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Newsletter 122, Autumn 2018   © Hampshire Mills Group



North Wales Study Tour, May 2018 - Part II



Ruth Andrews

Pictures by Ruth Andrews

Part I


Cochwillan Watermill


This is where Saturday’s visit started.  It is a well-preserved large estate corn mill situated on a loop of the Ogwen River.  It retains good late 19th century detail in its external character.  Inside is a virtually complete set of mill machinery, including stones and a drying kiln.

The current mill was built as a fulling mill, which was used to prepare cloth and operated as a home industry.  In the late 18th century it started using diluted sulphuric acid as a detergent, which caused damage to the salmon and sea trout fishing, so the mill was closed and later bought by the Penrhyn estate and converted into a corn mill.



In 1901 it was taken over by a Mr John Hughes who bought pulleys and shafting to assist in working its 4 sets of stones.   It is now owned and occupied by the Hutchinson family who showed us round and provided a much appreciated morning coffee. 






Electric Mountain


Next we proceeded to Llanberis to visit Dinorwic Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Scheme (Electric Mountain), housed in the abandoned underground parts of Dinorwic slate quarry.  We donned hard hats and were transported underground by bus to see the six 300Mw GEC generators coupled to Francis-type reversible turbines, which pump water back to the top reservoir in times of low demand for electricity.  Photos were not permitted and wearing hard hats to ride on a bus seemed a bit excessive!   


The National Slate Museum


Back at the surface we explored the National Slate Museum which is housed in the Victorian workshops that once serviced and maintained the enormous Dinorwic slate quarry above it.  The workshops catered for all the repair and maintenance work demanded by a quarry, which once employed well over 3000 men, before it closed in 1969.





Its outstanding attraction is the largest waterwheel in mainland Britain;  it was constructed in 1870 by De Winton of Caernarfon and is 50ft 5in in diameter, 5ft 3in wide, and was built around a 12in axle.  Ashok’s photo with Alison alongside the axle, gives a good indication of its size.   It still turns but probably freewheeling on tap water, and the power for the rest of the workshops is provided by a Pelton wheel, which took over from the waterwheel early in the 20th century.



As well as providing yet more food for some of us, the museum puts on a short introductory film To Steal a Mountain, and a short slate-splitting demonstration.  The Victorian workshops are all open to the public, including a new pattern store area, housing the museum’s collection of over 2000 wooden patterns used to build equipment for the quarry.

On a previous visit, several of us had explored Vivian Quarry, seen in the photo (left, behind the museum buildings), with its restored inclines and barracks (workers hostels), but it was a very serious uphill slog.  More recently, Keith and I had found a way up to the higher quarry levels which was suitable for the minibus, where we could park near the ‘Village tramway’ which was used to transport the slate to the coast at Port Dinowic.


Dinorwic Quarries


We were able to stroll along the tramway into the heart of the historic working faces of the opencast part of the quarry, and photograph two rope-wound inclines.  This one seems for to have been altered since it was in use for slate haulage.  At its foot there is a derelict slate saw mill.

I was pleased to be able to photograph two ruined winding drums (below) further along the quarry. These used platforms attached to ropes to lower loaded wagons to the tramway level, and were presumably either self-acting or operated by water balance, although the one on the right with its clearly visible brake handle may have had a steam engine.




From this high vantage point there were glorious views of Snowdon across the valley.  Note the line of the tramway on the left of the picture and part of the extensive waste heaps down the side of the mountain.


Our evening meal was at a small Italian restaurant next to the ‘New Pier’ (1896!) in Bangor.



The Great Orme Tramway


On Sunday we were facing a long drive home, but we started with a quick trip on the 1901 Great Orme Tramway, before driving south towards Llanymynech near Oswestry.  The semi-wild cashmere goats are clearly very used to posing for photographs.



Llanymynech Lime Kilns


Llanymynech Heritage Area was set up in 2006–2009, with funding from both the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage.  Additional financial support also came from the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund and project partners, with the aim to conserve the site for visitors and educational purposes.  The main feature is a well-preserved Hoffman kiln with its original square section chimney.  The kiln closed in 1914 and was therefore only in production for about 20 years.  It is not entirely clear how it operated, although it was intended to produce finer quality lime for industry than the adjacent traditional-style kiln.  Hoffman kilns were more common in the brick industry.




As part of the project to convert the area to a heritage park, an archaeological investigation was carried out.  Its main aim was to gather information about key features of the site, particularly the location of former tramways, turntable track-beds, and ground surfaces.  We did not have time to fully explore the site before reluctantly leaving Wales.


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