In the last episode, we were at the top of the steps from the quarry workshop, thinking about going to have a look at the Princess Quarry and the mine Petra had spotted on the hill. Here's a rough look at the area, to get you re-oriented:
I thought it looked a little gnarly, getting up to that old mine- and so it proved. It was worth the struggle though. Although the adit was run in, we could identify it as a metal mine of fairly early date, judging by the remains and the material in the tip. Wilkinson has no entry for the mine, while Coflein's database has it as "unidentified". The way the deads are stacked up beside the adit portal and the size of the hole make me speculate on an early 1800s date for this. The adit goes in a short way and then is blocked by a collapse, but judging by the quantity of waste, it wasn't a very long adit. There are no remains of processing buildings, so perhaps this was an outstation/trial for the Moel Lefn mine, a little bit further south.
Spurred on by our discovery of an unexpected mine, we went back down to the bottom level of the quarry, then back up to level two of the Prince of Wales, in an attempt to gain the path which goes over to the next cwm. It was evident enough, although a sign warned that it was closed while the forestry people ransacked the hillside with giant machines. We ignored the sign and carried on, finding an alternative route beside a wall that kept us out of the sight of Chip and Dale, but also seemed to be a way to the summit of Moel Lefn.
There were some fine views from the bwlch here, heightened by the dramatic weather- on our latest visit, rain seemed to be a constant threat, then there would be brilliant flashes of sunshine that scudded across the land like warm manta rays.
A surprise find on the bwlch was a powder house. Judging by the style of construction, I would say it was contemporary with the Prince of Wales and, as if to confirm it's use, we found a rebate for a wooden shelf all the way round. Later, I found a reference to it on the 1887 Ordnance map which marks it as "magazine". It was nicely out of the way in case of any accidents!
The path to the Princess was a pleasant climb, apart from one level stretch that resembled a quagmire. Soon we encountered the lower adit to the pit-
Sadly, the adit was blocked- it would have been enjoyable to access the pit, although it was rather damp, with about a foot of water inside the tunnel. The path carried on, but now it was composed totally of slate waste- a good sign. We gained the top of the quarry into a much degraded work area, with foundations of buildings showing. I think the slates here must have only been hand worked, but even so, the pit was a deep one. There was no sign of a mill at the lower adit site, but then our friends from the Forestry have been busy there. Just how product could have been moved from here is another question- presumably on the backs of mules, as there is not even a road formation let alone a tramway.
After having a good look around, we walked to the end of one of the tips, to an oddly sited weigh-house which, unlike the other structures here, has survived despite being in an exposed situation.
After a good look around, admiring the views across to where we thought Snowdon might be (under cloud) and listening to the whistles from the Welsh Highland train, we made our way back to the main quarry.
In no time, we were negotiating the levels of the Prince of Wales quarry. The pits seemed a little more overgrown than the last time we'd seen them, about six years previously. The grating above one pit, which then had a single spruce growing out of it now had a small forest. The warning about the drop in the adit had faded off. The general feeling was the same though. It was as if a stone age sarsen quarry had been abandoned, with huge slabs lying haphazardly everywhere.
It was hard to imagine that folk had thought they could make money out of this place when you saw the quality of the rock, and yet they had kept at it, building infrastructure and chewing up the hill, then strewing it everywhere on the tips.
There was evidence of some sensible working practices. Adits were driven from the bottom of pits either to the lower levels or to a shaft where a crane would hoist the blocks up...it's obvious this has happened in a few places. The twlls are tidy and organised and the workings laid out perfectly. Just imagine if this had been Dinorwig instead of Cwm Pennant...or even just a bit further down the cwm where the slate was of better quality.
I couldn't work out the system of weigh houses, nor could I make head nor tail of Coflein's assertion that there were two round magazines at the lower levels. I still couldn't get a good shot of the barracks either. But it's a wonderful, if slightly mysterious site in a world-class location, and if the weather gods see fit to bless you as they did us, then it is down to you whether or not you get the most out of it
We had a wonderful wander around and only met one person the whole day, although she was oblivious to the quarry. Never mind, I made up for her lack of interest by scurrying about like a Jack Russell looking for a hidden bag of doggy treats- in other words, a quality day out!
Originally called Cwm Trwysgwl quarry, the Prince of Wales was first worked in the early 1860's- Richards* considers that three levels were worked. At this time Slates would be carted over the pass to Cwm Gwyrfai using the Bwlch y ddwy elor. Presumably the Princess output would have gone this way also after having been processed by the Prince of Wales.
Once the Gorseddau tramway was extended in around 1873, activity at the quarry took a different turn, new money was introduced and work started much more enthusiastically. At the height of production, 200 men were employed here, producing 5000 tons a year. This was not to last, there just wasn't the rock- and the quarry closed in 1886.
The Princess quarry seems to have been most active in the 1880's, when it could take advantage of it's larger neighbour's mill and transport facilities. Richards considers that the lower adit was simply a trial, which would explain why all processing seems to have been done at a higher level...yet the tunnel seemed to go in to the pit, and there is an opening low in the pit for it, although blocked. Sdaly, it looks as if this will always be a mystery.
The earliest workings at the Prince of Wales are the lowest, unlike at many other quarries. Working proceeded upwards, which must have meant that the lower workshop and ancillary buildings at lower levels were superceded. Apparently there was some later, small scale working at the quarry in the 1920's, whether by quarrymen or Hoggia Chwarel dipio is not clear, but it must have been a sore trial getting the slates away to market!