Weekly Photo Challenge: Window


Dinorwig Slate Quarry was the second largest slate quarry in Wales, indeed in the world, after the neighbouring Penrhyn Quarry. It covered more than 700 acres (2.8 km2) consisting of two main quarry sections. At its peak in the late 19th century, “when it was producing an annual outcome of 100,000 tonnes”, Dinorwig employed over 3,000 men and was the second largest open-cast slate producer in the country. By 1930 its working employment had dropped to 2,000  and it kept a steady production rate until 1969, when the quarry closed.

Dinorwic Quarry

However, the Victorian workshops remain open to tell the story of the Welsh slate industry. Built in 1870, the workshops are patterned in a similar style to a British Empire Fort with a central courtyard, clock tower and marvellously detailed windows.

National Slate Museum

Now a Museum the Workshops and Buildings give us a window into the lives of the quarrymen and engineers who, seemingly, just put down their tools and left the workshops for home.

Lets start with the Chief Engineers House. Responsible for all of the engineering work in the quarry the Engineer lived in a house which was part of the courtyard.

The Engineers House

Right up until the closure of the quarry in 1969 Engineers and their families lived here. As we see it today it is furnished as it would have been around 1911, with red velvet curtains and the organ in the parlour reflecting a higher standard of living than the houses of the ordinary quarrymen.

The kitchen was more basic but even still it was far better than what the quarrymen and their families had.

The Kitchen

In the 1800’s demand for slate grew which meant the slate industry was rapidly becoming the most important in Wales and subsequently the main employer in Gwynedd. Workers started to move from the rural areas to the slate quarrying areas where the work was demanding, dirty and dangerous. But the pay was better than labouring in the farms. With the influx of workers the population of Ffestiniog parish grew from 1,648 to 11,274 between  831 and 1881. Unfortunately available housing did not grow as fast  and often two families would share the one house. In situations like this children shared a room with their parents, either sleeping on the floor or sometimes sharing the same bed as their parents. Always a problem, the houses suffered from dampness, poor water supplies and blocked sewerage. Consequently typhoid and tuberculosis were constant threats.

Towards the rear of the museum stands a row of 4 terraced houses, which originally stood near Blaenau Ffestiniog at Fron Haul in Tanygrisiau. Condemned by Gwynedd County Council because of their poor condition they were moved In 1998 to the National Slate Museum. Cramped and not very luxurious the houses are typical of the terraced housing to be seen all over the quarrying areas.

Quarrymans Cottage

When you visit the workshops there is a large variety of machinery on display. The quarry and workshops were, in the main, self-sufficient due to the technical abilities of the staff. In the repair workshops you can see a riveted boiler for a narrow gauge engine which was built in the company’s boiler workshops at Port Dinorwic.

Machine Shop

In the machine shop there is a lathe dating from 1900, used for turning all sorts of things — from the incline drum’s wheels to turntables. There is also another lathe, 6.4 metres long, used to turn the transmission and propeller shafts for the company’s fleet of steam ships.

National Slate Museum

The slotting machine, on the other hand, was used to cut keyways in gear and pinion wheels, sprockets and drive pulleys.

Most of the machines to be seen in these workshops could still do a good day’s work, and indeed some of them are still used from time to time.

Repair Shed

An area that really fascinated me was the Pattern Loft where patterns for metal objects were carved first using softwood. Although much was done by hand sometimes the pattern makers used mechanical equipment, pillar drill, fretsaw, lathe and whetstone.

Light and Shade

The pattern makers carved cogs, parts for steam engines, even the bell for the clock above the gateway. Although some mechanical tools were used the detailed delicate patterns were all carved by hand. Other workers were not allowed in the Pattern Loft in case they distracted the pattern makers attention and, if his hand slipped he ruined the pattern.

The Pattern Loft

Today you can still see some of the 2000 different, fantastically intricate, patterns in the pattern loft all of which were carved by candlelight:

Administration of the quarry and workshops was carried out from the Clerks Office and Stores. In the office was a telephone which connected various parts of the quarry to the workshops.

The Office

In the Clerks Office, just inside the door, hung a Tally Board. Every one who worked at the workshops had their own tally, which had to be presented at the end of the day. Today you can see the Tally Board hanging in the window as you enter the Slate Museum.

The Tally Board

This weeks challenge was about windows and hopefully this short article has given you an insight, or should I say window, into the support services for the quarrymen who worked in the dangerous and difficult environment of the quarry. Their life was hard, especially in the 1800’s and early 1900’s but the skills of the craftsmen in the quarry workshops produced machinery which helped the quarrymen work the slate from the mountain.

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33 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: Window

  1. Fascinating post on the quarry and working of slate. I see very little, if any, in the cottages; is that slate around the fireplace in the workman’s cottage kitchen? I can imagine that this was not an easy life.
    Thanks for the pingback.

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    • There’s slate everywhere. The fireplace surrounds are made of slate and some of the floors. It wasnt an easy life. Quarrymen were working up the mountains in all weathers, suspended on ropes that they maintained themselves.

      >

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  2. As you know I am very enthusiastic when it comes to visiting and photographing the slate quarries and did little else last summer. The photographs are of a good quality, however there is, in my humble opinion, too much dependency on HDR or tone mapping effects. If the intention was to represent the Slate Museum in a surreal way, you have succeeded. I know from your photographs that they are good enough to need little post processing. This is a personal viewpoint, but I feel much is lost in the realism through the ghosting effects, or perhaps that was intentional. I think much would have been gained if the images were direct conversion to B&W.

    Richard

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  3. Mike, as usual you have produced what I consider a masterpiece. The photography and your commentary is excellent. It is all so interesting to me. So much history has been revealed here and I hope that your fellow countrymen now have a deeper appreciation of a long ago time.

    I am a huge fan of natural stone- slate, marble, limestone, etc. These pics show so much histoy. You achieved a great deal in this post.

    I like the HDR effect but it would be interesting to see this done in SOOC and black and white and then see which versions your readers prefer.

    ~yvonne

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