​Wild Swim and National Slate Museum

I had a free morning so decided I wanted to return to a lake we’d visited before for a wild swim. So early Thursday morning I was swimming with the ducks at Llyn Padarn… sadly, they saw me coming!

I decided to sneak up on them…

After this, I decided to head over to the National Slate Museum as I wanted to see it on my last visit but didn’t get a chance.

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The entrance to the museum

A few facts about the museum; it is located at Gilfach Ddu in the 19th-century workshops of the now disused Dinorwic slate quarry, which can’t be missed on the hillside, near Padarn County Park. It workshops were open from 1870 to 1969, when the quarry closed, and the museum was opened in 1972 (originally known as the North Wales Quarrying Museum.)

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The quarry can be seen top right from the workshops

The museum has a display featuring some slate workers’ cottages that once stood at Tanygrisiau, near Blaenau Ffestiniog. They were taken down stone by stone and re-erected on the site. I thought these were fantastic.

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The restored miner’s houses from Tanygrisiau

Each house is decorated in a different year from when the miner’s worked at the Quarries – 1989, 1901, 1945, 1969 and mentioned a lot about the miners “The Great Strike” at the local Penryth Quarry where they were two prolonged strikes by workers demanding better pay and safer conditions. The first strike lasted eleven months in 1896. The second began on 22 November 1900 and lasted for three years, this was the longest dispute in British industrial history. As a result, orders dropped sharply and thousands of workers to be laid off, almost leading some families into starvation. On the windows, the strike supporters would place a card reading “I am not a traitor” in Welsh and the occupants would go to the mines in the morning when the workers were starting to arrive, and call them traitors whilst hammering pots and pans.

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You can even see the clothes they wore, an opportunity for the young people to try them on.

The museum also has the largest working waterwheel in mainland Britain and was constructed in 1870 by De Winton of Caernarfon and is 50 ft 5ins in diameter, 5 ft 3ins wide and was built around a 12in axle. It’s lovely to watch, a series of connecting wheels and poles turn throughout the museum which powers the machines in the workshops.

 

There was also an excellent demonstration about slate splitting and what happens to it from a miner who works part-time at the museum and at another quarry nearby.

He told us some very interesting things. Damaged or unused slate waste is often used for pathways in gardens etc but most of it is crushed up into a fine powder and shipped overseas, usually to Germany, where impurities are removed it is put into cosmetics!

Slate is cut into various sizes, named after women such as ‘Princess’ and Duchess’. The Duchess slate size would sell for £8 but the worker would only be paid 8p per slate! They would usually, on a good day, created approx 800 of these sizes by hand. If an order was put in for 100, they would only be paid for 86 of them because of allowances for damages – less would be paid for the further away the cut slate travelled!! So, they were (and still are) exploited on the work they produce. The man told the group that an average wage is £310 per week before tax, so the additional money is needed.

Countries with lower quality slate, like China, sell for far cheaper than Welsh slate and traders went to them to save more money.

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Modern machinery that cuts slate.

The different sizes are similar internationally but the quality differs. A lot of the Welsh mines closed because of competitors from overseas selling for cheaper and, I only recently found out, there is a Welsh community in Patagonia that moved across to work the mines there – so the countries second language is Welsh for this very reason.

This place is worth a visit. I spent about two hours here just exploring the rooms, listening to talks and demonstrations and reading the information. It brings to light just how hard the conditions were and what it was like for them. My next blog post is about going into an abandoned mine where I gained even more perspective about their lives and work.

To find out more about the museum you can visit this link.

Just Joanne