Post By Asquith
Post By Asquith
Post By Asquith
Post By enginebill
Post By Asquith
Aspects of the Welsh Slate Industry and its Machinery: Part 1
I’ll start with the fascinating National Slate Museum in Llanberis, Snowdonia. Admission is free, parking isn’t.
Housed in the former workshops of Dinorwig slate quarry, which closed in 1969. The workshops were built in 1870, and don’t seem to have changed much since, having retained a remarkable amount of old equipment.
About the museum | National Museum Wales
There’s a lot of diverse stuff to see in the area, so I’ll break the topic down into several threads. Note that this museum is fairly close to Penrhyn Castle, featured in this thread:-
164-year old locomotive in close-up (many photos)
The workshop lineshafts were originally powered by this waterwheel, made locally by De Winton of Caernarfon (sometimes spelt Caernarvon or Carnarvon). 50 ft 5" dia, 80 HP. To my mind, a remarkable acheivement was the ability to obtain, and maintain for a century, satisfactory pitching and meshing of the gears, given that the circumference of the wheel is 157 ft. The teeth are now somewhat worn, though!
De Winton built much of the workshop structure and equipment (including some of the machine tools, I think). Originally the water supply for the wheel came via an aqueduct, and one of the bridge beams can be see in the photos above.
Steam crane made by Thomas Smith of Rodley (Leeds).
I was just playing about with photos, and changed this to sepia, and thought it looked interesting.
Machine for planing slate, made by Turner Bros of Newtown (North Wales). All sorts of things were made from slate. Penrhyn Castle has a 1-ton bed made from slate for Queen Victoria. She was not amused. A more common product was grave headstones. Presumably they needed to be machined dead flat.
Thereís a variety of circular saw machines in the former workshops. This one was made by John Owen of the Menai Iron Works, Bangor, in 1875.
I failed to take a proper photo of this saw by De Winton (1876), but it was of interest because the table is moved by a hydraulic ram.
Pattern for one of the shopís circular sawing machines.
Great thread as ever Asquith - De Winton's works building still exists in Caernarfon across the road from what is now the WHR station
Great stuff. I was a youngster when my church put up a new building, with slate floor and baseboards. I still have a scrap I found and carved with an Egyptian bas relief. Slate works very nicely with carbon steel tools, but does not make a very durable gravestone. I remember the 17th century markers at Plymouth, MA were in pretty bad shape.
Last edited by L Vanice; 05-28-2012 at 08:18 PM.
Very interesting machinery Asquith. I especially like how the spokes are secured in place with a type of wedge. What sort of tooling would be used to plane slate?
Thanks for the comments. Better to have a conversation, rather than me just presenting an album!
Baldwin - I must have been 100 yards from De Wintonís former works without realising it. Thereís a new book out called De Winton of Caernarfon (see link below). I had a quick look at it in a shop, but put it down when I saw the price. Itís a magnificent book - beautifully produced, superbly researched, with lots of detailed photos and drawings. There were pictures of the works in there, but I didnít study them.
De Winton of Caernarfon
De Wintonís was evidently one of those small companies with a core of ingenious engineers and skilled craftsmen (and needing someone with a good financial head!) who could turn their hand to anything. In this case, anything included lamp posts, bridges, locomotives, marine engines, machine tools, and of course, that magnificent 50 ft waterwheel.
The mind boggles when wondering how they set up and planed the ends of all the waterwheel's segments to produce the correct circle. As for the spokes, anyone whoís tried truing up a bicycle wheel will know that trying is the right word, at least until you get the knack. At least with a bike the spokes have screwed ends. On the water wheel they used tapered cotters, offering quite a limited amount of adjustment. Getting the spokes the same length would have been straightforward, but getting the sockets right in the hub castings is another matter.
Regarding the durability of slate headstones, I suppose thereís slate and slate. I saw a lot of churchyards with such headstones, but didnít stop to study any. In any case, they would mostly have been no older than the 19th century.
The planing machines seem to have used a broad-nosed tool. Unfortunately I didnít glean much about the processing methods. Iíve just done a search and found a website with a small photo of a planing machine, and hovering over the photo brings up a caption referring to The fastest planing machine in the world. Mr M Kellowís patent. The text says:-
By means of an improved type of planing machine, a single operator can plane upwards of 10 tons per day of slabs from the rough, the speed of the table during the cutting stroke being from 40 feet to 70 feet per minute, and the speed of return from 200 feet to 350 feet per minute. Even at the high speeds of operation indicated, cuts 2 feet wide by Ĺ inch deep are being taken. This represents a rate of work from six to 2 ten times the normal.
The History of Quarrying - The Park and Croesor Quarries
Confusion then arose. A search brought me a US patent by for a stone dressing machine featuring a tool holder hauled along a rail by a chain. ( Patent US445644 - STONE-DRESSING MACHINE - Google Patents ) Didnít look very convincing, and then I realised that this was J Kellow, not the M Kellow in the article about the Welsh company (he was the General Manager and Engineer of the Company. Incidentally, his company was involved in slate mining, as distinct from the quarrying done at, say, Llanberis (Dinorwic).
