The Origins of Port Penrhyn
Port Penrhyn was developed by the Pennant family who owned Penrhyn Quarry, Bethesda, which was for many years the world's largest slate quarry. In 1786 he leased the shore beside the Afon Cegin near Bangor and built quays which eventually formed Port Penrhyn.
Some slate was shipped from Bangor before Port Penrhyn was developed. Bangor was also a minor centre for wooden ship building. Many of its shipyards and slate yards were on Hirael Bay at the top of the photograph below but the construction of Port Penrhyn encouraged its silting.
The Growth of Shipments
In 1792 12,000 tons of slate was shipped from Port Penrhyn which was 50% of all slate shipped from North Wales. The mole at Port Penrhyn was extended in 1800, 1803 and 1829-30. A new quay was built to form a dock in 1855. Filling in behind the new quays could be done using incoming ballast from the empty slate carrier vessels or waste rock from the quarry where 90% of the extracted rock was rubbish. A standard gauge branch from the Chester and Holyhead Railway arrived in 1852 but most of the quarry's production contiued to be shipped. For example in 1859 120,000 tons of slate was shipped from Port Penrhyn.
The Railway Connection
Penrhyn Quarry and Port Penrhyn were linked by the Penrhyn Quarry Railway, once the home of Linda and Blanche and several miles of rails which the FR acquired in the 1960s. (Penrhyn Quarry Rail) This narrow gauge railway replaced an earlier very historic tramway which had opened in 1801. This was designed by Benjamin Wyatt and featured an early use of edge rails. The new line opened in 1879 and its design was by Charles Spooner. The first three locomotives were by de Winton.
Transition from Sail to Steam
At first the slate was carried away in locally owned wooden sailing ships and this continued for more than 100 years. Port Penrhyn was often too small for the trade on offer and this produced congestion. Steamers were introduced late because they had little economic advantage. Slates have to be loaded by hand which takes a long time. The higher capital cost of a steamer made the in-port waiting time more expensive than that of a much cheaper sailing vessel. Even up to the First World War a sailing ship in the slate trade could earn a higher return on capital than a steamer. This explains the late arrival of steamers in the slate trade in the nineteenth century throughout North West Wales. Investment in steamers began with the first one, the Anglesey in 1891 and the last, Sybil-Mary was sold to Dinorwic Quarry in 1954 and then to a scrap yard in Dublin within a few months.
Unlike Bangor, Port Penrhyn only served Penrhyn Slate Quarry. Cargoes were slate and occasionally Fullersite (powdered slate) out and the odd cargo of coal into the port. The last load of slate shipped from Port Penrhyn was by a Dutch motor coaster in May 1962. Port Penrhyn passed out of the ownership of the Pennant family in 1973. From the 1980s sea-dredged sand was landed for the local construction industry and judging by the photograph above this continued until at least 2014. From time to time James Fisher's heavy lift ships have brought in electrical equipment for local power stations and pumped-storage schemes. The latter is a role similar to the continuing very occasional use of Porthmadog.
- Fenton R S (1989) Cambrian Coasters, World Ship Society pp 17 - 18.
- Fenton R S (1989) Cambrian Coasters, World Ship Society pp 136 - 151.
- Turner S (1975) The Padarn & Penrhyn Railways, David & Charles, South Devon House, Newton Abbot, Devon, UK pp 47 - 49.