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National Trust Cymru Unveils ‘Ailfframio’ Exhibition at Penrhyn Castle: A Deep Dive into Slate Quarry Heritage

Community artwork arrives at Penrhyn Castle ©Iolo Penri

Step inside the world of the ‘Penrhyn Quarry Painting’ at Penrhyn Castle as National Trust Cymru launches a new exhibition exploring the castle’s connection to the local slate quarry and its community.

Working alongside prominent local artists, ‘Ailfframio’, the new exhibition arriving at Penrhyn Castle and Garden, has been created by local community groups in response to the Henry Hawkins’ 19th Century painting of the Penrhyn Slate Quarry.

The painting, completed in 1832 when the quarry was in its boom period, is one of the most important in the castle’s collection as it is a visible reminder of the slate industry and local community whose labour sustained the wealth found at the castle.

The exhibition invites visitors to the neo-Norman fantasy castle on the outskirts of Bangor, to look closely at this detailed painting, determine what they can see and what that tells us about the links between the quarry and the castle.

Penrhyn Castle remains a site of contention for many in Bethesda, as the memory of the Great Strike of Penrhyn Quarry (1900-1903) is still alive today. The strike was a bitter dispute between the castle’s Lord Penrhyn and quarry workers. It followed several years of dissatisfaction and unrest in the quarrying industry in the Ogwen Valley, centred on Union rights, pay and working conditions.

Ceri Williams, General Manager at Penrhyn Castle and Gardens said: “We know our local communities have strong opinions about the castle and its history. We hope this exhibition will share some of the history from beyond the castle’s walls with visitors from far and wide, but also demonstrate to our local community that we are committed to hearing their thoughts and have a responsibility to talk about the stories behind the immense wealth found here.”

National Trust Cymru invited students from Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen, members of the community enterprise Partneriaeth Ogwen and ex-quarry workers to respond to Hawkins’ Quarry Painting and participate in workshops with local artists to create the exhibition. With workshops being held in the community and in the castle, some of the group members visited the castle for the first time because of this project.

Alan Hughes, an ex-quarry worker who contributed to the project said: “I had only visited the castle once before, but I don’t remember much about it, so this project was an eye-opener for me! Seeing the painting for the first time, and the process of working with the group opened lots of memories, like what I learned on the rockface from the old quarrymen and why a lot of the older people of Bethesda wouldn’t visit here.”

Featuring ceramics, textiles and a large collage the size of the painting itself, the exhibition is bursting with new artworks created by the local community. Artists Rhiannon Gwyn, Anna Pritchard, Jŵls Williams and lead artist Rebecca F Hardy have all hosted workshops that facilitate creative outputs based on the conversations the community groups have had in response to the painting. The exhibition will also feature poetry by Rhys Iorwerth and music by Gwen Siôn, commissioned especially for the exhibition.

Nici Beech, the creative producer for this project, said: “Dyffryn Ogwen is an area that is absolutely bursting with creative people. We really wanted to showcase that in this exhibition, and contrast the wealth found at the castle with the wealth found in the culture and language here.

‘We hope people look beyond the romantic depiction of the quarry in the Henry Hawkins painting, and see the skill, risk and people it takes to create wealth on this scale.”

The ‘Ailfframio’ exhibition launches on 6 July and can be seen in the Grand Hall at Penrhyn Castle and Garden. The castle is open between 10am and 4pm every day.