Saturday, September 25, 2021

25th September 2021

Moss the most sensible of companions

Rehashing old blogs, this is about Porthgain mostly though Aberiddi also features.  A holiday I took alone but with the companionship of my old dog Moss, always steadfast and eager for the adventure.  It came to mind when I saw friends had gone there and I suddenly realised I shall probably never travel that way again.    

I spent many a happy week in Pembrokeshire, wandering along the cliff top, finding the cromlechs, all with their different stories. The 'sense of place' in Wales is so defined.  The thin green layer that covers the landscape sits on a variety of rocks that poke through and greet you with their colour and their longevity.  Their roughness tells of exposure to climatic changes and the bubbling of heat.  My first encounter with how the Earth first came into being was of a fire bound illustration of H. G. Wells book of 'Outline of History'.  And when you walk along the cliffs and see the rocks folded horizontally or vertically you become aware of the great forces that made this place called Earth.

The blue lagoon

These two small hamlets are to be found on the Pembrokeshire coast within a mile of each other, Porthgain has the industrial remains of old buildings built to support the quarrying of slate and granite. Slate was originally quarried at Abereiddi for roofing tiles, it was not of particularly good quality, the slate from North Wales was superior, and Abereiddi slate was thought to last only 40 years or so. The quarry itself is in the area of the blue lagoon, originally it was just a large hole but when the quarry had finished the rock that lay between the sea and the disused quarry was blown up and it became a rather beautiful blue lagoon.

                   The Street, Abereiddi labourer's cottages

These housed the labourers and their families plus also itinerant Irish labourers.
It is sometimes difficult to understand today how these small welsh villages worked, especially as they are all but deserted of welsh people and what houses are left are more often or not holiday homes. But look at any 19th century photograph and you will see a flourishing population of maybe a 100 people with plenty of children. Life would have been hard, sanitary conditions non-existent and water probably fetched from a well but the quarries provided a livelihood for the families.
Porthgain was developed on a greater scale over the century, its quarry was owned by several different companies, all English, and based in Bristol. It changed hands quite a few times mostly due to the fact that profits were low and money had to be spent on machinery and new buildings. Speculators came with high hopes but the cards were stacked against them, mainly because transport was difficult, there was no railway line nearby, and everything had to be carried out by ship, either to various ports in Wales itself or down to the Severn Estuary and Bristol.
There was also a slate quarry in Porthgain, but it was decided to open a granite quarry for supplying gravel for roadbuilding.

It was still the period of macadam road building, this was simply different grades of gravel laid on top of each layer, which in turn was rollered down, eventually culminating in a fine layer of gravel. For this operation to be successful, the granite had to be crushed into the various sizes. The quarry was a quarter of a mile from the village itself, and tramways were built to and from, one tramway also going to Abereiddi.

In the beginning the trams were pulled by horses, but over time two small engines were acquired.
A new harbour was also built for the ships to come in and be loaded by crane, so there was a lot of capital expenditure.
In Porthgain itself what remains of the industrial buildings are dramatic, the great brick hoppers built against the cliff face are still there, here the different sized gravels would be loaded from the top and taken from the bottom of the chute, also a large shed still remains on the quay, this is now used as a restaurant.

Its an eerie place, and walking over the cliffs to the ruined buildings facing out to sea is a savage reminder of all the people who laboured with heavy materials during this period.

For them it paid a good wage, but old photographs show thin men their faces lined and tired, work that hauls rock and slate from the ground was tough and backbreaking, and one has only to remember the hard lives of the welsh miners to realise this.

Porthgain also has a 'street' of five labourers cottage, and these are still in use today, there was also a larger house for the manager, and of course the old Sloop Inn still remains.
At one stage bricks were made of the slate dust, they were much heavier than ordinary bricks and there wasn't much of a market for them.

Abereiddi slate quarry had opened around 1838, and mining of slate continued on and off, Porthgain's quarry opened in the 1850s, and mining continued right up to the 1930s but again the present company owners landed up in the hands of the receivers', and this time there was no rescue, final closure for the workers must have come as a shock and an eyrie silence would have descended on the place. The dust that would have shrouded the place and the small cottages would now disappear; some of the workers were offered work in Bristol but for the rest, they must have moved away to find jobs elsewhere.

All the historic information I got from an author who lived in Solva, the book sadly departed to a charity shop.


  1. Interesting photographs Thelma and such a link with the past. Wales seens to hold on toits history more than we do in England - so much so that it is easy to view suh sites with anostalgia which forgets the harshnes of the conditions in which the people lived.

    1. Wales holds on to its history Pat because it doesn't have as much money spent on it as in England. Nostalgia for the 'old ways' can be somewhat shortsighted I feel. Read an article today about a farmer, who twenty years back or so went for the American way of farming. Then suddenly realised how from being a mixed farm all they had was large machinery and one or two crops. He is now in the process of returning things back so flora and fauna will return, and farm animals will get a better life.

  2. Not somewhere we've ever been Thelma, but very interesting to read about. The workers there must have had a heck of a shock when it closed completely and I daresay may have ended up looking for work down the mines. The buildings certainly look lost and abandoned.

  3. I suspect Jennie that it has the same forlorn air as some of the derelict buildings here in the North and on the coast. The physical effort in all this heavy work must have taken its toil though.

  4. Whenever I come across ruins I wonder about children who might have played and grown up there.

  5. They are sad place with echoes of the past in the walls. The children grew up and became adults of course. Though as children we had a large garden to play in would often play on 'the tip', riding our bicycles over the dumps of goodness knows what, scraping our knees on sharp gravels.


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