Incidentally, there is at least one museum representing slate mining in the area: Llechwedd Slate Caverns.
Ll is pronounced more or less as chl, with the ch as in loch. Dd in Welsh is pronounced, more or less as th.
More tourist information: Caernarfon has a big, very old castle in good nick:-
The former Victoria Dock is now a marina, and has a few interesting artefacts:-
Hand crane made by W Johnson & Co, Naylor St Foundry, Liverpool.
Rail-mounted drawbridge over a slipway, made by Oliver & Co of Chesterfield (1883?). Curiously, thereís a connection between this company and a massive pumped-storage hydro-electric power station at Dinorwic, which Iíll return to later.
Things outside the Maritime Museum. Unfortunately we were too late for the museum, and a day too early for the more appealing-looking restaurants to be open.
Baldwin mentioned the WHR. This is the Welsh Highland Railway, a narrow gauge railway which was recently extended to connect Caernarfon with Porthmadog (Portmadoc). Not to be confused with the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway. Donít ask.
Here is a video of a slate planer in operation at a working slate quary in Pen Argyl Pennsylvania.
Slate Planer - YouTube
You find the most interesting things. I agree with another poster that some of us on this side of the pond will never get over there, and your photos are our only way of seeing them.
Thanks as always to Asquith
A couple of years ago my wife (American) and I spent a few days up in Cheshire visiting my family then spent a leisurely week driving back down along the Welsh coast, though I knew Wales well my wife had never been there & was most enchanted.
"Festering Blaenau" was in my mind having visited various quarries there since I was a kid, the one I wanted my wife to see was a large quarry where they had all the usual live exhibits of slate splitting etc but had a row of three cottages that were furnished as they would have been through different periods.
Damned if I could find it
We ended up at a slate mine where they ran the old trains down through the mine stopping at various chambers where they had excellent displays & commentary. There were probably 20 people in our group of all ages, at each stop the guide (an ex miner) would ask if there were any questions....silence was the reply....I was rather curious after the explanation of how the powder drillings were made by hand, simply driving the drill bar into the rock with a twisting motion, how the heck did they evacuate the spoils from the hole ?
As we were getting back on the train I put my question to him quietly, he explained a puffer to us with enthusiasm (& later sought me out in the cafe to show me a well worn original) he sadly told me that very rarely was he asked questions such that his job had become tedious......beggars belief to me that there were at least half a dozen kids in our group & I too never heard a bloody question asked
You make an important point about asking questions, which we all should take note of. I can see that in a big group, people might be shy of asking, or they might feel they would be holding the group up.
Regarding the three cottages that you sought, they are at this very place of which we speak, the National Slate Museum. The one you went underground at was probably Llechwedd Slate Caverns.
Digressing back to Caernarfon, opposite the castle tower shown in a photo above, thereís a fairly modern swing bridge. I knew that this replaced one built c.1900, having once seen an article about it in a contemporary magazine, which said that it was powered by a Crossley gas engine.
The old intermediate wooden support structure has been retained. On the Caernarfon side of the abutment I noticed what I took to be an old gas pipe, about 2" dia., seen near the bottom of this photo:-
Iíve since looked up the article on the bridge (The Engineer, 2 August 1901), and sure enough it says that gas was conveyed to the engine in a 2" galvanised main which went from the Caernarfon side, down to the river bed, and up to the engine. I told Mrs Asquith that weíre probably the only people in the world who knew about this obscure detail: she retorted that I was probably the only person in the world who cared.
In case sheís wrong, some pictures from the article:-
Because the gas pipe dropped down to the river bend and then rose, it had to have a water trap at the bottom to accumulate water carried over from the gas works, and this trap needed to have a pump!
Thanks for posting your pictures and information that is interesting as always .
I usually associated slate with chalk boards and the slate tablets used in Canadian schools in the pioneer days when paper wasnít so easily available .
Slate roofs were not that common Canada since cedar shingles were available in many areas either from a mill or in the very early times split by hand from trees on the settlerís land .
While I was looking for other information a few Items turned up about the slate quarries in Quebecís eastern townships .
I donít know more than what I have found in the links below so rather than start a new thread but I though I would add them here to offer a comparison of the industry here in 1900 with what you have posted .
Musťe McCord Museum - Results
I thought I had seen some of the McCord pictures in another link with more description attached to them but I seem to have lost the link .
Abandoned Mines Discussion Forum :: View topic - New Rockland Slate Mine, Kingsbury, Quebec
MRNF- History - Architectural slate quarrying in Qubec
MRNF- History - Kingsbury
Kingsbury, Quebec - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Kingsbury | Val-Saint-FranÁois - Eastern Townships (Quebec)
Centre d'interprtation de l'ardoise