Ffestiniog is a historic mining town in Wales. It is in the
historic county of Merionethshire, although currently administered as
part of the unitary authority of Gwynedd. It has a population of 4,875
according to the 2011 census, including the nearby village of Llan
Ffestiniog, which makes it the fourth most populous community in
Gwynedd unitary authority, behind Bangor, Caernarfon, and
Llandeiniolen. After reaching 12,000 at the peak of the slate
industry, the population fell due to a decrease in the demand for
Ffestiniog at one time was the second largest town in
North Wales, behind Wrexham. Today, the town relies
heavily on tourists, who come to see the many attractions within and
around the town such as the
Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate
1.1 Before 1750
1.2 The slate industry arrives (1750–1850)
1.3 Becoming a town (1851–1900)
1.4 The decline of slate (1901–1950)
1.5 1950 – present
5 Welsh language
10 Notable people
11 Twinned Towns
12 See also
14 External links
Before the slate industry developed, the area now known as Blaenau
Ffestiniog was a farming region, with scattered farms working the
uplands below the cliffs of Dolgaregddu and Nyth-y-Gigfran. A few of
these historic farmhouses survive at Cwm Bowydd, Gelli, Pen y Bryn and
Cefn Bychan. Much of the land was owned by large estates.
The slate industry arrives (1750–1850)
The town of Blaenau
Ffestiniog was created to support workers in the
local slate mines. In its heyday it was the largest town in
Merioneth. In the 1760s men from the long established Cilgwyn
Nantlle started quarrying in Ceunant y Diphwys to the
north east of the present town. This valley had for a number of years
been known for its slate beds and had been worked on a very small
scale. The exact location of this original quarry has been obliterated
by subsequent mining activity, but it is likely that it was on or near
the site of the Diphwys Casson Quarry. Led by Methusalem Jones, eight
Cilgwyn men formed a partnership and took a lease on Gelli Farm where
they established their quarry. In 1800, William Turner and William
Casson, quarry managers from the Lake District, bought out the lease
and significantly expanded production.
In 1819, quarrying began on the slopes of
Allt-fawr near Rhiwbryfdir
Farm. This was on land owned by the Oakeley family from Tan y Bwlch.
Within a decade, three separate slate quarries were operating on
Allt-fawr and these eventually amalgamated to form Oakeley Quarry
which would become the largest underground slate mine in the world.
Quarrying expanded rapidly in the first half of the 19th century.
Significant quarries opened at Llechwedd, Maenofferen and Votty &
Bowydd, while Turner and Casson's Diphwys Casson flourished.
Further afield, Cwmorthin and Wrysgan quarries were established to the
south of the town, while at the head of
Cwm Penmachno to the north
east a series of quarries started at Rhiwbach, Cwt y Bugail and Blaen
y Cwm. To the south east another cluster of quarries worked the slopes
The workforce for these quarries was initially taken from nearby towns
and villages such as
Ffestiniog and Maentwrog. Before the arrival of
railways in the district, travel to the quarries was difficult and
workers' houses were built near the quarries. These typically grew up
around existing farms and along the roads between them. An early
settlement was at Rhiwbryfdir, serving the Oakeley and Llechwedd
quarries. As early as 1801, new roads were being built specifically to
serve the quarries. By 1851, there were 3,460 people living in the new
town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Becoming a town (1851–1900)
A view of Blaenau
Ffestiniog from Graig Ddu, c.1875 NLW3361243
During the 1860s and 1870s the slate industry went through a large
boom. The quarries expanded rapidly, as did the nascent town of
Blaenau Ffestiniog. The town gained its first church and first school,
and saw considerable ribbon development along the roads. By 1881,
the town's population had soared to 11,274. The boom in the slate
industry was followed by a significant decline. The 1890s saw several
quarries lose money for the first time, and several failed entirely,
including Cwmorthin and Nyth-y-Gigfran. Blaenau
National Eisteddfod in 1898.
The decline of slate (1901–1950)
Although the slate industry partly recovered from the recession of the
1890s, it never fully recovered. The
First World War
First World War saw many
quarrymen join the Armed Forces, and production fell. There was a
short post-war boom, but the long-term trend was towards mass-produced
tiles and cheaper slate from Spain.
Oakeley Quarry took over
Cwmorthin, Votty & Bowydd and Diphwys Casson, while Llechwedd
acquired Maenofferen. Despite this consolidation, the industry
continued to decline. The
Second World War
Second World War saw a further loss of
available workers. In 1946, the
Ffestiniog Railway closed.
In August 1945 the secluded farmhouse of Bwlch Ocyn, at Manod, which
belonged to Clough Williams-Ellis, became the home, for three years,
of the famous writer
Arthur Koestler and his wife Mamaine. During his
time at Bwlch Ocyn, Koestler would become a close friend of fellow
writer George Orwell.
