A brief history of the Welsh slate industry
The landscape of North Wales has been irrevocably changed by the roaring success of region’s slate industry in the 18thand 19thcenturies.
Slate from the region is some of the highest quality in the world, and during the industry’s peak it was being shipped all around the world. It is even said that Welsh slate “roofed the industrial revolution”.
Whilst Welsh slate was used as a building material by the Romans and to build castles during the medieval period, it wasn’t until much later in the 18thcentury when the industrial revolution started to take hold that demand really began to grow.
By 1870, Wales’ Dinorwig and Penrhyn quarries were the largest slate quarries in the world, Oakley mine was the largest slate mine in the world, and Blaenau Ffestiniog had become a booming industrial town.
At the industry’s height, both Penrhyn quarry and Dinorwig quarry employed over 3,000 people. A new narrow gauge railway was built at Ffestiniog and a new port at Porthmadog to help transport the slate from the mines both near and far.
Quarrying for slate was a dangerous job which involved using gunpowder to blast away the rocks. Men would then swing down from the galleries, dangling by ropes that were tied around their waists, and use crowbars to work the slate loose.
The decline of the industry began during the First World War when demand began to dwindle, and many workers were laid off. During the Second World War the industry declined further and many of the smaller quarries closed down.
The 20thcentury saw the rise of man-made building materials like concrete and clay tiles, further reducing the demand for natural slate.
Today, Welsh slate is still seen as a very high quality natural material, but with so many alternatives available, demand isn’t what it used to be.
Several slate quarries are still in operation in Wales on a much reduced scale from in their heyday, including Penrhyn Quarry.
Find out more about the Welsh slatethat we stock here at All Slates by giving our team a call on 01829 262 600.