Rhos and Foel are two interesting quarries on the south eastern flanks of Moel Siabod. They are most easily reached from the public footpath which starts from Pont Cyfyng, on the A5 about a mile from Capel Curig. This is also one of the popular routes up to the summit, although we have never found it to be unduly busy.
The first time I saw Foel quarry was from the summit of Moel Siabod, one chilly February afternoon in 1984. We'd walked up from the Pen y Gwryd hotel, on the western side- I was fascinated, but there wasn't much info available then- seven years before Alun Richard's Slate Quarry Gazetteer masterwork -and at a time when the internet wasn't the pan-global information superhighway that it is now.
Many years later, we managed to get to the two quarries. Rhos is the lower one, a delightful place, although technically out of bounds, due partly to dirt bikers making a nuisance of themselves. There are "No Trespassing" notices; although we have been a few times and have been quiet, unobtrusive -and un-noticed. The way up goes past some old miners cottages and beside a series of inclines to the left. At first, you climb up a steep tree lined road, beautiful in summer and autumn, then on to the open moor, where wonderful views are on offer, if the day is clear.
You walk up past a steep detour to avoid a farm and then past a holiday cottage. Through the gate and you are on to the moor proper, following a rough road- you can see the Foel incline and drumhouse ruins to your left. After a few hundred yards, there will be a gate to the left where a rough trackway goes due south (SH 73011 56573). The temptation now is to keep going, as the view of Moel Siabod is enticing. But for the keen quarry enthusiast, the ruined barracks of Rhos is already exerting a strong pull. In situations like these, my head is whirring with f numbers and ASA settings, thinking about the best photographic approach. Then, after all that, I usually end up forgetting to change some setting and find I have been shooting all day on f3!
We've been here a few times, in varied weather conditions, as you might see from the photos. Walking along to the row of cottages, we were aware of the outline of the Carneddau mountains to the north west, with the peak of Pen Llithrig y Wrach (slippery hill of the witch) looking very impressive, then the massif of the Glyders to the west. There were feint clouds draped lazily over the summits, clearing and then returning depending on the wind.
There's much to see and to fossick over, bemusedly, here. A large pit and an equally large roofless mill, now lying in some disarray, but with roof timbers and some ironwork still strewn about. The tips from this level are impressive and are currently sporting some fine specimens of birch trees, the first colonists of a slate quarry.
Rhos was a very productive concern and didn't close until the early 1950s, which explains why the structures are still in reasonable condition, compared to other disused quarries anyway. The pit is a deep one, but like many pits, difficult to photograph meaningfully- that's my excuse! Water power was used extensively. There were reservoirs above the quarry, two of which are now dry- (the dam can be seen at SH 72744 56180) while a larger one can be seen beside the path up to Foel.
Beside the mill there are a couple of structures, one an office with curious arched windows. An opencut goes to the lip of the pit where what looks like some kind of Chain Incline arrangement was sited to bring product up from the pit to the mill. Huge concrete blocks lie as if from some giant child's lego set, discarded because the tea-time call went up. I guess they must have been machine bases.
Venturing lower down the hill, another water wheel pit can be found, and a flooded adit into the base of the pit. It was very overgrown and not too enticing.
It wasn't a great idea to site the mill at the top level- it was as if the management thought that the quarry wouldn't go any deeper. Another waterwheel was built in the 1930s to work a ropeway to pull rock out of the pit, this one was sited near the lower adit and can be seen sitting in glorious isolation in a field. Other waterwheels were built near the mill to work the chain incline- a water balance incline had been put in earlier, but that was built on good slate and was quarried away.
Some Rhos factoids
Rhos was that curious thing, a very successful slate quarry. It was opened in the 1850s by John Evans and Ellis Williams, who sold out to a partnership of a Lancashire industrialist and a Trefriw man, who invested in much modern equipment. It was sold again to a Manchester company who had the benefit of the previous spending and reached peak production by the 1870s, with a top output of 1285 tons in 1882. There was a slight decline, but business picked up again in the 1920s with totals around the 1500 tons mark. The demand for slate had then peaked in the industry, but the quarry carried on until 1952, making it the longest working of any of the Gwydir quarries. Latterly it was run by J. J. Riley, a key figure in the later years of the slate industry both here and in Dyffryn Nantlle.
