Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Dinorwig- Slates in the Mist

I can't say what had been stopping us from exploring Dinorwig before now. We'd always been aware of the place, but somehow felt it couldn't be as good as everyone said...and it had all been photographed and documented, there were no fresh angles, so heck, why bother?
Of course, we were so wrong. After three visits, I have a huge list of things I want to investigate, study and understand about the place; it may actually take quite a while.
Our first foray took us up to Marchlyn and over the hill, courtesy of the Hydro road. You come upon the quarry suddenly this way, after a tough walk uphill for a mile or so. I will never forget the view as the A7 incline Drumhouse appeared through the mist and all the galleries opened up below us. So this was it!

The A7 Drumhouse

Did I mention the weather? This place has it in abundance. What I thought would be unpromising conditions for photography turned out to be the perfect set-up, if you don't mind waiting for the sun to break through occasionally...and if you appreciate very cloudy skies. I don't go along with that old saying about there being no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing- that would be tempting fate at Dinorwig, but I got the feeling that the rare clear blue sky days are not appropriate for recording the place.

We mooched around on Lernion level for a long while, taking in the views and trying to imagine how the mountain looked before all the extraction happened, trying to see the negative space. There were all sorts of things going on down there, little shelters,  inclines, round huts, rusty things...it took a while, looking closely at the photos afterwards to begin to appreciate everything. It was a Bank Holiday weekend, the first time we visited; not the best way to see the place. There were folk on some of the galleries, bellowing and shouting meaninglessly  as some people do when confronted by  bigger things than themselves. Some young adults were chucking things off another level while climbers enjoyed the slate walls as a set of problems to be overcome-thankfully not being strafed by occasional missiles. Yes, this is why we hadn't visited, we thought. All the people.

Upper Penrhydd loco shed and caban
 We left it a couple of days and decided that we had to go back. But on a weekday, the place was almost deserted and took on a completely different feel, one of brooding and of silence, punctuated by the cawing of Ravens rather than the yells of morons. We became aware of another aspect of the place and it's character, including an increasing  consciousness of the poor souls who worked here in all weathers, for very little reward.
Our weather was again just the same. This time we explored level Swallow and it's tunnel onto a gallery, went down another level to Tophet and Abysinnia and had a good look at the compressor house. Everything has been relentlessly explored, picked over, grafitti'd, examined and photographed, but it didn't spoil the sense of wonder we felt.

Roller Taylor, Trwnc Incline
Most features have a name at Dinorwig. Sometimes two names, as the climbers have taken many parts of the place and made it their own, giving evocative names to features. There's "Mordor", for instance, and "Lost World" to name but two. Fitting the proper names to features can be very difficult and is a study in itself, which is perhaps why the climbers have extemporised. I like that the place is many things to many people. Most who arrive here fall in love with it, for whatever reason. Even the folk the climbers call the "Tutters", who walk past on the narrow, fenced confines of the footpath, admire the place. Petra and I love it for the sculptural qualities of the galleries, for the dystopian perspectives of its ruined incline houses, and for the way that  generations of ordinary (albeit highly skilled) men have carved out a hole in the mountain, achieving  grandeur and stature far beyond that of their rapacious and unprincipled employers*.

The quarry will still be here for generations yet, a memorial to the men who worked in all weathers, outside on the rock. 

Sinc Braich, or "The Lost World"...you pays your money and you takes your choice :-)

A note about the pay of the workers
The working rock face in the galleries ranged between 53 and 86 feet in height. It was divided into 'bargains' i.e. working areas up to 18 feet wide each quarried by one half of each bargain gang of 6 or 8 men. The other half processed the quarried rock into finished slate. These working areas were termed 'bargeinion' (bargains) because a price had to be negotiated monthly with the 'stiward gosod' - the bargain setter. If the team made a good bonus the previous month, then the setter reduced the poundage the following month. In the hey day of the industry, the quality of the bargain allocated to a gang often depended on its religious and political affiliations. The members were paid a basic weekly salary which was topped up by the monthly bonus paid according to the number of slates produced based on the poundage agreed at the beginning of the month. However, each team had to pay for the powder and tools used, e.g. holes drilled by the foot (6d a foot in 1940), use of dressing machine (2s 2d), pay for ropes, pay the blacksmith for sharpening tools, labourers for moving waste, hospital money etc. All these ate into the bonus.
It was not unknown for men to have slaved for a month and come home not only without a bonus but actually owing money to the company. This was in an age when the Hon. W.W. Vivian, the then, general manager was left a cool £70,000 in his employers' will.
I am indebted to Eric Jones for the above information, his Geograph photographs of Dinorwig are a fund of knowledge.

Further Reading

Jones, R. Merfyn. 1981. The North Wales quarrymen, 1874-1922 Studies in Welsh history 4. University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-0776-0

Carrington D.C. and Rushworth T.F. (1972). Slates to Velinheli: The Railways and Tramways of Dinorwic Slate Quarries, Maid Marian Locomotive Fund.

Douglas C. Carrington  Delving in Dinorwig  Llygad Gwalch Cyf, Llanrwst
ISBN: 9780863812859

Reg Chambers Jones  Dinorwic: The Llanberis Slate Quarry, 1780-1969  Bridge Books  ISBN-10: 1844940330

James I. C. Boyd  Narrow Gauge Railways in North Caernarvonshire: The Dinorwic Quarries, Great Orme Tramway and Other Rail Systems v. 3 Oakwood Press   ISBN-10: 0853613281

Dave Sallery's feature on Dinorwig within his excellent Welsh Slate industry site here

The Compressor House, Australia level.

