Friday, 12 August 2011

Conglog: Cinderella Quarry

My daughter  Sam walks the old tramway towards Conglog
Conglog always seems to have been overshadowed by it's more powerful neighbours. Overlooked by the mighty Rhosydd workings to the south west, while Cwmorthin held the door keys to it's route to market, down the valley to the south east.

Nowadays, most people hurry by the four daylight chambers of the quarry on their way to Rhosydd, or to the summit of Moelwyn Mawr. We had stopped to have our lunch near the weigh house at floor C adit and an endless cavalcade passed by. There were assorted tourists, some in full Ranulph Feinnes gear, others in flip flops. There was a sweating, galloping army platoon and a large troop of Duke of Edinburgh Gold award teenagers. None seemed to give the place a second glance, which is a shame, since it is a fascinating spot, worthy of at least an hour or so of mooching. Of course, it could have been the smell of my pickled onion sandwiches.
Looking south east towards Cwmorthin. 
The quarry was opened in 1854, when it was the subject of a temporary permission to extract minerals order, or “take note”  from Cwmorthin Ucha farm. One of the partners of the enterprise was Robert Roberts, a surgeon at the Oakeley Quarry hospital at Rhiwbryfdir, and it is assumed that he provided the capital for the venture. By 1868 a 21 year lease had been taken out on the land.

Meanwhile, nearby Rhosydd had been extracting slate up the hill since 1853 and their spoil tips and buildings began to encroach on the Conglog sett. They, Rhosydd,  had built their manager's house, Plas Cwmorthin,  on land to the east of Conclog, just outside the leased territory. But in a later, possibly aggressive move, they built a barracks on Conglog land, next to where the mill would be in 1865/6. From then on, there would be frequent disputes about land . Rhosydd had also built stables near the Conglog mill. From this distance in time, it all looks a little like intimidation. Standing at the  launder pillars near the Conglog mill and gazing up at the vast floor 9 tips of Rhosydd there is certainly a feeling of “big brother”.

And yet...Conglog were to have the last laugh. Cwmorthin had stood in the way of Rhosydd when that company had wanted to take their produce down to the Ffestiniog railway. The wayleaves and tonnage charges proposed by Cwmorthin were prohibitive, forcing Rhosydd to build the famous, vertiginous incline down to Cwm Croesor. But when Conglog suggested the building of a tramway down to the railhead at Tan-y-Grisiau in 1873, Cwmorthyn rolled over and let them do it, much to the chagrin of big brother up the hill. Things had changed at Conglog, though. The quarry had gone through several rounds of personnel and that year was managed by a Devon man, W H B Kempe. It is speculated that he was related by marriage to the manager at Cwmorthin, Joseph F Sims, also a Devonian. Perhaps it was a case of blood being thicker than water, who knows? The upshot is that we were left the lovely tramway from the old Cwmorthin mill all the way to Conglog to walk on, bounded by those beautiful slate slab fences.
Tan yr Allt, the Rhosydd barracks, built right in the middle of Conclog's land
The remains of Plas Cwmorthin, the Rhosydd quarry manager's house.
After several more changes of ownership and management, the quarry finally closed in 1910. It had never been a major player, but had it's moments- 862 tons in 1901, for instance- although production declined steadily then until closure.  There was development underground and four chambers were opened out to daylight, now all sadly inaccesible due to collapses. Now, the remains sit evocatively at the head of the cwm, the chambers looming darkly on the hillside. Do have a look next time, before you pass on by towards Rhosydd. 

Further reading:

"Conglog Slate Quarry" Celia Hancock and M.J.T.Lewis, adit publications 2006 ISBN 0 9522979 4 9 (currently in print)
"Rhosydd Slate Quarry" M.J.T.Lewis and J.H. Denton, 1974, the Cottage Press. Like hen's teeth I'm afraid, but occasionally copies come up on Ebay or Abe books.
Looking towards the collapse in Level C adit. The workings are in an extremely dangerous condition and should not be entered.

