MICHAEL FARADAY - TOUR IN WALES - 1819

 

THURSDAY JULY 29th

. . . . . continued from visit to surface facilities at Parys Mountain . . . .

On getting on to the ferry we found the boat ready for us. After crossing we walked about a mile to Bangor, dropped into the Mitre Inn and laid ourselves up for the day. In the room where we took tea was a gentleman who soon entered into the conversation and found that like ourselves he was enjoying Wales in a walk. He amused himself by carrying a blank paper book about foolscap, octavo size made of thin paper on which he sketched and drew scenes and views as attracted his attention. His mode was to ramble until his eye was pleased then to sit down, take out his book and with a very hard pencil sketch the outline what pleased him. The leaf under that one which he was drawing being defended from injury by a thin copper plate. Then placing numbers of reference in different parts he shaded and filled in his drawing in the evening at the place where he put up. In this way he had at different times collected a great many views in England, Scotland and Wales.

With respect to the things he carried with him he was even more compact than we were. He managed to get everything into his pockets, but then his pockets were something like Mr. Nicol's, and in reality he carried two bundles instead of one. They were, however, out of sight. He wore no cravat but a black silk ribbon around his neck and his razor brushes were of a very Lilliputian size. He was going to Capel Curig in the Morning and intended then to return to Bangor and proceed to Anglesea.

FRIDAY, 30th JULY

Breakfasted this morning at the Mitre Inn next door to the Cathedral of this mighty city of Bangor. I am no judge of civic propriety but I could not help taking Bangor for the caricature of a city when told that it claimed the right of being called one. As for its Cathedral, I was afraid to look at that least from the glimpse I had already caught of it, I should take it for a caricature too and I wished to give reverence for the names sake. However to what more concerned us whilst breakfasting this morning which we did in company with the gentleman aforesaid, we agreed to keep together today in our walk to Capel Curig provided our mutual pleasures and convenience did not say nay on the road. We started at a good pace and on our way up the shores of the Menai Straits we had a beautiful view of Beaumaurice on the opposite side and of the sea in the distance. It was our intention to see the slate quarries about 6 miles from Bangor and supposing they were some little distance from the road we, upon crossing a rail way which led from them to the sea shore debated the propriety of following it as a sure guide to the quarry and ultimately left our gent with the road to himself, he wishing to keep it for the views it presented but expecting and agreeing meet again during the morning.

Our walk along the railway was very pleasant sometimes being through corn fields and others within woods and on the whole as we afterwards found giving finer scenery than the road itself. A railway differs from a tramway in being formed of bars of iron laid down on blocks of wood similar to the tram irons and in order to agree with it wheels of the wagons are either grooved or have a flange on the inner side to keep them on the rails. The superiority of the railway over the tramway if it has any, is in the smaller quantity of friction occasioned and in the clean line of the roads all dirt immediately failing off from its rounded narrow surface.

We soon met lines of wagons on the railway proceeding down to the sea laden with slate slabs. One of these lines consisted of 25 wagons each heavily laden, hooked together and they were drawn apparently with the greatest ease by three horses. It was extremely curious to see this broad and heavy line moving along the way and bending round its slight contortions like an immense snake and the half dozen of men and boys that were sitting here and there on the wagons looked as if they were thinly scattered over the moving mass.

In about half an hour we came up with our demi companion. He was on the road just below us leaning over the side of a bridge and sketching a mill which stood on the stream that flowed under him. From where we stood he himself made an excellent object in our view but he was too busy to think of that. He soon saw us and after our mutual sign of good will we again pursued our separate roads to pleasure.

We stopped some time in our walk to observe a man employed in letting the laden wagons down an inclined part of the railway. The process was precisely like that I had mentioned as used at Dowlais but on the whole things were neater. The road was not so dirty, the cylinder was under cover and had a little house at its side. Its tackle was neater and the friction apparatus to retard the velocity of a too rapid descent was of a superior kind. The man was very quick in his motions. He let 3 wagons down at once and for each full one raised an empty one with sometimes a workman or two. The length of this plane was I should think fully 300 ft. We saw several others afterwards on the road and all of them equally neat and pretty.

We now began to see the quarries at intervals from amongst the trees like a number of hills of rubbish on the side of the mountain before us and their appearance increased our eagerness to be at them. We soon reached some saw mills belonging to them where the thick slabs of slate are cut into convenient sizes. We easily got admittance to their interior but there was nothing remarkable. A number of large frames are connected each with a crank and united by one common axle. This is put in motion by a water wheel and the revolutions of the cranks force the frames backwards and forwards. Saws are attached at each end of the frames by a hinge joint and consequently move with it and cut anything placed beneath them. When the saws are not in use they are raised and held up by a string and then on the slab beneath the men arrange blocks of slate with the part which is to be cut in the line of the saws motion. One, two, three or more pieces are put down at once according to their size and the extent of the saw and then it is let down and commences cutting. Water is made to drip by small pipes on to the saws as they work and the part by which they are attached to the large frame is furnished with a long screw which being made gradually to turn round preserves the saw as it sinks in cutting the slate always in a horizontal direction. Here slabs for tombstones, mantle pieces, tables etc., are cut and in another mill furnished in a similar way. Their surfaces are ground smooth and polished if required.

