Slate was the basis of the wealth in Snowdonia in the 19th century and Blaenau Ffestiniog was the centre of the industry. Although slate Quarrying continues as a major employer in the locality, Blaenau now boasts a wealth of Culture for the avid visitor. The history of the slate industry. The history of the slate industry, the Ffestiniog Railway (which has its northern terminus here) and the hydroelectric power station are the main tourist attractions.

Despite being in the centre of the park, the grey slate tips surrounding the area have stopped it from being officially part of Snowdonia. The two main mines in the area are in the town – nearby is the smaller village of Ffestiniog.

Slate was the basis of the wealth in Snowdonia in the 19th century and Blaenau Ffestiniog was the centre of the industry. Although slate Quarrying continues as a major employer in the locality, Blaenau now boasts a wealth of Culture for the avid visitor. The history of the slate industry. The history of the slate industry, the Ffestiniog Railway (which has its northern terminus here) and the hydroelectric power station are the main tourist attractions.

Despite being in the centre of the park, the grey slate tips surrounding the area have stopped it from being officially part of Snowdonia. The two main mines in the area are in the town – nearby is the smaller village of Ffestiniog.

The National Park Information Centre is located in the centre of town and well worth a visit for information on all the tourism amenities within the locality.

Blaenau Ffestiniog town is set in an elevated natural bowl, about 225m above OD, between the Manod and Moelwyn Mountains on the southern fringes of Snowdonia.

The mountain slopes rise steeply above the town on all but the south side, with Manod Mawr to the east reaching 661m above OD and Moelwyn Mawr to the west reaching 720m above OD. Their rugged and rocky topography however, struggles to maintain visual domination over an equally rugged and entirely man-made industrial landscape that surrounds the town and fills the hidden tributary valleys above the basin.

The town is in fact a central and integral part of a vast network of slate quarry and mine workings, waste tips and associated buildings, all linked by a transport system of inclines and railways. The whole landscape developed in about a hundred years and its extractive sites are largely derelict, but the settlement and community continue. The area contains the foremost combination of slate quarries and mines in Wales, and a vast and significant amount of important industrial archaeological material.

Blaenau Ffestiniog grew from a few isolated farmsteads solely as the result of slate quarrying. It includes some of the largest and most efficient workings in slate in the late 19th century, producing about a third of the Welsh output. Unlike the areas further north, almost all of the workings were underground. At the beginning of the 19th century, Ffestiniog was a ‘small, poor village’, although the already extant ‘great slate quarries’ were described as being in ‘a romantic spot’. Sheep were as important as slate to the pioneers at the beginning of the century.

The first quarry to be worked in the area was Diphwys which was established in 1765, with a lease granted in 1799, subsequently bought up by William Turner and the Cassons. English capital was largely responsible for the development of the industry, which expanded with the help of wartime contracts and increasing demand for roofing slates as a result of the Industrial Revolution, with names like the Hollands, Cassons, Greaves and William Turner playing a major part in the industry. By 1873, Blaenau Ffestiniog was described as the ‘City of Slates’, with seemingly everything inside and outside the houses being made of slate.

The slate area extends beyond the main basin described here. Feeding slate down into the town are a number of hidden valleys, such as Cwmorthin and Cwm Teigl, all of which have distinctive and individual slate remains. The other principal feature of the area is the transport system which moved the slate out. Slate from the early workings of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was taken by pack animals and men and later, by carts down to slate quays on the River Dwyryd, until the Ffestiniog Railway was opened in 1836. The surrounding valleys each have their own impressive transportation systems, such as the Cwmorthin tramway of 1850, later extended to the Conglog quarry, the Rhiwbach tramroad of 1863, and the spectacular quarry inclines of the multi-pitched Moelwyn and Graig Ddu, and the partly tunnelled Wrysgan.

The Ffestiniog slate range stretches some 20km east-west by 7km north-south, with Blaenau Ffestiniog at its centre. Slate blocks were obtained from five beds or veins, each with its own characteristics, with the Old Vein perhaps being the most important. The first three decades of 19th century were a period of slow but steady development. Organised exploitation of slate developed much later at Ffestiniog than in neighbouring Caernarfonshire, mainly because there was no large single landowner, indeed much of the land was Crown property. While leases were granted, landowners were reluctant to invest capital in developing the industry. The success of the Caernarfonshire ventures motivated development here, but the shortage of manpower and roads were critical in the area’s early development.

Much attention concentrated on improving techniques for mining slate, because the dip of the slate beds determined that slate excavation was an underground operation. Increasing mechanization led to the establishment of centralised mills served by railways in the early 1850s, replacing the rows of small huts previously used for dressing, with water power driving the machinery, and providing balances for operating the inclines. Many reservoirs were built in the hills above Blaenau Ffestiniog, though steam was introduced in 1854 and compressed air and electricity in the 1890s. However, the weather continued to play a major role, often shutting down operations for days at a time.

During 1860/70, demand exceeded supply as there were increased trading opportunities brought about by the national expansion of the railway system and the development of harbours. Up to 30% of the area’s output was sold to foreign markets at this time. There were about 25 mines in operation, spread over a wide area of the Manod and Moelwyn uplands, although the eight largest and most productive mines were still located within a one to two kilometer radius of the centre of Blaenau Ffestiniog, where the best quality slate reserves were located. Most of the smaller concerns such as Moelwyn, Conglog and Cwt-y-Bugail were at higher altitudes, on the margins of the reserves, where the slate beds thinned out and transport was a problem. A protracted period of uncertainty and decline set in after 1878, and intense contraction occurred at the beginning of the 20th century, accompanied by serious depopulation culminating in the First World War, after which the industry never really recovered.

