The area around the slipway provides good views over the whole of Porthmadog harbour. The first wharves were built here in 1825 but the harbour we see today evolved over decades, as the slate industry prospered.
Each of the main slate quarries to the east of Porthmadog built its own wharf. The area to the left of the slipway, for example, was the Oakeley Wharf, where slates were exported from the giant Oakeley quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog. The long sheds of Oakeley Wharf are on the left in the old photo of the harbour. There were similar private wharves in the rail yard at Minffordd, where some slate was transhipped to main-line rail wagons.
Slates came to the harbour on narrow-gauge railways, and the wharves were covered with a web of railway tracks. Each wharf had an unloading track along its quayside, usually connected to other tracks by simple turntables on which individual wagons were rotated manually. The rail system continued to the “public” wharves at the harbour mouth (on the right as you look from the slipway area) which were not linked to specific quarries.
A ship-building industry emerged in Porthmadog to serve the slate-export trade. Hundreds of vessels were built at the harbour and Borth-y-Gest (700m south of the slipway). Ship-builders needed only a patch of sloping beach to construct and launch new vessels, and commonly ships would to be under construction at several locations simultaneously. In the early years, some ships were built on the north side of the harbour, as slate export was then focused on the wharves opposite. This activity was relocated as the wharves on this side were installed.
Porthmadog’s ship builders developed a fast type of ship known as the three-masted schooner, and eventually the “Western Ocean yacht”, for the trans-Altantic trade. The last ship built in Porthmadog was the schooner Y Gestiana, wrecked on its maiden voyage in 1913.
Today the harbour has a new lease of life as a popular area for mooring yachts and other leisure boats.
With thanks to Robert Cadwalader, of Porthmadog Maritime Museum
Website of Porthmadog Maritime Museum (which is close to the slipway)