Bryn Eglwys – The quarry that sat atop three slate veins.

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Bryn Eglwys

People in Wales call this old slate quarry “Bryn Eglwys.” It’s close to the village of Abergynolwyn in that country. During the 1840s, this quarry was first used to make bricks and stones.

In 1864, the English industrialist and owner of a cotton mill, William McConnel, took it over. McConnel was looking for a way to make money after the American Civil War caused a huge drop in raw cotton supplies. When he started the Aberdovey Slate Company Limited, he made plans to make the Bryn Eglwys quarry more productive. This is how it works:

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A long forgotten path to the mine. Author: OLU CC BY-SA 2.0

When Mr. McConnel had to move the finished product, it made him very angry. Almost 700 feet above sea level, the slate had to be taken by packhorse from the quarry to the docks of Aberdyfi, 7.5 miles down the valley to the quarry.

Talyllyn Railway: After having a hard time coming up with a solution for this, he came up with the idea of building a railway. You start at Nant Gwernol and go all the way to Tywyn on this narrow-gauge train.

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Another abandoned incline. Author: Ian in Warwickshire CC BY-SA 2.0

There were cable-powered and horse-powered tramways that went up 430 feet to get to the quarry from the station. This was a tramway called the Alltwyllt incline, the Galltymoelfre tramway, the Cantrybedd incline, the Beudenewydd incline, and one last stretch of horse-drawn tramway. A lot of slate could now be brought down from the quarry, but it was still a lot of work.

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Some of the demolished buildings. Author: liz dawson CC BY-SA 2.0

But even though they spent a lot of money on both the quarry and the train, they didn’t both rise to a certain level of success in the market. On October 9, 1879, after 15 years in business, the company was put up for auction.

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The winding house in 1970. Author: John Thorn CC BY-SA 2.0

Even the auction didn’t work out. McConnel had no other choice, so he bought the quarry and the railroad on his own because there was no other way. In the next few days and weeks things started to change. 

Some money had finally been made at the quarry. The slate market had been in its best years. When Mr. McConnel died in 1902, his son W.H. McConnel became the sole owner of the quarry and the rail line that ran through it.

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The Alltwyllt incline. Author: © Optimist on the run, 2008 / CC BY-SA 3.0

He had to stop making Bryn Eglwys in 1909 because the quarry’s debts got bigger over time. Two years after that, Henry Haydn Jones, a member of the Welsh Liberal Party, bought the quarry and the rail line, which were both owned by him.

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The last vestiges of the wagon turntable. Author: © Optimist on the run, 2008 / CC BY-SA 3.0

He even bought the village of Abergynolwyn, which he used to live in. All three of them are now part of the Abergynolwyn Slate & Slab Co. Ltd, which is a company. There were no more papers to deal with. After that, the quarry was back in business.

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The Cantrybedd incline. Author: © Optimist on the run, 2008 / CC BY-SA 3.0

Three slate veins run under this part of mid-Wales. The quarry Bryn Eglwys is near where these veins meet, so that’s where it is.

The “Broad Vein” is the largest of them all. 600 feet wide, this vein is on the north side of the site. It’s found there. A lot of shale and a hard, durable slate fill it.

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The disused Bryn Eglwys quarry. Author: © Optimist on the run, 2008 / CC BY-SA 3.0

The “Middle Vein” is farther south. This vein was only 60 feet wide, but it made shale that isn’t very good. It breaks apart easily and is full of fossils. It never worked for Bryn Eglwys.

There is a third vein, called the “Narrow Vein,” that isn’t as big as the Middle Vein, but it has a lot of high-quality slate that is sometimes mixed with quartz.

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The first incline leading to the quarry. Author: Janine Forbes CC BY-SA 2.0

So, under the direction of Henry Haydn Jones, the quarry kept going until December 20, 1946. At first, the quarry was shut down because of a big accident.

The quarry was shut down for a while, and all of the old tools and machinery were thrown away. The structures that were found on the site were demolished because they were at risk of collapsing on top of each other.

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Some of the demolished buildings. Author: © Optimist on the run, 2008 / CC BY-SA 3.0

Anyone who dares to visit this location nowadays is forewarned and strongly advised not to. The land is no longer stable as a result of the collapse, and there are frequent rock slides.

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A damaged warning sign. Author: OLU CC BY-SA 2.0

Furthermore, the quarry is on private property. Despite what happened at the quarry, the railway from Tywyn to Nant Gwernol survived

 Today, the Talyllyn Railway is a tourist attraction that runs steam trains through the beautiful Welsh countryside, including one of the original locomotives named Talyllyn.

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