Historic Landscape Characterisation - Vale of Ffestiniog

Historical Themes


The area lies within the former medieval commote of Ardudwy Uwch Artro, and contains little in the way of known prehistoric archaeology (see below) or medieval settlement. The present day agricultural landscape has therefore evolved in a very different way from parts of Gwynedd (where previous characterisation exercises have been undertaken). Much of the area is unsuitable for agriculture (being in large part land recently-reclaimed from the sea, or steppe, heavily wooded slopes, industrial landscape or wild mountain tops), and agricultural land is restricted to the valley bottom, some of the hill slopes and an extent on the edge of the area around Llan Ffestiniog. The image shows Blaenau Ffestiniog from Llan Ffestiniog.

There are slight signs of pre-modern field patterns in Cwm Bowydd, below Blaenau Ffestiniog, and at the bottom end of Cwm Teigl (where there are recorded hut group settlements, and there are a number of sub-medieval houses in the area (such as Gelli, Dduallt, Dol y Moch, and Bryn Mawr), but on the whole the field patterns show the signs of having been created by small estates in the post-medieval period, when second rank landowners like the Oakeley family and local squireens like Tan y Manod and Dduallt, as well as the johnny-come-latelies of Madocks and the Williams-Ellis family, owned most of the land in the area.

The influence of powerful landowning families remains very evident in the landscape. The only established noble family to own much land within the study area were the Wynnes of Bodfean and of Glynllifon, ennobled as the Lords Newborough from 1787, when their influence in the county was waning. Gentry estates whose centres lay outside the study area included most notably Wynne of Peniarth, while lesser, but resident, gentry included the Annwyl family of Parc, the Williams family of Brondanw, Madocks of Tremadoc, the Oakeley family of Plas Tan y Bwlch, Maentwrog, as well as the industrialists and professional men who set themselves up as landowners and developers in the nineteenth century, notably Samuel Holland and David Williams of Castell Deudraeth.

Industrialists like Sam Holland and the Turners/Cassons did not try to set themselves up as landed gents within the area (Holland set himself up at Caerdeon near Barmouth, Turners established themselves near Caernarfon, Cassons went to London), whereas landowners like Oakeley, Newborough and Wynne of Peniarth rented out their quarries for the most part, unlike Penrhyn and Dinorwic.

On the whole the scattered farms are large, stone-built concentrations of buildings, mostly dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The houses are generally impressive buildings, and while earlier associated buildings (barns and cowsheds) are also stone-built, there is also considerable use of corrugated iron (often painted grey). There are several big former-Oakeley model farms near Maentwrog, on the banks of the Dwyryd, one of which (Plas Tan y Bwlch home farm) has a huge octagonal horse-whim shed.

The photograph of area 2 contains a typical example of the 'upland' farms. Most field boundaries are stone walls (usually made of small, flat slabs laid horizontally, often with slate wire-carriers on their tops), and the fields are large and irregular in shape. There are also numerous examples of well-built stone field barns strategically placed in the outer fields (for example at Cae Glas, near Croesor, which is listed).

There are none of the dual-economy landscapes evident in Caernarfonshire, despite extensive industrialisation around Blaenau Ffestiniog: although arguably the early settlement of Penrhyndeudraeth is comparable (a mixture of boating, fishing and farming), there are no apparent signs of this in the modern landscape. Also, partly as a result of this, there are few abandoned and derelict farms: most appear to be relatively large and prosperous.

One of the largest expanses of farmed land is the whole of the Morfa between Porthmadog and Garreg (see also below). Here, layout of fields is dictated by the need for drainage, and as well as ditches, earth banks and some stone walls exist.

One of the most important aspects of the local economy in the early post-medieval period was to do with the growing and felling of timber, and this aspect is covered in a separate section.

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Although Ffestiniog is traditionally associated with the quarrying of slate, and grew to be one of the most productive slate areas of the world, quarrying came comparatively late to the parish, probably from about 1760 onwards. In the eighteenth century the felling of timber formed a more important part of the local economy, and though documentary sources typically have far more to do with the sale and transport of timber than with the management of the woodlands themselves, enough evidence has survived to give some indication of the scope of the trade and the sources exploited.

Timber – hardwoods, especially oak – was being exported from the heavily-wooded slopes not only of Ffestiniog and Maentwrog but also of the neighbouring parishes of Llanfrothen and Llandecwyn. Though the trade may have begun earlier, the first record dates from 1739, and concerns the Pengwern estate, when it was specified that timber to the value of £400 was to be felled. There is a specific reference to timber-felling at Coed Cymerau in the Journeys of Sir Richard Colt Hoare in 1801, when he describes making his way from Tan y Bwlch to Cwmorthin through Cymerau (nearer to Ffestiniog):

