The most important aspect of this book are the photographs of slate mines by J.C.Burrow, a pioneer of underground photography. His first publication "Mongst Mines and Miners" in early 1893 resulted in his being invited to illustrate the report of the "Departmental Committee upon the Slate Mines of Meirioneth" at the end of 1893. His photos were eye-openers. Nobody had seen inside a slate mine before then, least of all the miners themselves, whose world was illuminated by a candle stuck to their hat. Sadly, many of Burrow's large format glass negatives were used to make a greenhouse in the first World War!
This book makes up for the loss with reprints (from somewhere) of the best Burrow shots. The book does not say how these photographs were sourced, so I can only surmise they are the property of Greaves, the owners of Llechwedd slate quarry, whose hand shadows this book fairly heavily.
The rest of the book, interspersed with many fine illustrations, consists of a series of essays by the author, on his speciality, which is paliamentary journalism. There are chapters on Tea Drinking and the dietary habits of miners as reported to a commons committee, the Welsh language and the social aspects of miner's lives. All very interesting, fascinating reading in fact.
Then we have a couple of chapters about Electric power, which features Llechwedd almost exclusively, followed by another two chapters on the Llechwedd slate mines and the modern Llechwedd caverns. These chapters all had an air of being an advertising feature by the author, who not surprisingly, turns out to be a director of the company. Despite this, there is still much of interest to be gleaned.
A very fine section of the book then concentrates on various aspects of the mining process, illustrated mostly by excellent photographs- Mills, Surface, Porthmadog, Rolling Stock, Railways and Equipment.
Finally a chapter on a 19th century Japanese link to Llechwedd, featuring information about Richard Greaves helping the US navy with his engineering skills in 1883. Just what it is included for is unclear until one considers the rather congratulatory tone of the whole book towards Llechwedd. Another amusing feature is the inclusion of a photograph of a nude female model with some embarrassed looking miners. The next photograph is of Helen Morgan (clothed), Miss World in 1977 who, it is stated, is "a friend of the author". Good, but why? Well apparently she is celebrating the first millionth visitor to the Llechwedd Victorian Heritage site.
I know, I have been a little harsh, when this excellent and significant book has such wonderful photographs. I just wish it had been a little less smug and self-congratulatory about it and concentrated on the history, which Greaves & Sons did play a large part in any case.
In conclusion, buy it, and make your own mind up, you won't be sorry, because the photographs are wonderful!
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Landmark Publishing Ltd; First Edition edition (28 Feb. 2003)
Cost: £15.95 in 2017.
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