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Maenofferen Slate mine, Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales, July 2020

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HughieD

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1. The History
Maenofferen slate quarry is situated near the North Wales town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, between the Manod and Moelwyn Mountains. Situated at 400m, it was first worked by men from the nearby Diphwys mine circa 1800 and by 1848 slate was being transported via the Ffestiniog Railway. This ceased in 1857 but traffic resumed shortly after as a steady flow of slate was dispatched via the railway. The quarry was initially named "David Jones" mine until it was renamed in 1861 when the Maenofferen Slate Quarry Co. Ltd. was incorporated. That year it produced around 400 tons of slate and the next year the leasing of a wharf at Porthmadog for onward distribution.

During the nineteenth century the quarry flourished and expanded, extending its workings underground and further downhill towards the nearby Blaenau Ffestiniog. By 1897 it employed over 400 people with nearly half of the men working underground. The Ffestiniog Railway continued to be the quarry's major transport outlet. However, given there was no direct connection to Ffestiniog's terminus at Duffws, slate was sent via the Rhiwbach Tramway which ran through the quarry. This put the quarry at a slight disadvantage to its rivals as it incurred extra shipping costs. In 1882, it produced 8,600 tons making it the fifth largest producer in the Ffestiniog area

It began large-scale use of locomotive power on its internal tramways from around 1900 and in 1908 the company leased wharf space at Minffordd, installing turntables and sidings, allowing finished slates to be shipped to the standard gauge railway there. Following the First World War, Maenofferen had moved up to the third largest slate producer in the Ffestiniog region and in 1918 it introduced hydro-electric power. Two years later in 1920 the company solved its high shipping costs by building a new incline connecting its mill to the Votty & Bowydd quarry. This allowed it to ship its products via that company's incline which was in turn connected to the Ffestiniog Railway at Duffws. In 1928 Maenofferen purchased the Rhiwbach quarry, continuing to work it and use its associated Tramway until 1953.

After the Second World War, fortunes declined and then in 1946, the Ffestiniog Railway ceased operation. In response, Maenofferen leased a short length of the railway's tracks between Duffws station and the interchange with the LMS railway, west of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Slate trains continued to run over this section until 1962. Maenofferen became the last slate quarry to use any part of the Ffestiniog Railway's route. From 1962 slate was shipped from the quarry by road, although the internal quarry tramways, including stretches of the Rhiwbach tramway, continued in use until at least into the 1980s.

By 1972 the mine was only employing 60 men and had an annual output of 1,200 tons. The quarry was purchased by the nearby Llechwedd quarry in 1975 and underground production at Maenofferen continued until November 1999. Production briefly recommenced via the "untopping" of underground workings to recover slate from the supporting pillars of the chambers along with the recovery of slate from the quarry tips, for crushing and subsequent use.

Now owned by J. W. Greaves and Sons Ltd, Blaenau Ffestiniog, it continues to produce crushed slate on a limited scale under the ownership of the nearby Llechwedd quarry, employing just 6 men.

Here’s link to a really interesting video animation (with sub-titles) reconstructing the history and work of Maenofferen slate quarry as commissioned by Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales:


2. The Explore
It’s the first morning of my hols in North Wales and outside, true to form, it’s pissing down. So where do I decide to go? Half-way up a mountain to the legendary Maenofferen slate mine! After a 40-or-so-minute drive from our holiday cottage I’ve parked up and ready to head into the rain. I must have looked a right sight in my green wellies and floral umbrella. Needs must though. The rain was relentless and the visibility poor, but after a hike up the mountain just I was beginning to give up all hope, like a ghost of the Welsh’s slate mining industry, the outline of the cutting sheds rose up out of the rain. I very quickly took shelter in what small part of the building that had its roof intact and, with only the company of the odd sheep that passed through, began taking pictures.

The cutting sheds were amazing, and, in some ways, the appalling weather added to the atmosphere. The wet and poor light didn’t help the photography side of things mind. Then it was out into the mine itself. Given I was solo, didn’t have any gear and hadn’t (foolishly, on reflection) told anyone where I was going, I decided not to go too far into the mine. It was tempting though and was actually drier in there than outside. After taking the second short tunnel and seeing the Winding house was completely sealed, I popped back out to check out the trio of smaller building; the stores, the workshops, and the electricity substation.

