Monday, 6 February 2012

Oakeley Arms History - Part 2

Slate Fortunes

In a recent Oakeley Arms blog post, we delved into the history of one of the area's most influential families - the Oakeleys of Tan y Bwlch. The Oakeley family's fortunes were built on the lucrative slate trade in the early nineteenth century.

In today's blog post, we explore the end of the Oakeley story, and the sad demise of their good fortune........

They became one of the wealthiest families in Wales in the early 1800's, thanks to William Griffith Oakeley's canny foresight - he rented his land in Rhywbryfdir to a slate dealer from Liverpool, who opened a quarry. The Oakeley quarries eventually became the largest subterranean quarry in the world.

However, the Oakeley family’s fortunes were soon on a downward spiral. William Griffith died in 1835 without heirs, and his wife Louisa Jane managed the estate for over 40 years. She improved much of the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, where the quarries were situated. In 1848, she built a hospital in the town for all the miners at the Oakeley quarries.

But gradually her interest ebbed away and in 1879 the estate passed to the eldest son of her late husband's cousin. William Edward Oakeley continued to expand the mines and built much of the village of Maentwrog to house his workers. It is thought he was a benevolent employer, often providing day trips and small luxuries for his workers. However, a series of bad decisions and tragic accidents at the quarries led to their demise.

File:Votty & Bowydd inclines.jpg
Slate Quarry
Picture by: Dan Crow

William Edward was soon deeply in debt and the land that had once provided vast fortunes and a lavish lifestyle for the Oakeleys was now the cause of their near bankruptcy.

When William Edward died in 1912, the estate was split between his son Edward de Clifford and his daughter Mary. Apparently Edward had no interest in running the estate and reputedly spent the last of the Oakeley fortune on gambling.

Edward sold his part of the estate to his niece, Mary's daughter Margaret, who sadly soon died and so Mary's other daughter Hilda took over. She died a spinster, and her part of the estate was left again to her mother Mary, who now owned it in it's entirety. Mary lived at Plas Tan-y-Bwlch until her death in 1961, but much of the once vast estate had already been sold over the years to raise money.

In 1969, the house and grounds at Plas Tan y Bwlch were bought by a local council, and by the 1970’s was run by the Snowdonia National Park Authority. Today, the grand house is home to a study and eco-centre. It underwent a vast and exciting renovation project in 2005 so that the grand house could be opened up to the public.

You can find more information about Plas Tan-y-Bwlch at

Did you know?? Plas Tan-y-Bwlch is thought to have been the first house in North Wales to be lit by electricity, produced from a hydro-electric source at the lake (Llyn Mair) above the house.

Llyn Mair

Do you know anything of the Oakeley family history, or indeed anything of the Oakeley Arms history? We'd love to hear your memories! Leave a comment in the boxes below.....

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