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18 June 2014
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Legacies - North West Wales

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Slate strike's scars - 100 years on

Penrhyn Quarry
Penrhyn Quarry
This slate quarry has formed the character of the area and its people.
© BBC
It’s partly the contours. The mountainous terrain of Wales proved a barrier to Saxon invaders, then to Normans, and it protected the development of a Celtic society on the fringes of what was the world’s most powerful nation-state in its day.

And it’s also the content. During the Industrial Revolution, those mountains provided the mineral wealth which built the modern nation of Wales and which heavily influenced the social structure, the population distribution, and the physical appearance that the country has inherited today.

The south Wales valleys are the classic example of this, but it is also true of parts of west Wales, of north-east Wales, and particularly of the slate quarrying districts of north-west Wales, where the gallery workings of generations of slate workers have transformed the hills into grey stepped ziggurats.

In its day, the Welsh slate industry once employed thousands of people, sent its product around the world by rail and sea, made some investors fabulously wealthy and made many others bankrupt. In the industry’s heyday, in the late 19th Century, the huge profits to be made from slate turned large areas of the North West into a kind of Celtic Klondike, with speculators, companies and small groups of enterprising workers opening up scores of new diggings in the hopes of making their fortune from Gwynedd’s grey gold.

Around those workings, grew the communities that provided the workforce - places like Blaenau Ffestiniog, Talysarn, and Bethesda.

Words: Grahame Davies

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Look back into the past using the Legacies' archives. Find nearly 200 tales from around the country in our collection.

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Internet Links
Slateside
–Welsh Slate Industry
Penrhyn Castle
–National Trust
Welsh Slate Museum
Data on Penrhyn slate quarry
Penrhyn Quarry Strike
–National Library of Wales
The Pesda Roc concert
–BBCi Wales Music
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