Pen-y-Bryn quarry cottages, Nantlle

Pen-y-Bryn quarry cottages, Nantlle

These ruined quarrymen’s cottages (sometimes known as Pen-y-Bryn barracks) are unusual because they started off as farm buildings, long before quarrying became a major industry here. Please view the old buildings from the footpath but do not enter the ruins.

Pen-y-Bryn farmhouse, now an unstable ruin west of the path, dates from the late 17th century. It was owned by the wealthy Garnons family. The nearby Dorothea slate quarry was named after Dorothea Garnons, who died in 1853.

Opposite the farmhouse are four buildings where quarrymen and their families lived. There are arched doorways in the oldest buildings, which probably date from around the same time as the farmhouse. You can see one of those openings in the gable wall on your right as you climb the path from the farmhouse.

Former farmyard outbuildings were adapted and enlarged in the 1860s for their new role as barracks or cottages, using slate from the quarry instead of the rough stones visible in the earlier walls. Windows, partitions and fireplaces were installed, along with crog lofts – a first floor which extended only part way along the interior.

Each cottage had two rooms on the ground floor. Most had a fireplace in the larger room but not the smaller. Kitchen extensions were added to some cottages in the late 19th century. Some residents created small garden plots.

By 1871 seven quarrymen lived in the four converted outbuildings with their families. Widowed farmer Richard Owen continued to farm the land where the quarry had not yet encroached, but supplemented his income with quarry work. Although the cottages were small, one couple lived here with eight children! Another couple here had their grandson and five children with them on census day 1871, when one cottage was home to a widow and two daughters.

The last residents left the cottages in the late 1920s. The farmhouse continued to be a home and the cottages became farm outbuildings again.

In 2019 Gwynedd Archaeological Trust led excavations of some of the cottages and the ‘rock cannon’ beyond the buildings which features 14 holes, up to 11cm deep, along with carved initials from the late 19th century. Rock cannon – known as ‘wedding stones’ in this area – consisted of holes bored into rock outcrops at various places in North Wales. Gunpowder in the holes was fired to celebrate special occasions.

With thanks to David Hopewell of Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

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