Port Dinorwic Coasters

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

Dinorwic Quarry's First Steam Ships[edit]

The first ship owned by Dinorwic Quarry was appropriately named "Dinorwic" and was delivered in 1892 from a shipyard in Ayr. She was followed by the Velinheli in 1894 and the Vaynol, Enid and Elidir all from the same builder, S. McKnightand Co and its successors at the Ayr shipyard. The Velinheli was the smallest and lasted 47 years trading to Lancashire, the Mersey for transshipment to deep sea traders and occasionally Dublin. The largest ship the Elidir regularly traded around the north of Scotland to Scotland's east coast ports and once a year to the Shetland Islands.[1] Enid and Dinorwic served the Irish ports, those around the Irish Sea including the Solway ports and Glasgow.

Specialist Slate Ships[edit]

Return cargoes to Port Dinorwic were rare but Velinheli often brought coal from Point of Ayr colliery. The quarries consumed a considerable amount of coal not least to run their many steam railway locomotives. The slate carriers were designed to carry heavy, dense cargoes which could include building stone and Elidir sometimes brought these cargoes from Scotland. A terrace of houses in Port Dinorwic was built from the Aberdeen granite she brought.

The purpose built slate carriers were longitudinally strong and had small hatches and large deck areas around the hatches. Fenton tells a story of the Elidir and an ordinary bridge amidships coaster setting off together for Aberdeen laden with slates. The weather turned bad. The conventional vessel was more liable to twist in a seaway. It went through the Calendonian Canal whereas the Elidir, no doubt conscious of the owner's strictures on economy, went around Cape Wrath to avoid the canal fees. The Elidir arrived with its slates intact but the other vessel had ten percent of its slates broken and worthless.

Like other coasters of that time they were equipped with two short fore and after masts and small sails. These could be set to steady them in a seaway or to save on coal if there was a favourable wind.

Business Diversification[edit]

The dry dock and engineering facilities in Port Dinorwic could handle large and difficult jobs such as one in 1932. Elidir had run aground near Fraserborough. After unloading at Aberdeen she sailed back to Port Dinorwic cautiously and was dry docked and inspected. She was extensively damaged and her double bottom had to be replaced. Coasters of other companies were also repaired at Port Dinorwic. The workshops of the dry dock also tackled major jobs for the narrow gauge railway lines around the docks including re-boilering the locomotives.

Decline in Traffic[edit]

The tonnage of slate shipped from the port was 74,000 tons in 1898 but had fallen to 47,000 tons in 1914 and 10,000 tons by 1918. Not all the steamers were still needed and Dinorwic was sold in 1919. Railways were by then highly competitive with sea transport for inland loads and only one third of Dinorwic's slate production was despatched by sea in the 1920s. Elidir had to spend time carrying coal along the East Coast of England. For a short time in 1927 a wooden auxiliary ship named Tryfan was purchased. She was soon scrapped and may have just been bought as a hulk in which to store coal.

The second world war led to a further contraction in slate production and the Velinheli and Elidir were sold. That left just the small and ageing Enid with the coming of the peace. Remarkably there was then a late flowering of shipping owned by Dinorwic Quarries although one of them, the Dawlish, a relatively modern motor coaster, is said to have never called at her home port. They still carried the "DQ" emblem on their yellow funnels. At the peak there were five vessels owned but one foundered and by 1955 the last was sold.


  1. ^ Fenton R S (1989) Cambrian Coasters, World Ship Society pp 92 - 103.