The tips were extensive enough to require steam and latterly internal combustion haulage, although there are no details of locomotives used. A link with the Foel inclines was made in 1874 and all produce went to Pont Cyfyng by rail, and then by lorry to the railway station at Betws.
Now it's time to walk on up the hill for half a mile to Foel. It's a spectacular site, but it wasn't by any means a successful quarry; the rock was not good and the site required extensive inclines and the construction of a mill at Pont Cyfyng, all expenses that just didn't pay off.
It was worked in a sporadic way until 1858, when it was taken over by the paper baron, J.C. Fourdrinier, later joined by Joseph Jennings.
They invested in sand saws around 1861-3...a small one at the quarry, and a large one at the mill at Pont Cyfyng. This was a spectacular failure. In an equally foolish move, they constructed the inclines, replacing the steep road down to the bridge at road level on the A5. As if the pitches of the inclines weren't steep enough, the "level" stretches between them included spells at 1 in 9!! It couldn't last, and Fourdrinier pulled out, having lost money speculating on similar ventures elsewhere, leaving Jennings with his finger metaphorically in the dam. Work continued, pianissimo, until a massive rock fall in the pit spelt the end for the quarry.
Another triumph of optimism over practicality, and in some ways, similar to the story of the Gorseddau concern in Cwmystradlyn.
The weather at Foel was a big concern to the workers. They couldn't just build walliau like at other quarries- because of the situation, they constructed massive shelters with baulks of slate cantilevered together for roofs, all in a vain effort to shelter from the elements. I expect that on a fine spring day, the view from these shelters might have seemed idyllic, but then, there would be the memory of that east wind, laden with snow and ice, that had blown through a few months earlier...
The waterwheel that powered the mill had to be shielded from the weather as in winter, the wind blew the water clean off the wheel. Petra is standing above the wheel pit here on a typically dreich day...
The site is difficult to interpret...there are several barracks, some internal inclines, tunnels to the pit (blocked off) and some intriguing mill ruins- plus a stables and another barracks lower down. There's also supposed to be the base for a horse whim, but we couldn't spot that. The barracks were a very over-optimistic provision, seeing as the quarry only ever employed ten men at best.
The quarry lived on after closure, renting it's inclines to Rhos and suppying water from blocked up tunnels in the pit. The site would repay a closer examination than we have been able to do on our couple of visits. But it's worth the walk just for the view on a fine day, to sit and wonder about the poor souls, men and animals, who had to work through the merciless winters here.
Foel was first opened by a local man, John Hughes in 1836. This might have been the heyday for the quarry, as he employed up to 48 men, but abandoned the place shortly after in 1840. It was never to employ more than 10 men afterwards, despite having six working floors and two short access adits. Annual tonnage rarely exceeded 500 tons.
What is a "Sand Saw?"
"Evidence for the type of saws used in a particular quarry was sought in the sawn-end offcuts on tips, and in rubble used for building quarry structures. In most cases the saw used was a standard circular pattern, probably the Greaves patent, which involved a slotted table moving against the blade. Offcuts from sand-saws (horizontal saws, in which blades are tensioned in u carriage suspended from a frame and then moved backwards and forwards across the block), with their distinctive smooth lay and ridge where the cut was snapped, were observed at a number or quarries in Dyffryn Conwy and its tributary valleys, particularly Cwm Eigiau (20100) and Cedryn (20106), and it is known from archival sources that sand-saws, once general throughout the county, remained in use far longer here, because they could cope with large slabs and deal better with pyritic rock than circular saws. The Hafodlas mills include the bases for such machines, but no substantial sand-saw remains were observed in any of the sites visited. The Hafodlas mills also provide the best evidence for the use of the Hunter patent saw, with their distinctive machine bases."
extract from "Gwynedd Slate Quarries - An Archaeological Survey 1994-95. Report No.154" (G.A.T.)
Some assorted photos of Foel...
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