Of all the mad, marvellous and utterly futile follies in this corner of Wales, Ynysypandy mill ("Ty Mawr" as the locals call it) is right at the top of my list.
Petra and I pitched up early on a misty morning with the weather forecast giving all sorts of gloomy predictions. It was obviously too dreich for quarry photography, but just right for a bit of atmosphere at this already magical place.
It looks like a monastery or an ancient abbey- I'm sure it fools many a tourist who has accidentally wandered down the wayward lanes here into thinking they have found a lost Cistercian masterpiece. The truth is possibly even stranger...
A couple of wealthy adventurers with money and optimism but little common sense pitched up in the area with a view to making a killing on a sizeable investment. They knew slate was plentiful here and were in a hurry to cash in on the success that slate ventures in Blaenau Ffestiniog had enjoyed. In the middle 1800's the climate of optimism about slate was such that even shopkeepers and their employees were speculating in shares, helping to float mining concerns, quarries, railways, and sleek sailing ships for the slate trade. I suppose Robert Gill and John Harris, the men who took over the lease for the Gorseddau Quarry in 1854 thought it was bound to succeed. Their background was in railway engineering and a slate quarry was a logical addition to their portfolio of investments.
If only it had succeeded, because they did it all by the book. The quarry was run on theoretically ideal lines, having everything (except slate, perhaps) that a modern concern would need. The mill was designed by James Brunlees (later Sir James), engineer of the tramway that was to take the finished product to Porthmadog and it's new harbour for slate carrying ships. He had designed several mills in the North West of England, which perhaps explains the grandiose proportions of the structure.
I guess everyone involved in the giant job-creation scheme that this had become was desperately hoping it would succeed, while the owners were in denial, ordering finest slates for the roof and £10,000 worth of top quality machinery from Caernarfon for the works. It is said that the mill had the finest roof in the area, which is saying something in this corner of Wales. Sadly, the slate from the quarry rather disappointed. It wouldn't split well and was only of use as slab. This can be seen today in the quarry pit. The rock is full of quartz intrusions and has been distorted by pressure. It also seems to have a different composition to Blaenau slate, with less of the "soapyness" and ability to cleave; probably due to the molecular distribution of the mica within the rock. Whatever the reason for the poor stone, the tonnages of sellable slate from the quarry were very low. At it's finest hour, only 7 man tons per year were achieved, as opposed to 14.7 tons per man in Blaenau Ffestiniog (Oakeley Quarry).
It was all over by 1867. For a few years, before the roof was stripped, the place was used as a meeting hall. Local eisteddfodiau were held among it's spacious walls- it's a shame the place couldn't have been kept for the local community. I guess, back in the rapacious Victorian era, when only the wealthy mattered, something like that would not be on the agenda, especially for such an out-of-the-way corner. I am not sure why the shell of the mill survived; but I am glad it did- it's a little miracle to come from such a quixotic scheme. It's now in the hands of the RCAHMW and is open to the public. Go and see it, preferably on a misty spring morning, before the sun burns off the cloud and the ghosts of forlorn hopes and ambitions still flit about the walls.
A previous post with a mist-free mill here.
LEWIS, Michael J.T., "New Light on Ty Mawr Ynys y Pandy", Gwynedd Diwydiannol/Industrial Gwynedd, vol.3 (1998), ISBN 1-871980-42-9, pp.35-49