Rhosydd's stables, close by Conglog's mill area. I'm standing on the tramway to take this shot.


geotopoi said...

Very interesting piece of history and that looks like a most inviting tramway for a walk!

At least with everyone just passing by you'd have the place to yourselves to enjoy.

Mark A said...

I have a long standing fascination with Cwmorthin and its quarries, and I am guilty of bypassing Conclog on occasions. Great photographs. They inspire me to go back soon.

The mill at Conclog featured in one of artist Keith Bowen's evocative Snowdon Shepherd works. Limited edition prints of this picture were at one time available from Fframia, Parc Padarn, Llanberis. A Google image search for 'Keith Bowen artist' will show the picture as the third image on the first page. The web reproduction does not do it justice.

There was also an excellent portfolio of images of Cwmorthin by Tom Dodd, published by Creative Monochrome in 1997. It is sadly long out of print. Conclog did not feature amongst the images!

What this book, and my memories of my first visit in the mid 1980's, emphasise is how much the valley buildings have deteriorated in the intervening years. On my first visit, Capel Rhosydd was more or less intact, albeit a shell, and had a roof with slates. I have always thought it a shame that the unique nature of this valley could not have promoted some effort to conserve the building remains that contribute so much to its character, especially since it lies within the Snowdonia National Park.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham. It's a lovely tramway, with the sleepers still under the turf in places.

Mark, thanks for your comment. I have long admired Keith Bowen's work, he's a really talented painter.

I agree, the buildings have deteriorated terribly over the years. I have a book of poems by Gwyn Thomas, "Pasio heibio" which has a poem about Cwmorthin and a photo of the chapel on the cover...when I saw it I was shocked to see that it still had a roof- the photo was taken in the 1970's.
Graham Isherwood's book about Cwmorthin and his later work about the untopping of the quarry really highlight how there is no concern for the remains in Cwmorthin, ironic since the later untopping was so costly and yielded so very little compared to what it destroyed. Similar things are going on at Votty and David Jones right now as I'm sure you are well aware. Although perenially strapped for cash, I would still contribute to some effort to conserve what remains of the chapel and the other structures in the cwm. As you say, after all, it is in the National Park.

PeteDenney83 said...

Fascinating read and you're is hugely sad about the deterioration of the buildings in the valley, especially since it is a unique example of how people used to live.

I am currently doing a painting of the chapel as it was back in the 19th century and am gathering research on it as I you have any pictures of the chapel still intact? I have one black and white picture but other than that there doesn't seem to be any references. If so could you drop me a line on please?

Would greatly appreciate any light you could shed on the subject.

Kind regards


PeteDenney83 said...

Very interesting read, and i agree it is hugely sad how the buildings have deteriorated.

I'm currently doing a reconstruction painting of the chapel, showing what it was like back in the 19th century and am researching the subject as I you have any pictures of the chapel still intact with the roof etc? If you do could you possibly email them to me at

I'd be hugely appreciative of any help with this project.


Iain Robinson said...

Thanks for passing by, Pete. I'm sorry, I don't have any photos of the chapel as it was. I am sure there must be one out there. Good luck with your endeavours.

Martin Walker said...

I explored this area today, find these kind of neglected industrial workings fascinating. Bumped into one of the landowners as they were taking slabs from the barracks to repair something near plas cwmorthin. They explained that the chapel roof was stolen and that they are fairly sure they know who it was! I have seen pictures online somewhere of the chapel with intact roof dated 1994, so it seems it was vandalised since then. The aframe, purlins and battens have tumbled into the chapel, quite sad really. I saw the tramway sleepers too, the steel tramway is visible in places also.

Iain Robinson said...

Martin, thanks for looking in...I am very glad that you enjoyed your visit to the you say, there is much to see and these places are so fascinating. I didn't know that the roof of the chapel had been stolen, but it doesn't surprise me as there have been a number of thefts of artifacts from the quarries here too.

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