A little way in from the Mills whilst taking a draught of water from a beautiful stream our acquaintance came up with us. He had only seen the outside of the mills and not having been quite so bold as we were and with some degree of impudence we promised him if he would go with us a sight of the quarries. We had to make our way round and between several high hills of refuse slate before we got fairly into the works, but when there we were charmed with the novel and strange appearance of things. The splintering character of all about us, the sharp rocky projections above us the peculiar but here general colour of the rock together made up an appearance unlike anything we had seen before. We pushed on boldly by men and offices and made up inclined ways and along railways towards the explosion we heard a little way off. After having seen two or three very curious places we tempted a man to leave his work and show us the road to the most interesting parts of the quarry and he took us among the cliffs where we almost repented we had asked to go. Smooth perpendicular planes of slate many many feet in height, depth and width, appeared above and below in all directions, chasms yawned, precipices frowned, and the path which conducted amongst and through these strange places was sometimes on the edge of a slate splinter not many inches wide though raised from the cliffs beneath into mid air. Our companion as well as we, was delighted with the scene in this place though he trembled in some parts of its path, but he made up his mind to return to it and sketch. We then mounted and at last gained a kind of slate promontory which had been left projecting across the quarry. It was narrow but walled on both edges. From hence we had a kind of birds-eye view of the excavations and workings and saw the men like pygmies below pursuing their various objects. It was certainly a very singular scene and is like nothing else I know of. Natural precipices do not convey the idea existed here because they are in part rounded by the weather and their smaller parts are generally somewhat nodular or blunt and besides they are modified in colour by the soil that lodges on and the vegetation that covers them. But here every fracture whether large or small presented sharp angles, the fine sober colour was of the utmost freshness and in opposition to usual arrangement. The sides were the smooth and flat places, the bottoms being the rough, irregular parts for the strata here are normally perpendicular. All over the place were scattered men sometimes sitting across a little projection starting from the sharp edge or clinging to a half loosened splinter of the slate and employed in making holes, tamping and blasting the rock. Railways wound in every direction into the works and wagons were continually moving about in the lively scene. just before us they were going to blast and they motioned us away from the place to be out of danger. The explosion did not however scatter the fragments far but it made a noble roar.

Our guide took pains to show us what they called good and bad rock, that is rock which would split into plates with facility and such as did so with difficulty or was irregular in its fracture. He also showed us his own working place. As in the Anglesea mines so the men here entered into engagements to work part of the quarry and render their work in finished slates and they are paid so much per thousand according to the quality of the rock which they have to work. We followed him to his shed for he and his companions had quarried some masses and were now engaged in another place separating them into laminae and dressing them. The first operation was that of splitting. This was done with long and wide but very thin chisels more indeed like pointers knives than chisels. One of these being placed at the edge of a block and gently tapped with a hammer soon causes the mass to split then the other being introduced. They are worked to and fro in the cleft which is forced open and the block divided. This is repeated again and again until the stone is reduced into those thin plates used for roofing houses. The dresser then takes them and cuts them square by placing the part he wishes to divide on a blunt edge of iron fixed in a block before him and with an instrument like a large heavy kitchen knife striking on the upper surface in the same direction, the slate gives way instantly and is cut with a very neat edge. The size is arranged according to certain gauge marks so that the produce is very uniform. The men work with astonishing rapidity cutting the slate as if it were a wafer. They offered us two or three small squares out of the waste as remembrances of the place.

Having seen all we could see and left our companion in the chasm making his sketch we set off to regain the Capel Curig road. We had to pass a little way through some fine grounds and cross the bridge over the River close to a very beautiful cascade. Being very hungry and thirsty we were tempted by a very clean looking inn to rest and refresh ourselves, and were soon heartily engaged with nice bread and butter and cheese accompanied with good cwrw. We stopped so long there that our acquaintance came up and so calling him in he joined us in our cheer, showed us his sketch and then we set off again together.

But I suppose fate has doomed us to be frequently parted for we had not gone about 2 or 3 miles before he was again tempted by the scenery (certainly very charming) to sketch and we again bade each other goodbye. We rambled on in fine spirits among lakes and mountains and delightful scenery until we reached Capel Curig an only house in which gives name to or takes name from the place. It has so many doors I was obliged to ask a person standing by which I was to go in at.

Here we took tea and the coach for Llangollen coming up in about an hour we mounted it for a ride to that place. About 100 yards from the Inn we again had the pleasure of seeing our ci-devant companion. He was just arriving and intended putting up at Capel Curig for the night from where he would return to Bangor on the morrow. We motioned adieu to each other.

I cannot always be saying "we had fine scenery" so you must conclude that it is the case if 1 do not notice the contrary whilst we are in Wales, and among other times that it was the case now. At a little distance from the Inn we passed the falls at Capel Curig, not high but very beautiful. They occur, I believe, in the Conway River which kept us company a long way tonight. Here and there on the river we saw fishermen in their coracles, little vessels something like a washing tub squeezed by a door into an oval form, a board is put across the middle in which two men sit, one each way and whilst one paddles the other casts the net. They were fishing for salmon. In one place we crossed the river by an iron bridge very handsome in its appearance and with a very prominent inscription cast on it extending the whole length of the arch. The inscription purported that the bridge was erected the same year as the battle of Waterloo was fought. One person asked when that was but as another could only say that the Battle of Waterloo was fought in the same year that the bridge was erected, we were very little wiser for the inscription.