My WILLIAMS Family History by William Hartley

Thomas Williams b.1810 Northenden

Llanberis Slate,Caernarfonshire, North Wales

My WILLIAMS family can be traced to Thomas WILLIAMS, born at Northenden, Cheshire in 1810. His parents were Thomas and Margaret WILLIAMS but [as yet] I can't be certain where they came from. The family were Slaters and Tilers [Roofers] and later Slate Merchants. I'm pretty certain the family came to Cheshire from the Slate areas around Llanberis and Bangor because later on in the 19thC, members of the family named their houses in Lincoln, 'Llanberis' and 'Bangor'.

There is also a family story that the Williams family "came to Lincoln by walking from North Wales" [Rosemary Jackson]
I take this story literally, that they walked alongside wagons loaded with blocks of slate, from Llanberis to Lincoln via the turnpike roads.

This map shows the turnpike road network built in the 18thC and 19thC. The road from North Wales to Altrincham via Chester was in place by 1769. But why did our Williams family leave North Wales?

At Llanberis, local people had been working the mountains for thousands of years, extracting slate from lots of small open quarries.The large landowners were initially content to issue "take notes", allowing individuals to quarry slates on their lands for a yearly rent of a few shillings and a royalty on the slates produced.
It was with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the 18thC that the slate industry really took off. As small villages such as Manchester exploded into large towns and then cities with the coming of mills and factories, there was an enormous demand for slates to roof the long terraces of houses built as homes for the workers – as well as the factories, foundries, mills and warehouses themselves.

In 1787 the ‘Great New Quarry’ of Dinorwig was opened by a partnership of three businessmen – one of them Thomas Assheton Smith – on the slopes between the present village of Dinorwig and Llyn Peris. In 1788, the Assheton-Smith family [who came from Ashley Hall, Cheshire] took over the entire area and paid bailiffs to evict local people out of their quarries.
Their estate, Vaynol [Y Faenol] on the banks of the Menai Straits, covered 34,000 acres of land. In George William Duff Assheton-Smith's time, white cattle, deer and American bison — not to mention bears and monkeys — roamed Vaynol Park. The Vaynol Estate developed from the Crown manor of Dinorwig, and was leased in the sixteenth century to a member of the Cochwillan. By the death of Sir William Williams in 1696, and he being childless, he ceded the whole estate to the Crown! Sometime before 1723, the Crown granted the reversion of the estate to John Smith, of Tedworth, Hampshire. His family taking possession in 1756. Eight years later, William Smith left Tedworth and Faenol to his nephew, Thomas Assheton of Ashley Hall, Cheshire, who took the name Smith in 1774.

Although many of the families in the villages around Llanberis kept smallholdings and fattened a pig or a calf, the whole area depended for its livelihood on the slate industry. In 1809 the landowner, Thomas Assheton-Smith of Vaynol, Bangor, took the management of the quarry into his own hands.

I'm pretty certain my WILLIAMS family left Llanberis for Cheshire around the time the Assheton-Smith family took over the estates in North Wales.

Thomas born in 1810 in Cheshire would have likely been the first son of Thomas and Margaret, who were likely born around Llanberis or Bangor c.1785.
Since the Assheton-Smith family came from Ashley Hall, the likelihood is that my WILLIAMS family moved from North Wales to the Altrincham area south of Manchester, near or within the Ashley Hall Estate, by about 1805. They were skilled slaters and were much needed to roof the thousands of buildings going up, in and around Manchester, in the early19thC.

Returning to the turnpike roads network map above, I believe that the Williams family moved to the Altrincham area in the late 18thC to early 19thC to provide slate roofs for the growing demand in the Manchester area. However, at that time, the turnpike roads to the east of England were incomplete. It wasn't until 1821 that the road between Altrincham and Stockport was constructed, thereby allowing speedier transport between North Wales and the East of England and Lincoln. I believe that when Thomas WILLIAMS reached adulthood in the 1830's, he decided to branch out on his own, firstly moving from Northenden to Oldham, then on to Lincoln in the 1840's. It would have been feasible for him to have transported blocks of slate from North Wales to Lincoln via the turnpike roads in about ten days. Once the blocks reached Lincoln, he could have split the blocks into roof slates, thereby limiting damage to the slate. Having a good supply of slate from North Wales, and premises allowing him to split the blocks of slate, he would have had good reason to establish a Slate Merchants business at Lincoln.

Thomas of 1810 married Sarah LEIGH of Gatley, Cheshire in July 1834 at Manchester Cathedral. I believe she may have been distantly related to the LEIGH/LEGHs of Cheshire and Lancashire and that my WILLIAMS were similarly distantly related to the WILLIAMS family of Vaynol, Bangor. The Asshetons took over the Williams' Estates at Vaylor, Bangor. [click on links]

to be continued ...


