Our Heritage

A timeline of over 6,000 years shapes Penmaenmawr's history. Prehistoric stone axe factories, stone circles, early Christianity, quarrying and more recently its Victorian seaside resort all contribute to making Penmaenmawr's past is fascinating and varied.

A rich and ancient history

With clear views of Anglesey and Puffin Island and wonderful sunsets throughout the year, Penmaenmawr is a beautiful place in which to live.
Made up of the villages of Penmaenan and Pant Yr Afon in the west and Dwygyfylchi and Capelulo to the east, Penmaenmawr faces Conwy Bay and the Irish Sea. Its name means "Head of the Great Stone" or "Great Headland of Stone” and comes from Penmaen-mawr Mountain which separates the town from neighbouring Llanfairfechan and the costal plain that runs up to Bangor.
Its history is rich, surprising and varied spanning from pre-historic times to the present day and underpins the Penmaenmawr we know today. Why not visit Penmaenmawr Museum
The uplands above Penmaenmawr are home to many prehistoric remains, including the sites of prehistoric polished stone axe factories on the western slopes of Cwm Graiglwyd near the top of Penmaen-mawr. Cwm Graiglwyd was once one of the most important stone axe manufacturing sites in Europe and there is evidence that axes were exported widely. Examples have been found as far afield as Southern England.
Nearby is Meini Hirion, (Druid's Circle) a prehistoric stone circle which links to a prehistoric trackway which travels from Bwlch-y-ddeufaen to Conwy Valley and onto Souther Britain.
The summit of Penmaen-mawr, from which the town takes its name, used to be crowned by Braich-y-Dinas. Located on the eastern slope of the mountain, Braich-y-Dinas was one of the largest Iron Age hill-forts in Europe, comparable with Tre'r Ceiri near Trefor on the Llŷn peninsula. Penmaen-mawr used to stand at 1,500 feet (460 m) above sea level until its rounded top was reduced by modern quarrying. Braich-y-Dinas was sadly obliterated during quarrying in the 1920s.
According to local tradition, the 6th-Century Saint Seiriol, after whom Ynys Seiriol (also known as Puffin Island or Priestholme) is named, had a hermit's cell in Cwm Graiglwyd. Clipyn Seiriol, a dip above the modern A55 road tunnel through Penmaen-mawr, also bears his name, as does the church of St Seiriol's near the town centre which was built in 1867. Penmaenmawr is also associated with Saint Ulo, Capelulo being at the foot of Sychnant and reputedly the site of an early medieval chapel.

Four-times Liberal prime minister of Great Britain, William Ewart Gladstone (1809 - 1898) was one of the dominant political figures of the Victorian era and a passionate campaigner on a huge variety of issues, including home rule for Ireland.
Gladstone first came to Penmaenmawr for a holiday in 1855 to visit his fellow liberal Samuel Derbyshire, a quarry owner and squire of Pendyffryn hall. Over the course of the following years, he and his family were regular visitors, staying at various houses around the area.
Whilst at Penmaenmawr, Gladstone would bathe daily in the sea, walk on the hills behind the town, read and continue his studies on Homer. He never missed an opportunity to sing the town’s praises, believing the air and sea of Penmaenmawr to have remarkable restorative properties, a view endorsed by other notable Victorians. His visits put Penmaenmawr on the map and attracted those of high social order to share the delights of this new “watering place” on the North Wales coast.
A year after his death in 1898, Penmaenmawr’s Gladstone Memorial was unveiled in Paradise Road as a tribute to the former prime minister. The original bust was stolen in the 1970s and a new bust, work of local sculptor Peter London, replaced it in 1991.
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.

As well as its solid quarry heritage, Penmaenmawr became famous in Victorian times as a seaside resort. Its’ excellent sandy beach, mountainous backdrop and fresh Welsh air proved a great draw for holiday makers escaping the cities for a summer break.
The building of the A5 toll road and the coming of the Chester - Holyhead Railway in the mid-nineteenth century significantly changed the face of Penmaenmawr. Rail improved access: not only did the railway speed up distribution of quarried Penmaenmawr stone, but it boosted the town’s economy by bringing in tourists.
The Victorians loved the seaside and this first brought them to north Wales. The railway made it simple to travel west to Penmaenmawr with its easy access to the sea and hills. Prime Minister Gladstone's continued patronage of Penmaenmawr put the town firmly on the tourist map as a fashionable seaside resort for the upper middle class.
In contrast to the quarry workers' cottages on the outskirts of the town, Penmaenmawr's Victorian resort villas and houses, which were built to accommodate the increasing demand for holidays, are spaciously laid out. The town's main street has beautiful covered walkways, supported by cast-iron pillars in imitation to other resorts.
In Victorian times, Penmaenmawr beach was divided into areas for ladies and gentlemen to bathe. Mixed bathing was permitted at beaches from about 1890. Having a sun tan was considered common and working-class, but taking a dip in the sea was considered good for health and wheeled beach huts were drawn into the sea to facilitate this. Visitors would change into bathing costumes inside the huts and strong men known as “dippers” move the huts into the cold sea making it possible for them immerse themselves.

In 1901, a wide promenade was developed for the growing number of families who arrived at the nearby rail station or came by road. Shelters and static beach huts followed later in the 1930s.
The western part of the beach was still used by the quarry company to load ships using jetties. By the late 1970s the main road through Penmaenmawr was becoming clogged with tourist traffic, quarry wagons and articulated lorries going to the ferry port at Holyhead. The A55 Expressway brought relief, but with the loss of the southern edge of the old promenade area. A new, smaller promenade was opened in 1988, with a unique row of beach huts built into the A55 retaining wall.
Today, the area features a beach café, paddling pool, play area and yacht club and is a popular summer destination. Winner of a 2015 Seaside Award, its long sandy beach is perfect for family days out.