2009’s temporary exhibition in the Museum features Bryneglwys Slate Quarry, near Abergynolwyn. The exhibition records something of the works and of the men who laboured there for several generations.
On show are photographs of the quarry when it was working and others taken after closure. In the showcase there is a collection of items including objects made of slate, wooden patterns recovered from the ruins of the blacksmith’s forge at the quarry and ephemera such as price cards, despatch notes and a book of share certificates formerly belonging to Sir Henry Haydn Jones.
Without Bryneglwys there would have been no Talyllyn Railway, for it was built by the quarry proprietors to carry their slates down the valley to Tywyn Wharf. On arrival they were transferred to the Cambrian Railway for onward carriage to the port of Aberdyfi.
The quarry started in the 1830s although not much is known about the early works. John Pughe of Aberdyfi obtained leases to work the quarry from the landowners in 1844 and 1846, and a photo of a surviving slate tablet dated 1847 is displayed. In 1864 the quarry was opened on a grand scale by The Aberdovey Slate Company whose principal shareholders were the McConnel family, proprietors of cotton mills in Manchester. They built family houses for their workers in Abergynolwyn, excellent examples of mid-Victorian worker’s terraces which survive today.
By 1910 the best slate had been worked out and the McConnels decided to cease working Bryneglwys. The quarry, the village of Abergynolwyn and the Talyllyn Railway were put up for sale and in the following year Mr Henry Haydn Jones, the newly elected MP for Merioneth bought the undertaking for £5,250. He formed a new Company, trading as The Abergynolwyn Slate and Slab Company, to operate the quarry. His book of share certificates, apparently rescued from a skip, is on show. But by then there was little chance of making anything more than a job creation exercise, for competition from man-made tiles and the unwillingness of men to work in the difficult and dangerous conditions in the quarry led to closure in 1946.
Henry Haydn Jones, MP
Since then the land has been used for forestry and the mills, workshops and cottages of Bryneglwys are no more. More recently Forest Enterprise, an agency of the Forestry Commission, has encouraged visitors by laying new footpaths and interpretation boards on the site. There are several routes, all accessed from Nant Gwernol station. The haulage complex consisting of two large water wheel pits and the remains of working platforms have been fenced off and it is registered as an ancient monument.
The museum’s permanent collection includes TR029 Slab trolley from Bryneglwys Quarry, rescued and restored by the museum staff some years ago. It is on display near the temporary exhibition.
Alan Holmes, March 2009