Penmaenmawr was a little collection of farms and houses supporting agriculture and herring fishing prior to the opening of its’ quarries in the first half of the 19th century.
Industrial quarrying of diorite at Penmaenan began in 1830 with the opening of the independent Penmaen Quarry. By the 1840s, this and the competing independent Graiglwyd quarry were in production making setts (granite paving blocks) and paving. In the early years, the quarried stone was lowered by self-acting inclines from where the setts were loaded into ships.
Around 1881 new crushing mills were built to provide railway ballast for the expanding rail market, which greatly increased expansion and production. Penmaenmawr's quarries were amalgamated in 1911 with the quarries of Trefor on the Llŷn Peninsula to form the Penmaenmawr & Welsh Granite Co.
As the quarry industry grew, workers and their families flocked to Penmaenmawr from all over north-west Wales and beyond. The community which sprang up was close-knit and almost entirely Welsh-speaking. Between 1851 and 1900, the population of the village grew from 826 to 3,403 people. By the early 1900s, about 1,000 men were working in the quarry and its associated workshops. The neighbouring town of Llanfairfechan was also an integral part of this process.
The work of a quarryman was very hard, especially those who worked on the higher slopes. They were expected to walk up to the summit area in all weathers and faced losing pay in bad weather. It would take a man seven years of apprenticeship to train to make setts and they were the best paid quarry workers. They were however part of a bigger team and depended heavily on other quarry workers - those who blasted and broke the stone up and those who carted the stone down the steep hill and those who loaded the trains and ships.
Whole families were involved: children as young as nine worked in the quarries, breaking up the stone and wives ensured that the their husband's protective coat was scrubbed clean every week. A quarryman earned, depending on demand and weather conditions, around £2 a fortnight which approximates to £200 today. If the weather was bad, the men wouldn't blast, so no one would get paid. It was a very hard life. The women had to look after the household money carefully to make sure there was enough to feed their husbands and children. A strong spirit of camaraderie developed and was reflected in the town's chapels, pubs and cultural societies.
Stone was exported by rail to ports such as Liverpool and to the cities across England and by sea, to Liverpool and a number of European ports.
Ships continued to load cargoes from the Darbishire jetty until 1976 and railway ballast continued to move in quantity. The present quarry at Penmaenmawr now concentrates on producing aggregate for road construction.