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The Quarry

There has been a quarry at Penmaenmawr since Neolithic times. Axe-heads and other implements fashioned from its distinctive stone have been found at archaeological sites throughout the British Isles. There is still much evidence of the thriving axe factory that existed at Penmaenmawr more than 5,000 years ago. c

The ancient quarry was replaced by a newer quarry in the 1830’s. In those days Penmaenmawr stone was carried by tramway to loading jetties on the seashore, from where it was taken by ship to Liverpool and other major ports, then by canal or road to its final destination. With the coming of the railway to Penmaenmawr in the 1840’s, the shipping trade fell into a decline from which it never recovered.

Today, the quarry at Penmaenmawr continues to thrive. The stone is now despatched by rail and road, and it remains universally popular for rail ballast, road building and the making of concrete. Examples of its modern usage include the Mersey Tunnel and the Hamburg By-Pass in Germany.

The gathering the jewels website for Welsh cultural history has interesting items on Penmaenmawr Quarry, Please visit the link below





Penmaenmawr Historical Society Booklet 1978

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries our small island was the greatest producer of base metals, and largely on this account it led the world in the industrial revolution. Only when richer, and easier-got metal deposits were discovered in other parts of the world did it lose its lead.

In view of the foregoing it is little wonder that the rocks of our parish, in the early period, were thoroughly searched for their possible mineral wealth. The igneous rock forming the Penmaenmawr and its extension eastward in the Graiglwyd mountain, commercially titled as granite, has been successfully exploited for over a century and a half for use as roadstone, railway ballast, as aggregate for the making of concrete and as building-stone. Its quarrying has given steady employment to a labour force rising to its maximum of 1100 before the last war, but, for various causes, today reduced to about 100.

A trench dug into slatey shale below the granite capping the eastern end of the’ Graiglwyd mountain, no doubt, tells of a search for roofing slate. Slate of a commercial quality has often been found underlying a hard bed of rock - as at the slate mines of Ffestiniog. A stones throw east of the parish boundary slate was successfully quarried on Talyfan. The Church-house is roofed with Talyfan slates.

Searches, probably for lead, have been made at the eastern of the two gullies on the face of Llechwedd Fawr (a name omitted from recent Ordnance maps). The gully reaches down to the furthest target of the abandoned rifle-range in the Graiglwyd Cwm. Two levels or drifts were driven into the gully but their entrances are hidden by gravel washed down from above. About 70/80 years ago two local quarrymen extended one of them a couple of yards — it had already penetrated but three yards or so. I was told of this by one of the two men. No doubt the presence of a narrow seam of soft black material running up the gully had prompted these searches.

On, and adjacent to the conical hill that rises between the Penybryn and Bryniolyn farms traces of endeavours to locate metal lodes are numerous. In the Tithe Schedule of 1846 the hill, or rather the rough grazing it provides, is named Ffrith Domenddydd — it should, probably be Ffrith Domenydd. Ffrith indicates an area of rough pasture, and Domenydd stands for mounds — spoil-heaps. There are several such heaps dispersed over the hill.

At its base, and behind the picturesque cottage Cefn-Maen — a name echoing search for metal, a line of beautiful white quartz rock runs up and caps the hill. At the base of this quartz reef the rock has been trenched deeply, and the surface of the rock is traversed by several thin ‘stringers’ of lead or zinc ore. 

A few yards below this trenched rock a deep mine shaft has been sunk. I was told by a William Rowlands who died in 1933, an old man of 98 (his father was tenant of Bryniolyn), that men were working down this shaft when he was about 19 years of age. I can remember renewed working there early in the 1900s.

In the uppermost field of the farm named about 50 years back, after heavy rains, a sudden depression brought to light the existence of a level driven into the hillside below the oak wood, Coed-y-gwryl, (to the left of the mountain gate — now a cattle grid). The roof of the tunnel had collapsed.

A couple of spoil heaps can be seen if one descends from the pillars of the Jubilee Walk by following the wall boundary of Penybryn Farm. Similar heaps are to be seen at the western end of Ffrith Gwddwglas, overlooking the Plas Ucha reservoir. They indicate searches for an outcropping metal lode.

The old Local Board, and the succeeding Urban District County in its early years, make use of a gravel-pit at the base of the Moel Lus and opposite the Horeb Chapel. From time to time lumps of lead or zinc ore used to be found; some of these heavy lumps of glistening ore could be seen on a mantelshelf at the Eden Hall offices. They strongly suggest that lodes of these metals are present in the overlooking rocks, and they can well be continuous of the lodes so successfully mined at the Trecastell mine in Llechwedd, some are known to lead in that direction.

