In a Welsh Slate QuarryCategory: Land + People
By Ernest Young
North Wales is a land of high mountain ranges, tumbling streams and green valleys. The mountain slopes are often so steep and stony that even the fine grass refuses to cover the bare grey rocks. In some of the small valleys which lie in the mountains near Snowdon there are great ugly holes that have been carved out of the mountain sides. Near them huge piles of loose rock cover the ground. These piles are flat- topped and bluish-grey or mauve in colour.
The great hole that has spoiled the shape of the mountain side is a slate quarry, and the huge piles are the bits of broken slate which have been cast aside as useless ever since the quarry was opened. The piles grow very quickly, for eleven tons of waste are brought to the surface with every ton of slate.
The sides of the quarry rise in steps, one above the other. The steps are called galleries, and are named after the members of the owner’s family or from something that happened while the gallery was being made.
The work of getting the slate from the face of the quarry is done by the rockmen, as they are called. They work in pairs and are paid not by the hour, but by the amount of slate they bring out of the quarry.
The quarrymen live, as a rule, in small towns or villages in closely packed rows of stone cottages with slate roofs. Some of them own small farms, and at times stay away from the quarry to look after their harvest and their hay. On the whole, however, they live as near as possible to the quarry, but sometimes special early trains are run on private lines to collect workers from nearby towns.
The men are fond of football, and during the lunch hour may be seen playing on the galleries or on the clear spaces outside the dressing-shed. The owners of the quarries often offer a cup to be played for by the different galleries and everybody gets very excited. As the day for the final draws near many are the battles of words that take place between the galleries about the teams. At lunch-hour the quarry hums not with the noise of work, but with the voices of hundreds of men talking about football. And they are talking, not in English, but in their own native Welsh.
From Kingsway Geography Readers.