Blaenau Ffestiniog

Blaenau Ffestiniog is a historic mining town in Wales, in the historic county of Merionethshire, although now part of the unitary authority of Gwynedd. The population of the community of Ffestiniog was 4,875 according to the 2011 census, including the nearby village of Llan Ffestiniog, which makes it the fourth most populous community in Gwynedd, after Bangor, Caernarfon, and Llandeiniolen. Llan Ffestiniog's population of 864 puts the population of Blaenau itself at around 4,000. Blaenau Ffestiniog was at one time the second largest town in North Wales, behind only Wrexham.[citation needed] After reaching 12,000 at the peak development of the slate industry, the population fell with the decline in the demand for its slate. Today the town relies heavily on tourists, who come for attractions that include the nearby Ffestiniog Railway and Llechwedd Slate Caverns.

Blaenau Ffestiniog
Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, Cymru - Wales 04.JPG
Church, Blaenau Ffestiniog
Blaenau Ffestiniog is located in Gwynedd
Blaenau Ffestiniog
Blaenau Ffestiniog
Location within Gwynedd
Population4,000 (2011)
OS grid referenceSH705455
Principal area
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtLL41
Dialling code01766
PoliceNorth Wales
FireNorth Wales
UK Parliament
Welsh Assembly
List of places
52°59′38″N 3°56′20″W / 52.994°N 3.939°W / 52.994; -3.939Coordinates: 52°59′38″N 3°56′20″W / 52.994°N 3.939°W / 52.994; -3.939
Looking down towards Blaenau Ffestiniog town during the summer months.


Before 1750Edit

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.[1]

The slate industry (1750–1850)Edit

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.[1] In the 1760s men from the long established Cilgwyn quarry near 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.[2]

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.[3]

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.[1] 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 of Manod Mawr.

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.[1]

Becoming a town (1851–1900)Edit

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.[1] By 1881, the town's population had soared to 11,274.[4] 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.[5] Blaenau Ffestiniog hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1898.

The decline of slate (1901–1950)Edit

Although the slate industry partly recovered from the recession of the 1890s, it never fully recovered. The 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 saw a further loss of available workers. In 1946, the Ffestiniog Railway closed.[5]

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.[6]

1950 – presentEdit

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.[7] Maenofferen and Llechwedd continued to operate, but Maenofferen finally closed in 1998.[8] Llechwedd is still a working quarry, working the David Jones part of Maenofferen (level two-and-a-half).

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 are popular tourist attractions, as is the Antur Stiniog downhill mountain biking centre.[9] Recent attractions include the Zip World Titan zip-line site, which also now features the Bounce Below slate mine activity centre.


The English pronunciation of Blaenau Ffestiniog suggested by the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names is /ˈbln fɛsˈtɪnjɒɡ/,[10] but the first word is pronounced [ˈbləɨna] by locals.


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 the Snowdonia National Park, the boundaries of the Park exclude the town and its substantial slate waste heaps.

Blaenau 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.[citation needed]. Other local villages, notably Tanygrisiau and Manod, are sometimes considered part of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

The mountains around Blaenau Ffestiniog form the watershed between the River Lledr flowing to the north (a tributary of the River Conwy) and the River Dwyryd flowing to the west.

Blaenau Ffestiniog is known as the town with one of the highest rainfall in Wales. The town has several reservoirs, one of which supplies the 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 Ffestiniog and Dolwyddelan. It came third in Britain's best county school[clarification needed] in 2006 and had 309 pupils on roll in 2016.[11] Some pupils go to Ysgol y Gader, Dolgellau in south Meirionnydd; Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy, Llanrwst; Ysgol y Berwyn, Bala; and Ysgol Eifionydd, Porthmadog.[citation needed]

There are five primary schools in the area.

Welsh languageEdit

Blaenau Ffestiniog is a predominantly Welsh-speaking community. At the 2011 census, 78.6 per cent of residents over the age of three could speak Welsh, a small decrease from 80.9 per cent at the 2001 census.[12] The latest inspection reports of the town's two primary schools, Ysgol Maenofferen and Ysgol Y Manod, both from 2016, state that the percentage of pupils speaking Welsh at home in each school is 87 and 85 per cent respectively. At the town's secondary school, Ysgol y Moelwyn, 82 per cent of pupils came from such Welsh-speaking homes in 2014, making its Welsh-speaking intake the highest for secondary schools in the former county of Meirionnydd and the fourth highest for those in Gwynedd.


The main access route to Blaenau Ffestiniog is the A470 road running north to Llandudno and south to Dolgellau and beyond. The A496 runs south to the coastal resorts of Harlech and 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, giving access to Llangollen, Wrexham and Shrewsbury in the east and Bangor and Holyhead in the west.

Bus services in the town are mainly provided by Arriva Buses Wales and Llew Jones, with routes available to Porthmadog, Dolgellau and to Llandudno via Betws-y-Coed and Llanrwst. Town circular services via Tanygrisiau are operated hourly on weekdays by John's Coaches.

Blaenau 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.

At various times the town has been the terminus for four independent railway lines, each with its own station or stations:


Blaenau 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 five visitor attractions.[13] Near Blaenau Ffestiniog there are miles of mountain landscape with derelict quarries, rivers, various lakes and walking routes.

Several new mountain biking trails have been created, some of them suitable for competition-level mountain biking. Visitors can hire bikes from the biking centre to explore trails of varying difficulty.

The town centre has several cafes and pubs. Its various features[original research?] include child-friendly potholing, poetry walks, art centres, and views of the area.[citation needed]


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.[14]

Various walkways have also been installed, as well as a series of downhill mountain biking trails by Antur Stiniog.[15]

In addition a kilometre-long zip-wire has been erected at Llechwedd Slate Caverns which is popular with thrillseekers.

If plans go ahead Blaenau Ffestiniog will have the UK's first vélo-rail, which are popular in France.[16]


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 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.


Blaenau 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.

Notable peopleEdit

See Category:People from Blaenau Ffestiniog

Twinned TownsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e "Blaenau Ffestiniog: Understanding Urban Character" (PDF). Cadw.
  2. ^ Gwynfor Pierce Jones and Dafydd Walter Dafis (2002). "Water Power in the Slate Mines of East Ffestiniog" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 May 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2019. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Jones, R. Merfyn (1981). The North Wales Quarrymen, 1874–1922 (Studies in Welsh history; 4.). University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-0776-0.
  4. ^ Davies, John (1993). A History of Wales.
  5. ^ a b Boyd, James I.C. (1975) [1959]. 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. B1B.
  6. ^ "The Untouched Legacy of Arthur Koestler and George Orwell". 24 February 2016. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  7. ^ BBC Wales News
  8. ^ Sallery, Dave. "Maenofferen slate quarry in 1975".
  9. ^ "Blaenau Ffestiniog mountain bike centre given go-ahead". BBC News. 22 March 2011.
  10. ^ G. M. Miller (Ed), BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names, Oxford University Press, 1971. ISBN 0-19-431125-2
  11. ^ "Ysgol Y Moelwyn". Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  12. ^ Retrieved 9 September 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  13. ^ Archived 18 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^
  15. ^ Antur Stiniog website accessdate: 13 November 2013
  16. ^ "Linkliste Railbike". 9 January 2008. Retrieved 10 June 2013. lists 14 vélo-rail in France totalling 146km.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 July 2015. Retrieved 7 June 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) | Patagonian dignitaries to visit for twinning.

External linksEdit