The Penmaenmawr Museum is based in an old cottage, part of a row of four. Built in the 1840s these were amongst the first properties built in Penmaenmawr to house quarry workers. Recently restored, the ground floor of No. 4 houses a small museum on the quarrying industry and the growth of Penmaenmawr in the 19th Century. Using figurines, photographs, original objects and interactive displays, the museum gives a snapshot of life in a Welsh industrial community. The name, New York cottages, derives from the number of workers who were emeigrating to America at that time. The name Penmaenmawr is the Welsh for 'Head of the Great Stone', or 'Great Headland of Stone' contrasting with Penmaenbach; Pen meaning 'head', maen meaning 'stone' and mawr meaning 'great', 'large', big etc.
The uplands above the town have many prehistoric remains, including the site of prehistoric polished stone axe factories on the west slopes of Cwm Graiglwyd near the top of Penmaen-mawr. This was once one of the most important stone axe manufacturing sites in Europe, together with the Langdale axe industry in the Lake District, Tievebulliagh in County Antrim and other sites across Britain. There is evidence that axes from Graiglwyd were exported widely 5,000 years ago, examples having been found as far afield as Cornwall and south-east England. The nearby Meini Hirion, known in English as Druid's Circle, is a prehistoric stone circle. A prehistoric trackway from Bwlch-y-ddeufaen to Conwy runs by the circle. The summit of Penmaen-mawr, from which the town takes its name, was 1,500 feet (460 m) above sea level until reduced by modern quarrying. The summit area was crowned by Braich-y-Dinas, one of the largest Iron Age hill-forts in Europe, comparable with Tre'r Ceiri near Trefor on the Llŷn peninsula. However, nothing remains today; the last remnants were obliterated by quarrying in the 1920s.
The industrial quarrying of igneous rock (diorite) at Penmaenan began in 1830 with the opening of the Penmaen Quarry and the subsequent, competing Graiglwyd and 'Old' quarries which were amalgamated by 1888 under Colonel Darbishire. Most of the production in these early years was of setts and paving, but from 1881 the advantage of crushed rock for railway ballast was demonstrated and new crushing mills were built to provide for that market. In 1911 Darbishire merged these operations with the quarries of Trefor to form the Penmaenmawr & Welsh Granite Co.. As the industry grew, workers and their families flocked to Penmaenmawr from all over north-west Wales and beyond. The link was especially strong with Trefor, the home of Trefor granite quarry on the slopes of Yr Eifl. The community which sprang up in the present day wards of Penmaenan and Pant-yr-afon was close-knit almost entirely Welsh-speaking. By the early years of the 20th century about 1,000 men worked in the quarry and its associated workshops. Neighbouring Llanfairfechan was an integral part of this process. The quarried stone was lowered by self-acting inclines to the 3 foot (914 mm) gauge tramway which ran to jetties from where the setts were loaded into ships. After 1848 the majority of the quarry output was sent by main-line rail, although the quarry and its internal narrow gauge railway continued to operate through the nineteenth century.
Life was not easy for the quarrymen, especially those who worked on the higher slopes. They were expected to walk up to the summit area in all weathers and faced losing pay if unable to reach the top. A strong spirit of camaraderie developed and was reflected in the town's chapels, pubs and cultural societies. Products were exported by rail to ports like Liverpool and the cities of England and by sea from the two quarrying jetties to Liverpool and also to a number of European ports such as Hamburg. Ships continued to load cargoes from the Darbishire jetty until 1976, although sea-trade had been sparse since the famous stranding of the Rethi Muller in 1967. Railway ballast continued to move in quantity from the sidings near the station, but all the original infrastructure was swept away by the building of the new A55 Expressway in the late 1980s. A new rail-loading facility was constructed and the original sidings space used for the new road. In 2008 the contract for the supply of railway ballast to Network Rail was lost, and since that time there have only been limited movements by rail - such as for construction of the Manchester Metrolink extensions. This quarrying over time removed the whole top of Penmaenmawr mountain, which was once much higher with a rounded top, with an old hill-fort on.
William Ewart Gladstone was born in Liverpool in 1809. At the age of 23 he entered Parliament and began a career that spanned over sixty years. Between 1853 and 1885 he was Chancellor of the Exchequer twice and Prime Minister four times. A popular Liberal statesman, his belief in social reform earned him the title ‘The People’s William’. Gladstone retired at the age of 85, and died four years later in 1898. With the opening of the railway in 1849, Penmaenmawr became a ‘watering place’ attracting the wealthy from Northwest England. The Gladstone family found Penmaenmawr convenient to visit by train from their home at Hawarden Castle. They visited twelve times during the next forty years. As his diaries tell us, Gladstone came to Penmaenmawr to roam the hills and bathe daily in the bracing sea. He brought plenty of reading material, wrote letters to friends and politicians and continued his studies on Ancient Greece, especially Homer. The Gladstones stayed at a number of houses but Plas Mawr was their favourite.
All the interpretive information on the top floor of the museum is available on their website, so that you can look at objects and learn more about them wherever you are. It can be quite dark in the museum due to the nature of the building and the need to protect some artefacts from the damaging effects of bright lights. The museum is an old Victorian cottage and therefore, unfortunately, there is no wheelchair access to the 1st floor. The ground floor rooms are small but it is possible to manoeuvre a wheelchair through them. There is a disabled toilet available on the ground floor in the Museum annex. Assistance dogs are welcome. Penmaenmawr Station is a request stop. There are plenty of places to park near the museum and in addition there is a small car park behind the museum which is recommended for disabled access. Groups can book appointments any time.
Location : Penmaenmawr Museum, 4, New York Cottages, Penmaenmawr, Conwy LL34 6LE
Transport : Penmaenmawr (National Rail) then bus (75) or 8 minutes. Bus Routes : 5, 75, A55 and X5 stop close by
Opening Times : June through September, Wednesday - Friday + Sunday 14:00 to 16:00
Tickets : Free
Tel : 01492 575571