The Ffestiniog Quarries
There were several medium sized slate quarries in Blaenau Ffestiniog, such as the Foty, Bowydd, Maenofferen and Llechwedd quarries, which were all smaller than the Oakeley Quarry, although the Oakeley itself was less than half the size of the Penrhyn and Dinorwig quarries. Each of the Blaenau Ffestiniog quarries had a different owner and workers would frequently move from one quarry to the other. There were political tensions between the owners of some of the quarries; between the Tory Oakeley family who owned the Oakeley quarry and the Liberal Greaves brothers who owned the Llechwedd Quarry.
Trade Unionism in Ffestiniog
Blaenau Ffestiniog, as a true working class community, was hardly fruitful ground for Tory politics. This was a rather different situation to the Dinorwig and Penrhyn Quarry areas, under the influence of the Faenol and Penrhyn families. Trade Unionism first arrived in Blaenau Ffestiniog in 1874, with the establishment of a branch of the North Wales Quarrymen’s Union, but the Union didn’t take root in the area. In 1887, only 876 of the 3200 local quarrymen were Trade Union members. In the late 1880s, workers at the various quarries formed their own committees to negotiate with quarry owners, although trade unionism didn’t spring from this either. Formal trade unionism was difficult to organise in the Ffestiniog due to the sheer number of quarries in the area and the fact that these all had their own cultures and codes of practice. The number of quarries was an advantage to workers, as employment was plentiful and quarrymen could easily move to another quarry if they weren’t happy in their work. Quarrymen at Dinorwig and Penrhyn didn’t have this luxury, and were therefore forced to fight for their rights.
In 1892, the Blaenau Ffestiniog quarrymen voted to strike for a pay rise to 5 shillings a day, but by November 1892, they had agreed to settle for less.
The Oakeley Brass Band
The Oakeley brass band was established in 1864, and remains a thriving part of the local community to this day.
In 1889, the band was invited to Bala, in time for Queen Victoria’s visit to the town. The royal coat of arms was displayed in local shop windows and the band became known as the ‘Royal Oakeley Brass Band’. Later in 1889, the band competed at Llandudno and 1,200 supporters from Blaenau Ffestiniog travelled to support them.
In 1904, the band competed at the Belle Vue, Manchester and by 1907, they were also victorious at the Swansea National Eisteddfod. Following this victory, they were greeted as the ‘Champion Band of Wales’. During the Second World War, 1939-45, the band was known as the ‘Home Guard Band’.