Welsh Slate Heritage

Operating from its quarries in North Wales, Welsh Slate has been supplying the world with high-quality slate for hundreds of years.

Welsh Slate has been used and crafted by many generations of people from all walks of life from the Iron Age to present day. Penrhyn Quarry has been producing roofing slate since the thirteenth-century, it became the world’s largest slate quarry in the 19th, when it employed more than 2,500 people. The Cwt-y-Bugail slate quarry in Ffestiniog, North Wales has been producing slates from 1840, and is currently the highest industrial site in the UK.

The earliest records of slate used in North Wales are from the Roman fort at Segontium Caernarfon circa 77AD

Penrhyn Quarry has been producing roofing slate since the thirteenth-century

Penrhyn Quarry has been at the centre and the focal point for UK natural stone and its heritage for 700 years and a major operation for over 400 years.


Evidence of the shipping of materials dates back to the fourteenth-century and by the eighteenth-century Welsh slate was being shipped to all the major UK ports as well as many western European destinations.

The worldwide use of slate from the eighteenth-century onwards followed the trade routes of the major British shipping lines complementing the import of cotton from America and wool from Australia as two prime examples.

Welsh Slate has been extracted for local construction for more than three thousand years, but it was not until the Roman occupation from the 1st Century that roofing slates as we know them today were split and shaped the roof local roman villas.


As a true industry it is not until the 13th Century that Welsh roofing slates were shipped around the coast of Britain and into the low countries of Europe. It was these markets in the Netherlands and Belgium where there was a history of local slate production that Welsh Slate really found a foothold. The local craftsmen recognised the superior quality of the Welsh Slate over the local production and promoted its use particularly on high status buildings such as Cathedrals and Monasteries.


It was the start of the industrial revolution at the end of the 18th Century that saw the big change in slate production in Wales. The demand created from the move of the workforce from agriculture to the industrial towns required a massive increase in housing and Welsh slate was available and perfectly suited as they were light weight, low maintenance and did not have the fire risk of roofing materials like thatch or timber shakes.


Seeing this opportunity Richard Pennant, later the first Baron Penrhyn, brought up the leases of the small quarries in the area we now know as Penrhyn Quarry to form the world’s first “super quarry”. Penrhyn together with Dinorwic and the quarries in Blaenau Ffestiniog dominated the supply of slate around the world with the peak being the 1870’s where Penrhyn alone was selling over 100,000 tonnes of slate a year and employing over 3000 people.


The architectural fashion changed in the start of the 20th Century and man-made alternatives such as Asbestos Cement Slates and glazed tiles became more readily available which started a decline in the global demand for Welsh Slate. The First World War had a dramatic impact as did the global economic depression of the 1930’s.


It was not until the early 1970’s that a resurgence in demand for natural slate saw Welsh Slate regain its position as the most desired roof slate in the world, a position it still holds today.

Sales Office
Penrhyn Quarry
LL57 4YG

+44 (0) 1248 600656