Friday, 31 January 2014

The Dorothea Files 5: Dorothea Mill...fragments of time and mystery.

Photo 1.  Numbers correspond to places on the key map.
Nature is always there, patiently waiting.  Until we leave somewhere unattended and forgotten for a few years. Then she moves, with stealth and relentless energy, to transform the marks made by man.   One such forgotten place is the Dorothea slate mill, in the Nantlle Valley.

On the lip of a giant crater and surrounded by looming citadels of slate waste, it is a place so changed by nature and time, that walking inside the vast  machine area of the mill feels like taking a stroll through a forest. Birdsong echoes from the walls. The low beams that gave the place it's human scale have long gone, as have the saw tables. Sky is the roof, fringed with waving birch, while blackbirds bustle where the hoggia felin used to split the crawiau tenau into countesses. It now takes the eye of an aficionado to see the marks where the journals for the line-shafting used to sit, or the scoring on the slate wall caused by an ill-fitted flywheel.

Photo 2.  Inside the dressing area, where the men would split and trim the slates. The alcoves are notable...I wonder what they were for. 

So I was rather delighted to find the photographs below of the mill, taken by Tim Venton, on the 8th of July, 1974. The place had been abandoned then, of course. It had been lying quiet since 1968. The scrap man had taken all the metal of value, while the slates had been stripped from the great roof. No doubt the mighty beams would be next, to be re-used somewhere else. But these wonderful photographs mark a point in time, helping to make a little sense of what we see today. The Victorians and Edwardians didn't go too much for photography unless it was of a group of smug folk standing round an aspidistra. Photographs of a slate quarry would have given them a fit of the wilts and vapours.  I'm just glad that Tim didn't have any such misgivings when he visited that fine summers' day in '74.

Photo by courtesy of Tim Venton

Photo by courtesy of Tim Venton. Taken from the tip run along from the eastern pyramid in 1974. 

Today,  there's a well-trodden path beside the mill. When we stopped for a couple of hours to take photos, we were aware of folk nearby, walking their dogs or just out for a stroll. Most passed by without much of a glance, except to give a friendly greeting. A couple of folk stopped and gave us little snippets of information about the place, local pride showing in their smiles. I'm always keen to get any local information from real people as opposed to books and archive finds, even if it is sometimes coloured with a sprinkling of mythology.

Photo 3
Absorbed in looking at the back of my camera, "chimping" the shots, I didn't hear the two lads approach. The first thing I saw was a pit bull looking at me, gimlet eyes evaluating my ankles for chew value. Then I clocked a young guy, early twenties, standing slightly too close, sizing me up. He was holding what looked like a rifle, but was probably an air gun.  His mate, obviously the lieutenant of the duo, hung a little further back, waiting to see what would happen. They were the classic "hoodies" of urban repute. Just like my son, who is about the same age. I bent down to the dog, who immediately responded, licking my hand.
"He likes you", the guy nearest to me said, with what sounded like an ironic laugh. "Nice camera."
I stood up, surreptitiously wiping off the pit bull drool on to my disreputable, bramble-harried exploring jacket, telling him that I'd been taking photos of the old mill for the last two hours. The vibe immediately changed. Both the guys were smiling now. "Have you seen the engine house? The mansion over the other side of the twll? There's a tunnel there, my taid said it goes to the next village..." I could have said that I knew about the mansion, although not much, I admit. But I hate it when folk go yes, yes,  they know. So I nodded politely (there was still the matter of the gun, remember.) As it happened, I did learn much of interest from the lads. Among other things, they told me they were off to shoot tigers. As the current buzz-word goes, that's proper "re-wilding" for you.

Many thanks to Tim Venton for permission to use his photos of the mill in 1974.

Photo 4, the forge.
Photo 5. A nook behind the hearth for the furnace blower.

Photo 6. The hearth, with a chunk of metal that the scrap man missed.

Photo 7. One of the rear two-storey bays, housing machinery -probably some kind of engine- for powering the line shafting. Note the rubbish tramway passing under the extension at the back of the mill.
Photo 8. The West end of the mill. The other end can be seen as a light green square in the distance.
Photo 9. From upstairs in the two-storey bay structure.
Photo 10. The west end of the mill with Y Garn in the distance.
Photo 11. Marks from a flywheel and the cast horn guide box from lineshafting at the eastern gable end of the mill.
Photo 12. Some vintage graffiti: "A.T.W  1886."
Photo 14. The waterwheel pit on the edge of the Twll.
Photo 15. The East end of the mill.

Photo 13 . The Quarry Manager's office. I wonder if it was in here that the discussions about the Pumping Engine took place with W J Griffith and Brindley, the representative from Evans' pumps?

Key to photo locations.


Anonymous said...

Lovely pictures, many thanks for sharing, again.

It's a bot depressing though, when I think that this was run for a profit until there was no more profit to make and then the owners just sold off what the could and walked away leaving it for someone else to deal with.

We don't seem to have learned much in the last 40 years in that direction, either. At least those days they reused some of the materials.

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, Andy, glad you enjoyed the photos.

It was a terrible blow to the community when the quarries closed...Dorothea as late as the sixties. Pen-yr-Orsedd has reopened recently with the discovery of a new seam of slate, but there isn't a great deal of demand and production is fairly low-key.
It has taken a while, but there is a feeling locally that this place is very special- and it has become that way because of the muddle of ownership and rights. It's difficult for any one body to take responsibility...a blessing and also a curse.

And yes, I couldn't agree more- that's the capitalist way. Exploit until of no further use, then walk away...

Anonymous said...

Another lovely set of photographs, Iain.

Interesting to see those shots of the place from the 70s.

I'm definitely going to have to revisit Dorothea at some stage :-)

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Graham, glad you enjoyed the post. Well, it was your photos that made us visit here. It's a great place...we have been on five separate occasions and are still finding new stuff.

Iain Robinson said...

I should have said "inspired" us to visit :-)

Unknown said...

Hi, we were there on Sunday and I was fascinated to see your pictures.

Where did you get the info for the map from? Is there a comprehensive map of the site? We would love to go back


Iain Robinson said...

Hi Chris,
I am glad you enjoyed the visit! I am afraid there isn't a comprehensive map of the site, I made all my maps of Dorothea with reference to my own many visits, Google Earth and the large scale OS mapping of the 1880's, available from the National Library of Scotland web site.

As always, this area is under threat of development, and I would urge you to return sooner rather than later.

MichaelBill1980 said...

Hi Iain
I am an avid mine explorer from the North West and have just spent the last week staying in the large house at the end of Petris Beatrice Sq.
I spent many an hour exploring the above mines and while looking around Talysarn Hall a lady from Stockport appeared. Amanda I think was her name and while discussing the quarry she recommended your website. Your photos and historical information is fascinating and I am thoroughly enjoying reading your website.
Thanks again.

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you very much, Michael, I am so pleased that the articles were of interest...I am going to be expanding the Dorothea section of the site soon in the light of new information. Happy exploring :-)

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