Ffestiniog Welsh Slate is back in production

Ffestiniog Wesl Slate

After a decade, blue grey slate from Ffestiniog is back in production by Welsh Slate.

After being closed for more than a decade, Welsh Slate has re-opened Ffestiniog Quarry and it is back in full production, producing the world renowned blue-grey roofing slate.

Welsh Slate says the re-opening is due to a huge demand for Welsh slate in the UK and worldwide.

The slate from Ffestiniog has a smooth riven texture. The majority of the production is focused on the core sizes (500 x 300mm, 400 x 250mm and 300 x 200mm) in three thickness grades: Capital (5.5mm), County (7mm), and Celtic (9mm). The quality of the stone will allow production of roofing slates in excess of a metre long for those who require it.

Ffestiniog Quarry is in the heart of Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales. It was opened for slate production in 1818. The slate from it was formed by the Ordovician slate beds laid down more than 470million years ago.

Ffestiniog Quarry characteristically produces a thin, uniform slate with less texture than the slate from Cwt-y-Bugail, another nearby Welsh Slate quarry. It does not have the immense capacity of Welsh Slate's quarry at Penrhyn in Bethesda but is still able to produce sufficient volumes of roofing slate to meet demand.

Re-opening the quarry at Blaenau Ffestiniog will lead to the recruitment of 20 more staff. They will help produce 25,000 roofing slates a week initially and the number is expected to rise quickly to 30,000.

Seven of the new recruits will be based at Blaenau Ffestiniog, extracting and transporting large blocks of raw slate to Cwt-y-Bugail at Llan Ffestiniog, three miles away. Six more staff at Llan Ffestiniog will saw and split the slate for the rivings to be dressed at the company's main Penrhyn Quarry.

Roofing slates from Ffestiniog Quarry were used on such prestigious projects as Kings Cross and St Pancras railway stations, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and Westerloo Town Hall in Belgium.

The slate was particularly popular in southern England, south Wales and The Netherlands because the light weight of the tiles meant they were particularly cost effective to transport, mostly by ship, as a shipping duty had been introduced in the UK in 1795.

Ffestiniog roofing slates are blue-grey in colour, generally lighter in shade than Cwt-y-Bugail's dark blue-grey slates and with a finer grained texture, which is what makes it possible to spilt them slightly thinner and in larger formats. Although their colour is different to Penrhyn Heather Blues, the texture is similar.

The re-opening of its Blaenau Ffestiniog quarry will also enable Welsh Slate to re-establish its offering of Ffestiniog architectural products for external and internal applications such as cladding, paving, flooring, window cills, copings and fire hearths. 

Returning the quarry to roofing and architectural slate production has required a significant investment by Welsh Slate, part of the Breedon Group that lays claim to being the largest independent construction materials group in the UK.

Sophisticated geotechnical mapping of the site identified underground chambers from the days when the slate was mined. There was minimal overburden, which meant the existing roof of the mine could be removed to expose the pillars of slate left by mining for extraction, a process that had been started by the previous owners in 1973 but was abandoned. The slate deposits identified by surveyors are expected to last for the foreseeable future.

Commercial director Michael Hallé says: "It's a far cry from its peak in the 1870s when the quarry at Blaenau Ffestiniog employed more than 2,500 people and produced around 10million slates a year, but the re-opening of our Ffestiniog quarry will improve the availability of Welsh Slate overall, with total output from the three quarries amounting to more than 100,000 slates per week.

"We are delighted we will now be able to meet the exceptional demand from both domestic and export markets for this high-quality slate. There has been a strong interest from the merchants and roofing contractors in the UK and abroad and we look forward to seeing Ffestiniog gracing roofs again.

"The investment in re-opening this quarry, to allow safe extraction of the material, was considerable, but many skilled roofing contractors, particularly in The Netherlands, where our slate is of far superior quality to local slate, prefer the Ffestiniog slate."

Welsh Slate also applied successfully last summer for planning permission to increase the life of Penrhyn Quarry, the largest of the Welsh Slate quarries that was, at one time, the biggest slate quarry in the World.

If you need help in understanding the precise benefits of the slates from the different quarries, or which grade of Ffestiniog Welsh Slate roofing to choose for your roofing project, Welsh Slate will be happy to hear from you to explain more. Call 01248 600656 or email enquiries@welshslate.com


Ffestiniog Quarry

The Ffestiniog Quarry that has been re-opened after more than a decade.