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Wales/Cymru: ° Aberdyfi ° Aberystwyth ° Bangor (Gwynedd) ° Borth (Ceredigion) ° Cardiff, Pontypridd, Swansea (Glamorgan) ° Holyhead (Anglesey) ° Fishguard, Milford Haven, Pembroke (Pembrokshire) ° Porthmadog (Eifionydd) ° The Welsh Language ° The Mandans and Owain of Wales


A harbour town situated on the Glaslyn Estuary, Porthmadog is rich in maritime history and is an excellent base for touring the surrounding area.

Porthmadoc. The town was named after W. A. Madocks whose ambitious "Cob" embankment scheme led to the Porthmadoc.town's name, which translates as "Madog's Port." Madocks (born in 1773) was the man who built the Cob across the Glaslyn Estuary, thus considerably easing travel - by foot, horse and eventually by rail - between mid and north Wales. He was also instrumental in creating two new communities at Porthmadog and at nearby Tremadog. His original intention was to reclaim the Traeth Mawr area for agriculture but this quickly changed as his ideas and schemes began to develop. Soon he was proposing an embankment across the estuary - on which, he declared, traffic from mid Wales could travel in order to reach Porthdinllaen on the Llyn Peninsula. The Irish trade was beginning to gather momentum and Madocks had plans to create a new port at Porthdinllaen in order to carry this traffic.

His plan did not develop; Holyhead increased in importance. That did not stop William Madocks and his embankment. Work continued on the crossing.

The embankment, known as the Cob, was finished in 1811. Its construction had been long and difficult and had cost Madocks literally all the money he had. By 1811 he was being hotly pursued by a great number of creditors. The opening of the Cob brought him some relief as now, at least, he could charge people to cross the estuary and, by way of celebration, he organised a four-day feast and eisteddfod.

Disaster threatened a year later when, in February 1812, a great storm hammered the construction and breached the wall. By now, however, the value of the Cob as a crossing place had been proved and Madocks was able to raise money from all over the county to pay for repairs - and to strengthen the enormous edifice. By 1814 it was open once more for traffic but the repairs and sudden cessation of money coming in had, once again, hit Madocks were it hurt most - in his pocket book and wallet.

Blaenau Ffestiniog

Slate mining saved his developments. Blaenau Ffestiniog and its famous slate quarries lay only a dozen miles south west of the new port and town and, as the demand for Welsh slate began to grow, Port Madoc was the logical place to export the raw material, not just to England but to the whole world. The Ffestiniog tramway (and, later, railway) ran from the quarries, across the Cob to the port where the public wharves, built in 1825, were used to load slate onto the schooners.

It was a vital, busy shipping port for the international slate trade, brought down from Blaenau Ffestiniog. After Madocks death in 1826, his vision and development was overtaken by better rail links to Aberystywth. The slate market from the Germans disappeared at the advent of World War One in 1914.

Splitting Slates

Splitting Slates.

Men worked six days a week for very poor wages and in sometimes desperate conditions. It took five years of apprenticeship to become a full miner, and even then the skilled labour was not reflected in pay. They were employed on monthly contracts, with the first three weeks of each month being paid in 'sub' wages: a nominal subsistence amount.

The fourth week was paid with profits and bonuses added, less cost of... everything, essentially. Miners had to pay for explosives, tools, sharpening and even air for the pneumatic drills. It didn't add much to the paypacket.

Physical conditions were harsh. Skilfully wielding the hammers and chisels that were the tools of their trade, they would dangle on ropes round their body and legs from pins at the top of the gallery in which they were working. The slate was nearly always damp and slippery, there could be rock falls and the ropes often broke.

If an accident happened, the on-site medical facility was a St John's Ambulance station run by miners themselves as volunteers. For men working away from the seam, slate dust was the major cause of medical complaint. This could cause silicosis and other respiratory illnesses.

Slate is formed when mud with high levels of clay was compacted and squeezed at high temperature during continental shifts some 300-400 million years ago. Depending on the specific content and age of the slate, it is assigned grades of quality, and the seams of slate around Dinorwig, Llanberis, Bethesda and Blaenau Ffestiniog are some of the highest quality in the world.

It was the Romans who first took slate from the area to use for buildings at Segontium, or Caernarfon as it's known today, and the material was also used by the English castle builders of the medieval period.

At the end of the 18th century demand for the material exploded, changing the look and life of North West Wales forever.

Prince Madog.Prince Madog.

Welsh slate was in demand not only in Britain but also in North America and mainland Europe as industrialisation and populations across the world gathered pace. Mines at Dinorwig, Penrhyn, Llanberis, Bethesda and Blaenau Ffestiniog opened or expanded hugely to cater for demand that increased rapidly.

By the 1870s, slate was one of Wales' major industries and Blaenau Ffestiniog - previously a name for the towering mountains overlooking the beginnings of a small river valley - had become an industrial town. The Dinorwig and Penrhyn quarries were the two largest slate mines in the world, each employing over 3000 people.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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