Thursday, 10 June 2010

The Stillness of Maenofferen

It's hard to imagine that this ravaged landscape was once grazing country, scattered with sheep and the occasional steading. However, the original name, "Maen-y-fferam" refers probably to a farmstead, and means "Boulder of the Farm" ...this is how it appears on old maps of the area. The Victorians, whether in the shape of a wistful Ordnance surveyor or someone under the influence of Byron and Ruskin (both enthusiasts for the local landscape), mutated it to the present spelling, which means "The boulder of the offering (or mass)". Interesting that local folk still pronounce the name the old way.
I don't suppose it was so very romantic in victorian times, as nearby Diffwys had been blasting away since the 1820's, followed by the Votty and Bowydd concerns. However, to the eye trained to appreciate a fine industrial landscape, there is something wondrous about the place.
 New untopping activity by Llechwedd, the owners of the quarry, has created more visual chaos on the site of the David Jones quarry, above Maenofferen. Below, the centrepiece is the mill, abandoned in 1998, surrounded by rock and tipped slate waste. Further down, towards Blaenau, ugly scars show the brutal nature of modern slate reclamation as the roofs are lifted off the Votty Quarry's Tuxford inclines, exposing old workings in a ragged, jumble of rock. Elsewhere, tips are being reclaimed, while in the distance the Moelwyns look impassively on.
The old slate dressing sheds and workshops are still intact. Their interiors resemble a much picked-over Marie Celeste, as if the wreckers had taken anything of any value, leaving what they couldn't carry. It has an extraordinary atmosphere. While the mill was only abandoned recently, much of the machinery is old, rusting slowly in the Blaenau drizzle. It doesn't the half light, it is still possible to imagine the place as it was when working; ghosts seem to linger around every corner.

We were both fascinated by the smith's shop. Coal was still spilling out from the hearths, an anvil lay on it's side, while hundreds of fixings, bolts, hooks and chains lay as if laid ready to be used, yet now rusting away uselessly.
There is a plan to preserve the place, between some notable local academics and the owners of the quarry, Llechwedd. I don't really know how I feel about this. Aside from trusting quarry owners who sometimes seem intent on ripping anything up that stands in their way, I wonder how I would feel if the place was sanitised and turned into a museum piece. I know that the academics have the right idea, and good luck to them, but I'd rather remember Maenofferen as I found it, one spring sunday, the sunlight streaming through the broken roofs.


Chameleon said...

Excellent post, and I love the photos!

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you! Petra and I have been enjoying your blog...your photos are amazing.

JohnnearCfon said...

I have to say, I am not sure I could be described as an "acedemic" in any way. I would not like to see it "stuffed and mounted". However, I have been a frequent visitor to the site since May 1972 that was 3 years before Llechwedd aquired it. It is distressing to see how the place has deteriorated very rapidly in the last 3 years. If nothing is done very soone to reverse that rapid decline it wont even remain as you first found it! I am hoping it can be SYMPATHETICALLY conserved with some reversal of the rapid decay. It is still very early days though.


Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, John. I would like to say that your efforts and vigilance are's great that there are people who care enough to do something, and yes, I take your point about deterioration, I noticed a fair bit the last time I looked in.

gareth_pwllheli said...

FYI: "Maenofferen means, as far as my Welsh will go, "a mass of stone". I'm open to correction, of course"... Victorians are responsible for this name which translates to "The Boulder of the Offering (or Mass)" (Victorians just loved a good story e.g. Bedgelert) but it probably just comes from "The Boulder of the FARM" The old Welsh word for farm was fferam and on old maps it is called maen-y-fferam & that's how locals still pronounce it.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Gareth- good to have that sorted.

Chameleon said...

I finally visited Maenofferen with a fellow photographer yesterday, what a great place. 4 Hours and 1,200 photos taken later, I finally left!

The first couple are up on Flickr:
I'll be adding many more when I get 5 mins.

Sad to see the decline that has obviously taken place since closure, water was coming in everywhere. They're sturdy buildings but how long will it be before the roof starts to fail significantly? Quite a bit of evidence of metal theft as well. :-(

Iain Robinson said...

Glad that you made it up to the mill, David. I've had a look at your Flickr photos...can't wait for you to put some more up, you've really done justice to the place from what I've seen so far. It's such a fascinating place...every time I go up I see a little bit more deterioration. Judging by the way other mills have collapsed, such as at Cwt-y-Bugail, I guess it will only be a few more years before the roof comes down completely. The metal thieves of the area are famous for their enterprise...a GWR slate wagon was shorn of it's axle boxes a couple of years ago; stolen to order, one supposes.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...