Oakeley Slate Quarries

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group
Holland's 1839 incline connecting his Cesail Quarry with the Festiniog Railway at Dinas

The Oakeley Quarries were a collection of quarries in Blaenau Ffestiniog owned by the Oakeley Family. They were an important customer of the Festiniog Railway.


Spion Kop incline of Oakeley Quarries in 1934. Photo: William Low

Oakeley Quarry originated in 1818 when Samuel Holland leased a small quarry at Rhiwbryfdir farm. This venture was successful and was sold in 1825 to the Welsh Slate Company. Holland then opened a new quarry at Gesail, above Rhiwbryfdir. In 1839 Holland's Gesail quarry (also know as the Upper Quarry) became one of the first users of the Ffestiniog Railway to send slates to the wharves at Porthmadog. By 1840 underground working had begun and a large steam-driven cutting mill was opened around 1860. By the mid-1870s over 14,000 tons of finished slate was being produced annually. [1]

During the same period, Nathaniel Mathew had leased land between Gesail and Rhiwbryfdir and opened up Gloddfa Ganol (in English: Middle Quarry). Gloddfa Ganol, also known as Mathew's Quarry was a pioneer of the use of slate dressing machines and was an early user of steam powered mills and inclines. By the mid-1870s Gloddfa Ganol was producing more than 10,000 tons of finished slate annually.

There was a third major quarry nearby. The Lord Palmerston Quarry was located below and south of Gloddfa Ganol. Its extensive underground workings were connected to the Ffestiniog Railway by 1838 and it opened the first steam-driven cutting mill in the district around 1840. By the 1870s annual production was around 50,000 tons of finished slates.

The leaseholds for both Gesail and Gloddfa Ganol expired in 1878 and the landowner, W.E. Oakeley consolidated the Upper and Middle quarries into a single operation.

The Lord Palmerston Quarry continued as an independent quarry, but had been pursuing aggressive and dangerous mining methods. A number of underground collapses culminated in several significant rock falls in 1882 and 1883 which threatened to destablize the two Oakeley-owned quarries above. Oakeley sued to owners of the Lord Palmerston Quarry and took ownership of it, amalgamating all three into a single operation known as the Oakeley Quarry.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Oakeley acquired the adjacent Nyth y Gigfran and the nearby Cwm Orthin Quarry. At their peak these combined quarries produced 60,000 tons of slate annually and were the third largest in the United Kingdom.

Extensive use was made of stationary steam engines to run the cutting mills, dressing sheds and inclines in the quarry, although from 1906 hydro-electric power was introduced.

Oakeley continued to produce significant tonnages of slate through World War Two, but experienced a rapid decline in the 1960s, along with the remainder of the British slate industry. The quarry closed in 1971.

The quarry re-opened as a working quarry and tourist attraction in the mid 1970s under the name Gloddfa Ganol. This enterprise was sold to McAlpines in 1997 and the tourist side of the business was closed. The quarry continues to operate in 2007.


Name Type Builder Date Works Number Origin Disposal Notes
Mary Oakeley 0-4-0VBT Falcon 1884 scrapped about 1920
William 0-4-0T Adamson 1885 scrapped
Mary Caroline 0-4-0T Adamson 1888 scrapped about 1931
Edward 0-4-0T Adamson 1888 scrapped
Algernon 0-4-0GT Wilson & co. before 1873 Scrapped Probably Welsh Slate Co.'s "Mole"
Charles 0-4-0T Adamson 1890 scrapped about 1931
Snowdon 0-4-0ST Bagnall 1899 1569
Diana 0-4-0T Kerr Stuart 1917 1158 ex Home Grown Timber committee, Kerry Tramway. Bought 1925. Sold in 45 to Pen-yr-Orsedd Quarry where it worked until the boiler was condemned in 1950. Sold to G Mullis in the Midlands before returning to Wales when purchased by Tony Hills of Hills & Bailey. Moved with Tony Hills to his new base at the Brecon Railway. Sold to Lloyd and Dennis Davies of Clydach near Swansea in April 1978. New boiler built by Bartletts, Bottom end overhaul and new tanks and bunkers built by Keefes. After the passing of the brothers bought by Phil Mason in Feb 2014 and final assembly and completion by the V of R. Returned to steam after 65 years on 14th Sept 2015. Now operating at the Bala Lake Railway 6 tons 6x10 24" 140lb/sq.in.
Algernon 0-4-0WT Hudson before 1916 Scrapped
Clifford 0-4-0WT Hudswell Clarke 1915 1142. ex Nottingham 1924. Scrapped
Kidbrooke 0-4-0ST Bagnall 1917 2043 ex R.A.S.C Kidbrooke depot. Out of use by 1939. Sold in 1961 to Mr. R. Hilton; stored at Minfordd Yard on the FR until 1970 when it moved to Didcot. By 2000 was owned by Paul Hemnell and fully restored, from 2004 has been at the Yaxham Light Railway.
Clifford 0-4-0PM Baguley 1917 774 ex Machynlleth. Out of use 1939. Sold in 1966 to Rodney Weaver. Moved to Brian Goodchild's railway at Leamington Spa in 1968. Sold to R.P. Morris in 1970 and moved to Bampton, Oxfordshire in 1973, and then to Longfield, Kent. Returned to Wales in 1977 as part of the Narrow Gauge Railway Centre display at Gloddfa Ganol. In February 1998 she was purchased by the NGRM Trust of the Talyllyn Railway at Tywyn. Now undergoing cosmetic restoration at the Amerton Railway.
Rosa 0-4-0PM Baguley 1919 779 ex Kerry Tramway. Destroyed by fire, 1937
4wDM Deutz Scrapped 1964
4wDM Bagnall 1933 2499 to Votty & Bowydd
4wDM Ruston Hornsby 1935 174139
4wDM Ruston Hornsby 1935 174540
4wDM Ruston Hornsby 1935 175405
4wDM Ruston Hornsby 1935 175986
4wDM Ruston Hornsby 1935 177598 ex Egypt, via Robert Hudson
4wDM Ruston Hornsby 1936 177638 to Votty & Bowydd
4wDM Ruston Hornsby 1936 182137
4wDM Ruston Hornsby 1959 432652
4wDM Ruston Hornsby 1952 264252 acquired from Votty & Bowydd around 1962


  • Boyd, James I.C. (1975) [1959]. The Festiniog Railway 1800 - 1974; Vol. 2 Locomotive and Rolling Stock and Quarry Feeders. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 085361-168-8.
  1. ^ Richards, Alun John (1999). The Slate Regions of North and Mid Wales and Their Railways. Wales: Carreg Gwalch. ISBN 0863815529. OCLC 59415611.

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