Slate aggregate for roads is made in a relatively small scale at Llechwedd compared to the huge amount of slate waste that could be used for such purposes. With major issues in employment, Blaenau needs jobs. However, both the feasibility of the aggregate scheme and the potential visual changes to Blaenau’s ‘man-made mountains’, which are to many seen as the industrial heritage of North Wales, means this new industry is often viewed with apathy.
Father Deiniol, an Orthodox Priest who has lived in the town for 30 years and our kind guide for a day has been campaigning for decades for this secondary industry to be launched on a large scale and thus create broad employment (although major funding would be needed). Others are promoting tourism as the new and primary industry in the area and a multi-milion pound scheme has been launched for relative regeneration with an obvious focus on tourism.
What is certain is that Blaenau’s in a difficult transitional period and it feels like the town understands industry – it’s what it’s good at. Tourism on the other hand is a difficult and un-walked path for Blaenau.
Here’s some pictures of the few men who are crushing slate waste, the landscape they’re working in, and a few from around Llechwedd quarry.
An afternoon spent with Alan while he collected slate for making wine racks in a now closed quarry. We’re stood here 3/4 of the way up the largest slate tip in the world. The building on the far left in the first image was built by Alan and some of the 60 men working below him. He spent the majority of his working life on this man-made mountain splitting slate.
Re-visit to Blaenau last week on a pretty full on 5-day shoot. The sun was shining all week for once so we made some hay (not literally!). Here’s a taster. Again – 5×4 transparencies re-photographed on a lightbox for now…
Llechwedd is the last remaining quarry in Blaenau with men still splitting slate half way up the mountain. First, some images from the top of the mountain where sheds have now been abandoned. speaks volumes of the fragility of the industry. What an amazing place.
I’ve been given access to Trawsfynydd nuclear power station as part of my ongoing project in North-Wales. Trawsfynydd is currently being de-commissioned and is a major employer in the area. Here are a few images from my initial trip.
This is Alan – an ex-slate quarryman who now has a workshop at his home in Blaenau Ffestiniog. He and his family are friends of a friend but are quickly becoming good friends of mine too I hope. They’re really hospitable – some of the best grub in Wales I recon! They have three sons (some of the biggest men I have ever seen). Alan’s already taught me how to split slate and fire a shot gun! Heading back to Wales in a week or so so I’m planning to photograph Alan and his family some more if they’re happy to let me.
I met a guy in a pub once (all the best stories start like that!). We’d just opened the gallery and he was interested in what we were doing so at a later date he came round to see the place and the work I was doing on post-industrial Teesside. He recommended a trip to Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales.
The story is that he’s a market trader and used to sell Welsh slate on his London market as well as directly to London restaurants as wine racks and canapé trays. Each month he would drive to Wales to pick up his slate and over the period of a few years became good friends with his supplier there.
Mark became a good friend of mine and a flying trip last winter to Wales with him made me realise what an amazing place it is. Blaenau Ffestiniog is at the heart of the Snowdonia national park and yet it has been cut out of the park altogether. It was built to house thousands of slate miners and their families when a major seam was discovered in the mid 19th Century. For 170 years slate as been blasted out of the mountains there resulting in uncomprehendable spoil heaps which rival the mountains themselves for dominance over the landscape. These huge spoil heaps as well as the fact that one remaining quarry is still blasting for slate, meant that Blaenau Ffestiniog was excluded from the national park.
Blaenau Ffestiniog once housed the worlds largest slate mine and this industry now clings on at Llechwedd in a fascinating juxtaposition of industrial heritage and tourism. Above ground blasting continues in an open-cast quarry while underground tourists are led round slate cavers carved out by generations of slate miners. The very idea of tourists paying to go underground where miners dreaded going fascinates me. I was gives access to both sites in a recent trip and will be returning soon. This work is mostly shot on 5×4 transparency – shown here on a lightbox.
All below shot in the open cast quarry which has been owned by the Greaves family for 170 years.