Blaenau Ffestiniog

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Blaenau Ffestiniog
Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, Cymru - Wales 04.JPG
Church, Blaenau Ffestiniog
Gwynedd UK location map.svg
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Blaenau Ffestiniog
Location within Gwynedd
Population4,011 (2011)
OS grid reference SH705455
Principal area
Ceremonial county
Country Wales
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Historic county
Postcode district LL41
Dialling code 01766
Police North Wales
Fire North Wales
Ambulance Welsh
UK Parliament
Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament
List of places
52°59′38″N3°56′20″W / 52.994°N 3.939°W / 52.994; -3.939 Coordinates: 52°59′38″N3°56′20″W / 52.994°N 3.939°W / 52.994; -3.939

Blaenau Ffestiniog is a town in Gwynedd, Wales. Once a slate mining centre in the historic county of Merionethshire, it now relies heavily on tourists, drawn for instance to the Ffestiniog Railway and Llechwedd Slate Caverns. It was once the second largest town in North Wales, behind Wrexham.[ citation needed ] After reaching a population of 12,000 at the peak development of the slate industry, it fell with the decline in demand for slate. The population of the community of Ffestiniog, including the nearby village Llan Ffestiniog, was 4,875 in the 2011 census: the fourth most populous community in Gwynedd after Bangor, Caernarfon and Llandeiniolen. Blaenau's population is now only about 4,000. [1] [2]


Etymology and pronunciation

The meaning of Blaenau Ffestiniog is "uplands of Ffestiniog". The Welsh word blaenau is the plural of blaen "upland, remote region". Ffestiniog here is probably "territory of Ffestin" (Ffestin being a personal name) or could possibly mean "defensive place". [3] [4] The English pronunciation of Blaenau Ffestiniog suggested by the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names is /ˈblnfɛsˈtɪnjɒɡ/ , [5] but the first word is pronounced [ˈbleɨna] in the area, reflecting the features of the local dialect.


Looking down towards Blaenau Ffestiniog town in summer A view of Blaenau Ffestiniog town.jpg
Looking down towards Blaenau Ffestiniog town in summer

Farming (before 1750)

Before the slate industry developed, the area now known as Blaenau Ffestiniog was a farming region, with scattered farms working the uplands below the cliffs of Dolgaregddu and Nyth-y-Gigfran. A few of the historic farmhouses survive at Cwm Bowydd, Neuadd Ddu, Gelli, Pen y Bryn and Cefn Bychan. Much of the land was owned by large estates. [6]

Slate (1750–1850)

Blaenau Ffestiniog town arose to support workers in the local slate mines. At its peak, it was the largest town in Merioneth. [6] In 1765, two men from the long-established Cilgwyn quarry near Nantlle began quarrying in Ceunant y Diphwys to the north-east of the present town. [7] The valley had long been known for its slate beds and worked on a small scale. The original quarry has been obliterated by subsequent mining, but it was probably at or near Diphwys Casson Quarry. Led by Methusalem Jones, eight Cilgwyn partners took a lease on Gelli Farm for their quarry. In 1800, William Turner and William Casson from the Lake District bought the lease and expanded production. [8] Turner was also the owner of Dorothea quarry in the Nantlle Valley, adjacent to Cilgwyn. [9]

In 1819, quarrying began on slopes at Allt-fawr near Rhiwbryfdir Farm, on land owned by the Oakeley family from Tan y Bwlch. Within a decade, three slate quarries were operating on Allt-fawr. These amalgamated to form Oakeley Quarry, which became the largest underground slate mine in the world. [10]

