: National Slate Museum

A new generation learns about Fron Haul

21 June 2020

Gwelodd Eryri oes aur y llechi.
Trawsnewid y werin o gaib i gŷn.
Yn nyffryn ‘Stradau, rhesi o feini,
Ymlusga’r rhimyn â‘r graig gyferbyn.
Enfawr fu’r chwyldro, ergyd fu’r chwalfa,
Dirywiad diwydiant, mwy na’i dyfiant.
Tawelwch. Y baracs fu’n segura.
Difrod gan ddwylo diarth, llechfeddiant.
Cyflawni lladrad absen fel llwynog,
Sleifio’n llechwraidd a dwyn o’r Gorlan.
A glaw fu’n llifo o’r llechwedd creigiog,
Trueni mai hyn fu tranc y drigfan.
Rhaid gwarchod ein treftadaeth, mae’n drysor,
Neu diflannu wna, fel llong heb angor.

Daw cyfnod du i darfu – gwêl golau.
Geiriau gobeithiol gŵr gwydn; Elfyn.
Parhau i drigo’r tai mae eneidiau.
Drws llonydd ddaw a cartref i’w derfyn.
Datgymalwyd hwy, cymerwyd sawl dydd
A’u gweddnewid nes nad oedd hoel o draul.
Er yr ail-gartrefwyd yr aelwydydd,
Disgleiriau edefyn ar dîr Fron Haul.
Wrth feddwl am y teuluoedd hynny,
Mae cysylltiad wrth gyffwrdd y meini.
A nghefn at y drws, edrychaf fyny
Ar olygfa gyfarwydd o lechi.
Er fod pellter i gyrraedd Llyn Padarn,
Mi wn y saif y pedwar yn gadarn.


When I was in primary school, I remember going on a trip to the National Slate Museum. I remember a guide taking us around the site and visiting a row of old quarrymen’s houses. Mam or Nain had mentioned before that Taid’s old house had been moved to a museum – I had assumed that it must have been moved to St Fagans. It is only this year that I learnt that I had already been to Taid’s house, on that trip to the Slate Museum.

Gwenlli from BROcast Ffestiniog, a new community venture, contacted me to mention that the Slate Museum was holding an online event, ‘Fron Haul 21’, to celebrate 21 years since moving the houses. I was very keen to be part of the celebration, but struggling to think what I could offer in the middle of a pandemic as my normal field of work is theatre!

During a phonecall in June with Lowri, the events officer at the Slate Museum, we reached a decision that I would write a poem. Lowri had a copy of a poem written by Reverend T. R. Jones about Abel Lloyd (formerly of 1 Fron Haul) in 1998, when the relocation project had started. Writing a poem was a challenge for me as I did not know the people who had lived there like the Reverend did, but I had a real interest in learning more about the development of Tanygrisiau as a quarrying village.

Soon after we had a zoom meeting with museum staff – Lowri, Cadi and Julie. Lleucu, who had been commissioned to create a drawing of Fron Haul, also joined. During this conversation, I learned from Cadi that Taid had lived at no 3 Fron Haul from 1927 to 1933! Nobody lived in the houses for long at that time because usually, the residents were newlywed couples who had not yet started raising children.

I also learnt about another poet local to Tanygrisiau, Elfyn. I have referred to a line he wrote whilst ill and confined to his home, “Hyderaf y caf fel cynt, weld yr haul wedi’r helynt”. For me, this line in the context of my poem means this: although the slate industry is unlikely to be as prosperous as it was for the last two centuries, I am confident of Wales’ potential to overcome obstacles and succeed as a small nation. Following the meeting, I received several documents over email that were full of information, such as research about Tanygrisiau when the houses were built, census lists, a blog about the conservation work on the houses, and transcriptions of interviews with former residents.

The sonnet measure is familiar to me, and the iambic pentameter which mimics the rhythm of a heartbeat is pleasant to hear out loud. Having finished one sonnet, I realised that it could not stand alone, and I felt that it should follow another sonnet due to its hopeful content. The feel of the first sonnet is darker than the second as I discuss the closure of the quarries and the consequent destruction of related buildings by the environment, and, unfortunately, by people.

