Ruins of quarry hospital, Bethesda

Ruins of quarry hospital, Bethesda

The crumbling walls in the woodland near the cycle path are the remains of the Penrhyn Quarry Hospital, built by Colonel Pennant in the 1840s for rapid treatment of quarrymen injured at work. The hospital, known locally as Ysbyty Brynllwyd, also treated injured visitors to Snowdonia.

Facilities in 1875 included: three wards with four beds each; a surgery; a waiting room; and a mortuary nearby – because many quarry accidents were fatal. A hot water system was installed in 1889.

A quarrymen’s benefit club covered treatment here, as inpatients or outpatients. In 1890 an influenza epidemic put a strain on hospital finances; subscriptions increased and Lord Penrhyn donated £100.

The hospital provided medical aid to people injured while climbing in the Ogwen Valley.  In summer 1907 alone, it treated casualties from five serious climbing accidents. Later Dr Mills Roberts and his wife Annie, the matron, were publicly thanked by the coroner.  

In 1847 the first successful operation under anaesthetic in North-west Wales was carried out here – a mid-thigh amputation. These skills were needed after an accident on the Penrhyn Quarry Railway in 1888. The workmen’s train had left Port Penrhyn at 5.30am on 28 August and picked up workers en route to the quarry. Between Tŷ’n y Clwt and Felin Fawr, a sleigh (used to carry slate slabs) had been left beside a narrow section of the railway.

The engine passed the sleigh. The carriage, which was wider, clipped it and overturned. It was dragged along on its side and eight men were hurled out. All were taken to the quarry hospital with various injuries. The lower body and legs of David Griffith, 35, of Craig y Pandy, Tregarth, were “fearfully mutilated”. One leg was amputated immediately but he died three hours later from shock and blood loss, leaving a wife, Gaenor, and four children aged between one and 11.  At the inquest the men who had left the sleigh admitted negligence and the coroner “severely censured them, and summed up, to a great extent, in favour of manslaughter”, but the verdict was “Accidental death”.

Activity at the hospital declined as facilities at the Caernarvon and Anglesey Infirmary in Bangor improved. It closed in the mid-20th century and was dismantled in 1989.

With thanks to Dr Hazel Pierce, of The History House. Sources include ‘The North Wales Quarry Hospitals and the Health and Welfare of the Quarrymen’, by E Davies (Merseyside, 2003)

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