Merched Chwarel yn Gweithio!

We’ve (finally) found stories of women working in quarries….


Margery Jones - Carrier of Slates, 1871

“Margery, a widow of 37, is described as ‘Carrier of Slates from Quarry’ in the 1871 census for the parish of Llandwrog, living at Talysarn Uchaf. She and her children, aged from 13 to 16, were all born in the neighbouring parish of Llanllyfni. With them there lived a ‘servant’, Evan Evans, aged 27, from Pwllheli, ‘Driver of horses for carrying slate’. Marjery is evidently a haulage contractor for Dorothea Quarry, providing the motive power (horses) for slate trains to the junction with the main line at Tyddyn y Bengam. The wagons would have been provided by the quarry. Evan Evans presumably did the actual leading of the horses.” Dafydd Gwyn

See also Marged Ferch Ifans - transporter of copper from Nant Peris

Women working with slate Dyffryn Ogwen 1740s.jpg

Margaret ûch Hugh; Anne William, Mary Shone; Elizabeth Rowland; Judeth Owen Shone; Ellin Jones; Jane ûch Roberts; Anne William Preer

In December 2018, Einion Thomas found evidence of women working in Chwarel Penrhyn Quarry in the 1740s, and sent it to Dafydd Gwynn who sent it on to us. Of course, this WAS before the industrialisation, pre 1850s, but it is the first written evidence we’ve found! So now we have some names of slate-working Merched Chwarel!

Steffan ab Owain sent us an email in June 2019 that further elaborates the picture:

“Byddai merched yn nyddiau cynnar y diwydiant yn cludo llechi mewn cewyll ar gefn mulod, ac yn ambell ardal chwarelyddol gyda cheffyl a throl at y cychod a'r llongau a fyddai yn eu hallforio i wahanol rannau o Brydain a phellach.Ceid rhai yn gwneud y gwaith hwn yn ardaloedd Bethesda, Llanberis, Nantlle a Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Ceid merched yn gweithio ar beiriant 'jenny lind' hefyd yn caboli (polishio) y llechi yn ardal Corris,neu Abergynolwyn.,Enwir hwy ar un o'r cyfrifiadau,efallai mai un 1871, os cofiaf yn iawn.”

He confirms that women in the early days of the industry carried slate in cages on the back of donkeys, and in some quarrying areas with horses and carts to the boats and ships that would export them to different parts of Britain and further afield. This work was carried out in the Bethesda, Llanberis, Nantlle and Blaenau Ffestiniog areas.

He also mentions that women were also working on a jenny lind machine polishing the slate in the Corris area, or Abergynolwyn in 1871.

Merched Morgan - Quarry Wages, 1970s

“My mother  - Juliette Morgan - worked at Penrhyn in the 70s. She used to do the wages. The men took the piss out of her, for example, they’d give her a message that a Mr C Lion wants to speak to her about wages or a slate order or something. Then they’d give her the number the mountain zoo. It was still pretty sexist! They’d often send her an envelope, addressed to her/The Clerical Worker, and inside there would be pictures of naked men or women. I used to love going up there in the summer holidays. I loved the quarry.

Now I work in the quarries, painting and drawing there  - I love the remnants of what’s left behind, the old cogs, big nails. Finding things remind me of the old times, when I used to walk up the quarry as a kid, gradually watching everything falling apart… It’s our cultural heritage and it should be preserved.” Louise Morgan

Merched dan y ddaear

“Yn nabod gwraig roedd yn cael mynd ar ddydd Sul i weithio o dan y ddaear i helpu efo’r Gwaith yn y chwarel – Lord (Hafotty) [It’s known that wives would be allowed to go on Sundays to work underground, to help with the work in the quarry - Lord (Hafotty)]” (story collected in Blaenau Ffestiniog)

Merched ym Mlaenau Ffestiniog 1980au - Women in Blaenau, 1980s