In the 70s it was discovered that slates had been stolen from the roof of Capel Gorlan in Cwmorthin, close to Tanygrisiau. In 1997 the tourist centre at Gloddfa Ganol was closed when the quarry was sold. One part of the attraction at Gloddfa Ganol was a row of original cottages built for the quarrymen. 1-4 Tai Gloddfa is a sorry sight by today. At the start of this year, a local woman posted a picture on the internet page for Blaenau Ffestiniog’s community group. She had been walking in Cwmorthin an noticed a group of young children who were visiting the area standing near Tai’r Llyn. They were pushing the remains of the walls over.

I understand that it is not possible to protect everything, but education is incredibly important so that we understand and respect our history, and this means educating the children of Wales and beyond. Our industrial history is no less important than our castles and grand manor houses.

I am very proud to have been part of this celebration. Myself and the people of Ffestiniog are very thankful that the Fron Haul houses were saved from demolition. Here we have a successful attempt to protect and document an important chapter in Welsh history. Cadi the curator mentioned that over a million people have visited Fron Haul since 1999. I wish the museum well as they welcome the next million over the threshold.

Youth-led projects across the museum are part of the Hands on Heritage initiative, made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund's Kick the Dust Grant. Diolch yn fawr to The Fund and all our National Lottery Players - keeping our fingers crossed for you!


Stories in the Stones - a film project by Angela Roberts

Angela Roberts, 21 June 2020

As work to dismantle the houses begun – marketing officer Julie Williams realised that a film was needed to document the process and which could later be shown to visitors of the museum to tell their history and reveal the stories in the stones.

The company that undertook the film project was Llun Y Felin, run by Angela and Dyfan Roberts who lived nearby in Llanrug. Together they created the loveliest film entitled Stories in the Stones – a film which  - like the houses - has stood the test of time and is still shown daily at the museum – and now, for the first time, online! 

Here Angela Roberts looks back at some of her memories of the process of putting the film together.

What makes a home? Is it bricks and mortar, or is it people? When the National Slate Museum chose our small ‘husband and wife’ television company to record the moving of four slate quarrymen’s houses from Tanygrisiau to the museum – it was the stories of those who had lived in them that I was particularly excited to unearth from the rubble.

Unusually, the names and occupations of all families and lodgers had been carefully documented – going right the way back to the houses’ very first residents 150 years prior. Slate, of course, was their raison d’être. ‘The Slate Quarries of North Wales’, published in 1873, describes Blaenau and district as a ‘City of Slates’ with parapets, kerb stones, chimneys and roofs hewn out of slate, and larders, kitchen tables and mantlepieces fashioned out of slate. Letters by an unknown author of that time read:

I had gone to the Welsh Slate Company’s quarry and, in returning by the rubble heaps, I came across a smart looking boy pulling out slabs from amongst the waste. I entered into conversation with him.

“For what purpose are you gathering stones?”

“To make slates, sir.”

“Are they not too small to make slates?”

“Not to make small slates, sir!”

The boy knew what he was talking about. All slate was useful. Hadn’t he been working in the slate quarries since the age of six?! The writer continues:

“I reached the quarry at noon, and was allowed the privilege of steaming my clothes before the peat-fire in the weigh-taker’s hut. The men soon came filing in, each man taking a can from the fireplace. I entered a conversation and soon found that in politics they were eminently radical, in sympathies generally warm-hearted, and as impulsive as Celts in general.”

A little condescending? Perhaps. But radical, warm-hearted and impulsive – of course they were! And I was soon to find out that nothing much in that respect had changed down all those long years.

Trips with Julie and Dyfan to meet former residents of 1-4 Fron Haul and their relations were an out and out joy. And it was such a privilege to sit and listen to their stories over biscuits and home-made cake and endless cups of tea.