Quarrying expanded fast in the earlier 19th century. Notable quarries opened at Llechwedd, Maenofferen and Votty & Bowydd, while Turner and Casson's Diphwys Casson flourished. [6] Further off, Cwmorthin and Wrysgan quarries were dug to the south of the town, while at the head of Cwm Penmachno to the north-east, a series of quarries started at Rhiwbach, Cwt y Bugail and Blaen y Cwm. To the south-east another cluster worked the slopes of Manod Mawr. The workforce for these was initially taken from nearby towns and villages such as Ffestiniog and Maentwrog. Before the arrival of railways, travel to the quarries was difficult and workers' houses were built nearby. These typically grew up round existing farms and roads between them. An early settlement was at Rhiwbryfdir, for the Oakeley and Llechwedd quarries. As early as 1801, new roads were built specifically to serve the quarries. By 1851, there were 3,460 people living in the new town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. [6]

Urbanization (1851–1900)

A view of Blaenau Ffestiniog from Graig Ddu, c.1875 NLW3361243 A view of Blaenau Ffestiniog from Graig Ddu NLW3361243.jpg
A view of Blaenau Ffestiniog from Graig Ddu, c.1875 NLW3361243

During the 1860s and 1870s the boom in the slate industry fed the nascent town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. It gained its first church and first school and saw much ribbon development along its roads. [6] By 1881, its population had reached 11,274. [11] The slate boom gave way to a sharp decline. The 1890s saw several quarries lose money for the first time, and several fail entirely, including Cwmorthin and Nyth-y-Gigfran. [12]

Blaenau Ffestiniog hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1898.

Slate decline (1901–1950)

The slate industry recovered from the recession of the 1890s only partly. The First World War sent many quarrymen join the armed forces and production fell. There was a short post-war boom, but the long-term trend was towards mass-produced tiles and cheaper slate sourced from Spain. Oakeley Quarry took over Cwmorthin, Votty & Bowydd and Diphwys Casson, while Llechwedd acquired Maenofferen. Despite this consolidation, the decline continued. The Second World War brought a further loss of workforce. In 1946, the Ffestiniog Railway closed. [12]

Since 1945

In August 1945 the secluded farmhouse of Bwlch Ocyn at Manod, belonging to Clough Williams-Ellis, became the home for three years of the writer Arthur Koestler and his wife Mamaine. While there, Koestler would become a close friend of his fellow writer George Orwell. [13]

Blaenau Ffestiniog, 1959 Allegations that moral standards had declined significantly in Blaenau Ffestiniog (14949653949).jpg
Blaenau Ffestiniog, 1959
Blaenau Ffestiniog in the Autumn Blaenau Beauty.jpg
Blaenau Ffestiniog in the Autumn

The remaining quarries served by the Rhiwbach Tramway closed during the 1950s and 1960s. Oakeley closed in 1970, with the loss of many local jobs. It re-opened in 1974 on a much smaller scale and was reworked until 2010. [14] Maenofferen and Llechwedd continued, but Maenofferen finally closed in 1998. [15] Llechwedd is still a working quarry, working the David Jones part of Maenofferen (level two-and-a-half).

As the slate industry shrank, so did the population of Blaenau Ffestiniog, which fell to 4,875 in 2011. Tourism became the town's largest employer, with the development of Gloddfa Ganol in the Oakeley quarry and the Slate Caverns at Llechwedd quarry. The revived Ffestiniog Railway and Llechwedd remain popular attractions, as are the Antur Stiniog downhill mountain-biking centre, [16] and more recently the Zip World Titan zip-line site, which includes the Bounce Below slate-mine activity centre.


Blaenau Ffestiniog, seen from Moelwyn Bach, showing the large waste heaps that dominate the town Blaenau Ffestiniog.jpg
Blaenau Ffestiniog, seen from Moelwyn Bach, showing the large waste heaps that dominate the town

Blaenau Ffestiniog consists of distinct areas, several of which take their names from settlements that predate the town, including Rhiwbryfdir, Glanypwll and Cwmbowydd.[ citation needed ]. Other local villages, notably Tanygrisiau and Manod, are sometimes taken to be parts of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Although the town is in the centre of the Snowdonia National Park, the boundaries of the Park exclude the town and its substantial slate-waste heaps. Blaenau Ffestiniog is known as the town with one of the highest rainfalls in Wales. It has several reservoirs, one of which supplies the Ffestiniog Hydro Power Station. Stwlan Dam can be seen between two of the mountains in the area, Moelwyn Bach and Moelwyn Mawr. The mountains around the town form a watershed between the River Lledr flowing north as a tributary of the River Conwy and the River Dwyryd flowing west.


