* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Slatesite * * * Gwynedd Archives Service The AGOR Consortium The Welsh Site *
* *
The Slatesite Home Page * Industry * * Communities * Slate * Art * Gallery * Site Map * External Site * About Us *
* *

Culture - Eisteddfodau 

bands drama  
eisteddfodau music  

Starting a traditionPenrhyn Ladies Choir, 1900

It is apparent that the eisteddfod rose to an eminent position in the slate quarrying areas during the nineteenth century. It is true that an eisteddfod was held in Bangor in 1790 and at Dinorwig in 1802, but these appear to have been exceptions. But with the industry firmly founded, it appears that the first eisteddfodau were held at Bethesda in 1834, 1835 and 1838. An eisteddfod was held at Dinorwig in 1840 and at Llan Ffestiniog in 1850. Many of these eisteddfodau started off in the various chapels as 'literary and musical unions.' 

The Ffestiniog area

Occasional eisteddfodau were held at Blaenau and Llan Ffestiniog up to 1869. Five years previously an annual eisteddfod began to be held at Chwarel Holland. Other quarries took up the idea, and soon after 1864 annual eisteddfodau were held at Cwmorthin, Cwt y Bugail, Rhosydd and Rhiw. The first of a noted series of eisteddfodau was held at Llechwedd in 1868, which by 1881 had grown into a two evening affair, held at the Market Hall. That year, J.E. Greaves adjudicated the vegetable and flower gardens whilst his wife adjudicated the needlework and knitting competitions. The Llechwedd Chair was offered for an awdl-bryddest with the two poets Iolo Carnarvon and Ellis Wyn o Wyrfai adjudicating.

However, the pinnacle of achievement was to be:

The National Eisteddfod, Blaenau Ffestiniog - 1898.

Programme Cover from the 1898 Blaenau Ffestiniog Eisteddfod. National Library of Wales.Following an amazingly successful eisteddfod held in the town in 1890, the idea slowly germinated of inviting the National Eisteddfod there. The application put forward in 1896 was successful and various committees were elected. Indeed, the only major hitch to occur was when stormy winds demolished the half built marquee. However, following the traditions of the times, English and German potentates were invited to sample the culture of the quarryman.  'Elfyn', a local poet, won the chair and the 3,000 strong eisteddfod choir under the baton of Cadwaladr Roberts, conductor of the Royal Moelwyn Male Voice Choir and the Blaenau Ffestiniog Choral Union, gave memorable performances. A clear profit of nearly £300 was made. Additionally, the sun shone throughout the week long event.  The second half of the twentieth century witnessed a huge decline in the number of local eisteddfodau.

The Bethesda area

From 1851-54 a series of musical eisteddfodau was held at Bethesda that mirrors the choral and musical traditions that had already been established in the area. Between 1863 and 1869 another series was held with national figures such as Hwfa Môn, Llew Llwyfo and Garmonydd heavily involved. Occasionally artistes from the U.S.A. would sing at the concerts. The 1870's did not see so much activity, but the late 1880's saw a notable series held at Bethesda Chapel, where the composer R.S. Hughes had been appointed organist. The appointment of Rhys J. Huws as minister there saw an important run of Children's Eisteddfodau, where teenagers were responsible for all associated eisteddfod activities. Thomas Arthur Jones on being appointed minister at Jerusalem Chapel in 1939 revived the eisteddfodic tradition.


Eisteddfodau were held at Llanberis during the 1860's in a series, which reached a climax in 1879. In addition to the usual competitions it was decided to have a performance of the recently completed opera Blodwen, by Joseph Parry. But less than a week before the event, terrible storms took their toll and not only demolished the marquee, but also washed away part of the railway line from Llanberis to Caernarfon. The great eisteddfod was held in Caernarfon at the Pavilion instead.

Male voice choirs in the Llanberis area

Once again, it was within the walls of the chapels that the choral culture developed. The Arvonic Male Voice Choir under the baton of Robert Phillips was dominant in the 1880's.  They travelled as far as London to give concerts especially after their success in the 1884 Liverpool National Eisteddfod. The male choral tradition was evidently on a solid foundation, for by 1902 the Padarn Male Voice Choir was competing at the National Eisteddfod at Bangor under the baton of M. Orwig Williams, the Caernarfon organist. 

Following the Great War the 'Comrades Male Voice Choir' was founded by J. Brwynog Jones, Pencerdd Peris and from 1928-1935 the 'Snowdonia Male Voice Choir' with Henry J. Roberts Harry Bach Nasareth was in constant demand.

As in other quarries, choirs were often to be found in the various galleries. The most famous at Dinorwig was Ponc y Dyffryn Choir trained and conducted by T. Padarn Roberts, (1866-1943) also known as Twm Bach America that competed at the National Eisteddfod, Caernarfon in 1906.

After another World War

Following the 1939-45 War, two of the quarry choirs, Côr Ponc Awstralia and Côr Pen Garret joined forces to form Côr Meibion Dinorwig. With G. Peleg Williams of Caernarfon as their conductor, members came from all over the area to rehearse at Deiniolen. Initial success was notable, but following a decision to hold rehearsals at Caernarfon, interest declined.

Côr Eryr Eryri

Owen Griffith, (1839-1903) Eryr Eryri was the son of Griffith Owen, bandmaster of Llanrug Band. He was a self-taught musician in the best traditions of the quarry area, a member of Côr Waunfawr, being appointed conductor in 1866. The choir soon became a member of the Eryri Temperance Union. Côr Waunfawr subsequently were victors at both the 1875 National Eisteddfod at Pwllheli and the 1878 National Eisteddfod at Birkenhead.

He subsequently gave up competing and concentrated on conducting at cymanfaoedd canu and composing quite simple, but lyrical works.

Gwynedd Council
Welsh Slate Museum, Llanberis
Cynefin Consultants
Enrich UK - Lottery Funded New Opportunities Fund
© Copyright Gwynedd Council 2003