Felin Fawr slate workshops, Bethesda

Felin Fawr slate workshops, Bethesda

This collection of buildings was once the processing centre for the output of the world’s largest slate quarry. Freshly hewn rock arrived on narrow gauge railway wagons from the galleries of the nearby Penrhyn Quarry and was sawn and split for various uses, primarily roofing. The finished products would be carried on the Penrhyn Railway to the harbour at Porth Penrhyn, near Bangor.

Felin Fawr means “large mill”. The original slab mill was opened by 1803. Machinery was powered by water from the river Galedffrwd, which flows from the mountains to the south west of here. Galedffrwd means “powerful stream”. Two waterwheels survive at the site. One of them was supplied by De Winton of Caernarfon in 1846.

If you’ve just scanned the QR codes on the noticeboard, you’ll see the former foundry building behind the noticeboard. Molten metal was poured into moulds here to make components for the quarry and railway. Behind the foundry are the former slab mills, two long parallel buildings

Behind you is the steam locomotive shed, almost at right angles to the north-south railway alignment. The small locomotives could cope with sharp curves because the rails were only 60cm apart. The Penrhyn Quarry’s first useable steam locomotive, initially known as “machine Richard Davies” (Richard Davies’ machine), arrived from De Winton in December 1876 to replace horses. By the following spring, workers collected their wages from a steam-hauled train which went to three different locations. Previously they stopped at 9 o’clock to go to a central pay office but, thanks to the pay train, they now continued until the 10 o’clock bell!

The Felin Fawr complex was caught up in Britain’s longest strike, from 1900 to 1903, which divided the community. There was a foretaste of the bitterness in October 1896 when rocks were laid on the Penrhyn Railway track to derail a train carrying strike-breaking workers to their homes. Despite the darkness, the driver halted the train in time. Two days later a group of c.60 men attacked Felin Fawr, throwing stones at workers there.

The railway closed in 1962 but its locomotives were bought by enthusiasts in Britain and North America. One is still displayed in Penrhyn Castle, Bangor.

Volunteer enthusiasts have restored the track from the Felin Fawr shed and along part of the Penrhyn Railway route. Public rides are provided on special event days – follow the link below for details. Several of the quarry’s original locos have returned for events here.

Other buildings on the site are now used by various small businesses.

Postcode: LL57 4AX    View Location Map

Penrhyn Quarry Railway website

Other RAILWAY HiPoints in this area:
Bangor station - still has its original Chester & Holyhead Railway building
Llanberis Lake Railway - the narrow-gauge steam trains follow the former Padarn Railway, built for slate