A lot has changed since the emergence of new mining technology, transportation services & excavation techniques that has revolutionised the process from start to finish. These new processes have created a significant array of benefits in comparison to the life of the hardcore, tough as nails quarry worker that pioneered the first set of processes & techniques on various ways to mine this beautiful inherent resource. This in short is a story board of the life of a quarry worker in North Wales back in the early-mid 19th Century.
Men worked six days a week for very poor wages and in sometimes desperate conditions. It took five years of apprenticeship to become a full miner, and even then the skilled labour was not reflected in pay. The men were employed on monthly contracts, with the first three weeks of each month being paid in ‘sub’ wages: a nominal subsistence amount.
The fourth week was paid with profits and bonuses added, less cost of… everything essentially. Miners had to pay for explosives, tools, sharpening and even air for the pneumatic drills. This didn’t add much to the hard earned pay packet at the end of a long week of labour.
Physical conditions, too, were harsh, cold, & often involved a very high degree of danger. Skilfully wielding the hammers and chisels that were the tools of their trade, they would dangle on ropes round their body and legs from pins at the top of the gallery in which they were working. The slate was nearly always damp and slippery, there could be rock falls and the ropes often broke. Below is a great look in to what the conditions were like back in the early 1960’s:
If an accident happened, the on-site medical facility was a St John’s Ambulance station run by miners themselves as volunteers. For men working away from the seam, slate dust was the major cause of medical complaint. This could – like coal dust for miners in South Wales – cause silicosis and other respiratory illnesses.
Miners dangers were many. He may be crushed to death at any time by the falling roof, burned to death by the exploding of gas, or blown to pieces by a premature blast. So dangerous is his work that he is excluded from all ordinary life insurance. During the last thirty years over 10,000 men and boys have been killed and 25,000 have been injured in this industry. Not many old men are found in the mines. The average age of those killed were around 32.13.
The pace with which the slate mining industry expanded during the 19th century was such that although the men worked extremely hard, demand outstripped production and the UK market turned to Spanish imports to take up the slack.
Looking at where we are today compared to the olden days, you could say a lot has changed over the past few decades. Here’s a video from Lagan Building Solutions narrated by former Director Peter Lagan on his perspective with where the industry is at, his product & his vision for the future.
Welsh Slate & slate from around the world has come along way as you could read / watch from the above reading. From harsh, dangerous manual labour to sustainable, automated, efficient work systems can only be dedicated to the hard working forefathers that pioneered the craft of Slate Mining.
If you would like to know more about Welsh Slate or have a project in mind using this stunning material then be sure to contact us;
Kyle Glasby – firstname.lastname@example.org – 0451 399 226
Jackson McIntyre – email@example.com – 0412 080 482
From the Heritage Team