drowned chapels and shimmering slate

June 5, 2013


We head off for a spin around the surrounding landscape and whilst passing a huge lake I spot a curiously shaped contemporary like building between the trees and I realise what it is , it’s a memorial chapel for Capel Celyn now submerged at the bottom of the lake, along with the rest of village. In the 60’s a highly controversial action took place, the village inhabitants, all 70 of them were forced to abandoned their homes as the whole valley was going to be drowned via a dam, built in order to provide water for Liverpool.

In 1956, a private bill sponsored by Liverpool City Council was brought before Parliament to develop a water reservoir from the Tryweryn Valley. The development would include the flooding of Capel Celyn. By obtaining authority via an Act of Parliament, Liverpool City Council would not require planning consent from the relevant Welsh local authorities. This, together with the fact that the village was one of the last Welsh-only speaking communities, ensured that the proposals became deeply controversial. Thirty-five out of thirty-six Welsh Members of Parliament (MPs) opposed the bill (the other did not vote), but in 1957 it was passed. The members of the community waged an eight-year effort, ultimately unsuccessful, to prevent the destruction of their homes.

When the valley was flooded in 1965, the village and its buildings, including the post office, the school, and a chapel with cemetery, were all lost. Twelve houses and farms were submerged, and 48 people of the 67 who lived in the valley lost their homes. In all some 800 acres (3.2 km²; 320 ha) of land were submerged. Llyn Celyn, otherwise known as the Tryweryn Reservoir, was formed. Many of the stones from the original chapel were re-used in the construction of the new Memorial Chapel.

This was a forced exodus and the migration to Patagonia a chosen one, there’s a link here,
I can feel it but can’t quite understand it yet , I need to explore it further…..

It’s something about the water and the chapel that’s engulfed in 70 million litres of water.

In 2015 it will be the 50th anniversary of the flooding.

We drive through Ffestiniog, another place where a few of the original settlers came from, but we don’t stop as it is of no immediate interest ….We snake along the horse shoe pass and are overwhelmed by the landscape, we see a sign that says not suitable for semi large vehicles so of course we head on …..at the end if of the road we come across an incredibly lush valley and some of the most idyllic set farms that I’ve ever seen, we venture forth and come to a village called Cwm Pontmachno , with its many rows of tiny terraced cottages…clearly it’s a village built by slate and there we see the majestic grey silhouette of the quarry and its ruins beckoning us, omnipresent to this day.

We climb towards it and it feels like approaching an ancient monument, like Machu Piccho in Peru, Penmachno does after all have a certain antediluvian allure to it.
Normally slate is heavy, flat and dull but today in the vibrant sunshine the metamorphic rock is shining, shimmering, it’s like walking into an amphitheatre with the thousands of audience holding shards of mirror, refracting the light. Once again Mike Pierson’ quote emerges .

However arduous the journey, however unyielding the wagon springs, always take a mirror. For it shows you where you are not, looking back from a world where no sweat bleaches your hat band, where no dust etches your skin, where no relentless roar deafens your ears….

I film Sian standing on the quarry’s edge, holding a small piece of slate and dancing the light back into the lens.

I discover that Penmachno is renowned as the home of Bishop William Morgan (1545–1604), who was one of the leading scholars of his day, having mastered Hebrew in addition to Latin and Greek. He was the first to translate the Bible in its entirety into Welsh.

1. Interior of the derelict chapel at Capel Celyn, 14 November 1963.
2. Bus in Penmachno
3. Local quarry men




5 Responses

  1. Apparently 24 out of 36 Welsh MP’s voted in opposition to the Second Reading of Liverpool Corporation’s Tryweryn Reservoir Bill. The remainder either abstained or were absent. Absentees included Aneurin Bevan, Megan Lloyd George and David Llywellyn (Con) member for Cardiff North – the only Welsh MP vocal in support for the measure. Source – “Hands Off Wales”, Wyn Thomas, Gomer 2013 (fascinating book all round!)

  2. one of the most interesting, and outrageous, parts of the whole Tryweryn scandal being that the Liverpool Corporation line was that a new reservoir was needed for a predicted population rise. It seems more likely that the water was wanted for industrial use and that in fact the population of Liverpool shrank from 750,000 in 1955 to under 450,000 in 2006, and that downturn in demand for water began as early as October 1965 when the reservoir was opened/ (Drowning of a Village. SALEM films Production, 2006. Screened BBC2 Wales 13 March 2006 – Source as above)

    • Diolch Richard! Thats terrible !!!!
      It seems that a film crew recorded the last ever service in the chapel , I would love to see this, any notion as to where it might be ? national Screen and film. Archive I guess?

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