What is Slate? Slate is essentially mud that has first been compressed and compacted, and then squeezed and heated by the Earth’s forces. Dinorwig Quarry slates originated as mud deposited in the sea during the Cambrian era of the Lower Paleozoic Age. Movement of tectonic plates formed the mountains of Wales, and provided the pressure to change this mud into slate. The high quality of the slates is a result of the purity of the original mud and sufficient pressure and heat. Sericite mica, quartz, chlorite, haematite and rutile – these minerals are the main components of slate. Tiny variations in the proportion of some of these minerals can lead to a rainbow of variations in the colours of the slates themselves – from different shades of green through grey and blue to a deep, rich red. Nine layers of slate run through Elidir mountain and they bear such lovely names as: green and wrinkled, redwood, red, old quarry blue, new quarry blue grey, new quarry blue grey mottled, sage green, willow green, bronze, and purple red.

Quarrying Slate Dinorwig Quarry was carved out of the mountain itself – Elidir Mountain, high above Gilfach Ddu. The first step in the process of quarrying slate was to free a piece of rock – which might weigh hundreds of tons – from the face. The quarrymen would drill into the rock and fill it with powdwr du [‘black powder’] or explosive. One man would place a fuse in the powder and fire it before running to join his workmates in the blast shelter. The blasting happened at particular times of day. After returning to the rock face the men would need to clear the rubble and any precarious sections of rock. Two quarrymen would then turn the slate block into 'pillars' of 100kg–200kg each with a cold chisel and a hammer. Another two members of the team would be working in one of the open sheds. Having pillared the blocks into rectangular slabs, one of the men would then split them to different thicknesses, depending on the quality of the rock. Using a wide-bladed splitting chisel and a mallet of African oak he would aim to get 16 slates from the one piece – depending on the quality.
In the meantime his partner would sit on a 'traval', a straight edge of iron and steel in a sloping piece of wood. He would trim the slate into a right angle with a guillotine knife, and then dress it to a particular size. This would all happen very quickly, almost withouth pause to draw breath, but although it might look effortless it called for a very keen eye and a sound understanding of the nature of the rock

Slate Splitting and Dressing It was in the quarry itself, in the gwalia — the open-sided sheds — that splitting and dressing was actually done; it was later carried out in the yard. The power from the water wheel drove cutting tables by means of the line shafting. Slate sawing was a heavy, dusty and noisy task. A trough of water under the table cooled the wheel as it cut through the slab of slate, and dampen down some of the dust produced. When a hundred or more tables were at work at the same time, there would be so much dust in the air that the other end of the shed would be invisible.

Health problems. The effects of this dust were very damaging to the quarrymen's health, leading to chest diseases, especially tuberculosis and silicosis. The men and their families were given practical hints on healthy living: their houses should be well aired, they should wear flannel next to the skin and wash frequently. The quarryman should 'live for something beyond tea and bread-and butter, and vary his diet with foodstuffs of all kind, particularly garden vegetables'. His injunction to 'Remember there is No Nourishment in Tea' is revealing, as for many years doctors had been blaming silicosis on the men's habit of drinking tea, strong as tar from being on the brew all day.

Names given to Slates. The slates were called by different names according to their sizes — and highly select names they were, too, varying from the 'Ladies' [16 inches by 12 inches] through 'Countesses' [20 inches by 12] and up through the 'Duchesses' and 'Princesses' to the 'Queens', which were 42 inches by 27. Odd though, that men who are said to have spoken only Welsh gave the slates very English names !


The Snowdon Mountain Railway at Llanberis.

Llanberis itself is quite a new village. Nant Peris was established first. St Peris church goes back to the 12thC. Llanberis only developed 200 years ago [late 18thC] with the slate industry.
Dolbadarn Castle [the Duff family] is the oldest building at Llanberis. There aren't any older buildings in the village.
Then the little mountain railway came to Snowdon. Lord George William Duff Assheton-Smith of the Vaynol Estate owned the land around Llanberis and Dinorwig Slate Quarry. In the 1860s he holidayed at Lucerne, Switzerland, and went up the Rigi Mountain on a little Swiss mountain train. It was there he had the idea of installing a rack and pinion railway to run up Mount Snowdon. The original idea was to have a railway from Llanberis to the top of the mountain and from Llanberis to Rhyd Ddu. The trains were made in Winterthur, Switzerland. Lord Assheton-Smith bought five and shipped then all the way to Llanberis. The track was layed in just 72 days by three hundred workers. They also built two viaducts and five bridges en-route. The train was opened for tourists by Lord Assheton-Smith's daughter in April 1896. Then, it only used to go up six or seven times a day but now it is so popular it runs all day long and has to turn away dozens of people every day.


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