I continued my rough and Alpine track through some oak groves, in some of which the axe has lately been introduced; £900 of timber was cut last year and a considerable fall has been made in the present. It is a lamentable sight for a lover of picturesque scenery; in a few years little wood will be left in Merionethshire. During the few years [since 1797, when he first visited the area] I have been frequenting this county the havock has been great; several of my favourite groves which I have so often admired have already fallen, and I hear of more where speedy doom is impending. But the evil does not only arise from felling the wood but from not properly fencing them out when cut by which the young shoots and prospects of a future copse are totally annihilated. The woodland track, intermixed with small pastures, distant mountains etc. affords many pleasing points of view.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the Vale of Ffestiniog had suffered much deforestation. Already by 1763 it was reported of Merioneth that ‘this county has been much drained of her timber’, and in 1788 it was reported that the stocks of oak in Caernarvonshire, Denbighshire, Merioneth and Flintshire had decreased by two-thirds. An indication of the scale of the trade is the advertisements carried by local newspapers, which record sales of timber worth up to £900 a time. By the nineteenth century as many as 6,400 trees a year were offered for sale. Further pointers to the importance of the timber trade are the individuals who were clearly acting as timber merchants. Sometimes they are acknowledged as such; Owen David of Maentwrog is identified as a timber merchant in 1785, and another had been married at Llanfrothen in 1749. Others carried on other trades. In 1749 the Ffestiniog blacksmith, for instance, bought £500 worth of timber at Llandecwyn, far more than he would need for his own use, and far more than he could have sold locally, even if he had had the means to transport it up the valley.

With the revival of shipbuilding in the northern part of Cardigan Bay in the late eighteenth century, local timber came to be needed in ever-greater quantities. This remained the case until the 1820s, when Porthmadog shipwrights began to use Mawddach timber instead, and later still supplies of Baltic and Canadian pine became available. Local mines and quarries were still small affairs, but burnt some timber in the smithies and some used timber as props. Some timber was probably burnt as firewood. Bark also formed an export, some doubtless going to local tanneries, but there was also considerable trade with tanneries in Ireland.

By 1807 the Merioneth Quarter Sessions records confirm that local landowners were encouraging new plantations, and sales of timber are recorded in the North Wales Gazette over the following years. By 1816 a quay specifically dedicated to the export of timber is recorded at Cemlyn on the Dwyryd tidal estuary, a little way below Coed Cymerau.

Little has survived in the way of estate documents or maps for Cymerau Isaf (one of the most important blocks of woodland in the valley) although one of these, dated 1802, shows plans for a proposed road from Lord Newborough’s quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog. It uses what was already an archaic convention, in which buildings and other features are shown as if in bird’s eye view rather than in plan, and shows a small farm-house at Cymerau Isaf, but provides no information on the woodlands other than showing a wooded area immediately adjacent. A map of 1813 shows the cottage to the south of Cymerau Isaf, r’Allt, without identifying it as such, but gives no details of Cymerau Isaf itself. The third, an ‘ocular survey’ of 1827 for what may be either a road or a railway, is equally uninformative.

Dr Michael Lewis has recently raised an intriguing possibility as a result of his researches into the history of the Ffestiniog area. At the foot of the hill on which Cymerau is situated is Rhyd y Sarn, now a private house. It is first attested on a Newborough estate map of 1802, which identifies it as ‘The Great Factory’, a designation which suggests a woollen mill. Certainly, by 1841, it did function as such, but the importance that the Newborough estate seems to have attached to building a road to Rhyd y Sarn (rather than to navigable water), implicit in the 1802 map, strongly suggests that it was connected with the slate trade, probably as a mill for sawing slabs. This would make it the oldest mechanical slate saw-mill in Wales, and hence the world, making use of the falls of the Afon Teigl, and perhaps the Goedol as well, to drive a water-wheel.

Dr Lewis suggests that the mill may have had an earlier history as a timber mill. Richard Morris, who owned the land on which the mill was built, witnessed the marriage of William Solomon, a partner in Diffwys slate quarry in the upper part of the parish, in 1779. Whilst Morris was overseer of the poor at the time, it is more likely that there was a business connection between the two men, and the possibility is that the mill was already in existence sawing slate slabs from Diffwys quarry. This possibility receives some slight confirmation from the existence of sawn gravestones in the area from 1775, though these could have been cut with a hand-operated saw. However, the thirty-five stones recorded could not have kept the mill in business, and the mill may have had a dual purpose, sawing timber with a vertical saw, and sawing slate with a reciprocating saw.

In 1761 one John Williams is found selling timber to a copper mine on the Migneint moors, and a John Williams is found selling deal for rebuilding a house locally in 1798, possibly another of the local timber merchants.

G J Williams’s Hanes Plwyf Ffestiniog includes amongst sons of the parish one John Williams y Factory who bought the Plas Tan y Bwlch library when it was sold. There is no record of the sale of the library (which itself makes it likely that it took place earlier rather than later), but it is likely to have been between 1770, when the last Griffith died, and 1789, when the daughter of the house married William Oakeley. ‘Factory’, or Welsh ffatri, tends to mean a woollen mill, but there was no woollen mill in the area until the 1870s. It is therefore possible that John Williams was connected with Rhyd y Sarn in the 1770s or 1780s, and that it was already functioning as a timber mill. This would make it very early indeed for a mechanical, water-driven mill – it would be the first in Wales. But Rhyd y Sarn was in all probability the earliest slate-slab mill in Wales, and there is no inherent objection, in terms of available technology, to it having also been a pioneer of timber-sawing.

As against this theory, the Ffestiniog historian Steffan ab Owain believes that the John Williams referred to by G J Williams is a later individual, and that the ‘Factory’ by which he is identified was the fulling mill in Tan y Grisiau, elsewhere in the parish of Ffestiniog, which he built in the 1840s.


