
and dressing the slate took place. A very important
part of the extraction process was the removal of rubbish or
waste rock, it was not uncommon for up to 90% of rock to be
disposed of in this way. Most quarries dumped the rock
using end-tipping rubbish wagons over the nearest slope and
the slate waste heaps thus developed, these are the single
most noticeable landscape feature today. Quarry owners
often found that good rock was inaccessible because of
careless rubbish dumping in the past. Not all quarries
produced roofing slates some preferring to concentrate on
slab. Some of its uses were gravestones, steps,
man-hole covers, decorative effects, electricity panels,
hearths, etc. A business also developed in slate
enamelling, the products of which can still be seen in
ornate Victorian mantlepieces. (continued)
This water wheel, although used at a Welsh copper mine, is typical of those from the early days of slate quarrying. To read more about this water wheel please view my Cwm Ciprwth website
Conditions for the quarrymen were harsh in the extreme and accidents were frequent. Unguarded machinery, roof falls and lung diseases all took their toll. Working underground in the industry was more dangerous than in coal mining. Health and safety legislation was non existent. As many of the workers had come to the quarrying towns to seek work they had to take what was offered. Conditions in the quarry barracks and lodging houses were appalling but in spite of all this a great spirit of comradeship grew up. (continued)
Derelict and roofless quarrymen's barracks at Dinorwic Quarry.
Barracking was common practice in the industry, men would arrive for work early on a Monday morning and remain there until lunchtime on Saturday. Many of the barracks were damp, cold and miserable places to spend the week but often the quarry was too remote to make daily travel a realistic possibility. The barracks and cabans (quarry messrooms) did however develop into great social institutions where politics and religion were debated fervently.
Part of the barracks at Rhosydd Quarry, view my website on Rhosydd here
Currently, Penrhyn Quarry is still thriving and pre-eminent in the industry. In the Blaenau Ffestiniog district Oakeley has recently closed but Cwt Y Bugail and Llechwedd remain open. In the Corris area, a long tradition of underground mining ended some years ago at Aberllefenni although processing of slate continues there. Despite the odds the industry has clung on and thanks to further investment it has grown slightly. There are now several new operators at work on a small scale and the industry, if not exactly buoyant, would seem to have a secure future. It is now however a far cry from the world beating days of old.
Disused levels and incline in Dinorwic quarry, Llanberis.
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