Bryneglwys quarry, Abergynolwyn village and the Talyllyn Railway form a remarkably complete, part-functioning, part relict landscape of extraction, processing, transport and community from the heyday of the North Wales slate industry.
Bryneglwys quarry worked two veins of Upper Ordovician-era slate, and occupies the upland area between the valley of the Afon Fathew to the north and the Dyfi estuary to the south. It was initially worked in the early 1840s. In 1859 it was leased to the speculator John Lloyd Jones of Nantlle, who in 1863 passed the lease on to the McConnel brothers of Manchester, a major cotton-spinning firm, who were anxious to diversify their interest during the cotton famine caused by the American Civil War.
The slate was worked both underground and in open pits, and blocks were processed in mills which were driven mainly by turbines.
James Spooner, brother of Charles Easton Spooner of the Festiniog Railway, surveyed and engineered the Talyllyn Railway for the McConnels. This opened in 1866. Not only was it the first of the North Wales slate industry railways to connect with the British main-line network (in this case the newly-built Aberystwyth & Welsh Coast Railway) rather than with the sea, it was also among the first narrow gauge railways in the world to be built from the outset for steam traction and for passenger traffic.
James Stevens, a Manchester architect, laid out the company village of Abergynolwyn for the McConnels in the 1860s around a small existing settlement, building substantial terraced houses in Lancashire fashion but using slate blocks as the main constructional material. Unusually, Abergynolwyn was served by an inclined plane and a level railway from the Talyllyn Railway, which delivered coal, beer and groceries, and removed night-soil.
Since the quarry’s closure in 1946, much of the site has been covered in forestry, though recent thinning has revealed more of its landscape. A particularly remarkable feature is the Nantlle-inspired waterwheel-driven chain incline systems on the edge of the open working, built by John Lloyd Jones’ men in the 1860s, a testament to the migration of technology within the North Wales slate industry from one region to another.
Abergynolwyn village has seen little substantial change since it was first set out. The Talyllyn Railway continues to operate very successfully as a tourist railway, and the standard gauge railway from Pwllheli to Dyfi Junction with which it was built to connect is also still running. The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum at Tywyn station interprets the history of this distinctive technology and its links with the slate industry.