THE SLATE LANDSCAPE of Northwest Wales has become the UK’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognising the global impact of its roofing slate.
The landscape has become the UK’s 32nd UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the fourth in Wales, following the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Blaenavon Industrial Landscape and the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd.
World Heritage Slate
The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales, which runs through Gwynedd, became the world leader for the production and export of slate in the 1800s.
Slate has been quarried in the area for over 1,800 years and was used to build parts of the Roman fort in Segontium in Caernarfon and Edward I’s castle in Conwy.
From the 1800’s, the industrial revolution saw demand surge as cities across the world expanded. Slate from the mines at Gwynedd was widely used to roof workers’ homes, public buildings, places of worship and factories.
By the 1890s the Welsh slate industry employed approximately 17,000 workers and produced almost 500,000 tonnes of slate a year – around a third of all roofing slate used in the world in the late 19th century.
UK Government Heritage Minister, Caroline Dinenage, said: “UNESCO World Heritage Status is a huge achievement and testament to the importance this region played in the Industrial Revolution and Wales’ slate mining heritage. I welcome the prospect of increased investment, jobs and a better understanding of this stunning part of the UK.”
The Welsh slate industry had a huge impact on global architecture with this roofing slate used on a number of buildings, terraces and palaces across the globe including Westminster Hall in London’s Houses of Parliament, the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Australia and Copenhagen City Hall, Denmark. In 1830, half the buildings in New York had roofs constructed using Welsh slate.
Centuries of mining in the area transformed the landscape on a monumental scale with the inscription reflecting the important role this region played in ‘roofing the 19th century world’.
The Wales Slate Partnership Steering Group has worked for more than a decade to achieve the World Heritage landscape designation. Its partners include Gwynedd Council.
Councillor Dyfrig Siencyn, Leader Gwynedd Council, said:“The legacy of the quarries remains extremely evident around us from the striking landscape, the industrial buildings and steam railways to our villages and towns.
“Not only is the influence of the quarrying industry visible, but its heritage is still heard strongly in the language, traditions and rich histories of these areas.
“Our aim is to celebrate this heritage and landscape and recognise their historic and industrial importance to humankind – in order to create opportunities for the future”.
David Anderson, Director General of National Museum Wales said: “Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is very proud to have been a key partner in this bid. Its success will ensure that the impact of the culture and industrial heritage of the area – including the story of the slate industry which we tell at the National Slate Museum in Llanberis – is recognised throughout the world.”
Christopher Catling, Secretary of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, whose staff helped to compile the nomination document, adds: “Human muscle and ingenuity have left us with a remarkable landscape combining natural and man-made features that are fully worthy of being included in the top tier of all heritage sites in the world.
“Here you can see the evidence for the entire slate production process, from hillside quarry and cavernous underground mines to the engine houses, wheelhouses and mills powered by ingenious water systems needed to work the slate; the inclines and aerial ropeways used to carry raw and worked slate from remote hills to tramways, and the narrow-gauge railways capable of negotiating mountainous terrain carrying slate to the harbours at Port Penrhyn and Porthmadog for shipment to all parts of the world.”