Industry - The Slate Areas outside
Slate in Scotland
The slate industry in Scotland was
never properly mechanised in the way that it was in Wales and
slate remained essentially a hand-produced product. And in order
to reduce waste as much as possible a vast range of slates were
produced. This led to them being laid in diminishing courses
where the slate decreases towards the ridge. The can also vary in
thickness between 6 and 15 mm.
In certain Scottish quarries, every 1000th slate was stamped
with the mark of the quarry, a custom unique to Scotland.
Traditionally sold by number some quarries sold them by weight
and these were known as ton slates.
Dating back to the time of the Romans, Scottish slate came
into common use by the late 1600's from such quarries as Craiglea
near Perth, from Aberfoyle and from Birnam, as well as the Slate
Zoom in on Easdale
The Slate Islands (also known as the Islands of Argyll) lie in
the Sound of Lorn a few miles south of Oban. One of the smallest
of them is Easdale, which became the centre of one of the largest
industries of Scotland during the eighteenth and nineteenth
From earliest recorded times slate was taken from the shores
of Easdale to cover buildings and as hearth and gravestones.
Indeed it is possible that the Vikings did so. But the first
recorded account of the use of Easdale slate is in 1554.
AS time went on the technique of splitting and working the
slates improved and many ancient and important Scottish buildings
such as Stalker Castle in Appin, (1631) Armaddy Castle in Lorn
(1676) Cawdor Castle in Invernesshire and Glasgow Cathedral were
roofed with Easdale slate.
Because of the links with Nova Scotia, it is not surprising to
see many public buildings in Eastern Canada roofed with Easdale
The quarries were always beset by problems of water, and as
the shoreline was steadily denuded it became difficult to keep
the sea out even at low tide. Walls and sluices were built to
keep the quarries dry for a few hours every day. But as the
workings increased seawalls had to be built to keep the sea out
at all times. An atmospheric engine was used for some time and a
windmill in 1800 to pump up the seawater.
However, the great storm of November 23rd, 1881 breached the
defences and led to so much flooding that many of the quarries
were forced to close permanently and the loss of much valuable
equipment. Late in the nineteenth century reinforced concrete was
introduced as sea defences. The Easdale quarries closed
officially in 1911, but small-scale working is still continued to
win slate for monumental and craft purposes only.
Slate in England
In 1913 slate was being quarried in Cumberland, Westmoreland,
Leicestershire, Somerset and Devon.
Westmoreland and Cumberland
The origins of the industry in this area can be traced back to
the 1600's when slate was just scraped and picked out of the
ground. But by the 1750's much development had taken place with
the local slate being used to roof Cockermouth Castle. But it was
in 1833, under the leadership of Sam Wright who not only
developed surface quarrying but also started mining slate
Saws were first used to cut the slabs in 1856 and a trimming
machine in the 1890's. Indeed a Gold Medal was awarded at the
Manchester Exhibition of 1896 as regards the quality of the slate
produced.. Indeed, by 1910 it was claimed that Buttermere slate
was of better quality than Welsh Slate. It was used in many large
English cities and exported especially so to South Africa and New
The Buttermere Slate Company was formed in 1879 and inclines
were first built then to transport the slate from the quarry to
the port instead of sledges and horses. By 1892, The Hause had
developed to become the main centre with roads, tramways,
blondins and more inclines built by the 1930's.
Honister developed as the quarrymen's village even though they
were only there for weekends. Before barracks were built for them
they lived and ate underground during the working week. Workers'
cottages were also built at Borrowdale.
It is also interesting to note, that contrary to the situation
at Blaenau Ffestiniog that there was no electricity near the
mines and quarries as late as 1910 and that pigeons were used to
relay messages to the head office at Keswick. (Penrhyn Quarry had
a telephone in 1910.)
The slate was split in stone shelters on the mountain side
until the factory was built at The Hause in the 1920's.
Three main kinds of slate were produced, the 'light sea
green,' the 'dark sea green' and the 'olive green.'