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Non-nucleated settlements

In the medieval period, the area lay within the commote of Ardudwy Uwch Artro and comprised parts of the parishes of Llanfrothen, Penrhyndeudraeth, Llandecwyn, Maentwrog and Ffestiniog. According to the Merioneth Lay Subsidy Roll (1292-93) the parish of Penrhyndeudraeth was by far the most affluent of these (and indeed was, along with Llanegryn, the richest parish in the then-new Merioneth), followed by Llanfrothen (rated at less than half the value of Penrhyndeudraeth at 30-40 shillings per 1000 acres), Maentwrog (20-30 shillings), Llandecwyn (10-20 shillings) and then Ffestiniog which was the poorest parish in the whole of Merioneth (at less than 10 shillings). When one sees the different landscapes in these areas, this comes as no surprise. There are no population figures in the Roll for this area. There is no surviving evidence, beyond modern place-names, of the precise location and extent of these settlements.

A feature of the landscape of the study area, however, is the survival of substantial sub-medieval dwellings, formerly the centres of small estates, within comparatively isolated locations largely untouched by industrialisation. These include Dduallt (SH 6731 4182), the house associated with the small Dduallt estate, Dol y Moch (SH 6840 4191), between Maentwrog and Rhyd y Sarn, Parc (SH 6266 4397), the home of the Annwyl family, Pengwern Old Hall (SH 6991 4302) and Plas Bondanw. The prominent dwelling Plas Penrhyn (SH 5905 3790) was home for a while to Samuel Holland, where he as visited by his cousin Elizabeth Gaskell, and was later the last home of Bertrand Russell. Amongst his visitors there were Shastri (Nehru’s successor) and A J Ayer. Plas Tan y Bwlch (SH 6555 4064), although no part of the present dwelling is earlier than the eighteenth century, also stands in a line of descent from the earlier demesne, possibly on or near the site of the present Oakeley Arms Hotel (SH 6604 4095). The present house is a rebuild in the early nineteenth century by William Oakeley of a house left incomplete by Robert Griffith at the time of his death in 1750.

There is also considerable place-name and archaeological evidence for pre-Industrial dispersed settlement within the upland parts of the area. The prevalence of hafod place-names, especially in the area between Maentwrog and Croesor, suggests that the farms which bear them were originally the upland stock-stations of lowland settlements, and several classic 'long huts' have been found even as high up as around the Blaen y Cwm dam and by Llyn Stwlan.

Over much of the study area, the settlement pattern is one of dispersed farmsteads (see above). These are for the most part substantial, stone-built 19th century buildings in continued use by farming families: there are very few cottages or non-farm dweelings outside of the nucleated settlements. In some areas, particularly on the reclaimed Glaslyn estuary, 20th buildings have replaced the original farmhouses and extensive use has been made of modern farm structures, leaving only dilapidated nineteenth century byres and barns. There are several good examples of such farms in the lower part of Cwm Teigl (area 2).

Nucleated settlements

As has already been mentioned, the 'settlements' (however they were defined and whatever they looked like) of the medieval period known from documentation were Llanfrothen, Penrhyndeudraeth and Maentwrog. Not surprisingly, for such a remote area, these would all have been accessible from the sea in the medieval period and still exist as nucleated settlements, of very different sizes and characters, today.

Llanfrothen is one of a number of very small nucleations in the area. Llanfrothen and Penmorfa churches (SH 6223 4117 and SH 5412 4028) are similarly situated on what would have been the edge of the estuary of the Afon Glaslyn, before the Traeth was reclaimed. Llanfrothen has no buildings of particular note. Garreg (SH 6137 4172) may also owe its origin to its position as a landing-point before the building of the cob. It contains a more interesting range of buildings, many of which are listed (see area 19). It is possible that the tiny village of Prenteg (SH 5857 4145) may also be connected with a pre-modern transport route, as it not only lies on the edge of the pre-1813 estuary but at the foot of a road that leads to Clennenau, Bryncir and Garn Dolbenmaen.

Penrhyndeudraeth (area 32), described in 1862 as ‘a dismal village of a few houses scattered among heaps of muck and cockleshells’ owes its origins to the fishing population which also came to be involved in the pre-railway slate-boating business. There was clearly an established community here in the early nineteenth century, and the nickname it acquired in this period, ‘Cockletown’, is still current. The solicitor David Williams (Dewi Heli, 1799-1869, Liberal MP for Merionethshire) acquired the site of the village in 1841 and began seriously to drain the marshes, and to build roads and houses, in 1855. The introduction of passenger services on the railway in 1865 turned it increasingly into a Ffestiniog dormitory village.

Maentwrog's origin is proably due to the fact that it lies at the highest navigable point on the Dwyryd, and the point where the river is crossed by a several routes, including probably the Roman road which comes down from Tomen y Mur at the place known as Felinrhyd (see reference in are 8).. For this reason, from the early-eighteenth century if not earlier, the immediate area became the entrepôt for the valley, with the export of timber, attested from 1739, but particularly after the development of the slate industry from the 1760s onwards. The village itself is visible from the Oakeley family’s Plas Tan y Bwlch home and was developed by them in the nineteenth century on the back of profits from the slate industry. The church (SH 6641 4055) and the vicarage (SH 6647 4067) date from around 1800, and the village itself seems to have been constructed in its present form in the early and mid-nineteenth century. As with Plas Tan y Bwlch itself and its immediate environs, it is emphatically an exercise in creating a visually attractive settlement that reflected well on its owners, and its buildings preserve many decorative features and details. Its several chapels are all built in locations which makes them invisible from the Plas.

