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Appeal for Dolgarrog Aluminium memories and pictures

An aerial view of the works
Most of Dolgarrog's houses, the school and chapel were built by the works

High levels of rainfall brought prosperity and tragedy alike to the Conwy Valley village of Dolgarrog with the establishment of its aluminium works.

"Dolgarrog as a village came about almost entirely because of the aluminium works," said Susan Ellis, chief archivist for Conwy Council who have received funding to catalogue all their papers and photographs on the plant.

"The aluminium works not only brought the people, but also built the houses, the church, the hotel. This is very unusual for North Wales," she added.

But it was Dolgarrog's unique location which drew the industry to this rural area.

Industrial historian David Gwyn explained: "The reduction of aluminium is a very electricity-intensive process, so that's why aluminium works have traditionally not been established near sources of raw material, but where there's abundant hydro-electricity."

A calculation of rainfall statistics in the Carneddau area at the end of the 19th century showed that the tiny hamlet of Dolgarrog was the best place to establish the works. It was also near fast-flowing water, had good rail links and wasn't far from the sea for transporting goods.

The village was very much an attempt to create an ideal community, with the works looking after everybody's leisure time
Historian David Gwyn

And, despite a troubled beginning, the plant came into its own during the World War I.

"It was then able to expand during the 1920s," said David, author of Dolgarrog, An Industrial History. "It effectively controlled electricity distribution across the whole of north Wales, along with The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highway railways.

"The idea was to create a network of businesses which had the need for electricity in common."

But there wasn't really the technology, and this over-ambitious period was brought to an end by the dam disaster at Dolgarrog in 1925.

"Where you have successive dams on the same water system, if one collapses, there's a danger that everything below will collapse and that's what happened," said David.

The dam disaster of 1925
Many survived the flood because they'd gathered to watch a film

When water flooded over the top of the Coedty dam from a breach in the Eigiau dam above, it collapsed instantly and lots of the timber-built buildings of Dolgarrog were swept away and 16 people were killed.

Parts of the works were also severely damaged and it took time to return to full production.

The works' fortunes took a turn for the better during World War II however, when aluminium, light and useful in aviation, was in great demand.

Although the aluminium reduction process was moved elsewhere for cost reasons after the war, the works were not closed. The government did not want to displace people after the upheaval of war.

"It became a specialist rolling mill, and the fact that it was still doing well into the 1980s and beyond was a bit of a miracle," said David.

The works finally closed in 2007, but left a substantial legacy.

"The village was very much an attempt to create an ideal community, with the works looking after everybody's leisure time," said David, whose own parents moved to Dolgarrog because of their work at the plant.

"Only a third of the workforce actually lived in the village, but if you wanted to get on, there was every reason to move in."

Conwy Archive Services would like see any photos or documents about life at the Dolgarrog Aluminium Works and will be opening their collection to the public.

We'd like to hear your stories and see your pictures too, so get in touch.

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SEE ALSO
In pictures: Dolgarrog Aluminium
11 Jan 10 |  History
Water main floods gardens
30 Apr 09 |  Wales
Collapse of aluminium plant deal
05 Mar 08 |  North west


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