Dinorwig quarry galleries

Link to Welsh translationDinorwig quarry galleries

dinorwig_quarry_men_at_rockface
Four quarrymen working on a rockface at Dinorwig Quarry. The man
second from left holds a mechanised drill. The man on the far right is
tethered to the rockface by a rope. © Gwynedd Archives Service

The rockfaces where the quarrymen worked are called ‘galleries’, or ‘ponciau/bonciau’ in Welsh. Many of the upper galleries can be viewed from here, near the former slate mill. The nearby viewpoint offers a view of lower galleries.

Fourteen sawing mill sheds stood along the main galleries. Altogether, there were over 30 slate galleries. Each gallery was named after a local landmark, notable event, place in the world, woman related to Dinorwig or local character. The local characters were often former quarry workers from the 1820s to 1840s. Examples include Edward Jones, Robin Rabar and Robin Dre. See the footnotes to discover how some of the galleries got their names.

Men working at Dinorwig faced many dangers. Accounts from former quarry workers tell of the mills being covered in dust. Safety clothing was not provided as it would be today. The men did not have masks to protect them from the dust.

dinorwig_quarry_hospital
View of Dinorwig Quarry Hospital. There were so many accidents
at Dinorwig that a hospital was built on site in 1860.
© Mrs D P Hughes / Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

 

Working on the galleries was very dangerous. Men were fastened to the rockface by a rope. This was the only thing protecting them from falling to the bottom. The rock being quarried was unstable. The quarrymen had to be aware of any loose slate above where they were working.

Quarrying at a lower point on the gallery could cause any unstable material above to fall. Many quarry workers died this way. It was even more dangerous in cold weather. When ice set in on the rockface, the slate would move and loosen as the ice swelled.

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Footnotes: Gallery names

  • Abyssinia: In the 1860s the Welsh press published many articles about the war in Abyssinia. Welsh quarrymen were great thinkers. It is likely that they talked about these articles. Abyssinia covered the areas we now know as Ethiopia and Eritrea in eastern Africa.
  • Alice: Named after the wife of Dinorwig’s owner, George William Duff (1848-1904). Alice and George married on 19th April 1888.
  • Australia: This gallery was located at a particularly high point of the quarry. It was also near the furthest point of the quarry and took a long time for the workers to reach. So, it felt like the other side of the world. Hence the name, Australia.
  • California: It is thought that work may have begun on this gallery in the 1840s or 1850s. This was at the same time as the Gold Rush in America, when people travelled to California in search of gold. It was also said that some of the best slate at Dinorwig was to be found here. So, it was like mining for gold.
  • Enid: Named after the daughter of Dinorwig’s owner, George William Duff (1848-1904).
  • Hafod Owen: Named after a cottage that once stood in this location.
  • Harriet: Named after a daughter of Dinorwig’s owner, Thomas Assheton Smith (1776-1858).
  • Llangristiolus: The first quarryman to start work on this gallery was Owen Rowlands. He was from a village on Anglesey called Llangristiolus.
  • Matilda: Named after the wife of Dinorwig’s owner, Thomas Assheton Smith. Work began on this gallery on their wedding day, 17 October 1827.
  • Pant y Ceubren: Named after a cottage that once stood in this location.
  • Toffat/Toffet: A place called Toffet in the Bible was considered a very frightening place. Perhaps this gives us an idea of what the men thought of this gallery.
  • Victoria: Named after Queen Victoria.
  • Wembley: Work started on this gallery in around 1923 or 1924. Wembley stadium was opened around the same time on 28th April 1923. The British Empire exhibition was held soon afterwards in 1924 and 1925. The exhibition showcased Welsh products and the skills of Welsh workers, including those belonging to the slate industry.