1950 – present
Blaenau Ffestiniog, 1959
The slate quarries continued to decline steadily after 1950. The
remaining quarries served by the
Rhiwbach Tramway closed during the
1950s and 1960s. Oakeley closed in 1970, with the loss of many local
jobs. It re-opened in 1974 on a much smaller scale and was worked
until 2010. Maenofferen and Llechwedd continued to operate, but
Maenofferen finally closed in 1998. Llechwedd is still a working
quarry, working the David Jones part of Maenofferen (level
As the slate industry declined, the population of Blaenau Ffestiniog
has also declined, to 4,875 in 2011. At the same time the tourism
industry has become the town's largest employer. The revived
Ffestiniog Railway and the
Llechwedd Slate Caverns
Llechwedd Slate Caverns are popular tourist
attractions, as is the Antur Stiniog downhill mountain biking
centre. Recent attractions include the Zip World Titan zip-line
site, which also now features the Bounce Below slate mine activity
The English pronunciation of Blaenau
Ffestiniog suggested by the BBC
Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names is /ˈblaɪnaɪ
fɛsˈtɪnjɒɡ/, but the first word is pronounced [ˈbləɨna] by
Blaenau Ffestiniog, seen from Moelwyn Bach, showing the large waste
heaps that dominate the town.
Located in the mountains of Snowdonia, the town's slate industry
declined during the early 20th century. The town's economy is now
largely dependent on tourism. Although the town is in the centre of
Snowdonia National Park, the boundaries of the Park exclude the
town and its substantial slate waste heaps.
Ffestiniog is in the traditional county of Merionethshire. It
is made up of a number of distinct areas, several of which take their
names from settlements that predate the town, including Rhiwbryfdir,
Glanypwll and Cwmbowydd.. Other local villages,
Tanygrisiau and Manod, are sometimes considered part of
The mountains around Blaenau
Ffestiniog form the watershed between the
River Lledr flowing to the north (a tributary of the River Conwy) and
River Dwyryd flowing to the west.
Ffestiniog is known as the town with one of the highest
rainfall in Wales. The town has several reservoirs, one of which
Ffestiniog Hydro Power Station with water. Stwlan Dam can
be seen in between two of the main mountains in the area, Moelwyn Bach
and Moelwyn Mawr.
Glan-y-pwll School, Blaenau
Ffestiniog c. 1895.
Ysgol y Moelwyn is the main secondary school in the area, covering
Blaenau, Manod, Tanygrisiau, Llan Ffestiniog, Trawsfynydd, Gellilydan,
Maentwrog and even stretching into the Vale of
Dolwyddelan. It came third in Britain's best county
school[clarification needed] in 2006 and had 309 pupils on roll in
2016. Some pupils go to Ysgol Y Gader,
Dolgellau in south
Meirionnydd; Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy, Llanrwst; Ysgol y Berwyn, Bala; and
Ysgol Eifionydd, Porthmadog.
There are five primary schools in the area.
Ffestiniog is a predominantly Welsh-speaking community. At the
2011 census, 78.6% of residents over the age of three could speak
Welsh, a small decrease from 80.9% at the 2001 census. The latest
inspection reports of both the town's primary schools, Ysgol
Maenofferen and Ysgol Y Manod, both from 2016, state that percentage
of children speaking Welsh at home in each school is, 87% and 85%,
respectively. At the town's secondary school, Ysgol y Moelwyn, 82% of
pupils came from Welsh-speaking homes, as of 2014, making its intake
the most Welsh-speaking among those of secondary schools within the
former county of Meirionnydd, and the fourth highest among school
intakes in Gwynedd.
Double Fairlie locomotive
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George at Blaenau Ffestiniog
The main access route to Blaenau
Ffestiniog is via the
A470 road which
runs north to
Llandudno and south to
Dolgellau and beyond. The A496
runs south from the town down to the coastal resort of Barmouth, and
connects with the A487 towards
Porthmadog and the Llŷn Peninsula.
Immediately to the north of the town the A470 climbs steeply to the
Crimea Pass and meets the A5 at Betws-y-Coed, towards
Bus services in the town are mainly provided by
Express Motors with
routes available to Porthmadog,
Dolgellau and to
Betws-y-Coed and Llanrwst. Town circular services via
operated hourly on weekdays by John's Coaches.
Ffestiniog railway station, on the site of the former Great
Western station, is used by the
Ffestiniog Railway and the Conwy
Valley Line, their previous stations being no longer in use. The Conwy
Valley Line runs to the North
Wales coast at
Llandudno Junction with
links to Chester, Holyhead,
Manchester and the rest of the UK. The
station sees thousands of visitors each year.
At various times the town has been the terminus for four independent
railway lines, each with its own station or stations:
the Festiniog and Blaenau Railway
Conwy Valley Line
Conwy Valley Line of the London and North Western Railway, and
Ffestiniog Line of the Great Western Railway.