Tremadoc is an outstanding example of a planned urban community, created by William Alexander Madocks on land recovered from the Traeth Mawr by the first embankment, of 1800. As new build of the early nineteenth century, it established a pattern of regency-style architecture within the area that lasted well into the late nineteenth century. Amongst its claims to fame are the first classical façade Welsh chapel, based on Inigo Jones’s design for the Convent Garden chapel in London, and the first Gothic revival church in Wales. The chapel remains in use, but the church is currently undergoing conversion to an arts centre. The buildings which form part of Madocks’s original scheme survive, though in a number of cases the stonework has been obscured by pebble-dashing, and a late twentieth-century garage has been tacked on to the street front of the buildings on Dublin Road at SH 5611 4017. Madocks’s own home, Tan yr Allt, later home to Shelley and to several generations of local quarry-owners, is a regency adaptation of an existing building, and recently functioned as the Steiner-Waldorf school. An active local regeneration group, Cyfeillion Cadw Tremadoc, has been instrumental in preserving the village’s architectural character.

There are two nucleated urban settlements within the study area, Blaenau Ffestiniog (SH 6980 4592) and Porthmadog (Portmadog) (SH 5686 3869). Both are entirely creations of the nineteenth century, the one quarrying, the other shipping, slate. Porthmadog is built largely on land reclaimed by Madocks’s cob of 1808-1813.

Blaenau Ffestiniog (area 1) was at one time the largest town in the former county of Merioneth, reaching a population of 11,435 in 1901. It is a horseshoe- shaped settlement built on a natural shelf near the break of slope at the head of the valley – the blaenau of the parish of Ffestiniog. The settlement itself extends from Tan y Gisiau on the west, through Glan y Pwll and Rhiwbryfdir, to the centre of the town and thereafter through Manod and Congl y Wal.

There is no evidence of pre-industrial settlement within the area of the present town, though the substantial farmhouses of Gelli and Cwm Bowydd survive just to the south of the town. Settlement for the quarrymen and their families is evident from the 1820s, but it was not until the expansion in the boom years of the 1860s that these began to coalesce into a recognisable town, and even now the different parts of Blaenau retain special loyalties and identities. Development seems to have been carried out by the quarry tenants, many of whom became established local figures, with the encouragement of the landowners. The process was assisted by the establishment of building societies and, in the 1870s, the influx of professional house-builders, who conferred on Blaenau its distinctive and substantial three- or four-storey houses. Though there are a number of more traditional vernacular dwellings such as are common in the slate-quarrying areas of Arfon, in Blaenau these are comparatively few – some are to be found at SH 6976 4627 and others at Tan y Grisiau may represent the earlier houses put up under lease from Samuel Holland. In 1825 the manager of Lord Quarry on Glynllifon land built an uncertain number of cottages ornées, consisting a four dwellings around a central chimney, such as were to be found elsewhere on the estate. One of these survives at SH 7027 4605.

The period 1820 to the mid-1860s is dominated by ribbon developments, either individual dwellings or short rows. This pattern survives very clearly at Tan y Grisiau, where Holland’s earlier houses were built alongside the railway, opened in 1836, so that goods could be unloaded for the residents from the slow-moving horse-trains. When locomotives were introduced in 1863, trains would only stop in the station, with the result that the area round the goods-yard (SH 6840 4495) and the road became the focus of building. Longer rows of terraces are evident in the ribbon development of Rhiwbryfdir and Llwyn y Gell and Manod to Congl y Wal.

Thereafter development is generally grid-pattern, especially marked on Glynllifon land but evident elsewhere, until the creation of social housing in the 1960s. In the 1860s Glynllifon began leasing out parcels of land in central Blaenau for building, and over the following years a grid-pattern of streets emerged. Professional builders moved in, building substantial houses, often on slopes, which facilitated the construction of cellars, in which less well-off families could be crammed. The estate initiated a similar development between Church Street and the Ffestiniog Railway in 1874, which was from the start designed by engineers and architects with a comprehensive drainage system in mind, and two years later the estate began to lay out a more middle-class development south of the church and the market hall.

Barracks within the quarries appear from the mid-nineteenth century onwards nevertheless were no different from the vernacular or ‘industrial vernacular’ dwellings which formed the growing town lower down, and in many cases, by no means all, clearly housed complete families in separate units. At Maenofferen, dwellings were put up to house specialist miners from Anglesey driving the levels in the new workings. Places such as these, even if they were initially built on open hill-slopes, were soon surrounded by heaps of slate rubble and the omnipresent quarry railways.

Much of the social infrastructure of the nineteenth century survives. The British School at Dolgarregddu, dating from 1846, now the Masonic Hall (SH 7011 4595) is the oldest of the surviving purpose-built school buildings. However, a number of the town’s many substantial and ornate chapels have been demolished or converted, and the future of all but a handful of the remainder must be in doubt. A feature of the town, particularly of the middle-class development initiated by the Glynllifon estate south of the church and the market hall in 1878, is the way in which an Independent chapel and a Calvinistic Methodist chapel were built fronting onto the ornamental square and ‘Recreation Park’ in this development, just as Anglican churches did in earlier planned townscapes. Nonconformist propriety is also evidence in the ornamental ‘Cocoa Rooms’ on Church Street (now the British Legion – SH 6987 4597) erected in 1878-9, and in the absence of public houses in Tan y Grisiau, owing to Samuel Holland’s teetotal principles.