Aneurin Davies was in his nineties at the time, still running his own farm and still as mischievous as he must have been as a child. He couldn’t help chuckling telling us about the tricks he and his friends used to get up to – placing a halfpenny on the train track for a passing train to squash it to the size of a penny, and then straight off to the shop to try and exchange it for sweets (unsuccessfully as it turned out)!

Marian Jones was another who spoke lovingly of a special childhood - with memories of bikes, hulahoops and hay fields, of collecting tadpoles and binging on sweet stolen sugar peas.

Robin Lloyd Jones recalled visiting his grandfather in number 3 - the portrait of Italian revolutionary Garibaldi at the top of the stairs, the Bible and pipe on the table, the taking turns to bathe in front of the fire in an old tin bath.

While Doreen Davies thought back with a smile to her mam cooking up feasts in the cast iron range.  “How on earth she did it, but we always had plenty to eat… oh, she was especially good at making apple tart and cacan gri – you know, Welsh cake.”

Abel Lloyd had lived in Fron Haul the longest - for over 76 years, indeed, since his birth. He remembered sheets being pinned to the ceilings to make the home warmer and talked of collecting water from the downpipe and the well to make tea – as the water from the tap had a really bad taste. But, rather than the hard times, most of all he remembered the good times and the joy of living in a close community.

Like Marian and Aneurin and Robin and Doreen, he talked of carnivals and get-togethers and kindnesses and a village of Aunty this and Uncle that – even if neighbours weren’t actually related by blood at all. Like the others, he had a lifetime of stories to tell us about 1-4 Fron Haul.

And, as Robin himself so eloquently answered me,

“What makes a home? Not, in the end, the cushions, the wallpaper, the colour of the paint – but the stories of the people who lived there, the stories in the stones.

Film: Stories in the Stone

28 May 2020

Stories in the Stone Film - This special film was created for the official opening of the Fron Haul houses, and it has been on display in the houses ever since. This is the first chance to enjoy the film digitally, 21 years later.

Fy hoff grair: Cadi Iolen

Cadi Iolen, 24 May 2020

Our curator Cadi Iolen is responsible for the care and conservation of thousands of objects. Here she tells us more about her favourite object in the collection, the 1861 Tanygrisiau house.

Quarrymen’s Gardens Bloom to Reveal Family History

Julie Williams, 30 April 2020

The gardens of the Quarrymen’s Houses at the National Slate Museum are a popular part of the visitor experience - but the planting choices are not just there to look nice - they're there to add an extra layer of meaning to the stories of the quarrymen’s families and lives.

The gardens are mostly tended by a hardworking team from Gwynedd Council working from their base at Melin Glanrafon, Glynllifon. The team is part of Gwynedd Council’s adult, health, and wellbeing department, and offers training and experience for adults with learning difficulties. The team are contracted to look after the gardens all year round and to ensure that they are in tip top condition for visitors.

Cadi Iolen, Curator of the National Slate Museum explains more about the history and context for the gardens:

“The Quarrymen’s Houses were moved from Tanygrisiau to the National Slate Museum 21 years ago. Each house reflects a different period in the history of the slate industry – from 1861 in Tanygrisiau at the rise of the industry to a household in 1901 on strike during the Penrhyn Lockout of 1900 -1903 and a house in 1969 in Llanberis  - when Dinorwig quarry closed for the final time.

Initially we sought advice from the head gardener at our sister site,  St Fagans: National History Museum, who outlined what we should use for each house in order to further interpret the living conditions at the time. After that it was over to the gardeners to grow and prepare all that was need for the gardens.

Our 1861 house has a herbal garden including  fennel, mint, and st john’s wort. The 1901 house is more practically planted with a vegetable garden in the front as well as the back as the family would have needed to grow their own food at a time of particular hardship.  By 1969, the gardens become much more decorative with wallflowers, begonias and lots of colourful planting similar to the gardens that we grow ourselves today.  We also grow potatoes and rhubarb in the back of the Education House which our actors in residence refer to when on site and which are occasionally used in the cafe. ”