Glan-y-pwll School, Blaenau Ffestiniog c. 1895 Glan-y-pwll School, Blaenau Ffestiniog (8207204135).jpg
Glan-y-pwll School, Blaenau Ffestiniog c. 1895

Ysgol y Moelwyn is the main secondary school, covering Blaenau, Manod, Tanygrisiau, Llan Ffestiniog, Trawsfynydd, Gellilydan, Maentwrog and stretching into the Vale of Ffestiniog and Dolwyddelan. It came third in Britain's best county school list[ clarification needed ] in 2006 and had 309 pupils in 2016. [17] Some pupils travel to neighbouring towns.

There are five primary schools in the area.

Welsh language

Most people in Blaenau Ffestiniog habitually speak Welsh. At the 2011 census, 78.6 per cent of residents over the age of three stated that they could speak it, a slight fall from 80.9 per cent at the 2001 census. [18] The latest inspection reports of the town's primary schools, Ysgol Maenofferen and Ysgol Y Manod, both in 2016, put the proportion of pupils speaking Welsh at home at 87 and 85 per cent. At the town's secondary school, Ysgol y Moelwyn, 82 per cent of pupils came from Welsh-speaking homes in 2014, making its Welsh-speaking intake the highest among secondary schools in the former county of Meirionnydd and fourth highest among those in Gwynedd.


Double Fairlie locomotive David Lloyd George at Blaenau Ffestiniog station Ffestiniog DLG BF.JPG
Double Fairlie locomotive David Lloyd George at Blaenau Ffestiniog station

The main access to Blaenau Ffestiniog is the A470 road running north to Llandudno and south to Dolgellau and beyond. The A496 runs south to the coastal resorts of Harlech and Barmouth and connects with the A487 towards Porthmadog and the Llŷn Peninsula. Immediately north of the town, the A470 climbs steeply to the Crimea Pass and meets the A5 at Betws-y-Coed, giving access to Llangollen, Wrexham and Shrewsbury in the east and Bangor and Holyhead in the west.

Bus services in the town are mainly provided by Arriva Buses Wales and Llew Jones, with routes to Porthmadog, Dolgellau and to Llandudno via Betws-y-Coed and Llanrwst. Town circular services via Tanygrisiau are operated hourly on weekdays by John's Coaches.

Blaenau Ffestiniog railway station, on the site of the former Great Western station, is used by the Ffestiniog Railway and the Conwy Valley Line, their previous stations being no longer in use. The Conwy Valley line runs to the North Wales coast at Llandudno Junction, with links to Chester, Holyhead and Manchester.

At various times the town has been the terminus for four independent railway lines, each with its own station or stations:


Blaenau Ffestiniog's tourist attractions include the Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, a former slate mine open to visitors. Llechwedd is often put as one of Wales' top five visitor attractions. [19] Near Blaenau Ffestiniog there are miles of mountain landscape with derelict quarries, rivers, various lakes and walking routes.

Several mountain biking trails have been created, some suitable for competition level. Bikes are available for hire.

The town centre has several cafes and pubs. Its other features include child-friendly potholing, poetry walks, art centres, and views of the area.[ citation needed ]


Cyclist on one of the new 'Antur Stiniog' tracks DHFFEST2013AS330.jpg
Cyclist on one of the new 'Antur Stiniog' tracks

The town centre has recently been regenerated, as funding from organisations, grants and the Welsh Government of £4.5 million are spent. A new bus station has been built along with new viewing areas for neighbouring mountain ranges. Several slate structures have been built with poetry engraved on them. These are about 40 ft tall and are intended to echo visually the slate hills and mountains. Poetry and local sayings have also been engraved on slate bands set into pavements in the town centre. [20]

Various walkways have been installed, as well as a series of downhill mountain biking trails by Antur Stiniog. [21] A kilometre-long zip-wire has been erected at Llechwedd Slate Caverns, which is popular with thrill-seekers.

