Living Conditions and a Woman's Place

Although many women went out to work before they were married — usually into service, as maids — after marriage very few women worked outside the home. Most agreed that the woman's place was in the home, caring for the children and making sure there would be food on the table and peace on the hearth when her husband came home from work. Most of the quarryman's wages went straight to his wife for household expenses. Living on low wages called for thrift and careful planning, and the family's food was very plain. As Alwyn Owen remembers about the money, 'We saw it, we took it home — and that was it.'

The furniture, decoration and general standard of living in the quarrymen's houses were very similar to each other. There was little money left over to buy ornaments or extra trimmings.

'Make sure you have a cupboardful of food, a coalhouse full of coal, a clean house and no grandness.You can't eat grandness.'
[A quarryman father's advice to his daughter on her wedding day.]

Although many of the families in the villages around Llanberis kept smallholdings and fattened a pig or a calf, the whole area depended for its livelihood on the slate industry. Gwilym Davies remembers, 'There was nothing but the quarry. No factory or anything. The quarry: or the parish.' The quarryman's life was hard and physically demanding, and the wife's domestic skills enabled her husband to work longer hours and earn a little more money. Her life was also physically demanding, at a time when a family of six or seven children was the norm, and there were no domestic appliances like washing machines and vacuum cleaners. A quarryman's house was his home: for his wife, it was also her workplace.