The Votty and Bowydd quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog, from being a massive concern with several mills in the 1900’s, are now little more than a few tips and one or two piles of slate buttressing. It’s hard to believe how busy this area was once, looking at it now. Only from the heights of the Diffwys levels can the foundations of the three Bowydd mills on their massive terraces be seen.. This is especially so when the Tuxford area is examined.
The Bowydd C Mill ruins from level 6, Diffwys.
Looking down from the top of the Tuxford Incline. The original chamber openings are below the diggers, under about 50,000 tons of rubble. It’s just possible to make out the old tramway to Cooke’s level in the rock face halfway up the photo to the right, and of course the Rhiwbach No. 2 incline climbs up in the backgroundOriginally this was a long, multi-track incline going into chambers underground. A look at the albums on AditNow will show what an impressive place this was; a veritable honeycomb of entrances opened out at the foot of the incline.
We made our way to the incline head from Diffwys floor 4, climbing up the “new” incline that had been built by Maenofferen over Diffwys workings (and inclines!) to avoid paying tolls from the Rhiwbach tramway, whose inclines strode up the other side of the cwm. If that sounds complicated, the situation on the ground is equally confusing. The whole area has been picked over and untopped during the last forty years and it’s a wonder anything of any archaeological significance still remains.
The Tuxford area is now being untopped by Llechwedd, and is a dangerous place to linger. As we walked along the terrace well above the pit (we had already made sure that blasting would not be taking place) the noise of diggers came up from below and we watched as a mighty machine picked over some rubble where the openings to the Old Robey chamber once was. The scene changes every time we look here. Sometimes the old chambers are exposed again…today they were hidden underneath a huge mass of rubble. The diggers appeared to be trying to get to the slate walls either side of the upper openings.
The pit here has been the scene of a couple of spectacular rockfalls because of the untopping and is a frightening place. The floor is covered with a strange black moss encroaching on the usual lichens and heather that grows on the higher levels.
The old incline winding house is still very impressive, its’ slate is stained red with some kind of fungus not seen elsewhere on the site. A small building lay across from the winding house. I’d been told it was an engine shed, but now, sitting inside eating my sandwiches, that theory didn’t add up. Inside, there were concrete lined pits, but they were the wrong shape for the inspection variety usually found in an engine shed. There were strange pipes lying around, and a lot of ceramic insulators. Then I remembered a photo on AditNow from their archive here showing a transformer being crewled up to the Tuxford crimp. Now the various remains made sense. This was a generator house for the winder engines. Perhaps the strange structure to the side of the winding house was for the actual motors.
We noted a small adit on this level, too. I can tell you that it is not worth exploring- it goes hardly any way, is flooded, in places with freezing thigh deep water and is extremely unstable. So we had a look inside. I don’t really advise following our foolish example.
To make sense of the area, it’s worth having a good look at the collection of photos in the Foty archive on AditNow. There are also some fascinating photographs by Graham Isherwood from the incline house in the eighties here on the Mine Explorer site.
Bowydd Quarry was begun in the 18th century but developed substantially after being amalgamated with Votty Quarry in the 1830s. By 1882, the quarry employed 344 workers, and by the end of the 19th century, nearly 500 men worked for the company. Slate was carried for shipment near Maentwrog, Merionethshire, until 1854 when a direct connection with the Ffestiniog Railway was built. Afterwards the quarry was taken over by Oakeley Slate Quarries Co. Ltd in 1933 and finally closed in 1963. (source: Gwynedd Archives)
Fotty or Votty is a corruption of Hafodty, meaning “Summer Dwelling”.