Current Events Slate products Valley Mill

Is Welsh Slate The Best? We Go Behind The Scenes

August 27, 2021
Beautiful North Wales Slate Landscape which is a World Heritage Site

Here at Valley Mill we’ve been going behind the scenes of the Welsh slate business. One of the biggest questions we get asked is, is Welsh slate the best? Let’s find out!

It’s actually a well known fact within the business that Welsh slate is one of the finest quality slate in the world. Did you know that Welsh slate was quarried from North Wales from as early as the 12th century? It’s actually the toughest slate known to man. It has very few impurities and a beautiful colour and grain structure. Wesh slate doesn’t fade in the sun.

The slate itself is approximately 500 million years old and is made by the compression of clay over time. This is thanks to the movement of the tectonic plates – which helped form the Welsh Mountains.

The high quality of the slate is the result of a combination of apsect. From the quality of the clay and the precise amount of pressure & heat.

Meet A Welsh Quarryman

We met with Andrew Jonjo who has been a quarryman for 37 years. Not only is he a quarryman, but he is actually the sixth generation in the Welsh slate business.

Slate has been his, and his families life for 6 generations. ‘Jonjo’ who now works at the Welsh National Slate Museum shows us real slate cutting techniques. He also talks about why he believes Welsh slate is the best.

Valley Mill’s Welsh Slate

At Valley Mill, we only use Welsh Blue Grey Slate, although it is in fact a dark grey in appearance. The slate that we use here in our workshop in South Wales is mined at Blaenau Ffestiniog.

It is then whisked over to our Llansamlet workshop where it is hand cut, engraved and oiled.

It is then ready to be sent to directly to your home, our Valley Mill stores & to one of over 100 stores that we supply around the UK.

Pictured below is our slate cutter Josh who shows us one of the traditional ways to cut slate.

Pictured here is Mike, who is one of our slate cutters here at Valley Mill. This image shows Mike oiling and finishing our slate heart coasters.

World Heritage Status

In July 2021 UNESCO announced that the slate landscape of North Wales had won World Heritage Status. This now puts us alongside places such as the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China and the Pyramids.

This image shows why our beautiful landscape now has World Heritage Status. Isn’t it just stunning?

The incredbile view of Dinorwig Quarry which now has World Heritage Status
The Dinorwig Quarry Copyright: RCAHMW

The landscape has become the UK’s 32nd UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the 4th in Wales,. This follows the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Blaenavon Industrial Landscape and the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd.

The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales became the world leader for the production and export of slate in the 1800’s.

Slate quarried in the area has been used to build parts of the Roman fort in Segontium in Caernarfon and Edward I’s castle in Conwy. However it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that demand surged as cities across the world expanded with slate from the mines at Gwynedd being widely used to roof workers’ homes, public buildings, places of worship and factories. 

Welsh Slate Industry

By the 1890s the Welsh slate industry employed approximately 17,000 workers. It produced almost 500,000 tonnes of slate a year, around a third of all roofing slate used in the world in the late 19th century.

The industry had a huge impact on global architecture. Welsh slate has been used on a number of buildings, terraces and palaces across the globe. This includes Westminster Hall in London’s Houses of Parliament, the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Australia and Copenhagen City Hall, Denmark.

In 1830, half the buildings in New York had roofs made of Welsh slate. Centuries of mining in the area transformed the landscape on a monumental scale. This reflects the important role this region played in ‘roofing the 19th century world’.

National Slate Museum

If your idea of a museum is based on glass cases and dusty exhibits, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise when you visit the National Slate Museum Llanberis

This museum-with-a-difference is based in the original Victorian Engineering Workshops at Dinorwig Slate Quarry. The quarry was in its heyday in the 1870’s and closed in 1969.  The site was opened as a Museum in 1972 – and was the world’s only national slate museum. The National Museum Wales – attracts over 140,000 visitors a year!

We met with Lowri Ifor who told us more about the museum and the amazing World Heritage Status.

