Snowdonia’s history is intimately bound with the shape and composition of its rocks and minerals. The Romans quarried and used slate from the hills to roof the fort at Segontium, and hundreds of years later King Edward I built a series of castles along the north Wales coast using the slate from the mountains.
During the industrial revolution, demand became significant and the slate was used to roof the houses, mills and factories that were being built across Britain. As a result of the expansion, the small villages of Bethesda, Llanberis and Blaenau Ffestiniog were transformed into industrial towns, and the Nantlle and Corris areas were vibrant quarry communities. In its heyday the industry employed more than 17,000 men and produced over 485,000 tons of slate.
During World War 1 the Manod quarry at Blaenau Ffestiniog was used to house priceless artwork from the royal palaces, the Tate and national Galleries - including Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Van Dyke, Da Vinci and possibly the crown jewels.
The downturn in the demand for slate and the importing of cheap slate from Europe resulted in the closure of the quarries. Penrhyn Quarry is still operating as are many other small concerns, but the once thriving industry is no longer the economic giant that dominated the region.
It is possible however to gain an insight to the past at the Welsh Slate Museum at Llanberis, and the Llechwedd caverns at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Both offer a pocket history of the industry with their refurbished cottages, shops, inns and working demonstrations. The network of paths created to link the small villages and the slate quarries and surrounding countryside are still in use and offer spectacular views of the mountains and a glimpse into the lives of the people that lived and worked there.