May 2011 Archives
The title of this blog is "A Journey through our Heritage" and on Sunday 7 March 2010 I really did take a journey through my heritage. I went inside the Rhiw Bach Slate Mine with a group of seven others. I had intended writing about this experience soon afterwards but March last year was a very busy period and I had to take a break for a few months. When I restarted again at the end of August the Great War event got me going on the story of Uncle Tom in the Great War - which has taken longer than I thought and there is still some more to come!
I've been down the Llechwedd Slate mine in Blaenau Ffestiniog which is run as a tourist attraction and is an excellent experience but this was a very different experience. My grandfather, Robert Cadwaladr Williams had started his working life in the Cwt-y-Bugail quarry run by the Bugail Slate Quarry Co. Ltd between 1893 and 1908. This was not a big company owned by a big landowner but a company owned by ordinary individuals from Penmachno and my great grandfather, William Pritchard Williams, was a Director. I relate the history of the rise and fall of this company in the third of my family history talks. Following the demise of this company, my grandfather worked in the Rhiw Bach quarry.
When the Friends of Cwm Penmachno announced that they had organised a guided trip into the Rhiw Bach quarry I immediately put my name forward so that I could see where my grandfather worked. It was a cold, crisp but sunny day when a group of eight of us met up with our guide, Miles Moulding, in Cwm Penmachno. Miles is a qualified guide to take people underground and is authorised to enter the mines. He runs "Go-Below - Underground Adventures" to take people exploring abandoned mines. Details are given on the website www.go-below.co.uk
We set off with the wonderful views of the quarries (first photo) and made our way, all fitted up, through the forestry commission's forest to the opening of the Cwm End Audit. Prior to the development of the Cwm End Quarry, the quarrying had been mainly on the surface but this was to be an underground quarry. It had 8 levels and when it was planned it was decided to do something innovative and construct a tunnel from the lowest level with a very slight slope to the side of the mountain so to act as a drainage tunnel. This avoided the very expensive cost of pumping water out, which other slate mines had to do. This was going to be our entrance into the mine. I show the view down the valley just before we went into the tunnel.
There was a strong grill over the entrance and Miles had a key to open a very small gate at the bottom and I show a photo of myself going through it. It's not a very good photo but it does show all the icicles that were hanging over the entrance. Once inside all the tunnels were big enough for us to walk through without difficulty. I took numerous photos but the quality, because of the light, which was entirely from the helmet torches. However, there are some excellent photos of the inside of the mine on the website quoted above.
As we walked through we saw the rails in many places, some waggons and many tools and artefacts used by the former slate workers - they had been left where they were when the quarry closed! Whilst the quarry had been planned for 8 levels, as work progressed it was decided to dig out a further level. There was no drainage to this level and by now it has filled with water. There was a rubber dingy which we used to cross the water, two passengers at a time. Miles offered to set up a rope which we could use to pull ourselves across hanging from a pulley but we declined in order to get more time walking around the mine - not because we were scared, I assure you!
It was fascinating walking around and realising that the huge chambers were all excavated by the quarrymen using hand tools. Whilst the skilled rockmen used black powder to break up the rock face, the rock had then to be carried by hand to load into the trucks. I thought of my grandfather working here and wondered what his exact role had been.
We spent considerable time exploring the bottom level and then it was time to make our way up to the surface. We did this by walking up the incline tunnel to which all the slate from each level was taken to the trucks so as to be taken to the surface. The incline was at an angle of about 45 degrees and by this time a stream had found its way down. It was quite a struggle and I was glad to reach the top where we again had to go through a small gate and I show a photo of one of the group coming out.
There was brilliant sunshine when we came out at the top with ice and frost under foot and the views all round were magnificent. It was a wonderful experience and I had seen my grandfather's working heritage. If anyone is interested in the history and development of the Rhiwbach quarry I recommend the book, "Rhiwbach Slate Quarry, its history and development" by Griff. R. Jones.
Unfortunately I've had some difficulties getting this uploaded during the last couple of weeks so I apologise if most of you don't see the details below until after the event.
Gwynedd Family History Society, www.gwynedd.fhs.org.uk
Meetings for the next four weeks are:
Gwynedd Family History Society AGM, Saturday 21 May at 2.00 pm
To be held at: Yr Aelwyd, Church Street, Caernarfon
2.00 pm Annual General Meeting followed by a lecture in Welsh and a translation service will be available all afternoon.
3.00 pm Darlith gan y Parch Harri Parri: "Y mae capel bach gwyngalchog ..."
People who are not members, but interested in membership, will be welcome to join.
Clwyd Family History Society, www.clwydfhs.org.uk
The meetings are held on the second Saturday of each month (except August) at 2.00 pm at locations that rotate within the former county of Clwyd.