All the staff at the museum are Welsh speaking so, it’s a great place to practice your Welsh.

What Is Slate?

Slate is essentially mud that has first been compressed and compacted, and then squeezed and heated by the Earth’s forces.

The main components of slate are the minerals sericite mica, quartz, chlorite, haematite and rutile.  Tiny variations in the proportion of some of these minerals can lead to a rainbow of variations in the colours of the slates themselves. From different shades of green through grey and blue to a deep, rich red.

Slate Names

Nine layers of slate run through Elidir mountain and the different slates bear such lovely names.

Green & wrinkled

Redwood

Red

Old quarry blue

New quarry blue grey

New quarry blue grey mottled

Sage green

Willow green

Bronze

Purple red

Pictured below is our blue grey Welsh slate wine rack. As you can see the appearance is more dark grey in appearance.

Blue grey Welsh slate wine rack with two bottles of wine glistening in the sunshine

How Is Slate Formed?

Dinorwig Quarry slates originated as mud deposited in the sea during the Cambrian era of the Lower Paleozoic Era. This was about 500 million years ago!

At this time much of Wales was the floor of a very large sea or lake, covered by layers thousands of feet thick made up of mud and silt deposited by rivers. 

Slowly this mud was turned to clay and was squeezed and compacted until they all faced the same direction. This is what has caused the rock to become splittable slate.  

Spectacular changes in the geological history of Wales followed:  land movements brought the sea bed upwards to become dry land, which was then squeezed and shaped by lateral forces as a result of volcanic activity.

Did You Know?

  • Welsh slate slab switchboards were used in the Engine rooms of Cunard Ships Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.                                                                                                                                         
  • Welsh Slate Quarries inspired the construction of some of the earliest railways in Wales e.g Penrhyn Tramway (1801)                                                                                                                                      
  • Narrow gauge Steam locomotives were first used on a line built specifically to carry Welsh Slate. E.g the Ffestiniog Railway from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog.                                                                                                           
  • Slate Quarrying resulted in immense wealth – evidence can still be seen at Penrhyn Castle or at Y Faenol estate, Gwynedd.                                                                                                                                       
  • Prince Charles investiture at Caernarfon took place on a ‘dais’ made of Welsh Slate.                                                         
  • The world’s best snooker tables are made from Welsh Slate.                                                                                               
  • Llechwedd Slate Quarry saw the first commercial generation of electricity in north Wales at the beginning of the century.                                                                                                                                      
  • The North Wales Quarrymen’s Union, established in 1874, was one of the earliest working class unions in the United Kingdom.                                                                                                                            
  • The Penrhyn Strike, from November 1900 to November 1903 is one of the longest ever United Kingdom Industrial Disputes.                                                                                                                               
  • King Edward 1st’s architects used Welsh Slate as part of the construction of his chain of castles around Gwynedd.

What Is Welsh Slate Used For?

Due to the unique qualities of Welsh slate, it has become the best and only choice for many homeware products. This include placemats, coasters, cheese boards, wine racks, clocks, house signs and many others. Indeed, slate home and tableware has become increasingly popular over the last decade.

Interior designers, hotels & restaurants and of course, the everyday consumer want something a little bit more stylish and eco-friendly.

Welsh slate cheeseboard adorned with a stunnning selection of cheeses

Is Welsh Slate The Best?

Let’s take another quick look at the reasons why WE believe Welsh slate really is the best.

Why Choose Welsh Slate?

There are so many benefits of buying products made from locally mined Welsh slate.  We take a look at why.

Why Is Welsh Slate Better?

Roofing companies all over the world recommend genuine Welsh slate as the best slate.  The strength and lasting quality of Welsh slate make it one of (if not the best) slate in the world.

Welsh slate serving tray with chicken and pepper kebabs placed on top

Is Welsh Slate More Expensive?

The answer is yes it is, but there are many reasons for this.  The benefits of Welsh slate really surpass its cousins.  There are not only fewer impurities in 100% Welsh slate but, it also needs less maintenance.