Early in the 1850s S.D. Darbishire, a wealthy Manchester solicitor came to reside at Pendyffryn, and soon after his coming he engaged a qualified metal prospector to make a search of his then extensive lands. Some of the trials mentioned here could well have been made on his advice. A level tunneled into the rock just outside the boundary wall behind Pendyffryn could be such a one. The name of the small cottage, Brickfield, the only dwelling on the sea-side of the railway, tells that brickmaking had once been carried on there. It was probably initiated by S.D.D. who wished to make use of the red brick clay on his land exposed by the construction of the railway in 1847/8.

Curiously, the registers of the parish record that between 1858 and 1875 as many as eight men have ‘Brickmaker’ as their occupation. All but one have English surnames; one hailed from Buckley, a noted brickmaking locality; another was from Cheadle.

Banham was the surname of three of the brickmakers. One, an Abraham Banham, in 1864 was awarded the contract to make the first reservoir for the district — at Tanycwm, under the Graiglwyd Road. And soon after the erection of the St. Seiriol’s Church in 1868, he contracted to make the Church Road, and its continuation down to the Railway Station — Station Road East. The land for the latter was given by the Executors of S.D.D.

It is said that some bricks were made from clay dug near the Pendyffryn farmyard. The cavities seen today by Brickfield cottage suggest that the brickmaking was limited and intermittent House-building was active in the district over the years first mentioned and bricks would be in active demand, but the only buildings into which the local bricks entered, to my definite knowledge, are the late Dunphy’s premises and ‘Bank House’ (Hempsteads).

In the 1880s, a date later than those mentioned earlier, there was again a short spell of brickmaking at the Brickfield. Charles H. Darbishire, a son of the S.D.D., having taken over the Graiglwyd Sett Quarry, and eager to have the lands of the Tymawr Farm developed as building plots, as an ‘inducement, erected at the start of the Esplanade Road, the two large semi-detached houses which include Bryn Awel and Hawarden Villa (Glendower). Their external walls are of the local squared granite, but the internal walling is in the local brick. The former Quarry Company’s Head Offices are of the same construction — built soon after. A professional brickmaker was engaged to make the bricks needed.

Three, possibly four, tunnel entrances can be seen on the south-western slope of the Alltwen mountain; they can be seen as one starts to ascend the Pass. They probably date before the coming of S.D. Darbishire, and were probably made in search of copper in the band of black soft shale that dips sharply into the mountain and, owing to its comparative softness, accounts for a deep dent in its profile. The late William Hughes, lsfryn, told me that he could remember a mine shaft at the foot of this shale band — by his first home Llysgwynt. Lady Paget of Plastanrallt in 1896 engaged two men to explore these levels; she refers to them as caves in a pamphlet she published on them. It was found that one level penetrated 76 yards into the hill. They were made, most likely, following the discovery of copper in similar black shales at Derwendeg. I remember the headgear of the mineshaft with a waterwheel by the Tabernacle Chapel at Llechwedd.

A trial level can be seen soon after one enters the Fairy Glen. It was probably made for the Mr. Sudbery once the owner of the Glen; it pierces a coarse volcanic ash.

Long forgotten, but of unusual interest geologically, were pockets of clean white quartz sand and clay found just inside and north of the parish boundary by the cattle grid on the upper road to Conwy. Some geologists consider it to be of Triassic age. There were like pockets near Oakwood Park and the same deposits were found at Llandudno — at Nantygamar, at Wyddfyd above the Happy Valley, and other places near. The sand and clay was shipped from Conwy and from Llandudno to Liverpool where it was transhipped to South America. The material was in great demand for the making of refractory bricks needed in the smelting of the rich copper and other ores mined there.

About the year 1901-2 a person surnamed Carder made an attempt—fortunately an unsuccessful one, to exploit the lava rock, rhyolite, which constitutes much of the Moel Lus as the source of the silica it contains — a mineral needed as an ingredient in the making of pottery. He made a similar endeavour to exploit the same kind of rock forming Conwy Mountain where signs of his workings remain. On the Jubilee Walk he drove two tunnels, each penetrating six or seven yards into the rock — working a day and a night shift, and laid a rail track between the two tunnels. A bed for a self acting incline was prepared to reach down to behind Trwyn-y-Wylfa farm; it is plainly visible today. These operations, (there was blasting at night), aroused great anger locally. To prevent any such desecrations of the mountains in the future the District Council secured the mineral rights of the mountain common from the Crown authorities.

Ivor E. Davies