Dinorwic Slate Quarry



Dinorwic was at one time the second largest slate quarry in the world (the biggest being nearby Pen Rhyn). It was quarried for more than 200 years, leaving terraces to a height of over 600 metres high, and at its peak it employed over 3000 people. But the work was hard, really hard. Before the arrival of modern transport, quarrymen travelled on foot from as far afield as Anglesey each week, crossing the Menai Straits, or walking up from Caernarfon on a Sunday evening and staying in the quarry barracks until Saturday lunchtime, when they returned to their families and communities for only 24 hours before starting their return journey to work.

The quarrymen had to undertake a 5 year apprenticeship, and while the work was skilled, it was dangerous, dirty, unhealthy and poorly paid. The rockmen had to learn to use explosives, and how to handle heavy hammers and chisels while dangling on ropes wound round their legs and body to leave their hands free to work at the terraces of slate. These men worked in all weathers, and worked only on a monthly contract basis. It was only in the 1960’s did the workers start to enjoy a reasonable rate of pay, but the quarry shut in 1969, leaving 300 men out of work. However, not long after this, construction of the Dinorwig hydro-electric power station started and brought work for 2000 people during its 10 years of construction, many of whom had lost their jobs when the quarry shut.

The word ‘epic’ is often used in urbex, but at 324 hectares, I can think of no other word to describe the place. When the quarry shut, all the equipment was auctioned off. While the small narrow gauge steam locomotives were all sold for preservation, there seemed to be little interest in the rest of the gear, and it was just left where it was to rust away. Consequently, there is much left to see around the site, all set against the incredible Snowdonia backdrop.

Yields in slate quarries were incredibly low - for every 20 tons extracted, only 1 ton was usable, resulting in millions of tons of slate 'rubbish' that were dumped off the edges of the levels and can be seen all over North Wales. It was the use of the slate rubbish to build some of the levels that gave rise to the photograph over the page. The railway line is a section of track panel, a section of track that can be moved around to where it's needed for trains to run. The perpetually damp North Wales weather eventually caused the ground (built up of slate rubbish) to give way underneath it, leaving it suspended precariously in mid-air.

There are quite a few of these images on my Mechanical Landscapes website in black and white - it's interesting to see how different they look,

An excellent history of the North Wales slate industries is available here: http://www.penmorfa.com/Slate/

This bit of the site is also worth looking at - live infiltration 1967 style! http://www.penmorfa.com/Slate/Dinorwic-1967.htm