Welsh slate has less fade and is stronger than other slates.  

This means that it lasts so much longer and there’s no need to continually repair and replace like many other products. So our natural slate products should cost you less in the long run.

Is Slate Environmentally Friendly?

Slate has a low carbon footprint due to the manufacturing and working processes. It’s a ‘green’ material due to its endurance so will last for longer than many other materials. 

We source our slate from Blanenau Ffestiniog which means delivery is much more eco-friendly than slates that have been imported from outside the UK. E.G. China and Spain.  Supporting us also means you are supporting the local economy.

Welsh slate heart hanging on a wall with hemp rope.

Imported Slate

As with any product, there are alternatives to Welsh Slate when it comes to homeware products.

At the lower end of the quality spectrum, Chinese slate is very hard and brittle. Even worse, it is full of unsightly impurities. This means any products made from Chinese slate will be sold pretty cheaply because of the low quality. It will be pretty obvious what you are going to get for your money. It’s not a bad option however, if quality is no real concern and you have a tight budget.

Spanish Slate Vs Welsh Slate

The other most widespread slate currently being used for homeware products is Spanish Slate. Indeed, it is very nice to look at in comparison to the Chinese Slate as it has very few impurities. It is also very flat and you can easily cut quite complex shapes from it.

It’s important to remember the reason Spanish slate cuts so well is that it is a very soft slate. This means Spanish slate is not as hardwearing as Welsh slate.

When cut, Spanish Slate leaves you with a very evenly dressed edge, which looks almost machine-cut in quality. It is also cheaper than Welsh slate and much more readily available.

Remember Welsh slate lasts longer and there’s no need to continually repair and replace like many other products. So our natural slate products should cost you less in the long run.

The Truth About Scottish Slate

Did you know that Spanish Slate is very often being passed off and sold as Scottish slate?

There are several Scottish companies that use Spanish slate to manufacture their homeware products. Their homeware products will say ‘Made in Scotland’, so we all assume that it is actually Scottish slate.

However, the last Scottish slate quarry closed in the 1950s!

The only Scottish slate still available is reclaimed slate from the old mines and quarries.

With this in mind, if you see the phrase ‘Made in Scotland’ attached to slate homeware, it is highly unlikely that it is actually Scottish slate – that is unless it has come from someone’s old roof!!

Don’t Just Take It From Us

You may think that we are biased when it comes to our slate (we TOTALLY are). However, this is the reason why we visited the experts so you could hear it from them. In fact, you are always leaving us lovely reviews when it comes to our slate. Take a look at just a few mentions.

Welsh slate review which compliments Valley Mills slate items
Welsh slate review which compliments Valley Mills slate items
Welsh slate review which compliments Valley Mills slate items

Our Slate Products

So, now we’ve whet your appetite for a Welsh slate item for your home. Let’s take a look at some of our best selling products.

Mood Maker

Set the mood for the evening for a catch up with friends and family with Valley Mill’s ranges of candles and candle holders. Not only do they look fantastic but our huge variety of scents will really set the mood too.

Welsh slate tealight holder which holds 5 tealights

Daily Reminders

Do you have a busy life? Our Welsh slate chalkboard family planner is perfect for busy homes and workplaces.

Whether it’s meal planning, tasks, a weekly planner for all of the children’s activities, a family planner or just a list of all the fun stuff you’ve got coming up. We handcraft each board from the highest quality Welsh slate.

A Gift For Your Garden

Welcome your guests with a Valley Mill Welsh slate hanging sign. We have ready made designs or you can personalise them with your very own design.

Make It Personal

If it’s a personal touch you’re looking for then look no further than our amazing personalised Welsh slate serving trays.

Why not serve up some treats on our Welsh slate trays ? These can be personalised to your design right here in our workshop.

Pictured below is Mike one of our slate cutters showing one of the many ways we cut and prep our slate.

You Might Also Like