Then it was the long trek back down in the now intensified rain. I stopped briefly to speak to Stefan, a local lad who was driving a tractor and is one of six self-employed workers at the live Llechwedd quarry, at the base of the road up to Maenofferen.

Then it was back off to the warmth of my holiday cottage to dry off.

3. The Pictures

The long climb begins:

50163837263_06a33ffbd8_b.jpgMaenoffren 01 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Sadly, didn’t take and pictures of the ascent due to the weather until the long Dressing Mills came into view:

50164629127_8e8073da46_b.jpgMaenoffren 02 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Relative dryness at last:

50163835978_a73a5547fb_b.jpgMaenoffren 07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50163836748_5e9f8d5ceb_b.jpgMaenoffren 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166047428_e30ca95da3_b.jpgimg7019 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The waste slate conveyor belt, mill 3:

50163836543_9c06b5506c_b.jpgMaenoffren 04 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50164628457_6a5ab563d0_b.jpgMaenoffren 05 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Electrics in mill 3:

50164672807_526f24880a_b.jpgMaenoffren 12 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166580211_ba453b97d1_b.jpgimg7025 by HughieDW, on Flickr

A dressing machines in mill 3:

50164628227_8d7891e073_b.jpgMaenoffren 06 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166576016_e79556effe_b.jpgimg7030 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50164374896_57c69e50ce_b.jpgMaenoffren 08 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50164673442_7fd8868f6b_b.jpgMaenoffren 09 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50163881818_7437ebe065_b.jpgMaenoffren 10 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50163881663_bc90c11ee3_b.jpgMaenoffren 11 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Wheel pit between Mills 1 and 2:

Planer in Mill 1:

50164672657_ed4fafda40_b.jpgMaenoffren 13 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166835397_89bd44a5e1_b.jpgimg7027 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166836552_fb17808dc4_b.jpgimg7026 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Compressor, and compressed air cylinder, Mill 2:

50164671942_6baedebea3_b.jpgMaenoffren 16 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50164420876_1f5b4f90a3_b.jpgMaenoffren 15 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50164850633_a13cb243e4_b.jpgMaenoffren 17 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166838077_8cd3632e47_b.jpgimg7024 by HughieDW, on Flickr
On to the mine itself:

50165643117_660859ceec_b.jpgMaenoffren 20 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Rusting former gate to the mine:

50165385416_c60d92b0f0_b.jpgMaenoffren 19 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Follow the tracks, Jack:

50164850838_7c2296ab02_b.jpgMaenoffren 25 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Left, or right?

50164849988_13b4257ddf_b.jpgMaenoffren 26 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Right first…

50166569221_b731ecc6c2_b.jpgimg7053 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Time for tea?

50166568051_9dd5b178ef_b.jpgimg7057 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166031933_edda890e53_b.jpgimg7058 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The proverbial rusty hook!

50165642992_7dcc7a866a_b.jpgMaenoffren 21 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50164850058_763232ca6b_b.jpgMaenoffren 22 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Back out and down the short left and tunnel:

50166031258_3c61cf77c1_b.jpgimg7065 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166565446_19b79731d0_b.jpgimg7067 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Unhookers office at top of incline. In this picture you can get an inkling of just how bad the weather was!

50164851113_9af1d9b062_b.jpgMaenoffren 23bw by HughieDW, on Flickr

Back out on to the cluster of 3 smaller buildings. Firstly, the stores:

50165577081_a48462e868_b.jpgMaenoffren 27 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166820882_87182a83b8_b.jpgimg7080 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165834227_9c31bd5204_b.jpgMaenoffren 28 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166817367_70608182a2_b.jpgimg7086 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165576701_1854cfc336_b.jpgMaenoffren 29 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Then on to the electricity sub-station:

50165833822_6c678a11da_b.jpgMaenoffren 30 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165041668_14a3773aae_b.jpgMaenoffren 31 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165833362_4271cff725_b.jpgMaenoffren 32 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165575946_e3e13272a6_b.jpgMaenoffren 33 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165575771_bf2948cf71_b.jpgMaenoffren 34 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165832797_38cb041ff4_b.jpgMaenoffren 35 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166803297_74e282197a_b.jpgimg7095 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And finally, on to the engineering workshop, now completely missing its roof but with lots of interesting things still left inside:

50165832352_9c5e67bb02_b.jpgMaenoffren 37 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165040208_eb4d682fdd_b.jpgMaenoffren 38 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165831727_2a7831c004_b.jpgMaenoffren 39 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165574331_ba399f04df_b.jpgMaenoffren 40 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50165039293_befc031c12_b.jpgMaenoffren 42 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166543986_8fd7dca87c_b.jpgimg7102 by HughieDW, on Flickr

50166007548_3ac62bcce8_b.jpgimg7103 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Anyone lost a steel-capped boot?