The deserted Mill at Australia


Anonymous said...

Splendid! Love your photographs, Iain. I'm glad you decided to go. It is a wonderful place.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Graham...I somehow thought that there wasn't any underground, and that it had all been explored...I was wrong! It is a wonderful place, you are right :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report, again. The pictures make me want to go and visit...

If those systems of payment were in place as late as 1942, then I'm not suprised that Wales was hemorrhaging population to other places in the world.

That this sort of practice was normal is worth remembering as the moneyed classes make more efforts to reduce the rights and wages of ordinary workers...

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Andy. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, I have a feeling it's all coming round again :-(

Anonymous said...

Those photos are so rich and atmospheric - love them. It sounds a fascinating place for repeat visits and it does look like a lost world. The weather shifts must be great.

Know that feeling well of bumping into people at such place who seem to want to shout. I think you're right - it's a reaction to something bigger than them. It spooks or exhilarates them.

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Alex. Yes, we are on to visit #5 now and next weekend hope to go again...still have a big list of things to photograph :-)
I feel a little uncharitable now, calling the shouters "morons"...you are right, they are probably exhilarated and need to vent. I suppose we all have different ways of showing we are exhilarated and excited, and not everyone has a camera :-)

naive said...

Iain, seriously enjoying the website, slowly reading through all the trips and locations visited! I also have a rather strange pull towards the quarry environments and started to shoot a series of fashion films within some of the old sites. I thought I would share this with you in return to discuss further.

Oakeley: https://vimeo.com/119216556
Dinorwig: https://vimeo.com/147998945
Parys Mountain: https://vimeo.com/182843465

Please keep up the fantastic work!
Kindest Regards

Jon Edwards


Iain Robinson said...

Jon, thanks for letting me see these superb films. Your reaction to the quarry environments is a very interesting one, somehow you have managed to combine the epic qualities of the landscape with the more focussed details of the fashion items and come out of it with a work of art.

I love what you have done with the Oakeley, and was especially pleased that you had found and used the Nith y Gigfran location, which I always thought was crying out to be filmed in some way. Dinorwig was a triumph for you, the film goes to all the usual spots but a few more exotic ones too, so that anyone versed in the place will appreciate it, but a casual viewer ought really to be blown away. You have approached the task in such a way that the scenes could be in the Dolomites or some other exotic location, not a couple of hours from Brum- and yet the inclusion of the chain, the props of the Caban etc bring it back to here, The pack shots of the boots, zip details etc work as moments in the video besides being essential pointers to the products; in this you have done such a good job. The films are amazing, I am so pleased that I was in some tiny way a help in all of that :-)

We have tried to make films ourselves of the quarries, but became overwhelmed by the possibilities, difficulties and the daunting nature of the project, something you have overcome, and to a brief as well!

Thanks again for the links and for sharing the films,

naive said...

Huge thank you Iain about the work. I think the whole series quickly turned into a passion project after our first visit to Oakeley. I never realised how vast and interesting the sites would be, almost like industrial ghost towns. Really nice to hear your comment about Dinorwig, I knew from the first scout it was the best quarry we had visited and so many hidden amazing elements to the site. Not to mention the size of the quarry and how hard it was to shoot the film over one weekend.

The film was the winter release and we wanted the conditions to be harsh, we'd included some snow coverage at Oakeley so we aimed for wind and rain, and oh we got it.. We arrived early on the Friday morning, parked up and the rain on the car windscreen was like that of when traveling high-speed on the motorway. We sat for say 20 minutes in hope of a break for the hike to the first tunnel but it just never came, realised weather warnings were in place so we just went with it and that was the case for the whole weekend minus the odd burst of sunlight. Fortunately we shot the aerial work when scouting the site, and as you said Iain so many exotic areas to focus upon. I think before the actual block weekend with the model, we scouted the site over six visits, mapping out shooting across three days and taking the rain into consideration. Its amazing to hear your response and the same in return to the Treasure Maps blog, between 28dayslater and yourself I knew what I wanted to find at the quarries!

Is there any further locations youthink would be a MUST to viist Iain? I thought Trefor quarry looked good but yet to visit. And if you are in the area again please let me know, normally set one day aside at the weekend to scout when not shooting. Would love to meet up!

Kindest Regards


Iain Robinson said...

Hi Jon, thanks again for your very kind comments...now I know a little bit about how you shot the film and the timescale, I am amazed. Really class work. Yes, we find that we prefer wet or overcast weather in the quarries, sunny days are no use, although it does get very uncomfortable as you know :-)

I do have a few ideas for locations, Trefor would be marvellous especially those big crusher houses...some of the levels next to the sea are pretty spectacular. I will have a think about other sites that could yield results for you and report back. Off the top of my head, the Prince of Wales Quarry and The Gorseddau, both covered on my blog here. Cwt-y-Bugail is more modest, but has an air of desolation about it and a good pit with an amazing chamber.

I am always in the area, we live only about an hour from Dinorwig, near Blaenau F. Drop me an email if you are going to be around, would love to meet up. iain(at)iainrobinson(dot)online

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