The Oakeley hospital at Llwyn y Gell (SH 6964 4636), opened in 1848 is an excellent example of an industrial hospital of the mid-nineteenth century, probably based on the hospital erected by Colonel Pennant for the Penrhyn quarrymen between 1841 and 1843. It now a private dwelling.

The substantial Market Hall of 1864 (SH 6979 4594), which includes reading rooms and an Assembly room, is currently undergoing a renaissance as a community centre. Department stores and specialist shops, any of which began to make their appearance in the 1860s, for the most part survive, but a considerable number closed in the 1990s.

The town of Porthmadog (area 10) came into being as a consequence of the draining of the Traeth Mawr by William Alexander Madocks and the unintended creation of a harbour by the newly-channeled Afon Glaslyn where it passed through the sluice gates. The first public wharves were built in 1825, and thereafter a series of wharves was built by individual quarry companies along the shore almost as gar as Borth y Gest. The opening of the Festiniog Railway from the quarries to the sea in 1836 largely brought about the end of the previous system of carting down to the quays along the Dwyryd whence the slates were boated to Ynys Cyngar for transfer to sea-going vessels.

Though the earliest trackway across the newly-reclaimed land wound its way to the east of the present High Street, by 1841 at least this had been straightened out, and the mineral railway to Tremadoc, along which Madock Street was later to be built, was also in existence. These two transport axes bequeathed the town its distinctive diamond pattern street plan. Dwellings are evident on maps from as early as the 1830s, and developed over the next decades in part due to the management of the Tremadoc estate by the solicitor David Williams. A considerable number of structures survive from Porthmadog’s days as a port. The development of harbour facilities is reflected in a surviving sail-loft, and in a surviving fragment of the Glaslyn foundry incorporated into Tesco’s supermarket. The Glaslyn foundry buildings were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Inland Revenue office. Griffith Williams’s school of navigation survives amongst the substantial warehouses at Grisiau Mawr, situated in the loft of Cornhill Pencei, above Casson’s bank. Visible evidence of the area’s cultural contacts with the wider world is to be found in the names of Porthmadog pubs such as the Australia and The Ship on Launch (where the launchings of new ships were posted).

Unusually for a port town, Porthmadog has never had much in the way of housing for dock-workers, nor did it ever acquire the underworld of brothels and seedy taverns which were to be found in sea-ports worldwide. In part, this is because of the fact that Porthmadog vessels were crewed and captained by local men, and they had much of the share of the trade. Architecturally it is dominated by substantial nineteenth-century dwellings erected for the local middle classes – not only the captains but also the shipping agents, administrators, lawyers, quarry officials. These preserve many distinctive features. The overall conception is regency, even when the buildings are much later in date, and a very common feature is the pattern of ornamental drip mouldings. Since the end of the slate trade, Porthmadog has become an attractive option for the comparatively wealthy yachting fraternity, apparent in the construction of the unattractive maisonettes on the quays in the 1960s.

A distinctive and unusual (unique?) settlement is the village of Portmeirion (area 7), which perpetuates the tradition of whimsy inaugurated by Madocks, and to some extent sustained by David Williams. Portmeirion is situated on Bron Eryri, part of Williams’s purchase in 1843, and in the 1850s he converted the house into a castellated mansion which he renamed Castell Deudraeth. A map of 1836 shows a foundry and a quay on the site of the present hotel.

The village of Portmeirion and its associated gardens were established in the 1920s by the architect Clough Williams Ellis. Often described as ‘Italianate’, Williams-Ellis’s own description of it as ‘a home for fallen buildings’ is perhaps more apposite, a heterogenous collection of buildings removed from various locations all over Europe and re-erected. There are in addition a number of pre-Clough Williams-Ellis buildings which have been ‘cloughed-up’. The formal village garden is based around the Piazza, and is largely a creation of the period post-1925, though some trees may survive from earlier.

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Building types and materials

Although most of the housing stock reflects the growth of the slate industry between 1800 and 1900, there is neverthe less a considerable amount of pre-Industrial building stock in the area.

The area contains some significant sub-medieval houses. For example, Cae Glas, near Croesor, was originally a stone-built 16th century storeyed end chimney house, originally with cross-passage plan and with survivals of the late medieval open hall tradition, prototypical of the developed Snowdonia end chimney type. It has later service wing to the rear. Wern is a 16th century gentry house. Hafodty, on the Brondanw estate, is of rubble construction with massive quoins and a pronounced boulder plinth. It has earlier 17th century origins, possibly of a longhouse type, with later re-modellings. Parc, ancient seat of the Anwyls, is discussed in detail elsewhere (area 22), but is an almost-unique (except for the 17th century farmhouse of Plas Newydd, near Penrhyndeudraeth - also built for the Anwyls) unit-planned complex of which the main house is externally dated to 1671. Plas Brondanw (area 6) is a fine 17th century gentry house, restored and partly redesigned by Clogh Williams-Ellis in the 1950s. Other stone-built17th century farmhouses include Ty Obry and Old Ynysfor.

There are also several small, late 18th century cottages, either single or in small terraces, situated at the edges of some settlements such as Garreg and on the Plas Brondanw estate.