If plans go ahead Blaenau Ffestiniog will have the UK's first vélo-rail, which is popular in France. [22]


Many artists come to Blaenau Ffestiniog for the landscape around it, perhaps inspired by the harshness of the slate tips. They include Kyffin Williams and David Nash.

During the Second World War, the National Gallery stored art treasures in one of the mines in the town in order to protect them from damage or destruction. The large steel gates are still standing and the system[ clarification needed ] to preserve the paintings remains in the caverns.


Blaenau Ffestiniog has a strong musical tradition from the quarrying days, ranging from the Caban, male voice choirs and brass bands, to the Jazz/ Dance bands like "The New Majestics" and the popular rock bands of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Llwybr Llaethog and Anweledig, to more recent bands such as Gai Toms, Frizbee and Gwibdaith Hen Frân. The local alternative-music training school Gwallgofiaid has over a dozen bands based at its centre at the Old Police Station in Park Square, which has five rehearsal rooms, a 24-track studio and Cwrt performance space.

Notable people

In birth order:


See also

Related Research Articles

Ffestiniog Railway

The Ffestiniog Railway is a 1 ft 11+12 in narrow-gauge heritage railway, located in Gwynedd, Wales. It is a major tourist attraction located mainly within the Snowdonia National Park.

Tanygrisiau Human settlement in Wales

Tanygrisiau is a village and area within Blaenau Ffestiniog in the upper end of the Vale of Ffestiniog in the county of Gwynedd, north-west Wales. It can be found along the southern side of the Moelwyn mountain range and dates to around 1750. It joins onto the semi-urban area of Blaenau Ffestiniog, and is in the community of Ffestiniog; located between 650 feet (200 m) and 750 feet (230 m) above sea level. it is in the electoral ward of Bowydd and Rhiw which had a 2011 census population of 1878. The village itself has a population of around 350.

Slate industry

The slate industry is the industry related to the extraction and processing of slate. Slate is either quarried from a slate quarry or reached by tunneling in a slate mine. Common uses for slate include as a roofing material, a flooring material, gravestones and memorial tablets, and for electrical insulation.

Llechwedd Slate Caverns

Llechwedd is a visitor attraction near Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, Wales. It details the history of slate quarrying in the town and specifically the Llechwedd quarry in which it is located. The main aspect of Llechwedd is its Llechwedd Deep Mine Tour which has the steepest narrow gauge railway in the UK and travels over 500 feet underground to the disused slate caverns, and the Quarry Explorer Tour which heads out to the furthest reaches of the Llechwedd site to explore the history of mining in the area.

Slate industry in Wales Tentative World Heritage site in the United Kingdom

The existence of a slate industry in Wales is attested since the Roman period, when slate was used to roof the fort at Segontium, now Caernarfon. The slate industry grew slowly until the early 18th century, then expanded rapidly until the late 19th century, at which time the most important slate producing areas were in northwest Wales, including the Penrhyn Quarry near Bethesda, the Dinorwic Quarry near Llanberis, the Nantlle Valley quarries, and Blaenau Ffestiniog, where the slate was mined rather than quarried. Penrhyn and Dinorwig were the two largest slate quarries in the world, and the Oakeley mine at Blaenau Ffestiniog was the largest slate mine in the world. Slate is mainly used for roofing, but is also produced as thicker slab for a variety of uses including flooring, worktops and headstones.

Festiniog railway station served the village of Llan Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, Wales. This station was one of many 19th century institutions in Wales to be given an anglicised name. Over the years, and especially since the Second World War, most have been rendered into Welsh or given both Welsh and English names, but Festiniog station closed before this happened. The village of Llan Ffestiniog - known locally simply as "Llan" - lies over 3 km south of the larger and more recent Blaenau Ffestiniog, and over three miles south by rail.