Ffestiniog has several tourist attractions, including the
Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, a former slate
mine open to visitors. Llechwedd is often listed as one of Wales' top
5 visitor attractions. Near Blaenau
Ffestiniog there are miles of
mountain landscape with derelict quarries, rivers, various lakes and
Several new mountain biking trails have been installed with some
suitable for competition level mountain biking. Visitors can borrow
bikes from the biking centre and explore the miles of trails, ranging
from tracks for beginners to high end professional mountain biking
The town centre has a number of cafes and traditional pubs. There are
various features[original research?] such as child-friendly potholing,
poetry walks, art centres, and views of the area.
A cyclist on one of the new 'Antur Stiniog' tracks.
Blaenau Ffestiniog's town centre has recently been regenerated. With
funding from various organisations, grants and the Welsh Government,
£4.5 million will be spent on redeveloping the town centre. A
new bus station has been built along with new viewing areas for the
neighbouring mountain ranges. Several slate structures have also been
built with poetry engraved on them. The structures are roughly 40 feet
tall and are intended to visually echo the towering slate hills and
mountains. Poetry and local sayings have also been engraved on slate
bands set into the pavements throughout the town centre.
Various walkways have also been installed, as well as a series of
downhill mountain biking trials by Antur Stiniog.
A kilometre-long zip-wire is also expected in the town soon. If plans
go ahead Blaenau
Ffestiniog will have the UK's first vélo-rail, which
are popular in France.
Many artists come to Blaenau
Ffestiniog for the unique[citation
needed] landscape around it, perhaps inspired by the harsh landscape
of the slate tips. They include
Kyffin Williams and David Nash. During
World War II
World War II the
National Gallery stored its treasures in one of the
mines in the town to protect them from damage or destruction. The
large steel gates are still standing and the system[clarification
needed] to preserve the paintings is still in the caverns.
Ffestiniog has a strong musical tradition, from the quarrying
boom days with the Caban, male voice choirs and brass bands, to the
Jazz/ Dance bands like "The New Majestics" and the popular rock bands
of the 80s and 90s such as
Llwybr Llaethog and Anweledig, to more
recent bands such as Gai Toms,
Frizbee and Gwibdaith Hen Frân. The
local alternative music training company Gwallgofiaid now has over 12
bands under its umbrella based at their Centre 'Cell' at the Old
Police Station in Park Square. The Centre has 5 rehearsal rooms, a 24
track studio and Cwrt performance space.
See Category:People from Blaenau Ffestiniog
Gwyn Thomas, Welsh poet, academic and National Poet for Wales
Anweledig, musical group
Gai Toms, music artist
Llwybr Llaethog, musical group
David Nash, artist
John Cowper Powys, novelist, lived in Blaenau
Ffestiniog from May 1955
until he died in 1963.
Glyn Wise, contestant and runner up on Big Brother 7
Dave Felgate, footballer
Margarette Golding, founder of International Inner Wheel, a women's
voluntary service association, was born in Blaenau
Rawson in Patagonia,
^ a b c d e "Blaenau Ffestiniog: Understanding Urban Character" (PDF).
^ Gwynfor Pierce Jones and Dafydd Walter Dafis (2002). "Water Power in
the Slate Mines of East Ffestiniog" (PDF).
^ Jones, R. Merfyn (1981). The North
Wales Quarrymen, 1874–1922
(Studies in Welsh history; 4.). University of
^ Davies, John (1993). A History of Wales.
^ a b Boyd, James I.C. (1975) . The Festiniog Railway 1800 -
1974; Vol. 2 - Locomotives and Rolling Stock; Quarries and Branches:
Rebirth 1954-74. The British Narrow Gauge Railway. Blandford: The
Oakwood Press. ISBN 978-0-85361-168-4. OCLC 874117875.
^ "The Untouched Legacy of
Arthur Koestler and George Orwell". 24
February 2016. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
^ Sallery, Dave. "Maenofferen slate quarry in 1975".
Ffestiniog mountain bike centre given go-ahead". BBC News.
22 March 2011.
^ G. M. Miller (Ed), BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names,
Oxford University Press, 1971. ISBN 0-19-431125-2
^ "Ysgol Y Moelwyn". mylocalschool.wales.gov.uk. Retrieved
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-22. Retrieved
^ icnetwork.co.uk Archived 2006-08-18 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Antur Stiniog website accessdate: 13 November 2013
^ "Linkliste Railbike". 9 January 2008. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
lists 14 vélo-rail in
France totalling 146km.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-07-18. Retrieved
2015-06-07. Patagonian dignitaries to visit for twinning.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Photos of Blaenau
Ffestiniog and surrounding area
Towns and villages
Cwm y Glo
Tal-y-bont (near Bangor)
Tal-y-bont (near Barmouth)
Castles and forts
Castell y Bere
St Tudwals Islands
Grade I listed buildings
Grade II* listed buildings