Other listed buildings include several bridges, mostly 19th century, a late 18th limekiln near the Afon Maesgwm, an 18th century fulling mill at Moelwyn, and other agricultural buildings such as the former stable ranges at Plas Newydd and Wern, a cart shed at Ty Mawr, and the agrictultural ranges at Ty Obry and Old Ynysfor. Particularly, the area contains many stone-built barns, some of which are listed. There are two near near Cae Glas, one of which is 17th century and incorporates or re-uses two pairs of full crucks (possibly from a pre-decessor to Cae Glas), and another at Parc.

The types of industrial housing vary considerably. Blaenau Ffestiniog’s housing stock is not particularly homogenous but much more industrial, for all their use of local stone, than the rural vernacular dwellings which characterise Caernarvonshire slate-quarrying areas. Unlike other slate-quarrying areas, such as around Cilgwyn/Nantlle, there is no evidence for mixed economy settlement: here, the industrial housing emerges as terraced housing. Though the professional house-builders who moved in in the 1860s and ‘70s are said to have been Cardiganshire men, there is no obvious Cardiganshire influence. A distinctive feature is the pattern of double-fronted house with three pointed dormers, a design which can be seen elsewhere within the study area along the Ffestiniog Railway corridor.

In general, Porthmadog’s attractive terraces and its tai capteiniaid (‘sea-captains’ houses’) are constructed in a fairly standard Georgian nernacular style, typical of 19th century Welsh towns, even those constructed in the middle or late 19th century, suggesting that the builders were local men who took their cue from Madocks-era structures such as Ynys y Towyn and those in Tremadoc itself.

Despite the area’s comparative accessibility by the mid-nineteenth century, it is clear that considerable use continued to be made of local building materials. The grey Ordovician slate of Ffestiniog is practically universal as a roofing material, and has been extensively used for sills, steps and architectural detailing, as well, in some cases, as weather protection by being attached to battens on walls. There is some use of specially shaped roofing slates in more prestigious commercial buildings. The former toll house at the north-western end of the Cob (SH 5711 3848) is unusual in that it is not only slate-clad on the walls but is one of the very few buildings left which preserves the patented interlocking slate ridge-tiles devised the Moses Kellow, manager of Parc and Croesor Quarries. Slate-slab fences are not common, although there are some excellent examples around Croesor..

Whilst there is some variety in the stones for walling, it is clear that much of this was sourced locally. Many of the older buildings in and around Porthmadog make use of the Lingula flag quarried at Porthmadog harbour and at Tu hwnt i’r Bwlch. The same material is used at in the larger and more prestigious dwellings – Castell Deudraeth (SH 5930 3771), and Plas Brondanw (SH 6164 4228) for example. The Regency-inspired Cwmorthin Quarry reading room at Tan y Grisiau (SH 6848 4502) may also be built of this material. Plas Tan y Blwch and buildings on the estate, including the village of Maentwrog, the Oakeley Arms Hotel and the larger farm-houses, are constructed of a similar stone quarried at Gelli Grin. This could produce very long blocks, such as can be seen in Maentwrog church and which form the uprights in some of the distinctive field-barns, especially around Ffestiniog.

The Minffordd quarry (area 31), though it now only produces crushed stone, was originally worked as a sett quarry, and it is quite possible that some of the squared granite blocks used in many of the nineteenth century came from here rather than from Penmaenmawr or Trefor. The quarry at Blaenau Ffestiniog latterly worked by the Groby Granite Company (SH 6948 4529) may also have supplied Blaenau Ffestiniog with building stone in the nineteenth century, though official sources suggest that it only worked from 1901 to the 1930s. Another quarry was at Moel Ystradau (SH 6827 4391), worked in the twentieth century by Brookes’ of Halifax.

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Parks and gardens

The study-area is particularly rich in gardens: – Tan yr Allt (area 4), Plas Tan y Bwlch (area 5), Plas Brondanw (area 6), Portmeirion (area 7), Wern (area 8) and Parc (area 22) all appear in the Cadw Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales Part 1: Parks and Gardens. Plas Brondanw is registered Grade I and three of the other five are Grade II*, indicating that gardens in the area are not only numerous but of exceptional quality.

The oldest of the six gardens is Parc, which is neglected but has massive terraces probably of the seventeenth century. Tan-yr-Allt and Tan-y-Bwlch are basically nineteenth century gardens, although Tan-yr-Allt was laid out by William Madocks right at the beginning of the century in the ‘Romantic’ style and Tan-y-Bwlch has more of the ‘Picturesque’ characters typical of the other end of the century, though elements date back to the eighteenth century. Wern is a garden of the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, incorporating elements designed by Thomas Manson, and Portmeirion and Plas Brondanw are both twentieth - century gardens designed by Clough Williams-Ellis. The former was laid out to provide a suitably romantic setting for the fantasy village, incorporating elements of the nineteenth – century garden of Aber-lâ (now the Portmeirion Hotel), and the latter was Williams-Ellis’s own garden, made to please himself. The six gardens thus cover a wide time spectrum as well as being of unusually high quality.


