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Penmaenmawr Uplands Historic Background


A ridge of upland that extends from Conwy Mountain (Mynydd y Dref) in the north-east to the uplands around Bwlch y Ddeufaen in the south-west. This area shows evidence of human settlement from the Bronze Age to the twentieth century. Immediately to the south east of the Penmaenmawr outcrop lies a tight knot of ritual/ceremonial monuments with the embanked stone circle of the Druid's Circle as their centrepiece.

The monuments lie near a purported Bronze Age trackway that traverses the plateau from the Afon Ddu valley in the west to the Conwy Valley in the east. Immediately below the plateau, the trackway bisects a small cemetery of ruined barrows. A second Bronze Age trackway links Aber and the Conwy Valley via Bwlch y Ddeufaen. The two trackways are further conjoined by at least two north/south cross-routes. The most westerly cross-route flanks the cairn field of Bryniau Bugeilydd, a group of low stone and turf covered sepulchral mounds.

Within the same area there are numerous unenclosed and enclosed hut groups of round houses in association with lynchet boundaries and field systems which may be pre-Iron Age. The road through Bwlch y Ddeufaen was in use in Roman times, and was still a through route until the late eighteenth century. The Iron Age is represented by the hillfort at Castell Caer Lleion on Conwy Mountain.

Upland land use in the Medieval and Modern periods is associated with the seasonal movement of stock from the lowlands in winter to the higher pastures in summer. There is also evidence for peat-extraction, and small-scale quarrying of diorite, as at Penmaenbach from c. 1873 until the 1940s. Millstone was also quarried on Mynydd y Dref during the Napoleonic wars, and slate at Tal y Fan, a remote site of possibly Medieval origin which limped on until 1914 mainly because of H.L. North's use of its distinctive green-brown roofing slates for his buildings.

Quarry Historic Background

The present workings at Penmaenmawr continue a tradition of stone-quarrying which begins in the third millennium BC, when Graiglwyd was worked for stone suitable for axe-making. It was the third most productive of the Prehistoric axe-making sites in Britain, after the factories of Great Langdale and Scafell in the Lake District and around St Ives in Cornwall, whose products vied with each other in Neolithic markets throughout the island. The first leases which indicate modern exploitation of the Penmaenmawr outcrop for stone are dated 1833. In the first instance operations amounted to extracting suitable material from the unconsolidated scree slopes, flaking them into setts, and transporting them as ballast on ships bound for Liverpool. The early extraction pits were surveyed as part of the detailed survey of the north slopes below Graiglwyd. Within a decade two independent quarries had been developed, one on the Eastern flank (Graiglwyd) and the other occupying the western extremity (Penmaen).

Both quarries concentrated on sett production although loose stone for ballast was of increasing importance. Crushing mills were therefore established from the 1890s onwards and production increasingly concentrated on this commodity thus expanding at the expense of the sett making enterprises. The two quarries were amalgamated under the same management in the early part of this century and the joint operations linked by a quarry railway. In the late 1930s the Graiglwyd quarry ceased as a sett production unit and the eastern workings were accordingly abandoned.

The present quarry at Penmaenmawr occupies the western part of the outcrop and concentrates on producing aggregate for road construction and for railway ballast. A new crushing plant was installed in 1983 and the present output of the quarry is 600, 000 tonnes per annum. The planned reserve of the quarry concession is approximately 40 million tonnes, giving an estimated life span for the whole operation of sixty years. Since quarrying has been concentrated on the western Penmaen end of the outcrop the summit of the mountain has been reduced by approximately 400 feet and in the process the whole prehistoric hillfort of Braich y Ddinas was consumed in an operation that paid only minimal attention to archaeological detail.

Historic Landscape Characteristics

The town of Penmaenmawr is characterised by quarry workers' dwellings, which predominate in the western half of the town, and by holiday villas, boarding houses and hotels, which predominate in the eastern half. The east-west axes of the Telford post road, the Chester to Holyhead main line railway, and the modern A55 dominate the settlement, and the courses of the former quarry inclines, one of which is in re-use for a conveyor belt system to a sorting plant at the railway station, pass through the residential areas.

The town includes a wide variety of workers' housing, ranging from the very simple early buildings at New York, to the Lancashire-style terraced housing at David Street and Erasmus Street, to the attractive range of buildings for staff employees at St David's Terrace. These, and their associated community infrastructure, reflect the paternalistic regime of the Darbishire family at the quarry.

The resort buildings are for the most part late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and are laid out following the lie of the land. The broad but winding street from the railway station to the main shopping area on the post road is especially prominent, but other streets in this part of the settlement are narrow as well as winding. The main street is noted for its covered walkways, supported by cast-iron pillars, in imitation of Llandudno.

The dominant building material for both the quarry and the resort dwellings is Penmaenmawr granite, though there is considerable use of glazed Rhiwabon brick for decorative work. Slate is the dominant roofing material, but there is some use of tile.

The smaller nucleated community at Dwygyfylchi to the east is made up partly of villa style architecture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and a modern housing estate, interspersed with older agricultural buildings and a cluster of nineteenth century dwellings at the foot of the road over the Sychnant pass to Conwy. The substantial Regency dwelling Pendyffryn survives as an office complex and a social centre for the caravan park established on its demesne. A golf-course has been laid out north of the Old Conwy Road.