tempus fugit

By ceridwen

School days in a slate town

On a short trip to North Wales with my friend and her dog, we made a pit-stop in Blaenau Ffestiniog, the former slate capital of Wales. Until the late 18th century this was just another tiny upland hamlet clenched in a mountain fist but when vast slate deposits were discovered the community boomed into an industrial mecca with 4000 men employed in the quarries, three railway lines to take the slate out and the first street lighting in Britain via the hydro-electric power station built to serve the slate mines.

The life of the miners was hard: born in slate cottages and schooled in slate schools, they worshipped in slate chapels and were laid to rest under slate headstones, beneath the towering black rock faces at which they had laboured. The slate industry itself died over the course of the 20th century and the town has re-invented itself as an unusual tourist destination: the grey houses are packed tight along narrow streets with the hacked-about hills poised directly above; tips of stone waste are perched precariously as if about to tumble down into the steeply-inclined gardens.

We wondered what it must be like to live here in a community so compressed and overshadowed, where the smoke from the cottage chimneys rises up to mingle with the mist on the hill tops, where home has no green green grass because all the soil has been washed or scraped away.

Out of many pictures I took I chose this one since it seemed to illustrate the casual exuberance of children everywhere, just released from school and happy in their grey slate 'town that roofed the world'.

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