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The chief industry of the study area was the quarrying of slate, centered on Blaenau Ffestiniog (area 13), the third most productive slate-producing area in Wales (after Penrhyn and Dinorwic), though there were also significant quarries in Cwm Croesor (area 12) and smaller workings around Tremadoc and Portreuddyn. The fact that the Ordovician veins lie at an angle of approximately 30° to the horizontal has had a profound effect on the industrial landscape, obliging quarrymen and managers to exploit the rock in underground chambers, at least until the advent of substantial earthmoving equipment in the 1970s, which led to a reversion to open-air workings. This means that in terms of the quarries’ industrial archaeology, instead of the open terraced slopes of Penrhyn and Dinorwic, or the pits with the huge bastions for chain inclines which are evident in Nantlle, they can appear as piles of waste slate in which mill buildings nestle, and in which the open extraction areas are sometimes comparatively small.

From 1970 onwards the remaining quarries either closed down or adapted to new methods and to opencasting, with the single exception of Maenofferen (SH 714- 466- C), latterly owned by Greaves Welsh Slate of Llechwedd Quarry. This is now out of use, but preserves its network of tramways and inclines as well as a large mill with a water-wheel pit.

Other quarries survive as relict landscapes, though with little in the way of machinery. The massive Oakeley Quarry tip (see photograph) dominates the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, and with its inclines, drumhouses and zig-zag steps forms a potent visible reminder of the town’s origins in the slate industry.

A number of semi-independent slate mill sites also survive, including Ffatri Rhyd y Sarn (SH 6909 4230), which has at various times been a woolen mill, a timber saw-mill and one of the very earliest slate-slab mills.

There was some quarrying for stone – Penrhyndeudraeth, still in active production (area 31), and several others long closed, including the Groby granite quarry near Blaenau Ffestiniog (SH 6949 4526) and Moel Ystradau (SH 6819 4384). Typically these survive as a single level or a galleried face, with the stone or concrete bases of crushing plant.

There are a number of lead and copper mines within the study area. The Pen yr Allt or Catherine and Jane Consols copper mine (SH 633 411) above Penrhyndeudraeth survives as a varied mid-nineteenth century industrial landscape including wheel-pits and dwellings, and a rotative engine-house of 1859-1860, largely demolished in 1965. Less survives of Pant y Wrach (SH 617 402), operational in the 1820s, but quite possibly much earlier, as a riparian site until the completion of the cob in 1813. It is likely that the cluster of copper mines around Nanmor and Pont Aberglaslyn, though largely outside the present study area, were able to prosper until the early nineteenth century because of their easy access to estuarine craft. The extensive Bwlch y Plwm lead mine (area 33) is attested in Llwyd’s Parochialia of 1577, but may be much earlier. The area known as ‘Gwaith Romans’ above the mine area includes a smelting hearth and a large lump of metallic lead, discovered in 1850. At the lower end of the workings, on what would have been the shoreline until 1813, are traces of modern workings, which went on until 1921.

Ironstone was worked at Penysyflog at SH 5620 3960. This may never have developed beyond surface trenching, and no surface features are now visible. Zinc was worked at Moelwyn Mine into the twentieth century (SH 676- 437-).

The study area preserves a number of important textile sites. The woolen mill at Pant yr Ynn, near Blaenau Ffestiniog (SH 7088 4538), was originally built in 1845-6 by George and William Casson, William Turner and Hugh Jones in lease from the Tan y Manod estate as a slate mill for Diffwys quarry and was converted into a woollen mill in 1873. This was latterly worked in conjunction with pandy Moelwyn (SH 6905 4547), erected c. 1864 by John Williams of Garn Dolbenmaen, the only pandy in Gwynedd to preserve its fulling stocks. The article on Merioneth fulling mills in JMHRS 1984 lists Pandy Pengwern (SH 7050 4292), Pandy Bach (SH 6852 4020) and Pandy Gwylan (SH 6897 3882).

The largest single surviving textile mill, however, is Madocks’s woollen factory at Tremadoc (area 20). Its history has been very little researched, but it appears to contain some at least of the original structure of c. 1805-7.

Power generation is another important theme in the area, and there are several power stations including Dolwen (SH 6940 4387), Cwm Croesor (SH 6484 4594) and its syenite dam (SH 6543 4664), Llyn Stwlan (SH 6600 4442) and Llyn Ystradau power station (SH 6792 4441) (area 17) as well as Pant yr Afon (SH 6971 4687), and Maenofferen booster station (SH 7139 4660) and hydro-station (SH 7090 4691).

Finally, there is some evidence in the landscape for one other industry in the area, the building of the area’s wooden ships, which went on until the launch of the Gestiana in 1913. The Cadw-grant-aided Coastal project of 1986 identified the sites of shipwrighting yards and slipways at Borth y Gest (SH 566- 376-), Porthmadog (SH 5705 3838), Penrhyndeudraeth (SH 5954 3740) and Ty Gwyn y Gamlas (SH6000 3575). These small-scale enterprises have left little in the way of archaeological evidence and they constitute a fast-diminishing resource throughout the British Isles. A sail loft also survives at Porthmadog.


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Sea-defences and water-control systems

The flood plains below Maentwrog were embanked and drained between 1791 and 1795 (area 29), for which William Oakeley was awarded with a gold medal by the Society of Arts.

