Slate Stories

Sian Pari Huws explores the significance of slate with people whose lives, in many different ways, are bound up with this ancient rock.



Sian visits the old quarrying communities of Blaenau Ffestiniog and Bethesda.

Just as the South Wales Valleys were built on coal, these communities were built on slate.

Sian meets the quarrymen, now retired, who were working up to the 1960s in conditions little different from those their Victorian forebears had to endure.

Light was provided by a candle stuck in a piece of clay and silicosis from slate dust was a constant hazard of the job.

However, there were positive aspects to life in the quarries: we discover the culture of the caban, the quarrymen's canteen, where discussion and debate were raised to an art form.


Above the quarrying communities of North Wales, slate waste spills across the mountainsides in a torrent of grey.

But artists have found inspiration both in this landscape and in the communities which have shaped it, revealing subtle varieties of colour and sculpting the rock into new forms.

Sian also discovers the musical possibilities of slate.

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Colin Lee has been a slate roofer in North Wales for nearly 40 years.

He still takes great pride in his work and maintains that attention to detail and a good head for heights are essential requirements for the job.

Those skills are also essential for the climbers who have pioneered challenging new routes in the disused slate quarries nearby, christening them with extraordinary names like Mentil Lentils, Comes the Dervish and Ring of Bright Scum.

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In the face of increasing competition from other countries and the uncertainties of architectural fashion, is the Welsh slate industry in danger of becoming little more than a museum piece?

Sian meets businessmen, quarrymen and an artist who see slate as a design icon with a bright future.