Site of Britannia Foundry, Porthmadog
At the town end of the Cob is the site of the Britannia Foundry, which built railway wagons and other equipment. An office building occupied the site until January 2021, when it was demolished to make way for a hotel.
The foundry opened c.1851, mainly to supply machinery to the area’s rapidly growing slate quarries. Having established its reputation locally, it received many orders in the 20th century from further afield. It built winding drums (for the cables which hauled the wagons up inclines) for quarries near Mold, Llangollen and Corwen. It supplied narrow-gauge turntables to quarries in Dorset and County Cork, and even wrenches to Australia.
The foundry supplied many narrow-gauge quarry wagons. Its locomotive repair business was mainly for industrial railways, but the miniature Fairbourne Railway was also a customer.
In 1860 foundry owner John Henry Williams managed to repair the propeller shaft of a Cambrian Steam Packet ship named Plynlymon. The shaft had broken as the ship reversed towards a wharf.
In 1876 the company paid £2,700 for a wrecked ship named Turkestan at Harlech. The company made repairs but couldn’t refloat the vessel. During the refloating attempt, the captain of one of the foundry’s timber ships took a hurried drink to slake his thirst. What he’d thought was water was actually benzine, and he died the next day. John himself died, after a short illness, while the refloating was being attempted. The Turkestan never floated again, despite another company’s efforts in 1878.
In June 1882 the foundry, then owned by JH Williams & Sons, was damaged by a fire, which destroyed the casting shop’s contents and roof. Housing behind the foundry was also damaged, and terrified residents carried their furniture into the street. Hundreds of townspeople hauled water in buckets to fight the fire. A newspaper reported that Thursdays were the foundry’s casting days, and speculated that sparks had landed on wooden casting patterns. It estimated the damage at more than £1,000.
Another newspaper ascribed the fire to an explosion earlier in the day because of steam in a casting tube. Its columnist hoped that the fire would lead to the formation of a local fire brigade.
Willie Walter Hughes left his job at the foundry to join the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in the First World War. He died, aged 18, on the Western Front and is buried at Guards Cemetery, Somme.
During the Second World War, Dutch commandos who were temporarily based in Porthmadog used the foundry’s walls for climbing practice.
The foundry was demolished in 1972. For many years the Inland Revenue occupied the offices that were built on the site, handling Welsh-language enquiries there. The offices were demolished to make way for the Premier Inn hotel which opened in 2022.
Postcode: LL49 9NB View Location Map
Detailed information on the foundry – Industrial Railway Society website