50165573736_0c7699fb13_b.jpgMaenoffren 43 by HughieDW, on Flickr
 
Last edited:

Newage

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Mate - that`s mega.

Looks like you did level A (top level) If you do the underground bits you might need a few day as it goes down to level M and it`s 1900 feet down to the bottom.

I have to say that B&W shot looking at the adit in the rain is a wall hanger - just WOW.

Cheers Newage
 

HughieD

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Mate - that`s mega.

Looks like you did level A (top level) If you do the underground bits you might need a few day as it goes down to level M and it`s 1900 feet down to the bottom.

I have to say that B&W shot looking at the adit in the rain is a wall hanger - just WOW.

Cheers Newage

Cheers mate. Much appreciated. Yup. Revisit deffo required here.

That B+W shot is actually a phone pic that looked dull in colour so desaturated it!
 

King Al

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Great pics Hughie, you've really captured the atmosphere with that Welsh rain! :)
 

Mikeymutt

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Superb report mate. I really must get to see these. Love sites like this
 

fluffy5518

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Super report Hughie, this is one of my all time favourite explores. North Wales is littered with places like this but none are as big or as heart poundingly good as Maenofferen. It literally takes your breath away, from the walk up to the Mills, the sight of the Rhiwbach No 3 incline up to the Rhiwbach tramway and the mine itself. The underground section you walked was the mills level and has been abandoned for many a year. If you had walked a tad further you would have come to the top of an incline that leads down to yet more goodliness but i appreciate that you were alone and you got further than i would. However the real prize would have been to walk passed the old winding house and into the mine proper. Down there are the likes of what you've never seen before - i've done it three times now and i haven't scratched the surface of it - it's huge and nerve wrackingly amazing. How i would love to have seen it in operation. But dont stop there, next time youre up go up the incline to the Rhiwbach Tramway (wearing Wellies .. !!) and find the delights of Cwt-y-Bugail, Blaen-y-cwm and Rhiwbach. Or walk passed the Mills and head for Difwys with its amazing mill ruins and relics. From here you can either go underground again at the old or newer workings or head down towards Bleanau via the inclines and end up at the bottom floor of Votty..... I could talk for hours about the place - i absolutely love it. Just make sure you go back mate cos i wanna see your pics .... !! Thanx for the report.
 

Scaramanger

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Great work... went a couple of years back slogged up to the top sheds and weather came in like from hell itself..Beat a retreat down.. Going back within the next couple of months to try again..
 

mookster

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Anyone thinking of heading here might want to delay their plans a bit. The preservation people caught a load of pikeys burning plastic off cables and cutting stuff up in the shafts the other day, the fire damage is pretty bad and it's not a place to be right now.
 

HughieD

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Super report Hughie, this is one of my all time favourite explores. North Wales is littered with places like this but none are as big or as heart poundingly good as Maenofferen. It literally takes your breath away, from the walk up to the Mills, the sight of the Rhiwbach No 3 incline up to the Rhiwbach tramway and the mine itself. The underground section you walked was the mills level and has been abandoned for many a year. If you had walked a tad further you would have come to the top of an incline that leads down to yet more goodliness but i appreciate that you were alone and you got further than i would. However the real prize would have been to walk passed the old winding house and into the mine proper. Down there are the likes of what you've never seen before - i've done it three times now and i haven't scratched the surface of it - it's huge and nerve wrackingly amazing. How i would love to have seen it in operation. But dont stop there, next time youre up go up the incline to the Rhiwbach Tramway (wearing Wellies .. !!) and find the delights of Cwt-y-Bugail, Blaen-y-cwm and Rhiwbach. Or walk passed the Mills and head for Difwys with its amazing mill ruins and relics. From here you can either go underground again at the old or newer workings or head down towards Bleanau via the inclines and end up at the bottom floor of Votty..... I could talk for hours about the place - i absolutely love it. Just make sure you go back mate cos i wanna see your pics .... !! Thanx for the report.

Cheers mate. Much appreciated. Yup. Realise I just scratched the surface with this one and that there are so many more places to do.
 

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