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Slate pits recommended for world heritage status

The quarries of northwest Wales have been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

A panel of experts in the recent UK summer assessed the slate landscape around the county of Gwynedd, in North Wales, and the nomination will be formally presented to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Centre in 2019.

A decision on the application will not be delivered before 2021.

As part of the campaign to secure World Heritage Site status, school pupils have sent slate from northern Wales quarries to world leaders.

Students at the Ysgol y Moelwyn bilingual secondary school in Gwynedd sent a piece of slate branded with the Ffestiniog Slate Festival logo to more than 200 countries.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prince Albert of Monaco were among 15 world leaders to respond.

Trudeau said the campaign reflected the “admirable pride” the pupils had in their local history.

Historic product

In the 19th century, the quarries of North Wales were major providers of roofing materials and slate products throughout the world. Similarly, the associated technologies of quarrying and transport infrastructure were also exported worldwide.

At its peak, the Welsh quarrying industry was extracting about 500,000 tonnes of slate per annum. Today, production is a tenth of that, as cheap, cement-based products have dominated the construction market.

According to Dr Jana Horak, the head of mineralogy and petrology at the National Museum of Wales, slate has been used since the Roman occupation of Britain (circa AD77) and was exported during the Middle Ages. The industry took off during the height of the Industrial Revolution.

“You can find it now in so many places,” Dr Horak told BBC News several years ago. “Even in Australia today they are replacing original slate roofs with more Welsh slate, to keep that look. It’s not just a ‘good slate’, it’s the best.”

In the 19th century, the small mountainside village of Dinorwig was home to the second largest slate quarry in the world. In the mornings, thousands of men in flat caps hiked up the snaking path to the quarry huts perched high on Elidir’s mountainside, their clogs clacking on slate waste.

The quarrying industry helped foster traditional Welsh culture. As the quarries grew, so did the villages of Deniolen and Clwt y Bont, which were situated up the hill alongside Dinorwig Quarry. At its height, Dinorwig Quarry employed around 3000 men.

Quarrying communities created their own democratic structures, including workers’ chapels, while also contributing financial support to Bangor University.

The business functioned through the medium of the Welsh language, making it unique within major capitalised British industries.

Eventually the two world wars and the Great Depression took their toll on the slate industry, as did competition from roofing tiles. By 1960, Dinorwig’s workforce had been reduced to about 300 men.

These days, the quarrymen have moved out and rock climbers, walkers, swimmers, divers and off-road runners have gradually moved in.

More reading
Slate site steeped in history 
The inspiring heights of yesteryear 
Disused site hosts unique, global competition 
Slate mountains become a tourist attraction 






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