Production ended at Honister in 1986 but resumed again in
The Plym Valley Quarries
It appears that Plym Valley Slate was only of medium quality
and went under the local name of 'shillet'. It was extensively
used as flooring and walling material. However it is recorded
that slate from the Cann Quarry was used to roof Plympton village
school in 1664. But the industry was old even by then as slate
was transported down Tory Brook to Southampton as early as
Granite Quarrying was the predominant local industry though
whilst Plympton became a major tin mining centre.
The Staverton Quarries
Slate Quarrying was also carried out in the Staverton area on
the banks of the river Dart. The first known reference is that in
1338 when Penn Slate was used to roof Dartington Hall.
As many as 100 workers were employed at the Penn Ricca quarry
during the eighteenth century but the work tended to be seasonal.
A resurgence of activity was experienced in 1845. the population
increased, a second village church built as well as workers'
cottages near Thornecroft. He population of the parish in 1801
was 1,053 but was to peak at 1,152 by 1851. But by 1861 it had
waned to 949 as a result of the decline in the slate industry.
Indeed by 1881, agriculture was noted as the main industry of the
parish. The quarries closed in 1908.
The Cornish Slate Industry
Even though tin was the paramount Cornish industry one should
not forget the slate industry especially the Delabole Slates and
the quarries in the Tintagel area. The story of Delabole Slates
dates back over six centuries and quarrying has continued without
a break since the seventeenth century. By today the quarry is 425
feet deep and over a mile and a half in circumference.
During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) five quarries were
working within the area of the present one quarry. Slate was sold
'throughout the realm' and exported as far as the Low Countries
In 1841 the five separate companies joined to form the Old
Delabole Slate Company.
By 1859 over 1,000 were employed and 120 tons of slate raised
every day. Long before the days of the railway the slate was
transported on wagons over the six miles to Gaverene.100 horses a
day could be seen doing this, and as late as 1890, women were
employed to load the slate onto ships at the quay side.
Today only five workers are employed, but using modern methods
are also able to raise 120 tons of slate per day.
Slate in Ireland
In 1913 slate was being produced in the counties of Kilkenny,
Cobh, Tipperary, Wicklow and Wexford.
Although slate was being quarried at Portroe in the eighteenth
century with over 400 employed there, the Irish slate industry
only started in earnest by the 1830's. The Irish Mining Company
at Audley's Cove and Tilemuck, County Wexford had as many as 500
workers in 1835 and that quarries at Broadford and Killaloe were
also in production at the same time Rosscarbury Quarry in County
Tipperary was also opened at this time.
But by the 1850's many workers were immigrating from the
quarries of County Wexford and County Tipperary for the slate
quarries of Vermont.
Even though the industry in Irelands was not developed to the
same extent as that in Wales there was some immigration none the
less from Wales to Ireland.
Quarrying at Portroe resumed in 1923 after the Troubles until
1956. Production was resumed in 1991 with slate being produced
for architectural purposes and for the tourist trade rather than
for roofing specifically.
The Australian Slate Industry
The three quarries that formed the slate industry in Australia
are to be found on the north-easterly coast of Tasmania on the
Bass Strait. These were the Back Creek, Arthur River and Bangor
Quarries. 'Black' slate was produced there. It is believed that
the quarries were in production from at least 1857.
The 1880's were a period of economic depression in Wales and
in 1885 an adertisement appeared in the local press from the
Bangor Slate Company, Launceston, Tasmania, inviting quarrymen
from north Wales to emigrate. Many responded from the Bethesda
and Llanberis areas in 1886.
Forty years previously one could sail from Porthmadog to
Australia, but by the 1880's emigrants had to first catch a train
A farewell meeting was held at the market hall, Bethesda early
in December 1857 as a tribute to Richard Jones, known to
everybody by his bardic pseudonym Owain Glyndwr. The
Bethesda Glee Society the Penrhyn Philharmonic Society and the
Bethesda Literary Society, as well as various individuals
performed. Of course, Owain Glyndwr was only one of many
who had and would immigrate. But there is no doubt that he was
the first, and maybe the only quarryman from Bethesda to
immigrate to a post as a slate quarry manager in