Derelict slate quarries, Fairbourne

Derelict slate quarries, Fairbourne

Old photo of incline at Goleuwern slate quarryHere the Wales Coast Path passes near the remains of Goleuwern slate quarry, recently known for its secluded “Blue Lake”. Henddol (or Hen-ddôl) slate quarry was a little further west. Access to the lake was closed in 2019 because visitors kept leaving rubbish at the site.

Goleuwern quarry was started in the 1860s. The new railway, now known as the Cambrian Coast line, provided cost-effective transport from this relatively remote location. Slates were loaded onto main-line railway wagons at the nearby Ynysfaig siding – where Fairbourne station was later built.

An incline was completed in 1873, allowing slates to be lowered on small wagons from the quarry to the valley floor. The old photo (copyright: Gwynedd Archives Service) shows a loaded wagon about to descend in the early 20th century, when Abel Simner (centre) owned the quarries.

The slate within easy reach from the hillside was eventually exhausted, so the quarrymen followed the vein downwards. This created a large pit. New tunnels provided exits for slate and water at lower levels. After abandonment, the lowest part of the pit flooded, forming the Blue Lake.

Henddol was working by 1864, owned by George Alfred Walker. He had retired to the area from his career as a London surgeon. He sent his quarrymen to the National Eisteddfod in Aberystwyth as a treat in 1865.

Quarryman John H Owen was lucky to survive an explosion in a machine house in Henddol quarry in March 1869. He needed nitro-glycerine for blasting the rockface but found it had crystallised in the cold weather and needed thawing. He placed the can of “patent blasting oil” on the machine’s fire, rather than in hot water as was usual. He was found walking “like a torch” in burning clothes outside the building. There was some debate about whether the blast had blown him out of the building through the door, window or roof!

After George’s death in 1884 his sister, Mrs HE Smith, became a partner in the quarries. Both quarries were worked together, with c.80 quarrymen employed in 1887.

Both had closed by 1896, when disputes at Penrhyn slate quarry (the world’s largest) in Bethesda made small slate quarries viable again. This time Goleuwern and Henddol came under the ownership of Abel Simner, of nearby Plaseinion Hall.

In 1900 a large rockfall blocked the entrance to Henddol quarry. Work stopped and the quarrymen were immediately laid off. Quarrying ended here in 1915.

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