How do you steal a mountain? You knock it off. That’s the answer you’d get from a Welshman. The Welsh speak from experience. In North Wales they knocked off mountains en masse – in the form of hundreds of slate quarries. In the 19th century the slate tiles on almost every roof in Britain had been mined and cut by Welshmen.The National Slate Museum in Llanberis gives visitors a vivid impression of their masterly skills. It is located in the Victorian workshops of the vast Dinorwig slate quarry. Here you can see slate-splitting demonstrations by traditional hand-craftsmen revealing the skills and artistry of generations of quarry workers. Much of the site still looks like it did in the 19th century. The gigantic waterwheel that once drove all the machinery is still turning and you can see the forges and an iron and brass foundry. Even the narrow gauge railway that linked the quarry with the works is still running. Quarryman's houses have been rebuilt on site and refurnished to show the cramped living conditions of the quarrymen and their families. All this and more is contained in a spectacular introductory presentation entitled – what else? – To steal a mountain.
Huge grey rows of terraces line the hillsides around Llanberis. Everything is made of slate here: the hills, the roofs, the houses, the whole town. And also the disused workshops of the Dinorwig slate quarry, once the largest slate quarry in the world. At the end of the 19th century Llanberis was a booming slate mining area. And production only ceased in 1969 after more than a century of quarrying. Could there be a better site for a slate museum?
The National Slate Museum will tell you everything about quarrying and the slate workers who battled to mine it from the surrounding mountains. At the end of the 19th century the North Wales slate industry employed more than 15,000 workers and accounted for almost half the slate production in the world.
This led to a wide range of technical innovations. Most of them used hydraulic power for there was plenty of rain here and coal was expensive in the region. Waterwheels drove the majority of slate factories until way into the 20th century. This was also one of the first areas to generate electricity from hydraulic power. Similar pioneering achievement were the narrow-gauge railways which carried the heavy blocks of slate to the workshops. They were first built at the turn of the 19th century and widely used during the Industrial Revolution.
The museum shows the whole range of activities undertaken by the slate industry. Machines bang and hammer as if they had never stopped. Many of them are still in their original condition just like the building which houses the museum. It was built in 1870 along with the massive waterwheel – the largest working waterwheel in mainland Britain. When it creaks into action the old works spring to life once more.
The location is part of the North West Wales Slate Landscape World Heritage Site.
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Easter to October:
November to Easter:
Sunday to Friday 10am-5pm