Co-operative quarry site, Porth y Pistyll, near Aberdaron

Link to Welsh translationCo-operative quarry site, Porth y Pistyll, near Aberdaron

Photo of harbour wall at Porth y PistyllFor a while in the 20th century, dolerite was quarried in this area by a co-operative company founded by journalists in an attempt to “revolutionise the whole position of the worker”. Surviving remnants of the quarrying include the ruined harbour wall, a pulley wheel in a field beside the Wales Coast Path, part of a crane (pictured below) and unfinished workers’ cottages at Bodermid Isaf.

The quarrying began c.1901 when Hugh Evans started producing setts (cobblestones). In 1904/1905 he erected a timber and stone jetty at Porth y Pistyll, equipped with a steam crane for loading the setts into ships.

The operation came to the attention of Charles Sheridan Jones (1874-1925), a journalist who had covered the great strike at Penrhyn slate quarry (1900-1903) for the Daily News. His pamphlet What I saw at Bethesda proposed forming co-operatives to quarry slate.

His efforts in slate were hampered by a recession in the building trade, but he saw that the need for better roads sustained the market for hard-wearing dolerite. In 1907 the Co-operative Granite Quarries Ltd was registered, with Charles as secretary and three other directors – see the Footnotes. It had a capital of £10,000 and £5,000 in loan stock. Workers would get a share of profits on top of their wages. The company replaced the jetty with a stone harbour wall.

Photo of crane remnants at Porth y PistyllStruggling to attract skilled labour to the area, the company created a subsidiary, the Aberdaron Co-operative Housing Society, in January 1908. Consultant architect Harold Clapham Lander, a pioneer of the Garden City movement, proposed 91 cottages along a tree-lined street in Aberdaron, with shops and a reading room facing a village green.

Another subsidiary, the Coal Consumers’ Pioneer Society, was intended to supply Aberdaron residents with cheap coal direct from a reopened colliery near Mold, cutting out the middleman.

On 18 January 1908 a Financial Times article highlighted the enterprises’ speculative nature. Further investors were deterred. Charles lost a libel case in the High Court in July 1909 and ended up bankrupt, having sunk his own money into the schemes. This effectively ended the enterprise here. The companies were officially wound up in 1915.

In the 1930s Frank Jackson reopened the harbour and quarries, making improvements to the facilities. A huge rock fall in 1935 killed a quarryman but a 15-year-old boy, working in the smithy lower down, was rescued from the debris with only scratches and bruises. Several hundred setts and some kerbstones were left when the site was abandoned. Many are said to have been used for fireplaces in local houses.

With thanks to Michael Statham for the information and photos 

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Footnotes: Other directors of Co-operative Granite Quarries Ltd

The chairman was William Walter Crotch, a journalist whose 1901 report The Cottage Homes of England criticised the state of English rural housing. He had co-founded of Farrow’s Bank, known as “The People’s Bank”, to give small investors more favourable interest rates than other banks did. He and his co-founder were jailed after the bank collapsed in 1920.

Director Cecil Edward Chesterton was the youngest brother of writer GK Chesterton. Cecil had trained as a surveyor but was persuaded by Ada Elizabeth Jones, Charles’ sister, to become a  journalist. He later edited the New Witness, with Ada as assistant. Ada married him in 1916, when he enlisted in the army. He was wounded three times in the First World War and died in a French hospital in December 1918, with Ada at his side.

The company’s fourth director was trade unionist Sidney Stranks, later a member of London County Council.