The Cob over the Traeth Mawr (lower end of area 3) is a substantial embankment built between 1808 and 1813, which altered the coastline of the north-eastern crook of Cardigan Bay considerably (see area 14). Not only does the Cob itself remain in use, carrying the Ffestiniog Railway as well as the main road and now also a cycle-path, but the quarries at each end survive, as do the barracks on the Merionethshire shore, Madocks’s offices at the Porthmadog end and the powder magazine at Ynys Cyngar (SH 5543 3660). The sluice-gates installed under the Britannia bridge at Porthmadog (SH 5707 3848) in 1838 were the work of Jesse Hartley, the great Liverpool dock engineer.

The lower Cob, recently widened, when work on the railway made it impossible for horse-drawn road vehicles to continue using the upper Cob.


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The construction of the Cob, though undertaken primarily as a means of enclosing the bay vested in Madocks by the enclosure act, also had important implications for the development of transport. The Cob itself became a roadway connecting Caernarvonshire and Merioneth, at least for those brave enough to try it, and figured in Madocks’s grand plans for a road from London to a packet port for Ireland at Porth Dinllaen, reflected in the names ‘Dublin Street’ and ‘London Road’ at Tremadoc. However, its effect was to bring into being a transport system, which, whilst intially or regional importance, was eventually to have a significant effect world-wide.

By creating a deep-water channel at the new mouth of the Glaslyn, the building of the Cob brought about the harbour of Porthmadog, which now survives as an excellent example of an industrial harbour from the western seabord of Britain (area 9). By displacing Ynys Cyngar as the place where sea-going ships were loaded with slate, and by providing a ready-made alignment across the Traeth Mawr, it made possible the construction between 1832 and 1836 of the Festiniog Railway, now active as a visitor attraction (area 3). The Festiniog in the period 1863 to 1872 not only demonstrated how the civil engineering of the unimproved horse tramway could be taken forward into the age of steam – and thereby provided a cheap and effective method of transport for the British empire, the USA and beyond – but also proved the practicality of articulated locomotives and rolling stock such as are now standard world-wide. Much of its Victorian infrastructure survived not only the period of closure from 1946 to 1955, but also the over-enthusiastic modernisation of the railway in the 1960s and 1970s by its present management.

The feeder quarry railways in some cases form impressive landscape features. The incline from the Ffestiniog Railway to Wrysgan Quarry (SH 6781 4549 to SH 6806 4496) and the inclines to the Blaenau quarries themselves (e.g. SH 6937 4672 to SH 6941 4644) are particularly noteworthy.

Other narrow gauge railways made their way to the port – a line to Tremadoc originally built in 1841 to carry ironstone was more than once rebuilt and ultimately extended to the far recesses of Cwm Pennant. The trace survives a horse-worked line built in the 1860s to connect the harbour with the slate quarries beyond Croesor. This includes the rake of inclines at Parc (area 22), where the upper drumhouse was converted into a banqueting house for Lady Aberconway by Clough Williams-Ellis (SH 6362 4411). The buttressed embankments and slab bridges along its course between here and its terminus at Blaen y Cwm illustrate the persistence of early railway civil engineering in the context of the 1860s. The various inclines connecting it to the quarries are also spectacular features, including the scheduled ‘Jacob’s ladder’ to Rhosydd Quarry (SH 6541 4610 to SH 6577 4635) (area 12).

The lower section of this line was adapted for locomotive operation in the 1920s, and may become the lower terminus of the revived Welsh Highland Railway. In landscape terms these are less significant than the Festiniog, though a recent proposal to develop the existing short length of heritage railway at Gelert’s Siding (SH 5710 3922) into a major museum complex may have significant implications.

At Porthmadog a nineteenth-century dock landscape survives largely intact; this includes the original public quays of 1824, and the extensive slate quays established from the 1830s to the 1860s (SH 569- 383-). It is in many respects typical of the slate-exporting havens of the nineteenth century – largely innocent of buildings and cranes, and making use of labour-intensive hand-loading methods. Maisonettes which won a Cic Trust Award were constructed on Holland’s wharf (SH 5709 3844) and on the opposite wharf (SH 5701 3828) in the 1960s, and at much the same time the unusual slate storage sheds on the Greaves wharf were demolished, all apart from one range which now forms the Porthmadog Maritime Museum (SH 5697 3845).

The smaller slate-exporting quays on the Dwyryd survive in varying states of preservation. The most impressive is Tyddyn Isa at SH 6292 3945, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, with its rows of steps to down to the mooring points and its pyramid-roofed powder magazines at each end.

Small quays or docking-places for the export of slate or for landing of consumer perishables are evident at a great many locations, such as at Ty Gwyn y Gamlas (SH 5992 3550), at Portmeirion (SH 5893 3696) and at Ynys Cyngar (SH 5543 3654), as well as at several locations on the tidal Traeth Bach.

The study area also, unusually for North-west Wales, contains two canals; one is the very short Cemlyn canal which connects the Dwyryd to the former Diffwys quarry quay at Maentwrog (area 29), the other the ‘cyt’ from Porthmadog to Tremadoc (area 14). This is believed to have functioned as a transport artery, and even to have dispatched a steam-boat to New York sometime in the 1830s. There is certainly a building which may have been a warehouse on the site of its Tremadoc basin (now filled in), and it passed the ironstone mine at Pen Syflog. However, it is more likely that it was intended as a drain, even if it occasionally carried vessels.

Locations traditionally considered to be the sites of smaller quays and landing places are evident at locations now well inland, such as at the Brondanw Arms, Garreg (area 19).


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