Gwynedd Council’s bid to inscribe The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales as a World heritage site has now been under way for ten years.
If successful, it will include six Component Parts, each one made up of a distinctive environment, including patrician dwellings, workers’ villages, relict and potentially dangerous locations, and operational heritage railways.
Developing the bid has led to some stimulating challenges: one of the most interesting ones has been developing and encouraging community involvement in the bid-process, and in particular marrying the sense – very strong in Welsh-speaking Wales – that heritage resides in the individual’s and the community’s immediate milieu, the ‘square mile’ of memory and experience, with outstanding universal value.
The cultural landscape of slate quarrying provides eloquent testimony to the skill of – for instance – engineers who developed particular technologies but as importantly also it shows the investment of skill and labour, often at the risk of life and limb, on the part of the thousands of men who flocked from the rural hinterland to work in this rapidly-growing industry. Vital also was the role of women who raised children in difficult circumstances, in tiny cottages and crammed industrial rows.
These stories have been discussed, developed and confirmed by the work of Gwynedd Council community officers, who targeted stakeholders, elected officials and promoted drop-in sessions, library visits, aided and assisted by the work of the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, which has promoted community excavations and an ‘unloved heritage’ project. The Council’s ‘youth ambassadors’ project has involved young people in their heritage. The narratives which have been identified now form part of an interpretation strategy promoted by Gwynedd Council, which has also emphasised ways in which these stories are on the one hand distinctive, unique to the ‘square mile’, but on the other are also part of a global experience, of western domination of world markets and of the transition from a rural to an industrial society.
On this basis, Dr David Gwyn will be discussing how a ‘square mile’ forms part of the heritage of humankind.
About the speaker
Dr David Gwyn has been one of a team advising Gwynedd Council on its Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales World Heritage bid. He is a native of the area, and spent his early childhood in the quarrying village of Bethesda, where he had ample opportunity to see the huge Penrhyn slate quarry at work, then still using machinery and technologies from the nineteenth century. His interest in the industry led to the publication by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales in 2015 of his Welsh Slate: History and Archaeology of an Industry. He works as an archaeologist and heritage consultant. He was editor of Industrial Archaeology Review from 2002 to 2010, and is the author of several other books on industrial and cultural history and archaeology.
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Image:Blaenau Ffestiniog, taken from Moelwyn Bach showing the large waste heaps that dominate the town. User:Stemonitis, CC BY-SA 2.5 , via Wikimedia Commons
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