The other industry to have made its indelible mark on this landscape is the Tanygrisiau hydro-electric pumped storage scheme, the first in Britain, completed in 1963. The upper reservoir was formed by enlarging Lake Stwlan with a concrete dam 380m long and 34m high, the lower by damming the River Ystradau near Tanygrisiau, with the power station built on its western side. The dam, which is on the 500m contour and overlooked by the Moelwyn slate quarry, is one of the most prominent man-made landmarks in Gwynedd, visible from great distances to the south. It serves as a potent reminder of the theme in this landscape of man’s enduring struggle for natural resources.

The National Park Information Centre is located in the centre of town and well worth a visit for information on all the tourism amenities within the locality.

Blaenau Ffestiniog town is set in an elevated natural bowl, about 225m above OD, between the Manod and Moelwyn Mountains on the southern fringes of Snowdonia.

The mountain slopes rise steeply above the town on all but the south side, with Manod Mawr to the east reaching 661m above OD and Moelwyn Mawr to the west reaching 720m above OD. Their rugged and rocky topography however, struggles to maintain visual domination over an equally rugged and entirely man-made industrial landscape that surrounds the town and fills the hidden tributary valleys above the basin.

The town is in fact a central and integral part of a vast network of slate quarry and mine workings, waste tips and associated buildings, all linked by a transport system of inclines and railways. The whole landscape developed in about a hundred years and its extractive sites are largely derelict, but the settlement and community continue. The area contains the foremost combination of slate quarries and mines in Wales, and a vast and significant amount of important industrial archaeological material.

Blaenau Ffestiniog grew from a few isolated farmsteads solely as the result of slate quarrying. It includes some of the largest and most efficient workings in slate in the late 19th century, producing about a third of the Welsh output. Unlike the areas further north, almost all of the workings were underground. At the beginning of the 19th century, Ffestiniog was a ‘small, poor village’, although the already extant ‘great slate quarries’ were described as being in ‘a romantic spot’. Sheep were as important as slate to the pioneers at the beginning of the century.

The first quarry to be worked in the area was Diphwys which was established in 1765, with a lease granted in 1799, subsequently bought up by William Turner and the Cassons. English capital was largely responsible for the development of the industry, which expanded with the help of wartime contracts and increasing demand for roofing slates as a result of the Industrial Revolution, with names like the Hollands, Cassons, Greaves and William Turner playing a major part in the industry. By 1873, Blaenau Ffestiniog was described as the ‘City of Slates’, with seemingly everything inside and outside the houses being made of slate.

The slate area extends beyond the main basin described here. Feeding slate down into the town are a number of hidden valleys, such as Cwmorthin and Cwm Teigl, all of which have distinctive and individual slate remains. The other principal feature of the area is the transport system which moved the slate out. Slate from the early workings of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was taken by pack animals and men and later, by carts down to slate quays on the River Dwyryd, until the Ffestiniog Railway was opened in 1836. The surrounding valleys each have their own impressive transportation systems, such as the Cwmorthin tramway of 1850, later extended to the Conglog quarry, the Rhiwbach tramroad of 1863, and the spectacular quarry inclines of the multi-pitched Moelwyn and Graig Ddu, and the partly tunnelled Wrysgan.

The Ffestiniog slate range stretches some 20km east-west by 7km north-south, with Blaenau Ffestiniog at its centre. Slate blocks were obtained from five beds or veins, each with its own characteristics, with the Old Vein perhaps being the most important. The first three decades of 19th century were a period of slow but steady development. Organised exploitation of slate developed much later at Ffestiniog than in neighbouring Caernarfonshire, mainly because there was no large single landowner, indeed much of the land was Crown property. While leases were granted, landowners were reluctant to invest capital in developing the industry. The success of the Caernarfonshire ventures motivated development here, but the shortage of manpower and roads were critical in the area’s early development.

slate, because the dip of the slate beds determined that slate excavation was an underground operation. Increasing mechanization led to the establishment of centralised mills served by railways in the early 1850s, replacing the rows of small huts previously used for dressing, with water power driving the machinery, and providing balances for operating the inclines. Many reservoirs were built in the hills above Blaenau Ffestiniog, though steam was introduced in 1854 and compressed air and electricity in the 1890s. However, the weather continued to play a major role, often shutting down operations for days at a time.

During 1860/70, demand exceeded supply as there were increased trading opportunities brought about by the national expansion of the railway system and the development of harbours. Up to 30% of the area’s output was sold to foreign markets at this time. There were about 25 mines in operation, spread over a wide area of the Manod and Moelwyn uplands, although the eight largest and most productive mines were still located within a one to two kilometer radius of the centre of Blaenau Ffestiniog, where the best quality slate reserves were located. Most of the smaller concerns such as Moelwyn, Conglog and Cwt-y-Bugail were at higher altitudes, on the margins of the reserves, where the slate beds thinned out and transport was a problem. A protracted period of uncertainty and decline set in after 1878, and intense contraction occurred at the beginning of the 20th century, accompanied by serious depopulation culminating in the First World War, after which the industry never really recovered.

The other industry to have made its indelible mark on this landscape is the Tanygrisiau hydro-electric pumped storage scheme, the first in Britain, completed in 1963. The upper reservoir was formed by enlarging Lake Stwlan with a concrete dam 380m long and 34m high, the lower by damming the River Ystradau near Tanygrisiau, with the power station built on its western side. The dam, which is on the 500m contour and overlooked by the Moelwyn slate quarry, is one of the most prominent man-made landmarks in Gwynedd, visible from great distances to the south. It serves as a potent reminder of the theme in this landscape of man’s enduring struggle for natural resources.