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Communities - Homes

Prosperous towns and villages developed in the wake of the slate industry, and by the 1850's Local Boards were set up, as at Bethesda in 1854. By that year Bethesda consisted of 1,242 houses, 60 shops and 27 public houses situated on the High Street. The male population of the village was 3,011 compared to 1,744 females. Local building societies were formed to enable quarrymen to buy their own property. Others, of course, were content to pay rent.

Traditional Welsh Quarrymens houses from Blaenau Ffestiniog, relocated to the Welsh Slate Museum, Llanberis.
The village of Rhosgadfan was built on common land, and when people started to work in the quarries they enclosed a section of the land to build their own cottages to live in…By 1826, 140 cottages had been built and three chapels. In these rent free dwellings with a garden 700 people lived, with a garden and enough land to keep a cow…As far as the houses are concerned, they were very very small, simple storey buildings, a dairy, two bed chambers and a loft. One or two still stand today practically unchanged since the day they were built. In those days the feet of wainscot beds were the walls between the bed chambers and kitchen but in time that was changed when a partition of wood was built. Each had an inglenook fireplace wide enough for an armchair. I am not old enough to remember the old fashioned fireplace and the earth floor but the peat hole underneath the inglenook was still there in my youth and it was ideal to air clothes. By my days we had a grate with a small oven on one side with a boiler and a tap on it to hold water on the other. On the other side of the boiler was the large oven which extended almost a yard into the wall and you could lay a fire underneath it. It took a lot of coal to heat up the oven, but then you could bake a good number of loaves. Once the oven was up to temperature very little coal was needed to keep it going.
(Y Lôn Wen, pages 26-27)

Remembering tales of earliest times Kate Roberts recalled:

A At that time there wasn't a house there worth calling a hoFeet in Chains, Kate Roberts.use: a house was only four walls and a thatched roof. There was a peat fire on the floor and two wooden beds. When someone died you had to sleep in the same place as the coffin.

(Feet in Chains, page 16)

Jane rested in her own mind she knew that working in the quarry and running a small-holding was too much for him. But what was to be done? She had heard enough about the quarries to know how uncertain were the wages; and it was a wonderful thing to have plenty of milk and butter. One thing troubled her greatly - that was the condition of the house. The kitchen was the only comfortable room. The bedrooms, especially the back one, were damp and quite unhealthy for anyone to sleep in. The dampness ran down the walls, spoiling the paper, and water dropped on to the bed from the wooden ceiling during the frosty weather. She would like to have a new part built alongside the old house so that she would at least have a good parlour and two bedrooms. There were enough stones on Ffridd felen to build such an extension, and getting rid of the stones would improve the land. But Ifan would have to blast the stones and that would be more work for him.
(Feed in Chains, page 21-22)

Quarrymen's wives

For some interesting reason no doubt, O.M. Edwards did not have a good word to say about quarrymen's wives from Caernarfonshire. As he travelled down by train towards south Wales in 1891 he wrote:

`There was a quarryman's wife there follwing her husbands down to the workings with her sister and four children. The children were the most squirmish I ever saw…They told me that they were going to Glamorganshire to settle for good, and leaving Arfon…why do quarrymen's wives dress so grandly and why is their grandness so tasteless. The clothes of both of them showed two inconsistent facts vanity of dress and poorness of dress. They had bought the most fashionable of clothes over the years, with every cut being utterly ridiculous; they had mixed up all the fashions without any attempt at order and taste; the the grand clothes by now looked very shabby. Notice a gathering of quarrymen in Arfon on a Sunday, and you would imagine yourself to be amongst the most fashionable gathering in Paris; walk through the village on a Monday morning and you would think you were walking through the lowest slum in London, where everbody has got their clothes from the second hand shop.'
(Tro i'r De, O.M. Edwards, page 61-63.)
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