Rhiwbach Tramway

The Rhiwbach Tramway was a Welsh industrial, 1 ft 11+12 in narrow gauge railway connecting the remote slate quarries east of Blaenau Ffestiniog with the Ffestiniog Railway. It was in use by 1862, and remained so until progressively closed between 1956 and 1976. The route included three inclines, one of which became the last operational gravity incline in the North Wales slate industry. The tramway was worked by horses and gravity for much of its existence, but a diesel locomotive was used to haul wagons between on the top section between 1953 and its closure in 1961.

Llechwedd quarry Disused slate mine in North Wales

Llechwedd quarry is a major slate quarry in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, north Wales. At its peak in 1884 it produced 23,788 tons of finished slate per year and had 513 employees. It continues to produce slate on a limited scale and is the location of the Llechwedd Slate Caverns tourist attraction.

Tan-y-Manod railway station

Tan-y-Manod railway station was a railway station approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) south of Blaenau Ffestiniog, in Gwynedd, North Wales.

Cwm Penmachno Human settlement in Wales

Cwm Penmachno is a village at the head of Cwm Machno in North Wales.

Oakeley quarry

Oakeley quarry is a slate quarry in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, north Wales. It was the largest underground slate mine in the world, and had 26 floors spanning a vertical height of nearly 1,500 feet (460 m).

Samuel Holland (politician)

Samuel Holland was a Welsh Liberal Party politician.

Llechwedd is Welsh for "hillside" or "slope" and may refer to:

Cwmorthin quarry

Cwmorthin quarry was a slate quarry west of the village of Tanygrisiau, north Wales. Quarrying on the site started in 1810. In 1860 it was connected to the Ffestiniog Railway. In 1900 it was acquired by the nearby Oakeley quarry and the two were connected underground. In 1970 it closed along with Oakeley. There was small-scale working in the 1980s and 1990s, and the mine finally closed in 1997.

Votty & Bowydd quarry Slate quarry in North Wales

Votty & Bowydd quarry is a major slate quarry in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales. It was one of the major users of the Ffestiniog Railway. It opened in 1870 In the quarry's peak years around 1900, the quarry produced around 17,000 tons-per-annum of slate, employing 500 men. It continues to produce crushed slate on a limited scale under the ownership of the nearby Llechwedd quarry.

Diphwys Casson quarry

Diphwys Casson quarry was a major slate quarry in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, North Wales. It was one of the major users of the Ffestiniog Railway.

Nyth-y-Gigfran quarry

Nyth-y-Gigfran quarry was a slate quarry in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales. It was located about 300 feet (91 m) above the settlement of Glan y Pwll, south of what was to become Blaenau Ffestiniog. The quarry was sited on the steep cliffs that form the eastern edge of Allt-fawr and was entirely underground. The quarry opened around 1840 and became part of the Oakeley quarry in the 1880s; this in turn closed in 1969.

Duffws railway station (Festiniog Railway)

Duffws was the Festiniog Railway's (FR) second passenger station in Blaenau Ffestiniog, then in Merionethshire, now in Gwynedd, Wales. This station is not to be confused with the Festiniog and Blaenau Railway's (F&BR) Duffws (F&BR) station which stood some distance away on the opposite side of Church Street. During that station's life from 1868 to 1883 passengers travelling from (say) Festiniog on the F&BR to Tan-y-Bwlch on the Festiniog would walk between the two stations, much as passengers walk between the standard gauge and narrow gauge in modern-day Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Blaenau Ffestiniog Central railway station

On 10 September 1883 the Bala and Festiniog Railway (B&FR) and the Festiniog Railway (FR) opened what would nowadays be called an interchange station in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Merionethshire, Wales. Merionethshire is now part of the county of Gwynedd.


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